On the market.

Non è da signori. This was a veritable leitmotiv of my youth. It’s a phrase hard to render properly into English, non è da signori. I doubt is very much in use these days; from my point of view, I heard it mostly from my grandmother when she wanted to point out that something – my behaviour, a sport I played, you name it – wasn’t gentlemanly, or worthy of an educated person.
Markets, I thought in those rather gullible years, weren’t da signori. Perhaps it was due to the general shabbiness of our city’s own, which I only saw at the end of the school day when a few stalls were left and only the detritus of the morning’s trades were left; but if you asked me, markets weren’t a nice place to go to.

As it often happens, it wasn’t until I flew the nest (not too far, for it was less than 70 km to Turin) that I started forming a different opinion, based on my own experience rather than on the influence of others.
Porta Palazzo market was, and is, very much unlike the rest of the old Turin city centre. It’s a sprawling city district, its beating heart a belle époque gallery made in cast iron and glass where one can find fresh vegetables and Romanian wines, catch of the day and the smelliest toma cheese, cheap clothes and Moroccan take-aways. At its margins lie an Oort cloud of Chinese bodegas and Nigerian minimarkets selling everything from pre-paid SIMs to plantain. It’s also the best place to buy drugs and, when the Saturday Balon flea market takes place, it’s also where the pieces of your stolen bicycle are likely to be found on sale.
With Porta Palazzo everything I’d ever known about markets turned on its head. Porta Palazzo was the start of a journey that brought me quite far. Billingsgate, Tsukiji, Noryangjin, Besiktas. The bazaars of Almaty, Osh and Dushanbe. The Mercado de San Pedro in Cusco. Isfahan’s labyrinthine Grand Bazaar. Not once was I scammed, not once poisoned. Can’t say the same of restaurants or cafés in any of those cities.
There’s a market in San Telmo, Buenos Aires. It sits perilously on a very important divide, the great chasm between the real deal and the tourist trap. Nuwara Eliya’s Central Market or Madrid’s Mercado de San Miguel: which way will it go? Probably the latter, but perhaps not yet. There’s still a butcher or one of those shops selling everything from bread to washing powder where the retailers wear white coats.
Click on any of the photos to start the slideshow.
Markets aren’t just places where one can go shopping for foods that won’t turn his guts’ weather forecast to brown rain. They’re also the best way to take the pulse of a city, to sit and watch it come and go. Buenos Aires, I’d said it before and I’ll be saying it again, is the Real Madrid of people watching; San Telmo’s Mercado is its epicentre. And long may it last.

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17 Responses to On the market.

  1. What a great ode to some of the best markets in the world! We are huge fans of markets anywhere and in fact , it is the FIRST place we go to when we arrive in a new town, city or country. Love that you grew up with warning signs from your grandma and that made a great intro to this post overall. Things could only look up from there on!

    We know some of the markets that you mention and share your enthusiasm for Buenos Aires’s San Telmo. But of course Buenos Aires has great everything….!

    Going to look at your write up of Isfahan and the bazaars of Almaty. We will toss into the mix the Pettah market in Colombo, Sri Lanka or the market in Essaouria, Morocco which is also a favorite of ours. But frankly, even in U.S. cities, farmers markets are the best place to get fresh produce and to feel the pulse of the place and the people.

    Terrific post!


    Liked by 1 person

  2. richandalice says:

    I will cherish this post forever for its refrrence to the Oort Cloud. Oort was on my dissertation committee!


    • awtytravels says:

      Hi Rich, sorry for the delay in replying! For some odd and inscrutable reason WordPress decided this comment was spam, which clearly it wasn’t! You knew Jan Oort?! How was he? I think he was meant to have bits of space named after him; I mean, Oort. Asimov would’ve approved of it.


  3. lexklein says:

    I tend to get intimidated by markets, especially in places where I can’t identify a lot of the goods. But I have to agree they are great sociological specimens, and I often go just for the ambling and viewing (and photography). Oh, and my grandmother and even my mother had similar admonitions: “That’s not gentlemanly/ladylike.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • awtytravels says:

      LADYLIKE! That’s the word! 😀 Thanks Lexi. Well, I have to say sometimes markets can be intimidating. The meat hall in the Dushanbe bazaar, in the heat of the summer, is enough to make you gag… but they sell buckets of raspberries for 50 eurocents, AND they give you the bucket!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. J.D. Riso says:

    Great people shots, Fabrizio. Markets are the heart and soul of so many cities. Intimidating, but fascinating labyrinths.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. We love markets, and like others have said it’s often the first place we go if not to buy food, but to see how the local people live and shop, and to photograph. Loved San Telmo, but a real standout in memory for me is the Luxor market. Had that same quality of most 3rd world markets – noisy crowded dirty alive – but somehow everything even moreso. It had the feel of being eons old without having changed except perhaps for some tarps overhead, and cell phones.
    Wonderful post.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Lignum Draco says:

    You’ve described it well. Markets are the real deal, especially those chaotic ones where it’s mostly locals. You great a great vibe for human nature, local colour and smells, cheap good food, and you can just disappear and be immersed in it all. So many secrets to discover.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Bama says:

    I echo everyone’s sentiment about traditional markets, although when things seem too familiar with what I see in my home country, like what I saw in Kochi, I tend to skip the market altogether. Speaking of that term you mentioned in the beginning of the post, that reminded me of what my mom used to tell me in Javanese when she saw people behaving non è da signori: ora miyayeni, which more or less means “not in a way a noble man would behave/do”. I’m not sure whether people in other parts of Indonesia have similar terms, but in the case of the Javanese it stems from the fact that it is a deeply hierarchical society.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Dave Ply says:

    You know you’re in the presence of a serious traveler when the bucket list isn’t the Eiffel Tower or the Colosseum of Rome, but rather a list of public markets, scattered across the globe. I lack your depth on that list, probably the closest I’ve been to the “real deal” is the San Pedro Market in Cusco. (Side note: I was just looking at my post on that market, and noticed in the comments you introducing yourself. Even traveling in the blogosphere the markets seem to draw you in!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • awtytravels says:

      Seriously? I don’t remember that as the start of me following your blog, Dave, but what nice coincidence! I’ve to say though, the Colosseum is something I’ve only ever seen from outside. Must get in there sometimes.

      Liked by 1 person

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