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


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


By Charles N. Stevens

It’s Friday, Market Day in Agrigento. The vast asphalt space of the marketplace, empty on any other day, is filled today with trucks as well as stands, carts and boxes, all brought together in the shadowy light of dawn. When the market opens, cars, mostly small Fiats, stream in from every street and side street, their drivers looking for any place to park. They quickly find themselves in traffic snarls, a glittering gridlock of honking horns, frayed nerves and shouts. An official attempts to regulate the traffic, but few pay attention to him. Cars accelerate an inch at a time in the tight squeeze of fenders and bumpers, their drivers searching like hawks, for any space large enough to fit their car.

People on foot flow in from every street, alley and neighborhood, filling the sidewalks and aisles, crowding up to the stands, bodies bumping bodies.

We jostle through the crowd, the shouts of vendors nearly drowning out the sounds of car horns in the distance. We pass orderly piles of green celery root, deep green displays of broccoli and boxes of cactus apples. Counters full of brownish bracket mushrooms, red mountains of vine ripened tomatoes and piles of purple-tinted cauliflower catch our eye. Men shout over sacks of onions and potatoes and carts full of apples, tangerines with fresh leaves attached and lemons.  Just-picked bunches of green grapes, huge and bursting with juice, adorned with the last of the year’s grape leaves, burden a cart. The vendors do a brisk business, bending over their counters, weighing the fruits and vegetables and stuffing liras in their pockets.

Meat trucks park on the asphalt, open their sides and become instant markets with glass counters, meat hooks and cutting boards. Naked chickens hang over the counters and so do legs of lamb, long lengths of dark red sausage and whole skinned rabbits, their small bodies pink and shiny. Piles of fresh red ground beef rest at one end of the counter, and a tray of pig’s feet, as pink as the sunset, is at the other.

Short women stand below, looking up at the counter, purses hanging over their shoulders on long straps, plastic bags in their hands. The white-coated meat sellers hone their knives on their sharpeners with deft movements, a practiced rhythm of metallic whispers. Meat is weighed, handed down and exchanged for lira, the meat men chanting about their sales. Men slice veal and chicken breasts with their razor-sharp knives instantly transforming them into thin fillets no more than a quarter inch thick. Another man chops with a cleaver, the steady sound of it on wood resounding in the aisles. Whole chickens rest in a large glass case with sausage and veal.

The men, both meat sellers and vegetable vendors, shout out with such strength and baritone bravado, that it is no wonder Italy has produced such great operatic voices. The power of their voices leaps out at people, holds their attention, nearly grasps them by the throat.

I pass boxes of dried salted cod from Norway, the stacks of fish stiff, flat and whitish, a faint odor rising from them. But nearby is a stand selling olives, mounds of them, each reflecting the lights of the market. There are Sicilian olives, farcito olives, Spanish olives—green ones, purple and black. Trays heaped with antipasto—olives, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, carrots, cauliflower, herbs and oil, as well as platters of caprieciosa—marinated julienne vegetables, orange and white. Another tray holds marinated mushrooms, another sun-dried tomatoes.

Close by, stand open sacks and bins of dried beans, lentils, walnuts, peanuts and pistachios as well as sunflower seeds, almonds and squash seeds. A breeze sweeps over the olives and antipastos. As a wind off the sea brings the smell of salt, this breeze carries the fragrance of oils and herbs, a scent almost as beautiful.

Only a few steps away is a cheese van, the cut half-rounds of swiss cheese on the counter showing their great holes. There are also stacked rounds of yellow cheese, tan cheese and cream-colored cheese as well as strings of salami. Hard salamis and lengths of pepperoni hang above the counter. Bleu cheese shows its blue-green veins. Yellow cheeses are shaped like ancient bowls. Above the counters hang plastic-encased balls of mozzarella.

I stand on the asphalt, a clearing bathed in sun, the sharp smell of cheeses and the herb-scented olives and antipastos pouring their fragrances into it. The sound of a cleaver pounds its rhythm, and the squeaking of a rotisserie loaded with browning chickens sounds like a tree full of birds. The smell of roasting chickens stimulates my appetite

There’s a heartbeat in the market, a celebration of life, an excitement about being alive. People stream in for fresh food, the way they have done for hundreds or thousands of years. The market is energy and abundance—color, sounds, smells, the jostling of crowds, the chanting of vendors, the appeal of fresh products, all part of the drama of the Friday Market in Agrigento.

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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