Arrivederci to Italy’s ‘grandfather’ vendor on his retirement from Scarp de’ tenis

Antonio Mininni has sold the Italian street paper Scarp de’ tenis since its very first edition, 20 years ago. Here, the street paper celebrates their ‘grandfather’, ahead of his retirement at the age of 70. The paper is currently celebrating its 200th edition – read more here.

By Marta Zanella, Scarp de’ tenis

Rumours had been floating around for a long time, but now it is official. “I will retire by the end of this year,” confirms Scarp de’ tenis’ most senior vendor, Antonio Mininni, who just recently turned 70.

Antonio Mininni is a bit like the grandfather of Scarp de’ tenis, as vendors perceive the street paper more as a family, than their place of work. Every day, Antonio can be found outside the headquarters in central Milan to open the office at 6.30am, as he has done for the past 20 years since Scarp was founded. He also has the equally important task of coordinating the copies of Scarp to be sold by the paper’s 50 vendors.

Antonio was born in Bari, his family’s native city, but moved to Florence. Antonio spent his adult years working in Venice until one day everything changed. “I was doing fine, actually I was doing great, but due to a somewhat shady business, the Revenue Guard Corps [Italian law enforcement] found me and seized everything. My fault, I did some real nonsense,” he said.

Antonio Mininni has been involved with the street paper since its very first edition.

Left homeless with no money or possessions, Antonio moved to Milan in the hope that a bigger city could offer him more chances to start over. “I found myself sleeping at Garibaldi station instead, and being hungry and cold. If you never experienced it, you can barely imagine what is like,” he said.

Every morning he would go to the station toilet to wash and shave with freezing water. He wanted to remain tidy whilst trying to find a way out. He finally saw a glimmer of hope one morning at CISL [Italian Confederation of Workers’ Trade Unions].

“While entering the office for social issues at the CISL headquarters I ran into a man who asked me what I needed,” Antonio recalled.

“He was the one in charge of the office. After I told him my story he directed me to the Cena dell’Amicizia [‘Dinner of Friendship’]. The organisation takes care of the homeless and was founded by Ermanno Azzali.”

Antonio had never heard of the organisation, “but given the name, I assumed they would feed me.” he said. At the Cena headquarters Antonio met Azzali himself, who offered him not just a place to eat, but a place to come back to every evening.

“After a few days Ermanno asked me if I had sales skills. [Catholic charity] Caritas had a new paper and he suggested I try selling it,” said Antonio.

“He gave me 50 copies. I went out in the morning and when I got back in the evening I had sold 49. I kept the last one for myself. I wanted to read what I had been selling all day long.”

The paper was the first ever edition of Scarp de’ tenis. From that day on, Antonio and the street paper never parted.

A few months after he started working there, the need arose to have someone take care of the street paper’s editorial office, which at the time was in a damp garage in the Turo area of Milan. Caritas turned to Antonio to fill the role.

“After 20 years getting up at 4am, I will treat myself to an hour’s rest after lunch, a luxury that only elderly can afford.”

“Somebody was doubtful and did not trust me with the keys but in the end they agreed,” recalled Antonio. Since then, the keys to Scarp’s headquarters have always been stowed away in the vendor’s pocket.

At the beginning there was just four other vendors that Antonio would hand out copies to, and collect money from. Among them was Daniele Gazzola, who became a close friend to Antonio.

“I met him at Cena. He was a bright man, who once worked for [energy company] Eni, but then became addicted to alcohol. We spent a lot of time together, especially Saturdays and Sundays selling at the markets and eating together,” said Antonio, becoming emotional at the memory.

He added, “Then one day, Christmas was just around the corner, he was gone. We found him later, drunk. He had started drinking again, and we could not help him. Sometime later, he was found dead on the steps of a church.”

Antonio has witnessed many similar situations over the years. Perhaps this is a reason why he hasn’t made plans for what he will do after he retires.

“I do not wish to travel, or do stuff like that,” he said with a shrug. “I will probably keep on doing what I have been doing in the past years: helping the homeless and working with other organisations. I will remain the president of the Scarp de’ tenis vendors association, so I will still look after the vendors in our big family.”

One thing Antonio certainly looks forward to is taking a daily nap.

“After 20 years getting up at 4am, I will treat myself to an hour’s rest after lunch, a luxury that only elderly can afford,” he smiled.

Translated from Italian to English by Stefania Rosini / Translators Without Borders