An Italian Federation of Travelling Booksellers, the first thought we shared. A thread connecting all the people like us, who carry books around and refuse to surrender to the monopoly of industrial giants. I arrived in Milan with a big fuchsia trolley – only two wheels this time! – and I entered the café Vaniglia e Zenzero, in the musicians district, to shake hands for the first time with Luca Ambrogio Santini, my Milanese alter ego. Thick glasses with an intellectual-style frame, a soft scarf around his neck, he looked like a more refined and cultured version of myself. Always on the move, he visits the shops in the Auditorium district in Milan, where he used to own a bookshop and where he has now reinvented himself with a bicycle and a cart. Unlike Rome, Milan is full of bookshops that want to get his books.
I immediately understood I was going to spend a crazy day following Luca with a cart through the streets of Milan, up to Yogorino and Spazio Mamu, which is not only a huge music bookshop, but also a concert hall, a literary café and a fascinating vintage place where you can have a close look to any kind of instruments and scores. After overcoming the embarrassment of the first minutes, we began to tell each other the stories of our lives spent between Rome and Milan, breaking our backs with books and meetings, always in search for physical spaces to host our moving ideas. We share many similarities: a passion for paper, the craziness of constantly being on the move, warehouses, rooms, several places to manage, the precariousness that fortifies relationships, the endless planning of meetings, stages, places, the physical efforts, the hours spent outdoor, the importance of being well rooted in the land we belong to and of the social relationships with people, based on trust and support. But also and above all the freedom, the very personal way in which we tell stories, suggest titles and make people dream of books. There are nevertheless some differences between us.
Luca is much more experienced, he offers a very high quality research service, which is also addressed to university professors and scholars. He spends whole nights surfing the Internet in search for physical and online bookshops, libraries and distributors. He must absolutely find the books that have been ordered: it is almost a mission. Luca never gives up and there is a touch of poetry in it. During our meeting he delivered a pile of very rare books – which he had found after several weeks of research – to a university professor who was passing through Italy before going back to the States. With Luca it feels like being inside Fahrenheit 451, there is something conspiratorial and nonconformist in his tireless research of unreachable or out of print books: it is a sci-fi atmosphere. My activity is more based on the art of telling stories: I choose the titles myself and suggest them to other people; I very rarely accept orders. My tireless research is focused on selection, therefore I spend my days in libraries and bookshops but, unlike Luca, I enter these places without a list. Booksellers and librarians make me acquainted with books, they open them and disclose stories I didn’t know before.
Luca’s work seems to be more structured, demanding, cultured, refined, focused. My own, on the contrary, recalls the wanderings on a bandwagon of the funny leader of a Commedia dell’Arte theatre company. I often improvise, he never relies on chance. A strict schedule, appointments staggered with extreme precision, non-stop orders, obsessive streamlining of a service that therefore becomes efficient, speedy and satisfying in every aspect. This is Luca. On the other side: no schedule at all, nomadism, books chosen at the last minute, improvised visits, a few friendly places that welcome me, a few minutes to sell books and hours spent rehearsing voices and gestures to tell stories: unpredictable service, often unreachable, unique and unrepeatable. This is me. People look at him with deference, people look at me with tenderness.
There is plenty to learn for sure. There is still a long way to go but here in front of Luca I feel less alone. And the idea of putting our experiences together in a federation, to let them grow until they become a network, thrills me and cheers me up. Travelling booksellers of Italy unite!