Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Kiosque Presse - a vanishing breed

Amongst all the street hustle, a figure stands still, leaning against his newspaper kiosk. He watches the pedestrians with a keen eye. “The news is not the first priority today. Nobody cares what is going on in the world,” he mutters under his breath, before starting to rearrange newspapers into a single pile.

Roger, 62, has been a newspaper seller for nearly 40 years. “I was 15 when I first started working,” he proudly says. “I woke up before dawn and took my bicycle to deliver newspapers to the kiosks. It was hard. The stacks were sometimes almost as heavy as I was, but they had to be delivered, no matter the weather, no matter what. And we didn’t count our working hours.”

Yet, Roger has never regretted that time of his life, from which his passion for his work was born. “I watched the newsstand keepers, their heads almost disappearing behind stacks of newspapers,” he reflects with a distant look, suddenly blind to the excitement of the street. “They would stand there, sometimes light a cigarette in spite of the ban, only disturbed by a customer from time to time. I was crazy about reading, and I thought how wonderful it would be to spend the whole day learning about the world, sport, fashion – whatever subject my mood would call upon.”

His pushes one huge stack inside the kiosk. “Of course, it had nothing to do with what the job truly was, and even less with what it is now,” he continues. “The hours spent in a restricted space, the loneliness, the routine.” Then, lowering his voice as if he feared that saying it loud would make it come true, he talks about the disappearance of the traditional kiosks, their business slowly being taken away by the big firms like Hachette, whose standardized “Relay” kiosks are now everywhere. “They shut down independent newspaper kiosks all over Paris. People don’t read anymore. There are fewer and fewer kiosks, and also fewer young people willing to continue this business. I don’t blame them. In my day, I knew I wouldn’t have a grand lifestyle, but this job was enough for a simple man. We were part of people’s lives. The customers were friends who would come everyday, stop for a chat. Now, you can’t live decently with a salary like mine, and the customers are in such a rush that they don’t even say hello.”

Suddenly shy, he turns towards his kiosk and pulls down the metal shutter. A man has been standing nearby for a couple of minutes. He reaches out and places a hand on Roger’s back. “We won’t let you disappear, Sir, you’re part of the soul of Paris. Thank you.”

As the man leaves, a smile appears under Roger’s moustache. “Ah – I tell you. That is what keeps me going.”

Note: These magazine/newspaper kiosks are typically open 14 hours a day, six days a week. They often sell postcards and sundries, as well.

This account was published as a blog entry by Laura Martel, a journalism student at the Sorbonne. Her blog is called “Laura’s News Desk.”

No comments: