Wednesday, December 03, 2008

I went to Shanghai to buy a Hat

Guests crowded thestairs leading to the basement of the Italian Bookshop in Cecil Court, and no wonder- the guest speaker was from the ‘ministro’. Or could it be he was the ministro? I couldn't quite catch it, although classmate Bamboo tries to keep my Italian up to scratch. The talk was about Sino-Italian relations, all in Italian, and it sounded like one of those political speeches delivered at some low-key venue that's headline news next day. He gesticulated a lot, so sounds from the hand mike came and went and his talk was punctuated by protests from people in the one-and-nines at the top of the stairs. Bamboo had persuaded someone to bring one of those kick-steps for me to sit on.

It’s not long since I reviewed her last book, ‘Blue China’ for the Dimsum website. The daughter of an Italian diplomat and Chinese opera singer who met in Shanghai during the war, she moved to Italy when she about ten years old and I admire both her elegance and her industry. She lives in London with her English husband and entertains me when she sits next to me in the twice-weekly Frith Street Chinese class.

Most of the speech went over my head so I admired the elegant dresses, footwear and hairstyles in the audience. The bookshshop manager, a tall woman in satin velvet printed with a kind of muted Mondrian pattern, made graceful arm gestures at the throng and at the speaker. Bamboo began to talk and soon had everone laughing at her anecdotes about Shanghai. I remember how well she compared with Xinran, no mean speaker herself, at the Asia House launch of 'Blue China'

The latest book, whose title is a quote from a Marlene Dietrich film, is autobiographical too, but with a focus on the city. Even the post-talk snacks were stylish - ciabatta squares filled with piquant cream cheese and cooked sliced courgette and mushroom. I didn’t stay for wine, although tempted by the cosy atmosphere of the upstairs shop, as I faced a cold train journey home

My Review of Blue China:

The Italian Bookshop website:

No comments: