The beach chronicles 2
Gabriella journeyed down from Cinisello Balsamo to the small town on the Riviera for her fortnight of sun, sea and spa, just as her mother used to do and her grandmother had done after the war. More than just a holiday, it is a summer ritual in which to find relaxation among an inheritance of places and customs: the same hotel, the same bathing establishment, the same grocery store to do some shopping. A revisiting of the same people every July over the course of decades, discovering children transformed into teenagers, fattened adults, or greying on a geriatric wave of grand-parenthood, in a dance of temporal acceleration where the implicit familiarity of the setting favours a mutual ageing.
After dinner walk. Stalls of clothes, shoes, mobile phone accessories, anything and everything for the kitchen, bags. After which the used books. Most people walk passed unswayed. Those who stop are the hard core readers who never got the hang of kindles or kobos, faithful to the sound of a page being turned, preferably a little yellowed. For years, Gabriella held a firm opinion on the second hand books you can buy at the stalls and which by chance keep the charm of reading alive: you almost never find the title you were looking for and end up buying books you would normally never give a second thought to, and in uninhibited abundance, promoting yourself to the rank of gambler, except in books.
The week before she had asked the man at the counter - a wizened sixty-year-old with a shrewd eye - if he had anything by Romagnoli.
"I think I have something, I'll just check," he replied, a stocky man, not too tall, staring at Gabriella's neckline over her holiday top, his glasses perched on the tip of his nose.
He recognizes her immediately even without her greeting him, scanning her up and down, pausing over her breasts, a little disappointed by the high-necked blouse, then tells her: "I was just thinking of you earlier! I brought along some Romagnoli, they're over there..."
Gabriella steps under the awning and leans over the counter. There are texts ranging from modernism to antiquarianism, from cooking to proverbs, from embroidery to Romagna-themed carnival costumes. Volumes that people fond of traditions and regional folk call "the Romagnoli". Not to disappoint him Gabriella resolved to buy one, though all of them were much more expensive than a haircut and styling. After a pause she clears up the confusion: "Ah! Excuse me, I really meant something by Gabriele Romagnoli."
The man's ears seem to become even more protruding, his complexion redder: "No, it's my fault, I ate the goose."
"Poor goose!” Gabriella exclaims with half a smile. "Meaning?"
"I mistook bottles for flasks."
The conversation meanders on, and, between one sentence and another - with the bookseller recommending Harry Potter in the original language to one boy and Eragon to another, while telling a lady he doesn't like Andrea Vitali because nothing ever happens in his books - it turns out that he breeds Scottish terriers and lives with about twenty dogs and fifty thousand books. He collects them from cellars and attics that people empty out then sells them for one or two euros, at the most three. He gives the proceeds to an Italian aid organisation working in Syria. He has a hip problem. Lately business is slow. Old and new customers send him requests via WhatsApp for books of which sometimes they cannot even remember the title, only a few sentences. Usually he manages to find them and when he can't he recommends something similar.
His dream has always been to work in a bookshop in Lisbon, something like that from Pereira Declares, "where books and their stories have a smell".
This is the first time he's come to this place, his stall positioned in front of a caramelized peanut and sweet stand immersed in the pervasive aroma of candyfloss.
He has a car with a trailer for his books, stories that for years he has been transporting here and there with infinite patience and devotion, a keeper of dreams.
Gabriella picks up two volumes by Wilbur Smith, one by Andrea Vitali, and two by Sophie Kinsella. She pays and along with the change finds a business card in her hand, perhaps an implicit invitation.
"These romagnoli..." she thinks once back in her hotel room, smiling and shedding her sandals with two little kicks in the air.
"As soon as I'm home, I'll dig up Romagnoli's e-mail and tell him about it."
Traduzione di Nigel Blake📚 Gli inediti di Elena Soprano