It’s Friday afternoon, me and the Lord are in Rome for a long weekend. Walking through the narrow back streets he suggests sending a postcard to his grandfather and his great aunt. Finding the postcards is easy. We get a beautiful Fountain of Trevi, looking a lot better than the actual one, currently under restoration, and one featuring the Roman Forum, both classic images of the Eternal City. Postcard, checked. I then head straight to a Tobacconist shop, to buy some stamps. They tell they no longer sell stamps. According to the new regulation, the only place to buy stamps is the post office. The irony is that the tobacconist in Italy is called “Sali e Tabacchi”, which means “Salts and tobaccos”. They no longer sell salts, they still sell cigarettes, now they have been stripped off a significant role, and footfall. How many times I bought stamps and I suddenly feel the urge to buy gums? Many. They eye you, you cannot miss them, so you want to buy them. Easiest strategy in the world.
I confess my bewilderment at the tobacconist – but she reassures me: the post office is twenty meters away. Still, one single image appears in my mind: interminable line, endless waiting time, boredom. Do I really need to do that? Yes, it is the only way. My gut reaction is to let it go. Then I think of the typical day of two ultra octogenarians, one at home and one in a nursing home. Not much happens in their days and receiving mail is an event.
We reach the entrance. The space is grand, with frescoed ceilings, marble, ancient fragments beautifully displayed. The Lord cannot believe this is an actual post office. A museum, a palazzo, yes, but this place looks the furthest away from our local post office, which is a room with poor lighting, linoleum floors and five counters squeezed in. The comparison is surreal.
Getting the ticket with the queue number is also surreal. There is no option for stamps. I am in doubt, so I ask a man who is sitting nearby and seems friendly. I shared my concern – and incredulity with him, and he sympathises. He thinks this is completely absurd. I do not understand why I haven’t read about this change in the press, so far. He then explains that the building is the former British church of Rome, which explains the frescoes, the marble and the beautiful building. We didn’t end up here by chance, I think.
My prediction was also right: we have to queue for 20 minutes before being served. Once I finally get served, there are no stamps available at the counter! It takes the post officer five more minutes to dig them out. He needs to go to the other side of the building. The whole experience sounds like a nonsense, and it is.
The only thing I realise is that the post office has introduced this easy trick to increase their footfall exponentially and sell mobile phones, financial products, prepaid debit cards, stationery, and more. I would not be surprised if, on my next visit, I discover they are selling furniture.