“Not even the ice is going to stop us”. A lovely little electric blue Apecar, the only motor vehicle of which Italy should be really proud, and a Mediterranean woman wrapped up in a brown coat holding a book in her hand and smiling. This is how I met Bibliolibrò and her maker, Valentina Rizzi. With her thick and ruffled hair, her big and dark eyes, she is a perfect Anna Magnani, who, with the wind in the hair, her harsh and piercing gaze and a smile, confronts any situation in order to go out and sell her illustrated books. She brought me back to my childhood, to those Sunday afternoons when I used to sit on the sofa with my parents and watch old Italian black and white movies portraying a country which was not victim of appearances yet and where beauty was born from the intense flavour of life. The sun. The scent of Mediterranean pine trees. The fragrance of pizza or of piping hot spaghetti. The taste of a glass of red wine in your mouth. A white cotton handkerchief mopping the forehead of those beautiful but real movie stars. And the noise… so many laughs, screams, cries.
So I started to follow the vicissitudes of the little Apecar, the ‘apetta’ (little bee) as Valentina calls it, until I invited her to Modena to listen to her story. Bibliolibrò, the little Apecar, buzzes at 40 km/h speed max, its colour is the most vivid blue of the sky. Touring and itinerant, it travels around Ostia and its surroundings in order to promote illustrated books – creating amusing, recreational, dramatic and fictional situations that involve books and children.
This project was started to be a satellite, an attraction for clients, a daughter and therefore a help for an agonizing bookshop. Orphan at birth – the bookshop has now closed its eyes forever – it had to learn the hard job of the street bookseller.
“Because you know, miss … if you sold artichokes, it would be easier – a traffic warden once told her – you pull in, a box of artichokes and you take the money, another box of artichokes and you take the money. In twenty minutes you have run out of boxes and you go home… but you sell books! Miss! And books are made to be browsed through! People stop and minutes go by! This is occupation of public soil… listen to me, Miss, it would be better to sell artichokes” Valentina tells me, laughing.
Yes, it would be better, but Valentina believes in books, she has even written some of them. Actress, writer, inventor of anything in a few seconds, she has a thinking and active, energetic and dreaming mind. An open mind.
She waters vases of culture on the day of Librerie in fiore. She arranges a photographic set at the tyre repairer’s where she brought her little Apecar and involves everybody in a landscape of tyres and books. She lays handkerchiefs on the pavement, on low walls or on the staircase of a church and rustles up a red carpet where she puts her treasures to attract an audience. To make adults and children laugh. But after twenty minutes she has to remove everything and get back on the vehicle. She has to clear out, like an illegal seller of bags or other goods, she has to drive around the block in order to keep up the appearances in front of the public order, otherwise she wouldn’t be just an idealist and an incorrigible dreamer, but also an illegal occupier of public soil.
We laugh together, again and again, as she moves around my kitchen and tells me about herself, and I imagine the little Apecar turning around the block and whistling while the traffic warden takes his statutory walk, and all the coloured little books and booklets totter, furtively and quietly waiting for their new destination, with eyes as big and round as those of Valentina. However, things are getting easier now, she has made friends with other traders, some traffic wardens smile when they see her, still thinking that girl would better sell artichokes but she is obsessed, you know … hers is an adventurous story, made of daily simplicity and a lot of reality, which – in a comical and almost absurd way – paints a perfect portrait of our society and culture.
Bibliolibrò is equipped with oars in case of floods, and wings for precipices. It shines under the sun and revives like a plant after the rain. Nothing and nobody can destroy it. It feeds on smiles. And culture. On colours and stories. And even if it doesn’t receive the protection it deserves from those who manage culture in Italy – since people think that selling books on the street is the same as selling artichokes, or even worse! – it doesn’t care. Exterminator of stupidity, Bibliolibrò knows no obstacles. It should be invited to stand in the main squares of our country.
It should be invited to reproduce, to have children and people this land which has always been kissed by the sun.
I would like to imagine a future in which Bibliolibrò goes humming through the streets and all the children leave their toys for five minutes, go towards it and listen to a nice fairy-tale saying OHHH at once in front of a beautiful illustration.
But I am not worried, I look at Valentina standing behind the bars of my clothes-horse. She is holding Vita da cani in her hands, with an evil, Cattivik-like smile on her face and in her eyes I can spot a little light that promises new ideas to defeat ignorance.