The story of the former warehouse that protects the history of Venice from high tide

Storiedichi_Libreria_Acqua_Alta_Venezia_05Many people consider it the most beautiful bookstore in the world, even if it is a little strange. At the store, some 100,000 new and used books for sale are not neatly arranged on bookshelves. Rather, they are piled in boats, canoes, bathtubs and even a gondola. Journalists go crazy over it. Tourists wouldn’t miss it. The extravagance of this huge labyrinth of books in Venice, housed in what used to be a ground-floor storage area regularly “embraced” by high tide, cannot be grasped without knowing the story of its creator.
Storiedichi_Libreria_Acqua_Alta_Venezia_05His name is Luigi Frizzo. He is 75 years old and loves to compliment the ladies. He speaks five languages and has lived all over the world. He has had three children with three different women and became a bookseller at the age of 40 after having worked as a ship’s steward, a miner, a body shop mechanic, a tour guide and at an endless number of other occasional jobs.

“I was born in Vicenza, grew up in Val d’Aosta, lived in Tahiti, New Zealand, Canada and Australia,” he says. “When I was little I herded cows and helped my parents on the farm. By a strange series of coincidences, I became a bookseller.” And what a bookseller! Luigi is a disciple of Steiner, whose motto “think, feel, want” has become the leitmotif of his life. For Luigi, “It is not enough to just study and read: you’ve got to create something with your hands, too, “ he says. “Books are there to teach us to act.
Four cats roam the stock at “Libreria Acqua Alta.” Volumes are organized into sections and there are no digital catalogues. There are rare “tidbits,” or “chicche” as the Venetians say, on the history of Venice, foreign language classics, comics, prints, postcards, samples of eroticism and even some condoms with the image of Casanova, which tourists buy as souvenirs. The telephone and electricity are only “technology” in the bookstore.

Libreria Acqua Alta gets its name from the fact that, at high tide, Luigi Frizzo wears rubber boots to sell books. In this place, somewhat tucked away near Campo Santa Maria Formosa, water enters at will and books are arranged at least 15 centimeters off the floor. The idea of putting them in boats, bathtubs and a gondola came to Frizzo when he wanted to add a touch of originality to the bookstore. “I brought in a fair number of unused canoes and about ten bathtubs,” Frizzo recalls. “I found them to protect the books from the water, but I also wanted to create an identity for this place.”Storiedichi_Libreria_Acqua_Alta_Venezia_03

WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY Silvia Zanardi