In the first five minutes of a conversation with Piero Rivolta, the Italian industrialist-turned-novelist dismisses two of his greatest claims to fame: sports cars and the label “Renaissance man.”
“What does this term mean, Renaissance man?” Rivolta asks in a heavy accent. “People call me this, but I don’t understand. Is it that I have a lot of hobbies? That I think outside of the box?”
Yes and yes.
In his hometown of Milan, Italy, Rivolta, 69, is known as the former CEO of IsoRivolta, the luxury sports-car-manufacturing firm he inherited at the age of 26. From the old snapshots of cars lining his office to his decision to drive ordinary Volvos, Rivolta is at once devoted and rebellious.
“I don’t care about cars,” he says quickly. “I spent all my life making and designing cars, but if I had designed a washing machine, I would be a nobody. And some washing machines are more complicated than cars.”
A hopeless romantic, Rivolta had always dreamed of becoming a novelist, but the ambition was cut short when his father, Renzo Rivolta, died at 57, making him one of the youngest car-manufacturer CEOs in the world.
“It was a difficult time,” Rivolta says of his mid-20s. “There were so many things I wanted to do, but I put writing on the back burner.”
Still, he managed to embark on a number of endeavors.
There were the champion jumping horses he raised on a farm in Tuscany, the spinning mill he operated in Brazil, the real-estate development he dabbled in across Europe and Central America, and the poetry he published in literary magazines.
By his 40th birthday, however, he had sold IsoRivolta and moved to Bird Key, where the water was deep enough to accommodate his sailboat and protect it from prevailing northwest winds.
In Sarasota, Rivolta began developing golf communities, high-rise condominiums and shopping centers. His passion for the arts rekindled and, in 1987, he co-founded La Musica International Chamber Music Festival.
Now much of his business ventures are focused on designing and building yachts, and, as of late, green-certified Key West-style cottages off University Parkway.
“I like to create objects from scratch,” Rivolta says. “And I feel very proud when I finish. Sometimes I just squeak by and make no money, but they all survive to the end.”
Sitting in his red-walled office on the third floor of his downtown high-rise condominium, Rivo, Rivolta most closely resemble his latest job titles — writer and publisher.
Bearded and sporting a pair of tortoiseshell glasses, Rivolta appears grandfatherly, an Italian Hemingway in a pale-blue cardigan vest, surrounded by dreamy book-jacket illustrations of the sea.
He launched his Sarasota publishing house, New Chapter Publisher, in 2007, shortly before penning his first novel, “Alex and the Color of the Wind,” the story of an architect who embarks on a solo sailing voyage in an attempt to discover his true path.
The story, like all Rivolta projects, is not without romance. The protagonist falls in love with a mysterious woman who rekindles his passion for life.
“All the ladies in my books are smart,” Rivolta says. “That is not always the case with the men.”
“I like ladies,” he says. “When I go to a party, I find myself talking mostly to ladies.”
Whether he’s enlightened or merely a flirt doesn’t matter. Rivolta’s novels are heartfelt extensions of the things the writer treasures most — women, sailing, self-actualization and profundity.
“All the most popular books are full of action, which can be very superficial,” Rivolta says. “They want to give you a very fast message like you are watching television. I like to write books that examine the human being, what they are thinking, what they are feeling — not only action.”
His latest novel, “The Castaway,” a sequel to “Sunset in Sarasota,” was inspired by some of Rivolta’s favorite authors, among them Paulo Coelho and Hermann Hesse.
Unlike writers who agonize over every word, Rivolta says his stories flow fast and with no outline or plan. He always writes his first drafts by hand and in Italian. With the help of a transcriber, whom Rivolta calls “a saint,” the work is later translated into English and pumped into a word processor.
“I’ve got a lot of things in my study,” Rivolta says. “It’s a kind of a disorganized disaster. I work very good and fast with a fountain pen and piece of paper.”
If You Go
Piero Rivolta will sign copies and read excerpts from his latest book, “The Castaway,” from 6 to 7 p.m. Thursday, May 6, at Media On Main, 1341 Main St.
Contact Heidi Kurpiela at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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