Valmelaina market (which has retained its name despite moving to the indoor facility in Via Giovanni Conti since November 2001) is well known for its excellent value for money. The “everything for one thousand” in the era of local currency lira has turned in “everything for less than one euro”.
A walk through the stalls
And so wandering among the stalls you can really find oranges for 80 cents per kilogram, apples for 50 cents (maybe with a few dents, but “really tasty” they ensure us), potatoes for 70 cents, cauliflowers for 80 cents, artichokes for 60 cents each and even jars of primrose for 70 cents (the prices are yelled out by the sellers, as they once used to do to attract and retain customers , but that now you can hear less and less).
The tradition of quality low cost is appealing for those who, in times of crisis, need to pay attention to every euro going out of their wallet.
“Many of my customers are retired ladies, getting no more than three or four hundred euros per month, so, despite their age, they keep on working. Maybe they work as caregivers for other ladies older than themselves, or they help in ironing or tailoring. And before they go to work they pass by the market to buy fruits and vegetables, and they find the best prices here” says Michele, behind the counter since twenty-five years. “Despite the historical customers and the competitive pricing, our job is at risk because there are too many taxes, too many fixed costs, there is no profit margin anymore”.
Michele is really upset, especially with politicians and he explains his thought with a horticultural metaphor, simple but enlightening: “There is only one way to make sure that those who govern us do not steal what belongs to everyone. If you got into politics with an apple – says Michele holding one of his pink ladies at 1,50 euro per kilo – and while doing politics you have earned 5 at the end you can have a total of 6, not 20 or 30, otherwise there is something that doesn’t work”.
The market in fact is also a place for politics, especially in times of crisis, and that is the reason why candidates of almost all parties came to the market during elections and also the reason why that from February 5th some neighborhood associations have created a support desk, independent from unions and parties, to listen to people’s needs.
Fondi, Sant'Angelo Romano and Mentana, not far from Rome, but there are also many others: bakeries (there is one specialized in alternative flours, rye on Mondays, soy on Tuesdays, multigrain on Wednesdays, pro-corn on Thursdays, corn on Fridays and Saturdays), fishmongers, delis and butcheries. But also small shops, such as “Habemus papa”, dedicated pet food, one specializing in tea, sweets and chocolates , wine on tap from Castelli Romani, a shoemaker and a stall with everything you need to organize a party: from balloons to sugar frosting.
“Everyone was screaming at this market: the most delicious oranges in the world! Come Sir, take a kilo of apples for one euro! Fish, fresh fish ... almost alive! They all seemed a little bizarre, a little over excited, but they were spreading out their good mood. I heard Mummy say that once upon a time the market used to be that way all the time… can you imagine what a voice one needed to be a seller back then!
Alongside the classic stalls there are two that I really really liked. One of sweets and chocolates ... there were of all kinds and of all colors: squared, round, shaped as a heart or even a star, wrapped in colored foil or transparent paper, tons and tons of sweets and chocolates, but also tea, honey and sugar, but I don’t really care for those. Then I saw basins full of small chocolates, like little balls but slightly longer, and Mummy explained me that those are Easter eggs, so since then I started the countdown to Easter!
The other one is a very special stall dedicated to parties of any kind, not only birthday but also baptism, marriage and many others. They sell pans to make cakes of any shape, decorations in every color and accessories to make the most creative desserts. Then there were these two huuuuge cakes, one white&pink and the other white&blue... I was craving for them. But then I looked better: they were diaper cakes! I understand they are important… but who would ever eat a diaper cake?!!”
Chickpeas and salted codfish
Fry in a pan some onion, carrot and celery, finely chopped, add chickpeas and some warm water and let them cook for 15-20 minutes checking the chickpeas consistency with a fork every now and then. Ten minutes before the end, add the salted codfish previously soaked with tomatoes, olive oil and rosemary. Remember not to add salt.
Just around the corner
The distinctive feature of the street where the new market of Val Melaina stands are the round towers of the complex built in the 70s by the architect Lucio Passarelli, on request of the Public Housing Institute, unmistakable sign of this neighborhood’s skyline. But those really passionate for Italian movie will certainly recall a memorable scene from “Very beautiful” (Un sacco bello, original title) the debut as a director of one of the most popular characters of contemporary Rome: Carlo Verdone.
It’s the scene in which Enzo – the first “lout” character of Verdone’s filmography – has an appointment at a pole with a recalcitrant friend to leave for Krakow, first stop of a “sex tour”. Unfortunately, those who know the movie well, will be disappointed in not finding the “pole” itself: the high voltage pylon with the skull and crossbones was actually torn down years ago.
It’s more difficult to recognize the set of a much more famous movie, which has its opening scenes in Val Melaina. In the neighborhood – built in the 30s to house those living in the houses demolished during fascism to make room for the current Via dei Fori Imperiali – lives the Ricci family. And it’s here – on the stairs of a building in Via del Gran Paradiso – where Antonio receives the news of being hired as a “bill sticker”. That’s the beginning of BICYCLES THIEVES, moving journey of a father and a son between the areas – and the rubble – of Rome during the Second World War.
But in these suburbs – as in every corner of the city – resound the echoes of another and more glorious Rome , the ancient one. In the current Passo del Turchino road, just a few blocks from where Antonio Ricci dreamed of riding back home with his bicycle and his first paycheck, the night between 8 and 9 June 68 AC, the Emperor Nero arrives at full speed, riding a horse, under the rain, escorted by four servants. He knows he hasn’t much time left: he has just received the news of the rebellion of the new legions, his personal guards ran away, none of his former friends offered him hospitality or shelter. His destination is FAONTE’S VILLA, a former slave that Nero himself had freed up. Faonte agrees to hide his emperor, who rejects though the proposal to burrow underground in the cubicles, as unworthy of his rank. Things happen very fast: a breathless messenger arrives announcing that the Senate has declared Nero “enemy of the homeland”. When some horsemen approach the villa at full gallop, the “divine” understands that it’s the end for him: he takes out a dagger and plunges it into the gorge, aided by the most faithful of his servants . The story of that night has been handed down by Suetonius, who describes Nero's suicide in his “Lives of the Caesars ". And he left also the coordinates to locate exactly the scene: it’s actually “between the third and fourth mile, in a secondary junction between Salaria and Nomentana” that in mid ‘800 were found the remains of Faonte’s villa. Archaeologists, of course, invite to be cautious before matching places with historical events. But the discovery of an inscription in the name of Egloge, Nero’s wet nurse, encourages us to believe that it really went that way. And exactly within these ruins.
|Where||via Giovanni Conti|
|open||Monday – Saturday, h 6:00-14:00|
|parking||along via Conti|
from Termini Railways Station Line H
Line B1, Conca d'oro