Monday, February 11, 2008

Vucciria einer der ältesten Märkte Palermos

man muß ihn sehen, hören, riechen, erleben



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THE Vucciria, in the heart of Palermo's historic old city, opens early. By 4 a.m., fishermen are hauling in the day's catch; by 5 a.m., vendors are setting out crates of fruit and vegetables; and by 6 a.m., the place is bustling with shoppers. It's a tradition that's gone on, more or less the same way, for the last 700 years.
Every day but Sunday, the Vucciria fills with fishermen, shopkeepers and merchants who have come to peddle their goods. And it's quite a selection: pasta, grains, sacks of beans, bags of dried herbs, shoes, socks, cigarette lighters shaped like handguns, grappa, wine, CDs, paintings and paperweights of the Madonna, salted capers (a local specialty), zucchini the size of a child's leg, crates of artichokes still attached to their long stalks, tomatoes (large, small, sun-dried, packed in oil, in a can, on the vine) and practically anything else you can think of.

Strolling through the maze are the market regulars: men in coppolas, the forward-leaning Sicilian caps, like the one Al Pacino wore in “The Godfather”; and elderly women in heavy tweed skirts, stiff pocketbooks hanging from their elbows. The smattering of curious tourists don't arrive in Palermo, the crumbling city on the northwest end of Sicily, until the summer.

The center of the outdoor market is the Piazza Caracciolo, the fishermen's square. I arrived as dawn crept over the buildings. Rickety tables were propped up by plastic milk crates, and men in tall rubber boots and stiff red aprons laid out the morning's catch on sheets of crushed ice under bright, unforgiving light bulbs dangling from the tarps overhead. The fishermen, stray cats at their ankles, chopped swordfish steaks with cleavers and wrapped handfuls of shrimp in white paper for their early customers. Every so often, the fishermen poured water over their catches — red mullets, shrimp, squid, sea bass and marlin — the excess spilling on to the piazza's stones.

There's an expression in Sicily: “Quannu s'asciucanu i balati dà Vucciria,” which means “when the streets of the Vucciria run dry,” the equivalent of when hell freezes over. In other words, it could never happen. But it is happening. By midday on a recent Friday, the worn white stones of the piazza were nearly bone dry.

After 700 years, the Vucciria is fading.

“Everything has changed,” said Ignazio D'Alessandro, a 62-year-old man with white hair and a round face who has been selling fruit in the Vucciria for 57 years. “It hasn't been the same since Orlando left,” he added, referring to Leoluca Orlando, the anti-Mafia mayor of Palermo who prevented developers from razing old neighborhoods, before leaving office in 2000. “There's new construction, new developments all around. The Vucciria won't survive.”

This is a common sentiment around these parts. After World War II, when much of Palermo was bombed to rubble, Mafia-controlled construction companies seized the opportunity to erect inexpensive new buildings rather than refurbish old ones, and the trend has continued since. The result has been the gradual expansion of square, gray concrete buildings squeezing in on the Vucciria.

The market reaches from the heavily trafficked Via Roma down to the water. But what once covered dozens of city blocks has dwindled to only a few. Mr. D'Alessandro is one of the Vucciria's oldest tenants. He took over the fruit stand from his father, who had taken it over from his father before that.

“I've lived here since I was 5,” Mr. D'Alessandro said from his perch behind crates of apples, oranges and prickly artichokes. “I used to employ five people, but now it's just me. It used to take an hour to get through one block of the Vucciria, but now you can walk it under a minute. The crowds are leaving. The developers are moving in. I'll have to close in the next two years.”

As I started to leave, Mr. D'Alessandro clasped my hand, and said he had something for me — a gift from the Vucciria. He gave me a small plastic cup filled with what looked like pink water. “It's artichoke wine,” he said. “I make it myself — good for the digestion.”

Another Vucciria fixture is the Shanghai Trattoria (Vicolo Mezzani, 34; 39-091-589-702), a small home-style restaurant full of eclectic furnishings and the smell of garlic. Perched on a balcony above Piazza Caracciolo, the trattoria has been in the same family for 41 years. “This area and this restaurant have always been popular among artists and poets,” said Maria Concetta, the owner, who said that cast members from “The Godfather” ate at her restaurant while filming. And Renato Guttuso, the Italian artist, anti-Fascist and recipient of the Lenin Peace Prize, painted his 1974 masterpiece, “La Vucciria,” of the market in full swing, from the trattoria's veranda.

“It's different today,” Ms. Concetta said. “But there are still days you can find the old Vucciria.”
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