Culture /

An Ode To The Italian Edicole

“Once the centre of our quartieri, edicole are now an endangered species.”

I’ve recently started buying the Saturday newspaper again. And magazines. I pick them up at the edicola (newsstand) just outside my compound, then go read them at the bar next door, with a caffe e cornetto to keep me company.

The habit reminds me of my grandpa, who used to go to the edicola every day to get his quotidiano. But it also stems from a realisation I have had after decades of living abroad: in its small way, the edicola offers a perfect slice of Italy. And, as I reacquaint myself with life here, rediscovering it has been a blast. 

More than just a kiosk that sells newspapers, the edicola is an ecosystem of culture and gossip, high- and low-brow, pragmatism and consumerism. It’s maybe the only place where tabloids sit next to literary magazines, and bus tickets that’ll take us home are found alongside cheap plastic knick-knacks we’ll never need — which many edicole have had to include in their offerings in order to survive. It’s a mirror of us: frivolous and serious, all at once. 

A look at its history shows it’s always been this way. For much of the 20th century, as they spread around cities big and small, edicole served as a channel to inform and educate Italians from all classes and ages, but also thrill, shock and sometimes anger them with the simple display of a headline. More than that, they became embedded in the social fabric of our neighbourhoods and, by extension, our identities. For many, the edicola was a meeting point and a weekend treat (as a child, going to get Topolino was often the highlight of my week), a source of escapism and the ultimate destination to hear the latest tattle from the edicolante – who, somehow, would always know everything about everyone. 

Where they still stand, edicole continue to play that social role today. In Garbatella, where I live, my edicola always has a small cluster of elderly men standing in front of it, chatting about this and that as they purchase their newspapers and Settimana Enigmistica (I haven’t been let into the circle yet, but one can hope). The edicolante is on a first-name basis with most of his patrons, and never forgets to keep Internazionale aside for the old lady that lives by herself in the building next to mine. 

I love that gregariousness and human connection – which is why I find the latest numbers around edicole disheartening to say the least. 

According to the Italian Federation of Newspaper Publishers (Fieg), about a thousand edicole close in Italy every year. If twenty years ago there were over 36 thousand, today there are just 11 thousand left, many of which have been converted into newsstands-bazaars to respond to the crisis of print newspapers, which, over the past 25 years, have lost over 5 million copies sold per day.

In other words: once the centre of our quartieri, edicole are now an endangered species. 

I’d suggest we declare them patrimonio nazionale. Or, at least, start paying them some attention again – be it by stopping to buy the Saturday newspaper or the monthly fashion glossy we follow on Instagram but whose physical copy we haven’t held in ages. 

You never know what could happen. Maybe the edicolante might end up learning your name. Maybe the old men you always see talking will greet you and make you part of their conversation. Maybe you’ll think of getting yourself not just one magazine, but a few, because print isn’t dead, and reading a good article al bar with an espresso is actually an immensely pleasurable way to while away a slow morning. 

No wonder my grandpa did it as a daily ritual.