The hotel where Senna spent his last night, the Hotel Castello, hosted a Senna book launch the evening before the twenty year anniversary of Senna’s death. Of course, proceedings would be in Italian, meaning I would probably struggle to follow what was being said given my unpracticed poor Italian, however, I expected to be able to understand enough, and to get enough from the atmosphere for my journey to be worthwhile. I had no idea what to expect, but often that can be the best way with Italy.
My drive to Imola had been pretty torrid – I had left Villars-sur-Ollon, at the eastern end of Lake Geneva in the morning, and although it was lovely and sunny down in the valley, climbing up over the Alps there was rain, then snow. On the Italian side, it rained constantly, but with varying intensity, often testing the wipers of the rental all the way past Modena, Lodi and Bologna. To my surprise, despite minimal visibility, heavy traffic and a surface which failed to drain standing water, many Italians continued to motor at 90mph+. Feeling in danger of becoming part of somebody else’s accident, I got off the Autostrada and onto the old SS9, the Via Emilia. The old trunk road before the Autostrada, the SS9 is now very built up, but still, driving this road, you can be sure you’re in Ferrari’s wheeltracks, the wheeltracks of the Mille Miglia.
It would seem that my decade old Italian road atlas and googlemaps were not quite up to the viscitudes of Italy; I was very, very tired when I finally arrived in Castel San Pietro Terme, and checked in an hour or so before the book launch.
I got a lie of the land chatting with the receptionist: “Well, the book launch is in there (pointing) , but we don’t think there will be enough space for everyone…”.
Up in my room, I remember trying to find the will to take a shower and pull myself together, since everything seemed to be gently swaying….
With a clean shirt I made it downstairs to the restaurant and hogged pasta/beer/double espresso, and was thus supercharged to do my best with the language and still be early for the book launch. I wasn’t going to be forced to watch from the sidelines.
I observed the set up of the TV cameras during my meal, and although the main door to the room was closed, I decided simply to stroll in round the back, where the camera guys were setting up. The first to arrive, I took up a seat in the middle of the back row.
As the room filled, it seemed there was no pattern to the age or gender of the people attending.
“Is this business or pleasure for you ?” a german woman next to me asked (twitter handle @brigittamunich – a True Racing Fan if ever I met one) A fine question that, because I hadn’t yet worked out what this was all about, let alone whether I was learning enough for it to be Interesting Academic Research (business) not merely indulging my Car Hobby (pleasure). She was with a second rather handsome German woman; we were each 1%-er Senna fans, each old enough to remember his career in detail, bemused by how the Senna movie has brought “our” hero into the popular realm, each seeing Senna’s spirit in Lewis Hamilton today. There were plenty of media folk too, and infact the whole thing felt rather like a press conference.
I won’t lie, I struggled to make head or tail of proceedings, and this made me very sensitive to non-verbal communication taking place. It is hard to overstate the passion and enthusiasm. The whole concept of the book – Suite 200. L’ultima notte di Ayrton Senna (Suite 200: the Last Night of Ayrton Senna) has the feel of The Last Supper about it, and on the surface, like Suite 200 upstairs, seems a little macabre. The energy in the room was anything but dead and rotting. Many people wore button badges, at first glance a poor representation of Senna, upon closer scrutiny, Roland Ratzenberger, not Senna.
The chairs filled up, and soon people sat in the seats which had been marked as reserved, leading to confusion when the people for whom the seats had actually been reserved arrived late. Soon the room was overflowing with people, without even standing room, my eye line being continually interrupted by photographers in the aisle, and the late arrivals.
There was a lively silver haired old fellow who acted as chair. He spoke clear Italian, and I understood his questions, although the answers were often spoken too swiftly for me. I vaguely remember seeing him on Italian TV, and afterwards,people wanted their photos taken with him so I daresay I should have recognized him. Terruzzi himself has inappropriately long, straggling hair for a man in his fifties. The audio didn’t really work properly, prompting him to ask:
“Mi sentita ragazzi ?”
“No” we all chorused, over the ringing of the chairman’s cellphone.
Terruzzi’s response was to stand, speak more loudly, and gesticulate in a quintessentially Italian way.
Did I mention the passion ? After an hour or so of questions from the chair, there was then questions from the floor, and a debate. The session went over schedule, all the books sold out. The hotel reception was still thronged with people, drinking coffee and talking at half past midnight.
As I said, I couldn’t follow all of what was said, but the phrase “Come James Dean” – like James Dean – stuck in my mind: I had thought that of Senna before, now here were other people saying it.
I am amazed. I have put my Senna ghost to bed. I am surprised there is still so much to say.
As for the book, I ordered a copy when I got home to California, and it might be good, I’ve not braved the Italian text yet.