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Weekly report on Cuba's tourism industry
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Old Books: A Picturesque Touch in the Cuban Capital

In a city like Havana, which is over four centuries old and combines the characteristics of a historic center and modern architecture, reflected in hotels and buildings in general, the presence of sellers of old and rare books adds a colorful touch to the everyday life of Cubans.

Faithful lovers of printed books, the sellers of old and rare books gather at Havana's Arms Square, in the city's historic heart, although they are often found on streets like Obispo, or in different areas of the popular Vedado sector.

As an antecedent of this activity, official statistics show that from 1959 to 1999, more than 30,000 titles were published on the largest Antillean Island, totaling 900 million issues that covered a wide variety of genres, including novels, essays and classics of world literature.

These huge volumes of books, in addition to large amounts of imported titles, have become an invaluable stock for booksellers.

However, as tourism developed, Cubans discovered that visitors were also interested in the treasures of literature published on the Island, so the former porch sellers gave way to professional booksellers who are even fluent enough in several languages to establish communication with their potential customers.

The secret of that knowledge can be found in Cuba's free educational system, which has graduated several generations of students over the past four decades. Many retirees become booksellers as a way to earn extra money, in addition to enjoying the daily contact with dusty and precious literary creations.

Works by Cuban and Latin American writers are the most demanded among book lovers, in a list topped by Alejo Carpentier, Gabriel García Márquez and Julio Cortázar, just to mention some authors.

Many foreign bibliographers, eager to learn about the peculiarities of a society that was created over 500 years ago, express their interest in the history of Cuba's culture, reflected in works and research on Afro-Cuban folklore, cults and religions.

At a bookstand, book lovers can enjoy the pleasure of taking a book in their hands, glance through it, and if it really pleases them, they can start bargaining with the seller.

Very often, the secret is well hidden behind mountains of books, where, after a thorough search, customers find an almost forgotten novel or a scientific treaty that they have wanted for a long time, and had given up looking.

In modern times, when information technologies are rapidly gaining grounds, booksellers arrived in Havana to stay, with the complicity of those who love good traditional books.

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