by Roderick Conway Morris

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Long Live the Italian Post!


By Roderick Conway Morris
VENICE 21 February 1992

 

Italy's insanely inefficient postal service, which habitually delivers letters weeks, months, sometimes even years, late, is a source of despair to most of the peninsula's long-suffering inhabitants.

However, it turns out that for the last three years Maurizio De Fazio, Lello Padiglione and Pierluca Sabatino, a trio of chums in their twenties in Naples, have been fighting back, using the system as a vehicle for zany humour and satirical comment by issuing their own stamps celebrating such occasions as the Bicentennary of the Camorra (Naples's mafia), World Alcoholics and Inebriates Day, and drawing attention to Endangered Species - their first candidate being The Pig (accompanied by a louche picture of Moana Pozzi, the Italian pornographic filmstar).

The stamps offer a devastating commentary on the flatulent self-importance of many a government and internationally-sponsored non-event, World Day, Congress and Anniversary. And, although the boys used over 300 of these palpably burlesque productions to send letters and cards, nobody in the Italian post office, or even those in France, Spain, Germany, the USA or China, ever seems to have noticed.

"We could still be doing it today," said De Fazio, on the phone from Naples, "if we hadn't exposed the joke ourselves to Il Mattino, the local newspaper."

The boys "auto-denunciation" initiated a police enquiry, the seizure of dozens of the stamps and the threat of prosecution (now wisely dropped by the authorities). Meanwhile, Leonardo, sober art publishers in Milan, who greatly admired the high quality and inventiveness of the pranksters' creations, have brought out a collection of them. The book has hit the bestseller list, with 30,000 copies sold within the first few weeks, and is going into a second edition.

It is called Granchi Rosa, Pink Gaffs, a pun on granchi, meaning blunders, mistakes, and the "Gronchi Rosa", a stamp issued in 1961 to mark the visit of Giovanni Gronchi, the then Italian president, to Peru, which was hastily withdrawn when it was realized that Peru's borders, as shown on the stamp, were wrongly drawn - the kind of diplomatic booboo once capable of unleashing war between volatile Latin American neighbours. (The new book is appropriately subtitled "160 Stamps that Convulsed Italy".)

"Our first problem," said De Fazio, "was what to do about the perforations. We solved this by tearing off small sections of paper from the rolls in adding machines." Later, a sewing machine turned out to be even better. But in fact, he said, they needn't have worried. The post office remained so oblivious to the private-enterprise versions that, in the end, the boys became careless of such master-forger's details. "The others sometimes just drew their stamps directly onto the card or envelope."

"We tried," De Fazio said," to confront issues of public interest, but in a humorous and ironic way." Thus the daily tribulations of Neapolitan life and the city's chaotic public utilities were tackled by Putrid and Muddy Water Week, and Indecision and Uncertainty Week (against a fuzzy background of the Italian tricolour). The second theft of one of the boys' cars was duly marked with a stamp, while the Fiat 500 featured in a promising series on Most Stolen Cars, and a grand scale initiative proclaimed: the Ist International Stolen Car Show.

The Gulf War was was monitored by almost daily new issues: one gung-ho stamp bristling with tanks, planes and battleships called for A Proper War and Now; another paid tribute to unsung heroes, the secret army of lumberjacks with chainsaws, Special Troops for the Deforestation of Kuwait.

The boys' increasing disappointment at not been found out led to one of their most sustained and amusing campaigns. The Law is Rewarding Dealers in Fake Stamps, said one; Check Stamps More Carefully, demanded another with a picture of a giant magnifying glass, This One Could be a Fake! When no response came, a commemorative issue marked the Ist Postal Forgers' Strike, with the slogan: No to the Automatic Franking of Stamps! Finally, a bright yellow stamp with a face value of "0 lire" appeared with the message: Long Live the Italian Post, the Only Free One in the World! To give a hand to the forces of law and order in running to ground the fiendish and shadowy gang of conterfeiters, another stamp with a silouette of Sherlock Holmes with pipe and deerstalker offered the detective's services, giving Maurizio De Fazio's home phone number.

Nor are the boys' days as artistic practical jokers at an end. A new scheme is afoot. "We will be world famous by the autumn," De Fazio said. But, naturally, he would reveal no further details.


First published: International Herald Tribune

© Roderick Conway Morris 1975-2016