Braving the high seas to uncover buried treasure on a remote island is hard, dangerous work, but sometimes it comes easy: like when I came across a rare, leather-bound first edition of J.R.R. Tolkein’s “The Hobbit” on the gorgeous, luxury-gorged Greek isle of Santorini.
Finding the coveted old tome didn’t require fighting any orcs, but my loyal companions and I did embark on something of an unexpected journey before spotting the oh-so “precious” volume. The quest saw us climb straight up the island’s sheer volcanic cliffs, often holding on for dear life by only one hand … to a pole inside the crowded public bus transporting us from the port to the cliff-top city of Fira.
After the perilous climb to the top of the ancient volcanic caldera that formed the famously photogenic Santorini, we found ourselves thrown into the heat of a battle for Instagram supremacy, dodging clumsy swipes not of swords, but rather some form of modern sorcery called “selfie sticks.”
Nestled amid the crowds were many a tavern offering cool drinks and at least one quaint book shop in the basement of a side alley. The tiny space was more of athan a store. More sorcery was afoot within, for despite the summer swelter atop the Santorini caldera, the air inside had been magically “conditioned” to a cool state that comforted we weary travelers and preserved its ancient treasures.
Indeed, the very name of this boutique, Atlantis Books, suggested it to be a something of a hidden treasure itself. But once within, its most precious goods were displayed prominently: first editions by the likes of Hemingway, Orwell and a fellow named George Martin with the curious habit of claiming the middle initial ‘R” not once, but twice.
And there in the center of them all was the prize of every literary geek’s eye, be they man, elf or the smallest of hairy-footed heroes: a leather-bound copy of wordish wizard J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” from 1937.
But the manuscript itself was not destined to be the prize for completing this quest, for common travelers were we, unable to afford the 15,000 euro ($16,757, AU$21,100) price put upon the precious piece.
Instead, the photo alone shall have to suffice.
In the end, although I was not able to spirit away the treasure to my distant cave in a manner befitting of the gilded outline of Smaug upon its cover, I might venture to say I won the Instagram battle with its image, if only for one day.
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