The next day after the inaugural opening of Dawawine, I knew that we would have to take the time to explain what it is that we’re trying to do here, patiently, day by day, to every person who walks through the doors. Luckily, I never managed to memorize the presentation by heart. I did, nevertheless, feel that as you entered the place, the space and the objects within it spoke for themselves: a bookstore, with books sorted by specialized sections in the domains of theater, cinema and music. A door behind a black curtain: a small projection room, a pocket cinema if you will. Work tables and reading nooks, and across from there a bistro with its open kitchen counter. An additional space on the second floor, bathed in light and an atmosphere of calm and peace.
If I longed to see that recognition in the eyes of our visitors, it is simply because I myself could not wait to get behind my desk, to get my hands on the theater books that I have been coveting ever since we stocked the various sections of our bookstore (in June 2013), to immerse myself in reading, and to feel the place come to life. It made me think, with a satisfied grin, of Sunday, the seventh day of rest.
That is what ended up happening eventually, but the way it came about was different than I had imagined. At first, I started noticing how our venture was coming to life through the questions that the visitors were asking us: they wanted to know if they could come use the work space, if they could bring their own working materials, if they could hold meetings and conferences in the bistro. To which I would answer “of course,” almost as surprised as they were. Some would ask if we accepted book donations, some were shocked to learn that they could consult books on site, and still others were even more so to learn that the books were also for sale. Simply put, they were discovering that the place they had walked into certainly had the appearance of a club, but was in fact a public one. After this initial stage, it was the visitors themselves who would bring their friends, their colleagues or their students along and would explain to them everything about the place, how Dawawine worked, about our interest in the performing arts and our film cycles. It was at this point that the idea of Dawawine as a truly open place truly came into its own.
Reading is a big part of the Dawawine experience. Each person carries their reading space with them. It does not need to settle. The reading space is demarcated by the book, the arms, the reader’s face. It is there, in that tiny zone that a certain inexplicable alchemy, what we call reading, takes place. At the same time, in my opinion at least, this space has to be inscribed in a larger sphere. This is the aim of our project, and it involves constant attention to everything happening around the visitors: those passing by, those loitering around, those who hesitate, that which moves them, that which they’re looking for, that which captivates them, that which pushes them into a discussion and that which holds them back.
These zones are elastic and tender, like the body of a newborn infant. I don’t view this world as juvenile, on the contrary, but we are fragile I think, during this long moment, this essential moment of our passions.
I do notice of course, some people who are much more obstinate, in the positive sense of the word, who have perfect control over their trajectories, and who come to the place with a certain air of clarity around them. Such people give me the impression that Dawawine could always have been there, that it is just the result of a possible evolution of the “state of things”. I must admit that I like this idea as well. It is neither a pleasant not an easily acceptable thing to feel that one is participating in the shaping of another’s life.