May 27, 2015
Off to market I go. I need lemons, lettuce, leeks.
But I get distracted by the T-shirts. Where’s the one for me?
All made in China, of course.
May 6, 2015
So I’m at the fruttivendolo, greengrocer’s, a charming hole-in-the wall.
I’m cooling my heels waiting my turn while the vendor and a customer with a nest of snow-white hair lament Italy’s problemi. Every so often the snow-white customer points to a cucumber or a pile of chicory, which the vendor oh-so-carefully picks up and weighs. Ten minutes pass. The two men are pretty riled up–hands flail all over the place–about the fact that Prime Minister Renzi got his electoral reform law (Italicum) passed. Will the right to strike be affected, they fret? Because Italy is a striking culture: teachers & pilots & baggage handlers & bus drivers & train operators & truck drivers & museum workers & taxi drivers walk off the job on a regular basis. You cannot take that away from the Italian 99%-ers, can you???
Anyway, the snow-white man finally shouts a hearty parting to one and all (Buona giornata e buon pranzo! Good day and good lunch!) and steps out the door, trailing a bag chock-full of chicory.I’m up next. Lemons, please! We engage in an animated conversation about how the mayor is spoiling the village with his vulgar signage. The vendor pulls me onto the street and points out an ugly sign that has gone up on the corner, right next to an ancient stone fountain. Back inside I point out some big bright oranges. And then we’re onto the next topic: the vendor’s recent malady. This is how a transaction goes in small Sicilian markets.
I’m still being served when in waltz two americani. They do not say buongiorno. No greeting at all! Strike 1. Then they head for the tomatoes, and–horror of horrors!!–fondle the juicy red orbs with their own filthy fingers, scooping up the ones they want themselves! I suppress a gasp. Strike 2. And, yes, it gets worse: they march up to the cash register, pull out their euro bills and push them at the vendor. AND I’M STILL IN THE MIDDLE OF MY TURN!!!! Strike 3. The vendor is gracious, as am I. But the episode makes me see how easy it is for innocents abroad to commit faux pas, and in these innocents, I see myself. And yes, there is a strike 4. They waltz out the door with nary a word, wishing us neither a good day nor a good lunch.
May 25, 2014
Sicilians revere bread. The never lay it upside down. If they drop it by accident, they kiss it. They never throw it away. Well, if it’s moldy they can, but not before apologizing to Jesus.
Since becoming gluten-sensitive, I idolize bread too. This is the round loaf sold by a man in a little truck who comes merrily tooting his way up the street everyday. Look what 80 cents will buy. I pinch it and sniff it and then prop it up on my sideboard, just so, to remind me of the good ole days when I could wolf down the entire loaf in one sitting, slathered in sweet butter and Sicilian orange marmalade. Buon Pane a Tutti! is the bread man’s mantra. “Good bread for one and all!” It’s baked in a forno a pietra, wood-burning oven. My favorite part about bread shopping is watching my sweet across-the-street neighbor Lina, who lives on the second floor. She tosses some coins in a basket and lowers it.
Giorgio loads in the bread.
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.
Someone appears out of nowhere.
Ciao. Is this your truck? What’s your name?
Oh, like light (luce)?
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?
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?
By the time I leave he’s already sweet-talking his second customer.
Buona fortuna, Lucio, e grazie.
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