San Lorenzo is a very ancient market, its roots are in the years before the war. The historical memory is Egisto, 86 years old, working at his stalls since the age of 13.
A Walk through the stalls
“I used to come with my father from Guidonia Montecelio every morning, we would leave at 11 pm with our horse and a small cart and we would reach the market at 6 am, then, after setting up the stall, my father would send me back to the farm while he would stay until closing time – tells us Mr. Egisto – I always liked the countryside, except for some time during the war. One time, in 1944, I was working on my grandfather’s land, with my younger brother, my cousin and my grandpa’s brother, it was towards the end of the war and there were many lowlifes, delinquents, some SS going around to rob the houses, two of them threatened us with a gun, they wanted some money from us. I was really scared, for several months I didn’t go back to the farm”.
At the time Mr Egisto mentions, the stalls at San Lorenzo market were a lot more, and they were organized in two groups, on one side the “farmers” as himself, while on the lower part of Largo degli Osci the other sellers, in the area which hosts the whole market nowadays.
As of today, of the 25 stands, built after the renovation plan in 2003, only 10 are open. In addition to two farmers, there are two fishmongers, Alberto’s butchery, Mrs. Elvira’s and her daughter Patrizia’s linen and clothes stall (Elvira is another “veteran” at the market, with 51 years of “service”), the deli, Valentina’s hand-made pasta, the bio stall Nave dei folli (literally crazy ship), the florist Giorgio.
Now that the market got an official recognition by the City council after many years, hopefully the call for new stalls assignment will come out soon. “By the end of the year the market should be self-managed – explains us Marco, market association president, while cleaning fish (“how do you want to cut the calamari?”) – so we should get some tax benefits for costs, but we should still wait for the official call for the stands assignment. I’m personally very attached to this market, my family has been working here for three generations, and I’ve been working here myself for over 30 years, since I was 16. I’ve seen many things happening at the market, on one side it’s true that we’ve been left aside by public institutions, on the other we’ve been sleeping on our laurels. Now it’s time to roll up our sleeves!”
Among those who literally rolled up their sleeves, there are the two Francescos who came up with the idea of La nave dei folli, a stall offering fruits, vegetables and other bio products, but also a lot more: a meeting point where you can practice modern Greek, take a cup of coffee (Francesco often offers it to the morning clients) while having a chat, find a book about the neighborhood or get a free shiatsu treatment. Opened by two friends five years ago, now it’s run by only one of the two Francescos (who is actually a psychotherapist as main job) together with a few helpers, while the other one got back to his full time job (sculpture). “The project started with a challenge: build a direct relationship with farmers, propose local and bio products – explains the Francesco remaining – and then it also had a political goal, leveraging on a non-financial instrument called scec”. So while we talk with Francesco we see all these customers coming with these strange banknotes worth 1 or ½ scec: young couples with a baby, a student, a middle-age lady, a foreign guy.
“Everyone has them around here – explains Francesco – it’s called walking solidarity and it’s part of a national project called Arcipelago Scec, to get them you just have to be part of the association, nothing more. The main goal is to keep wealth within a territory and get away from wholesale distribution”. In fact most of the suppliers come from Lazio area (Amatrice, Ladispoli, Rieti’s countryside ) and also for the most “exotic” products there is a great effort: the avocados sold at Nave dei folli all come from Sicily and they are often offered as already made guacamole.
“Now things are getting better but for a long long time, veggies and me didn’t really get along. It’s ok with carrots, potatoes, anything that is not green… but if it’s green I can’t stand it. But there is an exception: broccoli. Don’t ask me why, but despite the funny shape, the smell and all the rest I like them. Well, to be clear, I prefer bananas, cookies or strawberry ice-cream, but broccoli are ok. I can eat them. When Mummy went to San Lorenzo market I was at school, I didn’t see anything, but when I came back home I smelled this unmistakable smell down the stairs. I bought these great bio broccoli, Mummy said. And I ate them all for dinner, they were really good. Yummy and bio”.