Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Don’t let the charm and age fool you. The old folks at the vegetable market are a wiley lot.

One of my few disappointments with life in Ascoli is the mercato. We have two mornings set aside for the mobile market – Wednesdays and Saturdays – and while it is a large one, it consists mostly of cheap, made in China, synthetic-fabric clothing and other assorted goods. There are the requisite vendors selling porchetta, of course, but I think it may be unlawful to hold a mercato without at least three porchetta trucks selling their seasoned, roast pig. There are a handful of food vendors, mostly purveyors of salamis and cheeses. The vegetable market – which should be the central feature- is sadly lacking, though. I was perhaps a bit spoiled by the wonderful fresh market in Anzio where truck farm merchants set up long tables over-loaded with mounds of beautiful fruits and veggies procured from all points of the peninsula. I could shop inexpensively for bag-loads.

Here in Ascoli, on the other hand, we have the humbly-named mercato dell’erbe, which consists of very aged citizens selling smaller quantities of seasonal produce that is apparently grown in their little vegetable patches. Cute, huh? That’s what I thought at first. Then I tried buying from them. I soon found it was like a free trip to the infamous markets of Morocco. They start calling out to you as soon as you barely glance toward their produce. “Signora, signora…guarda signora, le belle patate” Those cries draw the attention of the other vendors nearby and they start yelling out, too. Over here! Come and look at these nice artichokes! How about a kilos of fresh spinach, bella signora? The questions blurt out rapid-fire if I try to move among the rows. And they can look so pitiful, too. One old man, who appears to be about 125 years old, is mostly toothless, and sits wrapped in a wool coat, points at his fresh eggs and looks at me pleadingly. When I took pity and decided to buy his eggs, he whacked me 25 centessimi per egg and then heckled me to buy his onions. When I said I didn’t have need of onions that day he waved me away so he could make better use of his time finding another victim.

That scenario has been repeated every time I’ve tried to shop there. Aggressive attempts to get me to buy, feigning to not hear the amount I’ve said I wanted so they load more weight into my bag, giving me a high price. It’s made me quite desolate for the Anzio market where the vendors recognized me, let me choose exactly what I wanted in what quantity I desired, and even threw in little extras for me, all for very low prices. I have to wonder why we are in the only city in Italy without a proper, weekly, heavy-laden, “normal” produce market. It was one of the first joys I experienced on my travels to Italy, those gorgeously enticing displays of veggies…and something I enjoyed the first several months of our residence. Now it’s rather soured; I am not assertive enough to yell back like the locals do when they are being taken for a ride, nor do I have the right vocabulary for such a task. Maybe I’ll try to get my landlady, a street-smart lady with all the right words, to take me along and show me the ropes. For now, though, I avoid Marrakech, as we call the mercato dell’erbe, and visit a little vegetable shop in the centro instead. Her selection is rather limited but she’s friendly and fair. I’m just not cut out for Morocco.

copyright 2007 Valerie Schneider


J.Doe said...

I once went to a fruttivendolo in Florence run by a little old man who looked nice. Then he charged mt 50 centissimi for an egg. I immediately stopped going there and a few months later when my parents came to visit me he made nasty remarks about foreigners.

J.Doe said...

P.S. Consider yourself lucky that you only got gauged by 25 centissimi an egg. I wouldn't go to that market anymore either

Diane said...

I have a hard time imagining you yelling at a toothless old man!!!
Sounds like the markets in Mexico.

Valerie said...

Jane, now I feel like my guy gave me a bargain price! Yikes! But I'm glad I'm not the only one who's experienced this kind of thing.

Diane, you know I never would! Unfortunately, those old folks also know it!

Anonymous said...

Great description, Valerie.

We call them the Predatory Vegetable Ladies. At our first attempt, we ended up buying what amounted to, essentially, a bag of weeds and clippings.

Mara and Peter