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An Extract from 'The Island of Traditions'

by Lucia Cannizzaro

Polyphony, Volume 1, Issue 1

First Published March 2019, Manchester


Arriving in Palermo, we get lunch at the Antica Focacceria San Francesco, the oldest, and most famous, bakery in the city. We order the classic arancini alongside the lesser known schiticchi, panelle and crocchette — fried bits of Sicilian street food that use only the finest local ingredients. I rub my hands together as it arrives, as eager to eat as I am to see the rest of the city.

Dad takes us to the Ballarò market. He knows his way. My Granddad was born and raised here, and we all proudly carry our Sicilian surname around the world. Arriving at the market is like stepping back into the 60s. Most people here are regulars, they know what they want and which stand to get it from. An old couple stand hunched together, analysing a pig’s thigh. Their eyes, behind thick lenses, are still trained to find the best slice. A woman works her way from stall to stall, picking the freshest vegetables for her family tonight. She hurries pasta group of old men who, like us, are simply strolling around, savouring each moment.

"Pescefresco!""Signora, guardi quant’è grasso ‘sto maiale! "The shouts of the merchants bounce around from each corner of the market. Their arms in the air, vying for our attention.

Their hands are rough in different ways. Wrinkled if they are fishermen, always busy with their hands in water. Callous if they are farmers, with that odd bit of stubborn dirt they can never seem to wash off. The butcher’s hands are covered in blood. The smell is as chaotic as the place. The stench of fish refuses to mix with the aged smell of cheese. Exhaust fumes from a passing scooter cloud the citrus smell of fresh lemons. As we leave the market, I look up above it all. In a gap between the glowing coloured tents that protect the stalls from the afternoon sun, I see a woman with what seems to be her granddaughter, looking out from their small balcony. My sister and I smile at them both, and above the fading clatter of the market, I hear the grandmother say, "Come on Chiara, say Hi to the girls. "The child’s puffy hand lifts up to wave at us. There is truly a variety of palms in this place.

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