INSP Advent Calendar: day 21

We’re getting towards the end of our #INSPadvent calendar. Read today’s message from Italy, then why not scroll down to look back at our festive celebration of street paper vendors?

Donate to back INSP’s work supporting street papers and their vendors here.

Scarp de' tenis vendor Claudio

Claudio Calò, 56, Milan, Italy

“Until I was 16,” says Claudio, “I lived in Sannicola [in Puglia, south-east Italy] with my grandparents, then I went to join my family in Bern [Switzerland], where they had moved for work. Up there, I did a bit of everything: I worked as a mechanic, as a builder and as a labourer for a company which asphalted the roads. I stayed there for 20 years. But then because of arguments with my father – who was really domineering – I decided to return to my grandparents in Puglia.”

Back in Sannicola, Claudio worked as a farm labourer but then decided to move to Milan with his brother and sister-in-law because of the low pay.

“I found work as a builder but living with my brother was not easy, so I moved into a hotel. However, the money soon went and I started sleeping on the street. I spent my nights there and my days on the building site. I got by for a while, but then I couldn’t do it anymore and I lost my job.”

Claudio stayed on the streets for several months until he found a place in a dormitory which had been set up as part of the winter cold weather plan. “It was there that I came across Scarp de’ tenis. They told us what they were doing and offered us a job. I said yes. At worst, I thought, if I don’t like it I can just stop doing it. Fifteen years later and I’m still here.

“After eight years in a dormitory, thanks to Scarp and the San Carlo Foundation I also have my own house in the Quarto Oggiaro [a district of Milan]. My life is here now. I sell Scarp, I do some odd jobs and I’m waiting for my pension. Then I want to travel to America.”

What is the best Christmas present you’ve ever received?

The Ambrogino d’oro which was given to Scarp de’ tenis last year [an award of merit bestowed on citizens or deserving associations every Christmas by Milan’s town council] and which I had the honour of receiving from the hands of the mayor.

Scarp de’ tenis has become my family: for me to be there, on the stage, surrounded by important people, made me feel special. It was a great feeling.

How do you plan to spend Christmas this year?

This year I will be selling Scarp de’ tenis outside some of Milan’s churches. It’s a great way to spend the day; with my customers.

If you did not sell a street paper, how do you think you might be spending Christmas this year?

At home. I’d invite some of my friends, vendors who are single like me, and we’d spend a great day together, eating and watching the television.

Do you have a special Christmas message for your customers?

I would just like to say, thank you. For everything. If I’ve managed to get by these past years it’s only because so many people have believed in me and in this newspaper. Maybe it’s only a small deed but for me, and others like me, it’s a fundamental one.

What is a Christmas tradition in your area?

I come from Sannicola in Puglia. The traditional desserts are Cartellate, cakes made from sheets of pastry. Their shapes are a reminder of the halo or swaddling clothes of Baby Jesus in the crib and they also remind us of the crown of thorns at the time of the Crucifixion.

You make them by joining thin strips of pastry together, pastry made from flour, oil and white wine, and folding them over one another to form a sort of fantastic “rose” which is then fried in plenty of oil, soaked in honey or warm vincotto [a type of slow cooked non-fermented wine condiment] and then covered with cinnamon, icing sugar or almonds.