It’s every second Saturday, apparently. I found out this morning as I walked down the street with my notebook to get my coffee. The white tents were popping up under the porticoes of the piazza and the cafes were flooded with sounds of clinking coffee cups and spoons, the whirr of the coffee grinders. I took the long way around the old archway, quickly browsing the tables as the vendors unloaded their cars and trucks. Antique wooden furniture – chairs and tables, were being carefully arranged on the corner. Another woman gracefully arranged her jewelry on black velvet stands – the faded gold and silver glimmering in the morning sun.
I got my cappuccino and my sfoglia, a cream-filled pastry, and sat outside at one of the empty tables and had a front-row view of the market passer-by. On the other side of the arches in front of me, there was a book stand – an old, oversized copy of Pinocchio stood out from the piles. The next tent had boxes of records – with Pavarotti prominently displayed in the front, of course. The man in that tent had two chihuahuas that would erupt with snarls from under the tablecloths every time another dog would go by. On the other side of his tables, he had bright red and blue radios, a few tabletop clocks, old cameras, sunglasses. A mirror leaning against the table frames the reflection of the two men sitting a few tables over from me from their shoulders down. Their cigarette smoke floats up out of the frame, their hands gesture wildly over their empty glass espresso cups.
A boy – and I say boy though he was probably in his late teens, these faces I see as children now – walks up to my table, his face half-hidden in the shadow of his hoodie. He’s carrying a brightly-colored backpack full of lighters and napkins and askes me how I am, then gestures to the things in his hands. We both know the routine. I smile but politely say I don’t need anything today. He asks again, I say no thank you. He walks away to the next person. I have heard many stories from the people like him that have lived nightmares to get here, only to be treated like shit when they try and do the right thing, and the same if they do wrong. I can offer out all my coins to every one of them I know on the street, but it won’t get them documents. It won’t help them find a job.
A short whistle blows from out on the street, and under the archways, two police officers are parking their motorcycles and ordering people to move their parked cars out of the taxi lane. Grumbles rumble down the line of tents and a few saunter over to their cars to move them. A little girl named Francesca spins around the open space in front of the cafe doors. The dogs bark from under the table but she just giggles at them. “Mamma!” She calls up to her mother as she wraps her arms around her pink puffy vest, “sono fredissimo!” I’m freezing. Meanwhile, I’m watching friends from home on Instagram go surfing in NH. Today the water temp is 13.8°C / 56.9°F. That girl knows nothing. Yet, I thought out all of that while sitting there in jeans, sneakers, shirt, sweatshirt, and a scarf. So, there’s that.
I eventually get up and peruse the rest of the market. Leather bags, antique china, golden tea sets, figurines, posters, war medallions, wooden duck statues with pilgrim shoes (why?), a really splendid wrought-iron raised dog dish holder that I did not ask the price of because I would’ve bought it, incense, boxes of old postcards (I stay too long with these), paintings, furs, hats, everything. There’s everything. I walk by looking longingly at a gorgeously carved wooden bookcase and the man grabs my attention.
“Look at this beautiful table here!” He leads me over and gestures down to what looks like half of a metal patio table and then reaches for photos behind him, “this is the crystal top! It’s too delicate to bring out unless I have to but it is beautiful!” I loved him, but I hated the table, and I had no money for any table, but I certainly would not get that one. Maybe he thought I’d like it because I was young, maybe he was just desperately trying to rid himself of it today, but I politely directed his attention more toward the polished wooden masterpieces behind him instead. Though I explained I could never fit any of this in my apartment, I did know my mother-in-law was looking for a table that expanded, and he had a few. He opened up his folders and started showing me pictures and sketches, measurements and before and afters. A friend of his stopped by and found out I was American. “Ah! My [family member – I didn’t catch what one] is married to an American! They have twins!” And suddenly I was looking at a slideshow of adorable boys on a beach somewhere this past summer.
I left the market with nothing. We truly do not have space. Already, my in-laws have taken in much of Nonna’s furniture, beautiful pieces some of which my father-in-law made himself, and they’re waiting for us to move someday so we can take them. I certainly don’t need to spend money on old things from the antique markets, but oh if I had the space and the money, oh the things I would buy, but for now, browsing is almost as fun (and there’s no clutter).