Inga knows her job. She guides her small flock of journalists around 110 displays of unusual flooring by making quick, darting runs and occasionally nipping the ankles of the hindmost. We inspect fine leather floors for bathrooms, fun floors for trendy bars that change colour when you step on them, floors of patinated copper, brushed chromium … floors made from tiles of fossilised trees that go for €10,000 a square metre (wholesale). They are amazingly beautiful. So beautiful that we almost forgive Inga for trying to make us spend all three days of the press trip to Saie Due in Bologna looking at them. Starting at 7.30 in the morning.
"They want you to get the most out of your visit," said Fabrizio, the charming man from the Italian Trade Commission. "But Fabrizio, we're journalists. The reason we became journalists was to avoid this kind of thing happening in our lives." Fabrizio, who's hoping to do a little shopping himself, considers this. "You can always say you've got an appointment," he says. "The bus back is *1."
Lunch is served. We Brits sit with colleagues from around Europe. Jean-Pierre from L'Architecture d'Aujourd'hui is gloomy about the future for high-quality magazines, even ones like his that sell for a measly *25. Hildegarde, from Detail, talks about the gloom over the German market. The Italians hadn't bothered to turn up to the ceramics fair in Munich last year: nobody was buying. The manufacturers were on their knees. Tortellini is served in a walnut sauce. Hildegard tells us this form of pasta was created by an Italian chef in the shape of his lover's navel. Well, as long as it was just her navel he had in mind …
Back at the fair, it's Thursday afternoon, so it must be locks. More types of locks than you might have thought probable. We pass a stand that consists entirely of small padlocks, such as you may purchase in Homebase, arranged on dramatically overlit glass shelves. "Isn't it funny," said an English hack. "They're only locks." "Only locks? Only locks? Ahimè signora! Look closer … these are locks unlike any other. They are made of the finest Namibian titanium and burnished on the freshly washed hair of angelic children! We allow only top snooker referees to place them on these shelves …"
To digress, we all know that Italians have a visual culture. The entire country appears to have just popped into a hairdresser on the way back from a spree at a top couture house. Hour-long reports on depilation techniques are shown on prime-time television. And as for Bologna, the small city attached to the very large exhibition centre, it is the Platonic form of what an urban renaissance looks like. Not only are there no Arndales, there are no chain stores. All the shops look as though they have been in the family since the Medicis.
What you may be less familiar with is just how paranoid Italians are. Which brings us back to the locks. One popular model consists of a steel door in a steel frame secured by three massive steel bars than run from the latter into the former. I point this out to Inga, who assures me that it is normal. She says burglary is fairly common, and Italians are not a naturally trusting people.
This is confirmed by the man at the stand dedicated to LED lighting. He informs me, sotto voce, that his products are so revolutionary that the bulb makers are out to get him. He thinks they are watching him. The new tenants in the apartment next door aren't who they say they are. He wasn't sure he could trust the organisers of this very fair. Had I heard of Roberto Calvi? I listened politely, nodding.
Later, after I had got back to England, I read, as you may have done, about the middle-aged man stylishly murdered and attractively embedded in resin flooring on the outskirts of a north Italian city. Had Inga, I wondered, been entirely truthful?
David Rogers is group production editor of Building.