Assisi’s Fruit Market – and the Future Mamma
Nowadays, only one farmwoman, Novella, sells her vegetables at Piazzetta dell’Erba (“the little piazza of the grass/grasses”, i.e. vegetables)
Only Novella today at Assisi’s Piazzetta dell’Erba
But years ago, the entire small piazza was encircled with vegetable vendors.
Piazzetta dell’Erba years ago
(Photo thanks to Claudio Carli)
During my first pregnancy in 1979, I quickly realized that shopping at the outdoor mercato with an evident pancione (“big tummy”) took time as every vendor insisted on giving me a few strawberries or cherries, apricots or figs… no refusals allowed! Each fruttaiolo put them into my hands or right into my shopping bag, to ensure a swift labor and delivery, enforcing the old adage “Togli una voglia, levi una doglia” (“Take away a craving, take away a labor pain”).
Not only: all the vendors were making sure I’d have a lovely baby without birthmarks. Our rural friends believe that a birthmark – colloquially called either voglia (“desire,” i.e “craving”) or “fragola” (“strawberry”) – marks the place where the child’s pregnant mother had touched herself when speaking about or thinking about a desired food. The desire might often be for strawberries, a sweet, tasty fruit not very plentiful on the Umbrian farm, costly at the market and hence craved. My farm neighbor Chiarina warned me about unrequited voglie.
“Guarda, Anna“, she exclaimed as she threw up her nine-year-old daughter’s skirt, revealing a good-sized fragola (“strawberry”) on Rossanna’s upper thigh. “You see?” she sighed, “While I was pregnant and craving strawberries, I did this,” she smacked her own thigh.
Chiarina and her Rossanna, 1976
Brown-toned birthmarks are there because the mother craved a brown food, Peppa affirmed, telling me about a farm woman years ago at the Saturday market, craving a panino di porchetta (another food generally not available on the poor farm tables). She let the porchetta vendor know with a sigh. Noting she was pregnant, he immediately made her a roast suckling pig sandwich. She finished her Assisi errands, returned to the porchettaio gazing at his panini with baleful eyes. “No!” he exclaimed, “one is fine but not two.” Peppa said the problems at birth were all his fault: the woman was carrying twins and only one survived. “After all,” Peppa concluded, “she did eat only ONE porchetta sandwich.”
As she prepare chestnuts for roasting, Peppa counsels seriously on the dangers of pregnant women’s unresolved cravings…
And one day as she was cutting my hair, parrucchiera Emma and I were exchanging voglie stories. She pulled down the neckline of her shirt revealing a light brown birthmark on her neck. “Mamma so craved caffe’ latte when she was pregnant with me.”
Emma shows me her fragola (or voglia).
Our oldest son has a birthmark on his thigh… those yearned-for cappuccini?