The streets of Italian cities in recent years have been filled with food and cell phones. And this to satisfy the needs of an audience made up of two main categories, first of all the Italians themselves and, secondly, the new global tourists who eat anything at any time of day. They are two powerful phenomena that have had and still have the strength to shape the landscape of our cities, taking possession of public and private spaces and overwhelmingly changing their functions and intended uses.
Only in 2022, according to data din the Global Digital Report, Italy has lost, compared to the previous year, one hundred thousand citizens, but bought six hundred and forty-three thousand more cell phones. Every Italian has an average of 1.3 mobile phones each. What they are doing to us is not difficult to say, if we take into account that more than forty million of our fellow citizens are registered with a social network: almost three quarters of the population currently living in the Peninsula. The other phenomenon is, in fact, the tourists. The global mobility of people for leisure has now transformed Italian cities into a real factor of production. Streets, alleys, historic buildings, landscape views are valid as they allow you to enjoy the fruits of some income linked to the property.
Houses and apartments, business premises, even sidewalks are put to the service of extracting value from floods of people with nothing to do.
A society of mass indolence that consumes shoe soles, buy goods mostly of little value and, precisely, devour food in large quantities. It happens everywhere and the effects can be seen on the organization of daily life, from the clogging of the streets to the requisition of residential premises, taken away from the citizens’ lease and put back on the market exclusively for short-term rentals with very high profitability.
It seems to be a good thing and everyone wants to win over more and more tourists. In this context, all those places by which the associated neighborhood life satisfies the fundamental needs of its daily reproduction tend to disappear. And among these, of course, also the bookshops, but more generally all the so-called proximity trade.
In a city that is increasingly conceived as a space of flow, shops are essentially displays of objects ready for consumption, which can be picked up and paid for without interrupting the linear movement, or at the most they are designed as riverbeds in which part of the crowd the swarm flows out to be soon returned to the main trajectory. The reference scheme is the organization of commercial spaces in an airport. Once past the gate, the journey that leads from the gates to the embarkation is a succession of purchase proposals.
This being the case, a space opens up for regret and nostalgia, which is also somewhat marketable, and so the news of a bookstore reopening becomes a sign of hope. All is not lost, then, they say, if between a chip shop and a hole where you can buy fridge magnets and cell phone covers, you also sell books.
Books are mostly a myth of whoever owns them, and people hardly ever learned to read in order to read books. Nor, upon closer inspection, are there books in the true sense of the word in the bookstores we are talking about. There is, yes, a lot of printed paper, but books in the proper sense are few. There is cultural content in book form, but fewer and fewer books. Cookbooks, photos, comics and cell phone chargers, lots of electronics, musical instruments, films, records and compacts. But despite this, the myth of the book resists. And so selling books seems to be more moral than selling bubble tea.
NeitherThe remake of a famous James Stewart film, You’ve Got Mail, Meg Ryan sold children’s books and, meanwhile, he resisted the new capitalism that invaded his sheltered and infantile world. In vain. In the end, capital triumphs and based on a very simple principle: the large bookshop offers efficiency and comfort. There is coffee and the armchairs are comfortable and welcoming. Customers move among the shelves, browse through their favorite authors, get intrigued by the display of the new items.
Is this model in crisis? Maybe. Meanwhile, a Mondadori megastore and a Starbucks are being announced in Naples. One next to the other in the Galleria Umberto, which perhaps will acquire a less gloomy aspect than the one it currently presents to the lost stroller. At the same time, the reopening of the Saletta rossa is announced, the general rehearsal yesterday, which was a brilliant initiative by Mario Guida from the years gone by. It presented books, to be precise. But those books had been written by Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, Fernanda Pivano, who accompanied all the poets of the Beat Generation, Alberto Moravia, Umberto Eco. Guida was also a publisher and his catalog includes Tzvetan Todorov, Hyden White, Troeltsch and Leopold von Ranke, just to name a few of those who count at random. The new Red Room for the moment just mentions itself. An Art Factory is also announced, if I understand correctly, annexed to the Saletta, which however does not seem like a great thing.
In short, in short, do we really want to resist? But to what, exactly?
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on Il Mattino