Last night I returned from my first trip to Italy – Florence and Venice to be specific. As you know if you’ve visited (or guessed correctly if you haven’t), it is beautiful, even magical. Lots of pizza and pasta and pigeons and paintings – and people! My husband, son and I travelled at peak tourist season, which is probably not the best introduction to Italy, but it’s the time we could go and we quickly learned to explore relatively out of the way restaurants, museums and shops. As my dad always says, “you find the best stuff when you’re lost,” and he’s right. The highlights of our time in Venice was not St. Mark’s Square, but the quiet square near our hotel where children were playing soccer and the neighborhood church was celebrating its annual festival.
Of course, we visited every bookstore we walked by – including those that sold only Italian books. It’s fun to look at the covers! Here are my book-related observations from ten days in Italy:
1. There are lots of bookstores. As straightforward as that may sound, it was actually (in our opinion) somewhat significant. On the most tourist-traveled roads and in backstreet squares, there were places to buy books, many of them with English language sections.
2. Our favorite bookstore of the trip was in B&M Books, the oldest English book shop in Florence. It is a small shop, beautifully and thoughtfully arranged, that carries good travel guides, Italian-based fiction, art books, and photography books. What makes B&M Books especially nice to visit is the store’s owner, a young man from Sweden who bought the store in early 2012 after living in Florence for six years. He clearly loves sharing his passion for reading with his customers, and he gave us some wonderful recommendations. We left his shop with a lighter wallet and a heavier suitcase!
3. Pinocchio! He’s everywhere…on magnets and pencils and t-shirts and on every other souvenir you can imagine. Naturally, I was like a mouse in their profit-driven trap. It seemed almost obligatory for me to buy a plush Pinocchio and a 2013 calendar and even a wooden figure made by a curiously Geppetto-like man. I knew Carlos Collodi, the author of Pinocchio, was from Florence, but here’s what I was horrified to learn (from Wikipedia)…in the original serialized version (1883), Pinocchio dies a “gruesome death – hanged for his innumerable faults.” That’s harsh. Fortunately, for children (and adults) everywhere, a smart editor stepped in and encouraged Collodi to let Pinocchio turn into a “real boy” before the book was published.
We also bought art museum catalogues and guides to museums and churches and a book about the problems Venice faces because of too many tourists. Of course we knew about the ongoing problems caused by rising sea levels and millions of tourists before our first glimpse of the Grand Canal, but when you are “in it,” the challenges seem enormous. It’s a place I wanted to see and it is as magical as advertised, but every time we threw a plastic water bottle away or saw a large billboard covering a historic building, we felt a little tug about adding to the problem. One thing I plan to do now that I’m back is to learn more about organizations like Save Venice, the respected New York-based nonprofit dedicated to preserving art and architecture.
After I unpack, I will post a note about my vacation reading, which like most of my summer reading, did not go as planned. Delightful, but unexpected.