At the Hotel Sirenetta on the Ostia seafront, it is just past dawn but everybody is already working at full tilt. A worker cuts out a green rug runner and unrolls it on the flight of steps down to the yard, some booksellers unload the first packages of books in their assigned areas and somebody is writing the “One Thousand and One Fairy-tales” brunch menu on the blackboard. I am pleased to see that the poster reading “Travelling Children’s Book Minifestival” has endured the windy night and is still attached to the hotel’s cornice. A mother with two little girls comes up followed by a celebrity with whiskers. That’s really him, Manlio, the travelling bookseller from Marche with his family. I rush to hug them and throw myself next to Gian Dei Brughi bookshop-van in order to facilitate the operations. It won’t be easy to get it under the trellis of the inner parking area, which has been cleared out for the occasion and turned into a literary square waiting for other travelling booksellers to arrive. Time has finally come to get Bibliolibrò in too, next to Gian Dei Brughi.
But where is Maestro La Cava? Are we sure that he is on his way from Basilicata? He isn’t answering his phone, we have agreed on a lump-sum refund, we have taken up a collection to have him here, but he seems to have vanished with his Biblio-threewheeler! Damnit, he doesn’t answer! Everybody is staring at me: the First National Meeting of Travelling Librarians and Booksellers was my idea and the hotel owner, Valeria, with her co-worker Leandra, courageously decided to host this event within the fourth edition of the Travelling Children’s Book Minifestival. Even the Apelettura of the Biblioteca Centrale Ragazzi has joined the initiative and they will be reading later. Where shall we place their illustrated Apecar? We’d better put it in the front for the reading, but slightly on the side so that it doesn’t cover the booksellers’ displays. Those flower boxes must be removed, we need to call the maintenance man, each of them weighs a ton, where is the trolley? Let’s move the tables forward, please put books on the bench too, and what about the weather, will it hold? But above all, will some children come? Will they arrive? Everybody looks at me in search for answers, but where shall I find all these answers? I improvise, invent, smile and go on with the organization of the craziest and most daring event I have ever conceived. And the worst thing is that somebody has followed me!
Here comes the Apelettura with Pino in French style clothes, with a small stool and a yellow round rubber carpet. Some children follow him and sit down on the carpet, amused. Now we sing, dance, read, dream and the party begins. Lola of Kalandraka comes down too and greets Anna Maria of Centrale Ragazzi. There are the girls of Maiuscole Idee with a rocket over their shoulders: thankfully it is made of paper and it will be used for their imaginatory with children. They settle indoors in a vintage corner of the hotel that for the occasion shows film settings, old vintage covers and antiques, opening floors, rooms, halls, and corners in front of us. The hotel owner is certainly the craziest of all: the hotel is invaded by books, stories, tales, and artistic attacks.
A triumphal music begins and the Master’s Biblio-threewheeler enters the scene: here he comes! I still can’t believe it, a small man with greying straight hair appears and casually parks his house-shaped three-wheeler, then gets off and opens the boot showing a small screen where the stop-motion works of the students start telling Rodari’s stories. The small square suddenly gets crowded, Pino has finished his reading and joins us with his Apelettura three-wheeler while an ordinary hotel parking area becomes a fairy-world square: three illustrated three-wheelers in different shapes, laden with books, a truck with a book forest inside, clothes horses with stories drying in the sun, desks with books and us shaking hands, establishing relationships, exchanging books and travelling experiences. We question the combination of technology and literature, while countless children chase each other under the trellis. Little Francesco got into Bibliolibrò’s cabin with his mother and now he’s holding the wheel while she tells him a story. Other families start wandering around the booksellers’ stands, some buy books, some ask about the schedule of the next readings. Only now I realize that we have made it, without a cent by any sponsor, save for the hospitality of the hotel which is now taking out theme dishes: chocolate matchsticks, bewitched apples, decorated magic eggs and bread-and-sesame Rapunzel’s tresses. The sun pops out and I think it’s for real: we have made it!