Electronically Serving Monterey Park, Alhambra, San Gabriel, & Rosemead


This is the second in a series of articles about southern Sicily, chiefly the interesting town of Agrigento that we visited in the 1990s.


By Charles N. Stevens

Running through the center of the ancient town of Agrigento, is its main artery, Via Atenea, named after the Greek goddess Athena. The life blood of Agrigento courses down the street, a conduit of the town’s vitality, a flow of people, cars, motor bikes and an occasional small bus. Built for the age of horses and buggies, the street is so narrow that it can barely accommodate the small cars that the Sicilians drive. On each side of the street stone buildings rise three and four stories tall, effectively cutting off the autumn slant of the sun, and keeping the street in perpetual shade.

On the first floors of the old yellowish sandstone buildings, are the shops, some small and traditional, others modern, glittering with lights, glass, chrome and polished marble. Colorful clouds of flowers tumble out of florists’ shops, diamonds and gold glitter in jewelers’ windows, fine leather shoes bask in soft lights, and stylish clothes fill the racks and displays of high-fashion shops. But there are also fresh octopus and squid hanging in the fishmonger’s shop, along with boxes of silver sardines tilted towards the windows. A tuna fish as large as a log rests on a table near the door, dark red flesh showing where it had been cut. The meat market features white porcelain tubs of tripe and liver, long intestines of sausage hanging from hooks.

The street teems with people, some walking the narrow, often disappearing sidewalks, others trying to negotiate the streets without being tagged by a passing motorist or young men on motor scooters who race through the street, weaving their way through the people, their hornet-like sounds echoing between the buildings. Most of the people are well-dressed, the older men wearing suits and ties, their thick gray hair combed back in orderly waves. Even the young wear stylish clothes, appearance highly valued by everyone. A few young women appear very sophisticated, almost exotic. Some of the oldest men talk together in clots, their traditional European billed caps snugged over their heads to keep out the cold. The most poorly dressed people are the American tourists. In a city of 55,000 people, 25% of whom are out of work, I find them exceptionally well-dressed.

A few tall slender black men, immigrants from Africa, wander among the people. They are in search of work but have found nothing except selling notions on the street. They carry their wares in flat cardboard trays equipped with a strap that is looped around their necks. Most try to sell small cigarette lighters, often approaching people, and holding the lighters out to them. They are almost universally ignored.

A few feet off Via Atenea, near where a shouting street vendor sells fresh thyme, oregano and arugula from his wicker basket, is a small vegetable market, stacked crates of oranges, apples, cactus apples, broccoli and violet-tinted cauliflower. Many people pick through the fruits and vegetables, loading up plastic sacks with their choices. When a crate empties, the proprietor heaves it far to the side where it joins a disorderly pile of other empty crates. One lands close to me as I try to photograph the market.

Close by the market we enter the hushed atmosphere of the centuries-old Basilica Immacolata. Yellow and red votive lights flicker in the dimly lighted church, the silence within its old walls broken only by the voices of thoughtless American tourists. We sit in a pew, and rest as we relax from the hustle of the Via Atenea.

Like smaller vessels branching off from the main artery, even narrower streets lead from both sides of Via Atenea, some of the ways so steep that stairs are needed to make the ascent. With the entire town clustered on a rounded hilltop, all roads that are not parallel to the contour are up or down. From the small branched streets that face south, and down the hill, we can see the deep blue swath of the Mediterranean and the coastline far below.

We poke into a small news and tobacco shop where we buy postcards and stamps. The proprietors are very friendly, full of the Italian exuberance for life. They laugh with us as we attempt to communicate, Dolores using her Spanish to make our needs even clearer. We also step into a narrow grocery store to buy bottled water. The man at the cash register is kind enough to walk to the back of the store to get the brand of water we wanted. As we wait in line, other Italian customers walk around us, and push up to the counter, having no concept of the line or queue. They simply wonder why we are all hanging back.

We like watching Italian men talk to each other, standing close to each other, looking at each other intently in the eye, moving their hands constantly with every gesture imaginable to make their points. It is loud intense talk involving the whole body, direct talk said with force and bravado, and with great conviction. Shyness must be nearly absent in Italian culture.

We retrace our steps on the Via Atenea, listening to the motors and horns of automobiles, the impudence of motor scooters, the clicking of heels on the stone streets and sidewalks, the rhythmic lilt of the Italian language. As for arteries, Via Atenea is small and narrow, but as for its pulse of life, it rivals the best of them.

MONTEREY PARK AUTHOR PUBLISHES 4th BOOK – Seeking More of the Sky: Growing Up in the 1930’s:

Charles “Norm” Stevens, a 43 year resident of Monterey Park has recently published his 4th book: Seeking More of the Sky: Growing Up in the 1930’s. This is the story of a young boy growing up in Inglewood, California in the l930’s. This was a time during the depression when unemployment was affecting many and the banks were closed, while the clouds of war were gathering in Europe. But he was lucky enough to be raised in a loving family, the power of that love reflected throughout his stories.

Stevens is the author of three previous books about his experiences during WWII:

An Innocent at Polebrook: A Memoir of an 8th Air Force Bombardier (Story of his 34 bombing missions from his base at Polebrook, England over Germany and France)

The Innocent Cadet: Becoming A World War II Bombardier (A prequel to the first, telling of his training in the U.S. before going overseas into combat.)

Back from Combat: A WWII Bombardier Faces His Military Future from Combat: (This book details the time from when he returned from combat in England until the end of the war.)

He is known to the readers of The Citizen’s Voice as the author of Travel Log Articles including “Cruising the Rhine and Mosel”,” Best of the West”, “In Search of Snow” ,  “From Paris to Normandy on the Seine”, and “Exploring New York”.  He is retired, having taught for 32 years, primarily in the Montebello Unified School District.

Those interested in purchasing an autographed copy of any of his books, may contact the author at 323-721-8230 or  Normstevens24@gmail.com.

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