A preview of what to expect and where to find it

It's not just the pasta and the paintings that warm the hearts of publishers as Bologna fairtime approaches. Over the years, through trial and error, the year-round exhibitions group responsible for the show has created a jewel of a fairgrounds, the amenities as state-of-the-art as you'd want, close to medieval and Renaissance marvels but not so close as to be distracting. In a word, it's very near the top in performance among international fairs.

Sipping Espresso
SIPPING ESPRESSO in a cafe overlooking Bologna's Plazza Maggiorre is one of the Fair's many pleasures.

The 10 exhibition halls are not strung out but clustered; moving from the U.S. to Britain to France, Germany or Scandinavia is painless. No surprise that the fair has captured the children's, young adult and supplementary reading material producers of every major country and dozens of smaller ones, now represented by some 1400 exhibiting imprints.

In a field with a high percentage of co-productions and much subsidiary rights activity, fair manager Francesca Ferrari presides over an event that is at once a market and a weathervane. Will the arrival of the euro -- which even before the introduction of new coins and bills stabilizes exchange rates in the leading markets of continental Europe -- make for preferential trading between members of the currency union to the exclusion of outsiders? Will Asia begin a comeback this year, and if so, will Brazil, Argentina and neighboring states replace Japan and its neighbors as problem children? For answers, be at Bologna '99.

This year, once again American and British publishers will be housed in facing pavilions, with a Literary Agents Center included in the package. Nearby, a T-shaped double pavilion contains the rest of the exhibitors save the Italians, who show in six smaller pavilions covering some 65,500 sq. ft. of exhibition area. But the biggest foreign contingent -- Britain's -- alone occupies 47,000 sq. ft., the U.S. another 19,000. In addition to electronic publishing projects visible here and there at the booths of traditional print publishers, a Software Arcade will display the wares of dedicated multimedia producers.

Inside Hall 28, shared by the U.S. with the overflow from the U.K. hall, and by Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa, a U.S. Media Pavilion-sponsored by the Department of Commerce's Commercial Service provides space for American multimedia producers not otherwise represented. And once again the traditional award ceremony will feature a New Media Prize co-sponsored by the fair and Children's Software Revue (U.S.). Prizes are announced and bestowed at an opening cocktail reception in the Congress Palace at the main entrance (April 8 at 6:30 p.m.). A free shuttle bus will ferry participants to the town center at the close of the party. The fair also offers a free shuttle service to town every evening at closing time.

The Literary Agents Center, which includes a message desk, meeting corners, lockers and a snack-and-coffee bar, is available to professional agents for a 600,000-lire registration fee (about $360). Booksellers represent a small

The Fountain of Neptune
THE FOUNTAIN OF NEPTUNE in the Plazza del Nettuno was sculpted by Giovanni da Bologna in the mid-16th century.

but important percentage of professional visitors (and, as has been true for several years, only professionals are admitted to the fairgrounds). For them an International Booksellers Center, co-sponsored by Bologna and the European Booksellers Federation, will offer orientation for first-timers. And to make sure that kids don't overrun the fair, there is a day-care center (look for the Spazio Ragazzi sign).

The regular Bologna catalogue, with a Who's Who supplement, is now available via the Internet, updated weekly, at www.bolognafiere.it/bookfair. A CD-ROM catalogue will be distributed this month, while the print edition will be available at the fair. One of Bologna's acclaimed institutions is the annual Illustrator's Exhibition -- all entries vetted by a panel of professionals -- whose catalogue includes reproductions and addresses, making it useful as a year-round art source. An Illustrators Café (with perhaps the only free espresso bar in the world of books) adjoins an open conference area for special events, including talks by editors and authors; this year's special guest is Tomí Ungerer.

For those planning a vacation add-on, note that the fair dates (April 8-11) are uncomfortably close to Easter this year (Easter Sunday is April 4, and in Italy Monday the 5th is also a national holiday); reservations at most popular sites will probably be tight both for the weeks leading up to and following the holiday weekend.