It won't be a surprise to anyone that I love books.
They keep my soul warm.
Last week, our Italian teacher Graziella, brought a book into class.
She waved the book around and waffled on in Italian about it but I only caught a few words.
Basically, I heard that something was going to happen with the book for about an hour at 5pm on Thursday in the school library.
When we saw Graziella the day after, she was still wandering around with the book as if she was the publisher.
The book was clearly important to Graziella so I told Stu I was going to do the 'book' thing. Being the selfless human being that he is (coffee addict), he offered to come with me but spend the hour in the cafe nearby.
So on Thursday afternoon, we finished work in the garden, jumped into the shower and then dressed for town.
We arrived in Canelli central a little late because the once-an-hour train decided to come through at an inconvenient time and we got caught at the crossing.
However, we were on time for Italy, where everything starts at least 15 minutes late. Even our Italian lessons don't start on time.
As Stu sneaked off to the cafe, I poked my head in the door. The library was tiny. It was only the size of a loungeroom and it was decked out with approximately 10 rows of 10 chairs. Almost every chair was taken. I was tempted to escape to the cafe.
But Graziella saw me and bounded up to welcome me. She wore a suit and jewellery; her hair was coiffured and her face was made up. She was not the Graziella we knew from our lessons.
She immediately introduced me to the book 'whatever' man (was he the author, the publisher, the illustrator?). He wore a checked shirt and jeans and was a small man, bald and humble but with smiling eyes. He shook my hand warmly and his eyes shone at me. I was then introduced to the school's 'presidente' (principal) who was a little distracted with the event but friendly. I found myself so warmly welcomed that I simply couldn't escape. And I no longer wanted to.
When Graziella asked if Stu had come, I realised suddenly that Stu simply had to be part of the enthusiasm that seemed to be spilling over the place.
I dashed outside to get him, only to see him already in position at an outdoor table waiting for someone to take his order. I gesticulated wildly until he saw me then I waved him over. His reaction wasn't exactly positive, his body language less than enthusiastic at being dragged away from his little luxury in the sun.
I gave up. I know when I'm beaten so I returned to the library and took one of the few free chairs that remained. In the front row.
A few seconds later I felt a shadow hover over me as Stu sat down next to me.
I noticed that Graziella had taken a seat at the front of the room, along with the man who was the book 'whatever' and another particularly dashing young man who wore a shiny grey designer suit and soft handmade leather shoes. I knew they were soft even without touching them. They were the ultimate in Italian craftsmanship.
Fifteen minutes later than scheduled, the very dashing young man started to speak.
I think he was introducing the book 'whatever' man but I didn't catch exactly what he said or what the 'whatever' was. Then he said something about 'journalista'. Immediately after, he asked the book 'whatever' man a question. There was a long response during which the 'journalista' interrupted the 'whatever' man several times. In the typical Italian way, they overspoke each another but talked naturally and enthusiastically.
Suddenly, Graziella got up, armed with her copy of the book. She took a deep breath, which seemed to give her another persona. She then read from her book with such expression and artistry that we sat open-mouthed wondering about the hidden skills of our teacher.
We realised quickly that she was reading an excerpt out of the book. After a 5 minute reading, she sat down again and the 'journalista' asked the 'whatever' man another question. This cycle went on for about an hour.
At the end, the journalista thanked everyone for their attendance and Graziella thanked the 'international guests' for their attendance.
We blushed deeply when we realised Graziella was talking about us. She then asked us if we'd understood anything. I said 'un po' (a little) and the audience laughed. As most people left, a few people closest to us hovered around, asking us where we were from, where we lived, etc.
I still don't know what the event was or who the 'whatever' man was.
But I do know that along with books keeping my soul warm the locals are keeping my heart warm.