The Tangerine Truck

November 14, 2013

Early morning in Acireale, at the foot of Etna.  Just me and a tangerine truck on Piazza San Domenico.

Clickety clack I go over the lava stones, aiming at the orangeness.

Little Orange Truck in Acireale, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Someone appears out of nowhere.

Ciao. Is this your truck? What’s your name?

&&%uccio.

Nuccio?

Lucio!

Oh, like light (luce)?

Si, si.

I crouch and shoot. He is all lightness and charm, like 99% of Sicilians I collar. He even says I can put him on the internet.

Where did you get the cauliflower?

Ragusa. 

Really? 

I don’t tell him I’ve just come from there on a long grey-dawn highway, stars still burning in the sky, cursing all the trucks like his I had to pass on scary curves.  I buy a rosy head for €1.50 and wonder: how many more will he have to sell to recoup gasoline costs & eke out a living wage?

Man Selling Pink Cauliflower in SIcily, copyright Jann Huizenga

By the time I leave he’s already sweet-talking his second customer.

Man Selling Pink Cauliflower in Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Buona fortuna, Lucio, e grazie.

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Don’t Touch the Veggies! (An Italian Lesson)

August 1, 2013

In Sicily, you wouldn’t dare touch the veggies yourself.*

(Hands off!)

Sicilian Veggie Market, copyright Jann Huizenga

You have to ASK for each thing.

So before you travel here, you may want to learn a word or two.

Here’s a little Italian lesson:

Can you find these foods in the picture below?: pomodori, lattuga, pere, mele, peperoni rossi, cavolfiore, arance, finocchio, asparagi, melanzane.

Sicilian Fruit and Vegetable Market, copyright Jann Huizenga

Want to learn to pronounce them? Click here for a list of fruits and veggies in Italian, along with audio pronunciation.

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*Except in a supermarket, but even then you’d better put on plastic gloves!

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I Am the Eggman, Coo-Coo-Ca-Choo

December 11, 2012

This story takes place in Licodia Eubea, a foggy place high on a hill in Southeast Sicily, one of those time-frozen towns with a generous rhythm of life.

A big white van was inching its way through the slick streets when a man in a navy coppola flagged it down.

Out popped the driver. He tossed open the back doors to reveal a whole supermarket inside: oodles of noodles and bread and cookies and chips and cheese and sausage.

Sicilian Supermarket on Wheels in Licodia Eubea, copyright Jann Huizenga

The man in the coppola fingered some brown eggs to make sure they were good and fresh, then fished a few euro from a pocket.

Sicilian Man with Eggs, copyright Jann Huizenga

“Excuse me, signore. That’s a lot of eggs. What’ll you do with them all, if I may ask?”

(You can be a nosy snoop in Sicily.)

Sicilian Man with Eggs, copyright Jann Huizenga

“My wife sent me out to get them. She likes to make cakes.”

Sicilian Man with Eggs, copyright Jann Huizenga

Then the man was off, shuffling carefully over wet cobbles, holding the fragile treasures like his life depended on it.

I wondered: Will the eggs make it safely?  Will he get a peck on the cheek for running the errand? What kind of cake will she concoct? Orange? Lemon-thyme? Walnut? Ricotta cream?

Such are the daily dramas of life in small-town Sicily.

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Sleepy Licodia Eubea comes alive during the September grape festival!!!

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Porta Banana, Made in Italy

September 21, 2011

I can’t find in Sicilian stores what I really want: plastic baggies, Twizzlers, Gorilla tape, almond butter, skim milk, a simple T-shirt without mangled English, ant traps.

Ants march into my living room in the evening as if they’re out–like every good Sicilian–for a passeggiata. I scour the hardware store and then ask my GoogleTranslate-prepared question: Ci sono trappoli per formiche? Are there traps for ants?

The shop assistant looks at me and laughs. We have traps for mice, Signora, but they are too big for your ants. Ha ha. 

Anyway, while I’m rifling through the anti-pest section of the store, I come upon this mean-looking anti-pigeon device. I get four. Pigeons mate and roost and coo and poop on my balcony–of all the milllions of places they could’ve chosen!  They’re not at all scared of a banging broom. Will these torture devices work?

Italian Anti-pigeon Devices, copyright Jann Huizenga

Another weird thing I buy that day is a porta banana, a banana-carrier. Made in Italy, by the way.

“Why?” I ask the salesclerk.

“So that your banana does not get crushed in your bag,” she explains.

Porta Banana in Italy, copyright Jann Huizenga

Italian Banana carrier, copyright Jann Huizenga

 

Leave a comment on this post (or a previous one) and you’ll be entered in a raffle to win the porta banana! (You must have an address in North America–not to leave a comment, but to win the weird green thing.) You could put a string through it and carry it as a banana-purse.

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Have you bought something odd recently?

 

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A Sicilian Oil Jar and Its Ex, Looking for Love

January 31, 2011

I spied a lonely old oil jar lurking in a corner of Piero’s antique shop. “Pick me, pick me!” it breathed.

Sicilian Olive Oil Jar from the late 1800s, copyright Jann Huizenga

And so I did. It has found love in my bright kitchen. Dating from the late 1800s and used by Sicilians until about 1950, this jar isn’t much different from the ones the Greeks–who introduced olive trees to Sicily millenia ago–used for storing olive oil.

It wasn’t expensive. Everything in the antique shop owned by Piero Occhipinti (literally Peter Painted Eyes) is reasonable, and it’s the only such shop in Ragusa Ibla. (Of course you have to bargain, like you do for most everything in Sicily.) If you cannot make it to a Sunday flea market while you’re in Southeast Sicily, visiting Piero’s shop is a good substitute. He sells distressed violins, old books, baroque candlesticks, ornate desks, faded old pottery from Caltagirone. He’s rummaged around Sicily’s antique fairs since he was 10, so he knows what he’s doing.

Piero Occhipinti, Antique Dealer in Ragusa Ibla, Sicly, copyright Jann Huizenga

By the way, girls, Piero is single and looking…  (And not just for old Sicilian treasures.)

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Piero Occhipinti Antiques, 335.539.6735, Via le Margherita, 11, Ragusa Ibla, Sicily. If his shop is locked up, you can usually find him refinishing furniture in his nearby laboratory on Via Orfanotrofio 51/53.

Sicilian Olive Oil Jar from late 1800s, copyright Jann Huizenga

A new home in my kitchen

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