There are times when I take the tourist that stay at my B&B for a visit to the market places of Palermo; mercato del Capo, Ballaro’ and Vucciria.
I was in my neighborhood waking the streets that are so familiar to me and I got lost. How was that possible? Well, I was chitchatting and I missed a turn. I was already panicking, mostly because I was afraid to look like a fool than the fact I could not figure out where we were. I took advantage of the situation to get to know my surroundings better and so I came across the story of a little street that connects Sant’Agostino market place to one called Capo, passing through Beati Paoli Square. I found myself in Via delle Sedie Volanti (“Flying Chairs Street”). Fascinating right? One may ask himself: “What happened here? A mortal battle using chairs?” That’s not it! The street has been named after the people that used to work here: chair makers and sellers. But not any kind of chairs but rather sedan chairs, the ones that look like stretchers with a canopy used by the nobles to be driven around town. Two or more people where needed to operate them, lifting them from the ground and that’s why the name of “flying chairs”. You can still see some of them at Museo Etnografico Pitre’, with their two sturdy wooden beam and rich decorations. Nowadays this road has lost some of its appeal because of the several signs of “We buy/sell gold” but there’s so much history behind all of this that cannot be forgotten. A small street from my hometown of Senorbi comes to my mind: Via Tziu Su Topi (Uncle Mouse Street!!): it’s impossible not to remember folkloric names even if they have been changed to something else.
The market area has more surprises though. Since I’m lost I might as well keep going! I started to walk through unknown streets explaining to my guest that I wanted them to know all different aspects of this city. I kept finding more and more weird names. Take Via Gioiamia (My sweetheart street) for example. It’s not too far from the Cathedral and it seems that a nice older lady used to live here selling fruits to the pedestrians. She tried to attract customers by calling them “gioia mia” and from then on the people of this area renamed the street by this affectionate appellation. In the same area we also found Via Carrettieri: here lived the people that made the typical Sicilian carts. On the way back home, a street near the Courthouse has the best name ever: Via Scippateste (Head-snatcher Street). It seems it comes from the act of a betrayed husband. After he caught his wife red-handed, he ran amok, cut the heads of her lovers and exposed them so everybody could see them. No kidding!
Discovering Palermo through its roads it’s something that I want to keep doing now!