|The very crowded cafe' at RED - lots of folks|
show up for free food and drink!
The recent opening of a new “concept” store for Italy’s largest book retailer, La Feltrinelli, overwhelmed us in several ways. One was simply the enormous crowd that showed up promptly at 6 p.m. – for a bookstore! Of course, Feltrinelli’s is trying to sell this as more than a bookstore, since retail book stores are an endangered species these days. “RED” is designated by the book seller as “Read, Eat, Dream” (yes, in English) and includes a café serving full meals, a bar, and a garden patio – all off the very busy via del Corso, close to Piazza del Popolo; quite large by Italian standards but with a small store-front street presence. Feltrinelli’s has many shops throughout Rome, in fact 2 more within half a mile of this one, and several of them have performance spaces where we have heard authors such as Erica Jong and musicians such as Roberto Gatto (Italy’s premier jazz drummer). Clearly La Feltrinelli is trying to enhance the bookshop experience to get readers in the store (think Barnes & Noble/Starbucks combination – with more hype). I, for one, hope they succeed.
|Saviano in blue shirt, right, greeting his public. Carlo|
Feltrinelli in jacket and lighter blue shirt, smiling at the
successful RED opening ("Do you like it?" he asked ME!)
Back to RED… it also overwhelmed us because CEO Carlo Feltrinelli was there himself (and promptly at 6) and was escorting perhaps Italy’s most famous current writer, Roberto Saviano, through the store. Saviano wrote Gomorrah, a semi-(only)fictional indictment of the mafia (known there as the Camorra) south of Naples. Gomorrah has been a best seller, a movie, and the making of an icon – Saviano himself, who has continued to be a dominant voice about Italy’s problems. (We ran into an American friend at the store opening – she said she just wanted to sit at a table near “my idol.”) Saviano's fame might be understood as similar to that of Woodward and Bernstein in the heady days of the first publication of their Washington Post articles on the Watergate scandal.
We contrast RED's opening day with a much quieter one, several years ago, when we went to a Richard Ford signing. Carlo was there also, and we met him. And Ford, because we were the only ones there for the signing.
|Ah, yes, chicken wings!|
And then there’s the overwhelming concept of RED. Okay, red has long been the color used in all of Feltrinelli’s logos and ads. And so the store is named RED, with the flimsy “Read, Eat, Dream” tagline. But, and here’s where it gets interesting, also handed out at the opening was a 30 page large-format pamphlet titled “At 40 years – in remembrance of Giangiacomo Feltrinelli” – Giangiacomo, the father of Carlo, indeed founded the bookstore enterprise. And, no doubt, he was a giant in the publishing industry, starting his own house and being the first in the world to publish, for example, Pasternak, and specifically Doctor Zhivago. The pamphlet includes a letter from Pasternak to Giangiacomo.
Giangiacomo’s story borders on the mythic. He was born the son of a super-rich industrialist family and ended as a leftist militant, apparently killed while trying to blow up a high-voltage tower near Milan (but his death remains suspicious and many don’t buy this explanation). His son, Carlo, has written a riveting book on his father that we recommend to RST readers: Feltrinelli: A Story of Riches, Revolution, and Violent Death. So, indeed Giangiacomo was a “Red,” as in a Communist. The first page of the pamphlet is Giangiacomo’s “autobiography” that he was required to write to gain admission to the Italian Communist party. Giangiacomo’s image is displayed throughout the new RED store – pitching various items. It is inconceivable to Americans that a market-dominant business would promote itself using Communist themes. But this is Italy. And RED.