Tag Archives: Via Taormina

Our Via Taormina market

Every Saturday, the market colonises the streets at the end of Via Taormina. My very first week finds me trundling down there with our apartment’s deluxe convertible backpack/shopping trolley.

The market near Via Taormina
The deluxe backpack shopping trolley and G. at the market near Via Taormina

There are stalls of seasonal fruit and vegetables and very other imaginable kind of fare – meat, cheese, oils, olives, nuts, preserves, sweets, cakes, bread, cheese, milk, yoghurt and wine. I am bamboozled by the variety and paralysed by the staggering number of choices. In the end, I stalk a matron of upper middle-age. She looks as if she knows a thing or two about cibo. I don’t yet know the Italian for “I’ll have what she’s having”, so I stay close, watch keenly and point. Her choices of olio, olive, formaggio, legume, pane and pollo are faultless, I later discover.

Clothes at the market are seasonal too – warm coats, jumpers, scarves, beanies, vests and boots in winter, sandals, frocks and shorts in summer. Here I need no help, nor do I need words. My first purchase, on a chilly autumn morning, is long black padded coat, of unidentifiable material, but of such warmth that I could venture into the snow with nothing more than a bikini underneath and not feel the slightest chill. Furthermore, despite its bulk, it is as light as feather. Best impulse buy I ever made!

Alongside the perennials there are classics;  baby layettes, shawls, christening gowns, communion frocks and suits. There’s underwear of a kind not seen since the first half of the last century, including corsets, bloomers and liberty bodices.

Gadgetry abounds – peelers, corers, squeezers and stoners, miracle knives and magic dusters.

There’s a multitude of Manchester from duvets to doilies, table cloths to tapestries. There are beads, buttons and wool.

Among all this merchandise dedicated to worldly needs and pastimes, the soul and spirit are not forgotten; there are holy pictures and statues, shrines and votive candles too.

I stare in wonder as bloomers, buttons, coats, candles, self sharpening scissors, artichokes and apples fly off the stalls and into trolleys.

This a market, I think, as I trundle back along Via Taormina,  with the bulging  deluxe/convertible backpack/ shopping trolley, that truly serves its community.

 

Back to Milan

Milan’s Via Taormina is part of the city sprawl that has swallowed a small village. In spite of the roads  crammed with roaring traffic that surround it and the modern shops and dwellings that hover at its edges, much of village life continues here.

Via Taormina
Via Taormina

The church, San Marco, opens onto Piazza Caserta at the crossroads of Via Taormina and Via Veglia. While 21st century secular life and work dictate the rhythm of the days for most of the people who live here, still the bells of San Marco mark out traditions of prayer and spiritual observance. Every morning, they call the faithful to Mass. They chime out the Ave Maria at 12 o’clock to announce the Angelus. They ring again at three for Benediction. They peel at length on Sundays and feast days, for Baptisms and weddings. They toll at times of mourning.

Inside, San Marco has all the timeless and universal symbols of  Catholicism. There is the familiar scent of incense and candle wax, the dim light, the wooden pews, the pillars, the confessional boxes, the Stations of the Cross, the altar and its white cloths, the gilded tabernacle, the small red lamp glowing beside it, the stone angels, the paintings of Our Lady, the infant Jesus and the saints.

All this was the backdrop to my girlhood, the culture in which I grew up. I am not surprised to find it, here in San Marco, Via Taormina. Italy, is after all “the source” and the “Mecca” of the Catholic faith. The nuns, our teachers, too, always confident that we would make our way out into the wide world, had promised that in any Catholic church, anywhere,  we would find all the same symbols and rituals.  What does surprise me, is my sense of belonging and how much “at home” I feel here.

Life begins in Milan

It was about this time of the year, perhaps just a little later, that we arrived in Milan. Nobody I knew had nothing positive to say about the place. It was cold, it was old, it was dirty, it was shabby, it was industrial, it was ugly.

Via Taormina from our balcony
Via Taormina from our balcony

Nothing, however, could dampen my enthusiasm. It was Italy! Cold! Who cared, with all those museums, art galleries, cafes, bars, restaurants and shops offering warmth and shelter? Old? That meant history and heritage – Roman ruins and streets where Leonardo Da Vinci had walked. Dirty and shabby equalled character. Industrial? – Ferari factories and fashion fiera! Fabulous! Ugly? Well beauty, in my book, was confined to the eye of the beholder. I was determined to see it!

Old, beautiful, characterful and sunny! I thought, as we broke through the clouds and circled a city lit by watery winter sunlight.

Our taxi careened along the freeway, steering its own path, or so it seemed, while the driver talked incessantly with both his mouth and his hands, turning, and even leaning, from time to time, over the front seat to look us in the eye. My grasp of Italian, at that stage, was hazy, but it was clear that he was expounding, with great enthusiasm, on the marvels of Milan. I responded with appreciative nods, smiles and with little gestures that I hoped would encourage him to keep his eyes on the road and his hands on the wheel. They were lost in translation.

“Ecco! Via Taormina!” he exclaimed, throwing both arms out in triumph, as we zoomed round a corner, past a church, into a street flanked by cars parked nose to tail and overlooked by a mix of buildings representing every age of construction from middle to modern. Via Taormina was part of the city sprawl that had swallowed whole and left undigested, a small village, with its church, walled gardens, stone houses and stables.

“Ecco! – La Casa!” our driver announced, beaming over the back seat and screeching to halt simultaneously.

Our Via Taormina apartment building was a chunky, stone edifice, of indeterminate age and undeniable ugliness. But ugliness, like beauty, is only skin deep and, inside, our apartment was beautiful. The rooms were large, with wooden floors, tall windows and furniture that spoke of household set up in a vintage somewhere around the mid 1900s . At the front, French doors opened from the lounge and onto a wide, sunny balcony that looked out over the neighbourhood. Potted bamboo and trees, covered in tiny buds, promised shade, flowers and fresh green leaves in a few months’ time. The kitchen was equipped with every conceivable 20th century culinary invention and utensil. Platters, plates, dishes, glassware and cutlery to cater for any occasion and any number of guests spoke of large family feasts and gargantuan cook-ups. In bedrooms there were beds with ornate headboards and dressing tables with doilies and ornaments. This was not just an apartment. It was a home and the presence of the life lived here was strong, close and welcoming. It wrapped around me like a shawl borrowed from a dear friend. I knew that I would be happy and that I would also be at home here.

This was the beginning of life in Milan.