Market Day in Tuscany
Have you ever dreamed of visiting Tuscany?
If you’ve never been, but have done even a preliminary internet search, you’ll like have seen images of tiny hill-top villages perched above olive groves or vineyards and narrow, winding roads lined with upright Italian cypress trees. You’ll definitely see all of this on your way to, or through, Tuscany.
One such hilltop village is Peccioli, some 40 km outside of Pisa. While it lacks the vineyards and olive groves that you might see around Volterra for example, it still captures, in breathtaking accuracy, the authentic feel of the old world; Italy of yesteryear. This is perhaps not surprising given that residents over 70 years of age constitute roughly 10% of the population.
Tuesday is market day in Peccioli and merchants are ready to welcome you between 7:00am and 1:00pm. If you’re not overly concerned about getting the choicest produce, then no need to be among the early risers, you can go late in the morning and still find most of what you may need.
As you make your way up the hill, you’ll already have seen the bell tower of San Verano, Peccioli’s parish church. It makes for an easy navigation point and visual reference.
There is free public parking within a 5-min walk of the market, just behind the school on via dei cappuccini (if you can find a spot). If there are no free spots left… just improvise, that’s what the locals do! (Those white lines on the pavement? …just a suggestion, park as you’d like!)
From there make your way up to via Giacomo Matteotti where you’ll find the first of the vendors.
What to buy?
This is an old-fashioned market. Vendors park their trucks on one side of the already narrow street, open up the sides into canopies and Voilà… instant street-long storefront. Not to miss out on the extra buying power walking past their shops, local shop owners will display their wares on the street as well, bidding potential buyers to stop there or perhaps even come inside their shop.
- The fish truck, the cheese truck & the chickens-roasting-on-spits truck
- The produce vendors
- Clothing…. lots and lots of reasonably priced clothing (from the mobile vendors – storefront vendors are more expensive)
- Shoes, slippers and boots (mostly for women) but interestingly… the footwear vendor also has a selection of underwear and pajamas.
- One mobile vendor is peddling table cloths, aprons and fabric while another is selling watches, lighters and other small electronic gadgets (quality guarantee is questionable).
- We even saw a second-hand clothing vendor, with brand names like Benetton and others… everything under 10€!
You can tell these vendors are regulars…. because even their dogs travel with them and don’t stray far. No leash and no tether, but they just sit patiently watching passers-by, without their owners giving them a second glance.
To give you an glimpse into life in Peccioli… let me give you three addresses:
18 Via Giacomo Matteotti
Ever heard of a haberdashery? You’ll find one here at 18 Giacomo Matteotti Way
In actuality it’s an old fashioned name for a store that sells all things sewing. But it’s not like the well organized stores that you’d find in North America. This store is about the size of a fair-sized bedroom with boxes and cabinets lining the walls, from floor to ceiling. Zippers are sold in bulk and whether your fare is needlepoint, knitting or sewing… you’ll find it here.
Not only that, but the wall behind the sales counter is lined with his and hers underwear, all sconto 20% (20% off). In the window is a mix of commecial goods and handmade items that were undoubtedly made by either the shopkeeper herself or one of the nonnas (grandmothers) in her circle.
Skeins of yarn are only 1€ each… making it a steal of a place to pick up what you’ll need for a small project. In this case and baby blanket for new friends. Six euros and a few hours of love and prayers later will make for a lovely gift to give… with origins in Tuscany.
13 Piazza del Popolo
Piazza del Popolo, or the People’s Square is where you’ll find the entrance to the San Verano church as well as a nice little esplanade peppered with unique metallic sculptures. On the top of the piazza (or Square) you’ll find an nice little arcade in which many of the men, whose wives are still shopping, gather to smoke a cigarette and shoot the breeze.
A café has set out bistro tables and chairs and you can catch up on the news while flipping through one of the regional newspapers made available to patrons.
Specifically, at #13, you’ll find a panetteria (bakery) where you’ll be able to get some fresh pastries or simply an authentic ciabatta bread. No fancy displays, modern cabinetry or updated decor… they are there to sell bread and have been doing so for years and years. If you were to ask, they’d likely say that those things don’t make the bread any fresher or taste any better, so they’ll just stick to doing what they do best… baking bread and pastries!
1 Vicolo Petresi
The first thing you need to know about this address is that uno vicolo is simply an alley. Therefore, you should not be surprised to hear that no.1 Vicolo Petresi is pretty much what you’d expect to find in an alley… an old deserted house.
The wooden door shows signs of decay at the bottom, large enough for a small critter to gain access, although we saw no signs of any. Some cobwebs adorned the door frame and judging by the first glance, it had been a long time since anyone paid this address much attention.
A shame really because this is one of the principle little alleyways leading from the lower part of the village to the center.
Death and Thanksgiving
At the foot of Vicolo Petresi we found a curious collection of public notices on the municipal announcement board.
The top two notices announce the death of Peccioli residents, giving their ages, a short obituary as well as details of their wakes and funeral arrangements. Just as common as it is to announce deaths in this manner, so families will place a similar notice to express their thanks (Ringraziamento) to all those who sent condolences, flowers, food or who attended either the wake or the funeral.
This way of announcing deaths and thanksgiving makes sense in such a small, rural Tuscan village. At nearly fifty kilometers from Pisa, the nearest city, an obituary would be lost amidst a multitude of others. Yet with a population of barely 5,000, Peccioli is too small to have it’s own newspaper. Finally, foot traffic still represents a significant proportion of how people get around in these tiny hilltop villages so such notices, in A2 format are immediately visible and easily legible from a short distance.
Light Italian Lunch
Our bags heavy laden with our fresh purchases – a rotisserie chicken, fresh produce and one of this morning’s ciabatta from the panetteria, we started our walk back down the hill then, once back to our home-away-from-home, lunch was essentially ready to go. All we needed to do was transform the apples, oranges and red peppers into a traditional Italian orange salad, adding a bit of olive oil and salt, pepper and oregano to taste.
If you’re looking for a more formal recipe… here are a couple of suggestions.
What’s left to do after you’ve perused the local market in a hilltop Tuscan town, filled your lungs with fresh, crisp, December air while walking up and then back down the streets and vicoli, and eating a simple yet healthy Mediterranean meal? Why, you lay down for a short pisolino (nap) of course. Riposo (rest) comes easy and you’ll soon be ready to set out to discover more of this wonderful part of Italy known as Tuscany.
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Mike Long is a Canadian pastor living in France and who blogs over at AIMLong.ca. He loves God, his family, small backyard animals, travel and mobile photography.
He is grateful for the opportunity to guest-post for Maria here on Health from one Heart to Another