If I’m going anywhere near Siena, I always try to be there Wednesday morning, when vendors set up their stalls around the Fortezza Lizza on the edge of the historic centre. Outside of Florence, this is the biggest mercato settimanale (weekly market) in Tuscany.
It’s easy to spend a couple of hours wondering around – it’s enormous. I kept getting lost on my first visit. But not for long. All you have to do is look up and the walls of the fortress will help you get your bearings again.
In this age of standardized malls and supermarket chains, there is something very appealing, very real about this market. I love checking to see if the same vendors are still doing the circuit.
Some of the trucks/stores are quite elaborate affairs. This salumeria (deli) is equipped with a rotisserie where whole chickens and potatoes are roasted. The aroma is so-o-o tantalizing, I’m tempted to place an order like the locals do and come back to pick up my pollo arrosto later on.
The only change I could see was at the fish stall. If you look closely at the photo below, you can see that the pescivendolo (peh-she-ven-doh-low) under the sign promoting baccalà (cod) is the same fellow I had photographed two years earlier. Since my previous visit they had installed a rather un-Italian electronic numbering system.
The sign next to the queue monitor advertises the route – Siena on Wednesday at the Fortezza; Friday – Colle Val d’Elsa (where I go for crystal, not fish) and Saturday in San Miniato.
The vegetable displays are gorgeous. Many strange properties have been attributed to the carciofo (car-cho-foe) throughout the ages. It was one of the most popular aphrodisiacs of the Renaissance. The edible part of is actually a tight flower.
While the locals come to the market to do some serious shopping, they also make time for catching up with friends.
My favourite part is the section devoted to plants, which is right next to the Bar del Mercato, a good place to have another morning cappuccino. It’s a colourful little place and was full of customers when I arrived shortly before 10 am.
As I waited for my turn, a signora ordered un caffè, which here means not caffè americano, the watered down stuff, but espresso – too early in the day for that kind of jolt for me. An older fellow wanted un vino bianco con un po’ di acqua gassata (white wine diluted with a bit of mineral water – wouldn’t want it straight – it’s only 10 am). As the barista prepared un caffè corretto da esportare (a “corrected” coffee for take-out – corrected in this case with a bit of scotch), the fellow next in line asked for un cappuccino e un caffè. The barista kept on filling orders – including mine – but the cappuccino e un caffè did not materialize. When he realized he’d been bypassed in the queue (there really is a queue – it may not look like one to the untrained eye, which sadly leads to many misunderstandings and bad feelings among tourists – but that’s another matter) the fellow called out, “Hey, where’s my cappuccino?”
I almost choked on the cappuccino I was already enjoying, at what happened next. While even I, a straniera (foreigner) for whom Italian was a second language, had clearly understood the yet to be filled order, the barista, it turned out, had not. With a remarkably straight face he looked the fellow right in the eye and said, “Siccome mi ha parlato con la bocca piena di brioche non ho capito.” (Since you spoke to me with your mouth full of brioche I didn’t understand.)
There are garden centres outside the city walls, but the market has everything for the typical city dweller – annual flowers for the front door, seedlings and herbs for the orto (vegetable garden), cut flowers for indoors and gifts.
The market in Siena may be one of Tuscany’s biggest, but my favourite is the Saturday morning market in the village of Greve-in-Chianti.
Piazza Matteotti is such a lovely piazza. All those graceful arcades and creamy façades. Too bad they let cars park here most of the time. There is a huge parking lot only a five-minute walk away where everybody has to park anyway on market day.
The first time I went to Greve’s market was in the fall – although you’d never know it by all that sunshine and the light clothing the locals were wearing.
“Dead give-away” is really a dreadful play on words, but only if you know that the chrysanthemum is the #1 choice of flower to take to cemeteries and that the #1 day for going to the cemetery is la Festa dei Morti (Celebration/Holiday of the Dead – how do you translate these things?) at the beginning of November, when almost all of Italy heads to cemeteries to pay their respects to departed loved ones, bringing with them, as gifts for the dead … chrysanthemums.
I wondered if the market would be much different in May a few years later.
When I got up Saturday morning I was almost afraid to look out the window. It had poured rain the last couple of days. I was never so happy to see a sunrise.