The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

A Meditation on Market Day

Posted on | June 13, 2011 | Written by Janice Cable | No Comments

One of the best things about living in Italy is market day. Every village, town, city, or burg has a market day; I imagine that it’s a holdover from medieval traditions, as are the bells that ring every quarter hour. The best way I can describe market day is to give an equation: (USQ Greenmarket + Really Good Street Fair) – (Fast Food Trucks + New York Times Subscription Sellers + Loudspeakers Blaring)(Italian Culture) = Market Day.

Which is all to say that market day is pretty cool. Even if there’s a lot of stuff you don’t want to buy, there’s even more stuff that’s tempting, and it tends to be cheap, and the people watching is spectacular.

The basic components of Market Day break down into these groups: produce, meats and cheeses, household gizmos and necessities, clothing, and items that defy identification. The pictures accompanying this email come from the market day in Recco, the slightly bigger town that’s down the hill from Camogli where I lived for the past four months, which is a pretty small town. Camogli has a market day too—it’s Wednesday—but it pales in comparison to Recco’s, which is on Monday. I may be entirely devoted to the bio (organic) produce dudes in Camogli, but market day in Recco sprawls and twists and turns, and its size, variety and sheer manic energy has much to recommend it.

Italians buying their weekly market day vegetables, fruits, cheeses and salumeria can have the edgy, almost homicidal energy of brides running the Filene’s Basement bridal sale. Trust me, you do not want to get between an Italian woman and her fava beans. I have, and it did not end with my winning. However, if you let this passion be your guide, you’ll stumble upon some seriously high quality eats. Look for the busiest stalls. You will have to take a number; you will have to wait in line; you will have to listen to recognize your number called in Italian; and you will find all this time and stress rewarded with good food, as it should be.

The other awe-inspiring thing about Italians at market day (and here again, I’m talking about Italians, usually women, usually of a certain age) is their consistent disappointment. They can be confronted with a range of the most gorgeous produce, all glowing like jewels, all beautifully arranged, all succulent and ripe—and they’ll complain. In fact, they’ll complain to you, at length, in their native tongue. They won’t then let you purchase the last of the radishes that they just complained vociferously about (perish the thought). I suspect the complaining is part of the joy, however oxymoronically.

If you like shiny, sparkly, glittery clothing that may be emblazoned with inscrutable phrases in English or Disney figures, market day is your friend. Likewise if you’ve always wanted to adopt the European practice of wearing a scarf with everything, all the time. Ditto if you are looking for pillowcases, sewing kits, safety pins, beach accouterments, cheap luggage, pet supplies, socks, yoga pants, bathing suits, or just a giggle.

I know that I’ve used the phrase “the best thing about market day” a few times, thus perhaps rendering the phrase meaningless, but the best thing about market day is—aside from a cacophonous celebration of all capitalistic glory—a shiny opportunity to indulge in quotidian Italian culture, tradition and sense of humor. There’s a great affection for the absurd here, and you kind of just have to wrap your arms around it and embrace it.





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