Books, Books, and More Books!

On Saturday, April Fool’s Day, I shut off the water, closed the gas bottle under the sink, opened the main power to the flat, and locked the door. After dropping the key in the mailbox, I rode to World Bike Formia for a final farewell to Vincenzo and Benedetta, and to pick up the WBF cap that they had waiting for me. Then I stopped by Tempo Prezioso for another quick farewell. River Run 2017 was about to begin. 

At the station in Formia, I consulted with the ticket agent about the best way to make sure that I could load my heavy bicycle and panniers without being left on the platform – something that happened to me last month. He suggested getting the attention of the conductor, so that the capotreno could hold the train and also show me where to load. Unable to locate that worthy when the train disgorged its passengers, I ran to the front of the train, one of three locations where both the capotreno and the bicycle car are often located. I got the attention of the locomotive engineer in his cabin, and quickly hefted my panniers and bicycle up the steep steps into the car. A moment later, the capotreno materialized, blaming me for holding up the train. He insisted that I leave the train, because there were no proper bicycle racks on this train. That was a dodge, because the train was scheduled to carry bikes. It was a matter of his saving face. I recognized the type by the way he wore his uniform and walked (see Tim Parks’ excellent travel book, Italian Ways, for a better description). A minute later I was watching the train that I had reserved leave without me in spite of my best efforts. Now you know why I try to take a train that has two more behind it, before I really need to be at my destination. An hour later than planned (but well before dinner), I was checking into the Mosaic Hostel on Via Cernaia in Rome. This was a clean, well-equipped facility, much to my taste. A delicious dinner at the Al 39 restaurant recommended by Matteo at the hostel desk put me in a fine mood for the start of my journey.

The air smelled fresh on Sunday morning as I pushed my heavily laden bicycle out into the street. I rode two blocks to the Via Palestro and turned right. Heavy rain drops began to fall, but they were spread out so that it was not a soaking rain. Still, April is a rainy month in Rome, and the clean air and light traffic took me back 40 years to a time when the city was not so choked with traffic and diesel exhaust. In 20 minutes, I was pushing my bicycle through the Tiburtina railway station on my way to Track 2.
The Regionale Veloce Train 2310 raced up the fertile floodplain of the Tiber River, following its course through Lazio, Umbria, and Tuscany. I had forgotten that the train would run almost to the source of the river before stopping in Florence. The topography reminded me of the Central Valley of California with farms on both sides of the river and tall ridges lining the edges of the Valley. The dominant color was a brilliant springtime green as the fields and the woods beyond them burst into life. I wished that I had time to ride this pleasant valley. As it was, the Tiber River became the first European river that I would follow on River Run 2017.

The conductor on this train contrasted dramatically with his colleague from the day before. The capotreno of RV2310 helped me with the bike, and seemed happy to have me aboard. He gave me a tip which I wish I had had years ago: instead of buying a bicycle supplement ticket for €3.50, I could buy a 10-kilometer ticket for the bicycle for €1.50. That ticket would also be good for 24 hours, instead of expiring at midnight as the bicycle supplement does.

By 1800, I was riding along the ancient Via Emilia (Via Mazzini in modern-day Bologna), and settling into the second floor apartment that my Warmshowers host Nicolò Garagni shares with four young women. Two of them are first-year college students, one is doing her National Service at a social services agency, and the fourth is a medical doctor. Supper was a collaborative affair, in which each of the tenants cooked supper in the shared kitchen, then everyone shared family-style around the kitchen table. No pizza boxes and beer cans for these college students: instead, we had veal cutlets, salad, and frittata di patate, with a 2015 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (my contribution). The whole dinner cost less than a pizza from Domino’s.

For the next three days, I commuted on the number 39 bus to the sprawling complex of the Bologna fair grounds. The Bologna Children’s Book Fair is arguably the largest children’s literature event in the world. There are hundreds of exhibitors and dozens of presentations. I started out at a panel of authors who have written about terrorism and other horrific real-world events in their children’s books. The subject of the panel was “narrating the real world for children.” The interpreter (English-Italian) was my friend Denise Muir, and one of the panelists was the author of the first part of the book I translated last summer, Talking to Children about ISIS. The room was packed, and the four experts had some very helpful things for the writers and publishers in the audience. Some of the takeaways from that panel are worth sharing:

Nicky Singer explained why she is not afraid to put real-world suffering in her books. “Tragedy does not wait for us to grow up. I lost my father very suddenly at 14. The whole house was under house arrest until the autopsy proved that my mother had not poisoned my father. Death did not wait until I was 18 to come into my life.” She makes the very strong point that we need not to hide children from reality, death, and the other things of life, but to help them face those things without fear.

Alberto Pellai pointed out that we owe children a future of hope not despair. They deserve to be able to live and play, not just survive.

Alice Fornasetti said, “I am not a fan of the ‘happy ending’. Children, the younger the better, are an audience with far less prejudice than adults.” They can take in and deal with a wider range of realities than adults can.

That afternoon, I volunteered to be the interpreter for an event at the Author’s Café, in which the best-selling English writer, Nicky Singer, was interviewed. The organizers had not provided for an interpreter, so my services were much appreciated.

Tuesday, I wandered through the various publishers’ stands, and attended presentations at the Translator’s Café. That night, I attended a networking event sponsored by one of the publishers and then went to dinner at the Clorofilla restaurant nearby with Denise and her roommate Dena. The next day, I met with the publisher of the ISIS book and we discussed distribution strategies. At the White Star stand nearby, a copy the book I translated just last year, Combat Aircraft, was on display. It had only come out in December. I had not known that it had been printed yet. In less than 24 hours, my Author’s Page at tripled in size (

The Bologna Children’s Book Fair can be a very satisfying event for authors, illustrators, and translators, even though the emphasis is supposed to be on selling and trading rights to children’s books. Translators are treated with respect, and there are many interesting events for people interested in books, literature, writing, or publishing – including modern digital media.

Wednesday night, Nicolò made farfalle alla Bolognese. After supper, I finished laying out my route through the Easter weekend on and writing to Warmshowers hosts along the way. Thursday was one of those priceless days that come only rarely on the road: a day to sleep in (0800), do laundry, clear all the emails and correspondence, and pack for the trip. Nicolò lent me his folding bicycle, an American Dahon, which I thoroughly enjoyed riding to dinner. There may be a folding bike in my future! We ate Da Vito, a trattoria not far from the house, which served excellent traditional Bolognese fare in abundant portions. A definite stop next time I come to Bologna.

I went to sleep more than a little excited about the prospects of starting out on River Run 2017 on my loaded bicycle.

Smooth roads and tailwinds,


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