poste 160 anni

It feels good to be 160 years old, on a sunny morning at the Nuvola venue (“cloud” in Italian). It feels good to organise a birthday party, knowing that the 160 candles on the cake will be blown out amongst the smiles of important institutional figures. And how lovely to invite everyone to your party, with Alberto Angela giving a speech, while the notes of the national anthem fill the space, played by the band of the Carabinieri police force. You were born in 1862, so technically you are an old man, or perhaps rather an old lady, because your name takes the feminine gender in Italian: happy birthday, “Poste Italiane”! However, considering your biological age, it has to be said that you are really just a child. And in terms of life expectancy, technically, you are still an infant. So, to sum up, on your identity card it should be made clear that you are a child, yet you are ageless. And that you take the plural form “Italiane” as your surname, because yours is not an individual history, but one of plurality, of a population. To be more precise: yours is the complicated and compelling family history of an entire nation. The story of your 160 years is a tale of women and men, of telegraph operators and postmen, of inventors and builders, of technical personnel and pioneers: it is the story of a State that was unified also thanks to your correspondence, your words, your letters, your postage stamps, that have marked two centuries, that have carried an entire country forward, taking it by the hand: from postage stamps featuring the crowned heads of monarchs to a Republic of Presidents and secular heroes.

Flipping through the family album

Celebrate with us, on 5 May in Rome, this birthday, blowing out the candles on a sunny morning in the Eur district of Rome, at the Nuvola building (designed by architect Massimiliano Fuksas), to celebrate this 160-year-old yet ageless, timeless business, together with many mayors and key institutional figures, managers of the country’s biggest companies and lots of Poste Italiane employees. On this emotional occasion, as with all true celebrations, we are easily moved, to tears and laughter, reflecting on history and dreaming of the future, flipping through the album of family memories and imagining all that has been, and all that is yet to come.

Moving images

With a full audience, the atmosphere is one of excitement: the hall of the Nuvola venue is illuminated by a 40-metre screen with animations, graphics, data, and figures, telling guests all about the company they have come to celebrate. It starts just like a children’s party, with carefully chosen songs, the kind you put on to get the mood going straight away, but here the fun is blended with history right from the start: while the audience is enjoying the jazzy tones of Al Jarreau’s “Mornin’”, the gala uniforms and lavish multicoloured plumes of the band take their place on stage. President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, enters, making his way through the packed auditorium, and immediately the atmosphere is ignited. Applause, an initial standing ovation, the President taking his seat in the front row and smiling: here comes the national anthem. Then there is a beautiful, poignant video, in which music and images merge for a magical result. The soundtrack is “I love you”, a piano score composed by an extraordinary English musician, Biopy: and while its cascading notes mesmerise the audience, on the huge screen, divided into three sections, images recalling these 160 years of life travel by like postcards. There are celebrations, wars, world championships won, records and catastrophes, floods and earthquakes, Olympics and transoceanic flights. We start from Marconi’s telegraph through to the networks of the future, via Meucci’s telephone and the Internet generation.

A word of truth

Maria Bianca Farina, the Chairperson of Poste Italiane, rightly says in her greeting: “The strength of our company has always been in combining tradition and innovation.” True, and you only have to flip through the pictures in this family album to realise it. Shortly afterwards the Chairperson adds: “Women have been part of the Italian postal service from the very start. We were modern thinkers from the very start.” It is true, and the audience applauds. Next there is a greeting from the Minister for Economic Development, Giancarlo Giorgetti: “I would like my speech to go beyond mere ceremonial requirements: I would like the value I attach to the authorities and to the functions that the Post Office has performed over 160 years to come through clearly in this greeting. And it is certainly also true what Giorgetti says, when he praises the almost educational activity of Poste Italiane, “especially for older citizens who are less familiar with digital tools”.

Symbols of Poste Italiane’s history

The time has come for Alberto Angela’s speech, which involves presentation of four symbolic objects: a portable military field post office, built to operate from the front line, a post box and a bicycle, the flag that is the typical symbol of the postman, and a bright canary-yellow parcel, featuring a band bearing the Italian colours: Poste Italiane’s newest uniform, the latest frontier of business correspondence, in the age of e-commerce. And, of course, yet another company record. Mr Angela begins by recounting the importance of the Italian post office to his own childhood, when his father Piero used to send him letters and postcards from the countries where he worked as a correspondent. He goes on to praise the architectural value of Poste Italiane’s buildings: “Some post offices are like museums, such as the one in Piazza San Silvestro in Rome, the one in La Spezia, or the one in Palermo: we are so lucky in Italy to live in a country where beauty is everywhere, where beauty always shines forth.” He continues: “These buildings are treasure chests full of emotions, history and lives lived.” Applause. Mr Angela describes the letterbox as “an object charged with humanity and emotion, a small slot that can offer two different types of joy: the pleasure of sharing news and the pleasure of anticipation”. And wasn’t “the road infrastructure built by the ancient Romans a kind of web of antiquity”? The speaker moves onto the figure of the postman and postwoman, beginning with a childhood memory, the huge leather satchel used back then: “The postman is a figure that has always fascinated the worlds of cinema and literature, but it is reality that has offered us the most beautiful stories”. Shots by great photographer, Mario Dondero, move across the screen. And those by postman-photographer, Lorenzo Foglio: “His photos,” says the journalist, “are the happy images of a little town in the Langhe area, capturing moments of normal everyday life in a small community. These postcards include an image of a postwoman, Domenica Angela, who used to deliver the mail by bicycle in the province of Bergamo in the 1950s.” This postwoman was the mother of Felice Gimondi, future winner of the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France. Then there is one of the first female telegraphists in history, who built a great career “until she became the first female director of an Italian newspaper (Il Mattino, ed.): her name is Matilde Serao”. To conclude: “Taking care of someone’s happiness is always a very beautiful thing, But if that person has lost everything, today more than ever,” Mr Angela concludes, “our gestures should centre around one concept: everything is ultimately ruled by love. Even if the bombs, as we are now seeing, seem to indicate otherwise”.

A special “godmother”

Other speakers express their thoughts, and the four mayors of the northernmost and southernmost municipalities of Italy, the largest and the smallest (of many), interviewed on stage, are heartily received. The great “godmother” of the day, Maria Grazia Cucinotta, also receives two ovations. Maria Grazia, twice celebrated, and twice a protagonist of this story: firstly because of her role in the most beautiful story of a postman in the history of cinema, Michael Radford’s film “Il Postino” starring Massimo Troisi. And then for a lesser known connection, as her father (and brothers) were in the same profession. “My father met my mother while delivering her a letter, and my special bond with this company has lasted for 53 years, my whole life. My brother and sister also became postmen and postwomen. And I myself won a selection procedure to join Poste Italiane, but I gave up the place because I had started on the programme Indietro Tuttawith Renzo Arbore by then.”

Celebrating the “normal”

The words of Giuseppe Lasco, Co-General Manager of the company bring these intertwined memories together: “Today, we want to virtually recognise all those colleagues who, during the darkest period of the pandemic — more than one hundred thousand individuals — demonstrated a sense of pride and duty, who remained at their place of work guaranteeing service throughout Italy.” Then, while recognising all employees, as Mr Lasco and Mr Cucinotta award a gold medal to Francesco, Tommaso, Eliana and Donata (representatives of employees who worked in the areas worst affected by Covid-19 in 2020), a wonderful, spontaneous and splendidly honest joke arises. Host and Head of Media Relations at Poste Italiane Federica de Sanctis asks Donata, prompting her to describe her feelings of satisfaction: “How will you leave here today?” And she replies, met with laughter and a round of applause: “By train…” Simple, dry. Fantastic: “I was out working during the pandemic, like all my colleagues. But it seemed normal to me. I always wanted to be a postwoman,” Donata concludes, “so I just carried on doing my job.” CEO Matteo Del Fante went on to say: “This is a company that manages to stay in the market, that produces results on the profit and loss account, that pays salaries, and at the same time also has a social function for the country as a whole. Mr Del Fante continued: “This is a platform company, which meets the needs of our customers with all available digital and modern communication tools. But we are also a local business, with 13,000 post offices and Poste Italiane Points, enabling every Italian to reach a physical location in less than five minutes”. He finishes with a commitment: “Poste Italiane does not want to leave anyone behind,” the CEO assures us, “neither employees nor citizens, and with our important history we will play an equally important role in the country’s future.”

No one left behind

The official ceremony is over. But it is at this point that Sergio Mattarella takes the stage, and without even a written note, makes an improvised speech. The hall gives him a standing ovation: “I want to express my thanks to Poste Italiane employees” says the President, “who serve the country every day. And I want to express the Republic’s gratitude to them.” Immediately afterwards he observes: “These 160 years are a long history that is also the history of Italy, the history of its customs and culture”. Mr Mattarella says: “We have seen the most advanced digital tools on this stage. The figures, which we know well, the networked presence and the drive for digital transition. This is a great contribution to bring users and citizens closer to modern tools”. The President concludes: “This close relationship with local areas is a great contribution to ensure nobody is left behind, and it is essential for the country to develop further. Thank you!” So, come and enjoy this birthday party with us, celebrated on a sunny day at the Nuvola venue. A celebration where the birthday girl is 160 years old, and has just sent a letter, like a message in a bottle, heading for the future. As guests celebrate with hugs and say their goodbyes, I am reminded of a phrase by Pablo Picasso that is the perfect birthday present to our birthday girl: “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”