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Friday, 30 March 2007

Enter the Vucciria

The city of Palermo has always been a market town, well for nearly 3,000 years anyway. In fact at times it feels like one big crazy bazaar. Take a detour anywhere in downtown Palermo you are instantly hit with a wall of noise, the sounds of people talking, bartering, shouting, arguing, laughing. Walk down the labyrinth of lane ways in the old city on any morning and you may just be fortunate enough to come across The Vucciria.

The Vucciria is probably the most famous, and oldest, of Palermo markets. The Vucciria is a truly incredible place. During anyone's first visit to this place it is hard not to just stand there and stare, mouth wide open, in amazement. It feels like a place where time has stood still. It is as if you have walked out of a time machine into some crazy, noisy market from a centuries ago.

Whether you are one who likes this sort of mayhem or are noise averse, it is hard not to feel alive at the Vucciria. Your senses are surrounded on all sides with life and activity. Your sense of smell is instantly awoken by the waft of exotic smelling spices and flavours, your ears are under assault by the sheer volume of verbal activity, and if you are fortunate enough to try some of the food and produce on sale, you will honestly feel as if this was suitable for a king. Your eyes are watching people going about their business, acting as if this was the most normal thing in the world. People are moving everywhere, deals are done, items are bought and sold, money is exchanged, and by 2pm - everyone is gone! Siesta time. What was bedlam only a few minutes ago turns into an eerie silence as the last of the stall holders packs up and goes home for lunch.

Words cannot adequately describe nor do justice to this unique place.

The local Palermitans have long been "proud" of this place. It is true to form that only a Sicilian can take pride inn bedlam and see the beauty in abject chaos. The esteemed 20th Century Italian painter, Renato Guttuso immortalised the Vucciria in his colourful (does that surprise you?) painting of the same name. When you look at this painting and you see what Guttuso saw, you feel an instantaneous connection with the painter. It is almost as if he was standing right there next to you on the day you first stumbled, unawares, on the Vucciria.

By the way, the term Vucciria, comes from the French word for butcher but soon the word became synonymous in the local dialect with loudness and "being out of control". To say something is a racket is to say that it is a vucciria. I think you get the picture.

In more recent times, the locals have been organising Sicilian art and music performances using the Vucciria as a backdrop. Last Sunday I went to one of these concerts, which was held in an abandoned , desecrated yet incredibly beautiful church right in the heart of the Vucciria. Outside the street vendors were cooking up a storm, supplying hungry concert goers with some of the best Sicilian street food you can find. There are very few pleasures in life better than drinking a beer while eating Sicilian street food until your heart's content - and still getting change for ten euros!

Another thing that you notice with the Vucciria is how many stray dogs there are. They absolutely just love this place. I mean, it only makes sense, dropped food, humans, loud noises, plenty of stray cats to chase - it is dog butt sniffing heaven at the Vucciria on concert night.

Inside the church of Santa Eulalia, performing were a collection of Sicilian artists. Vuccira Festival - 11/29 Aprile 2007 - ranges from the more traditional folk, to rock to a classical and refined. http://www.vucciria.org/ - website in Italian -
One of the groups were singing in a very old style of vocal dialect which sounded not unlike the Peking Opera. In fact, running your fingernails down blackboard was probably more pleasing to the ear. I should not be too harsh, as like the Peking Opera, I am sure that this style of music is a definite acquired taste.

Another group, called I Beati Paoli were magnificent, the play a form of rock music with explosive lyrics (sung in Sicilian dialect, of course) combined with powerful instrumentals. They were followed by a very professional and obviously very experienced (judging my the grey pony tails and increasing girth) group of musicians who go by the name of Sun. Like I Beati Paoli, this group amazed me in the beauty of their performance and the obvious talent they possessed.

The highlight, without any doubt, was provided by a pocket sized female singer with a voice that packs just more than just a punch. Etta Scollo is a powerhouse, an incredible performer who, through the colour and sound of her voice, manages to keep the audience in a state of awe. While naturally I could not understand a word she was singing, the power of her vocal communication made me feel as though I could understand everything.

If Etta was singing out in the middle of Vucciria during peak trading, everyone would stop what they were doing, down tools and watch and listen. If you have ever been to the Vucciria you will understand the significance of what I am saying. No one ever gets distracted from their business at the Vucciria - but they would after just a couple of bars from Etta.

I went home that night thinking where else in the world could a place so simple and seemingly mundane, like an outdoor market, have such an effect on you. I can't answerer that question , Renato Guttuso could, although he did not need words.

Vucciria Festival
when : 11/29 April 2007

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