giovedì 20 novembre 2014

Gli zorbi e l'amore / Sorbs and love

I rarely cry at things that I read.  But this post brought tears to my ears.  I instantly knew that I had to translate it and share it with you.  A heartfelt thank you to Evelin Costa, for writing the post on her blog, Agave Palermo, and for allowing me to present it here.
More than seventy years ago, in a very different Palermo from that of today, before the bombings of World War II, before the Sack of Palermo, but also before the Palermo spring, before all the traffic (the means of transportation were carriages), a Palermo that knew poverty, but a poverty different from today’s poverty, poisoned by consumerism, debt, and uncertainty, a poverty of the shirt collars or of the jackets turned inside out, so that you could wear them again, clothes passed on from generation to generation, coats made from the bed covers, which at night were re-used as blankets, a poverty where they ate meat once a month and every day ate only bread, pasta, potatoes, a poverty in which the only known lunch meat was mortadella, sliced thin as tissue paper. … It was in this Palermo, one day in November, that a young girl with blue eyes took her little cousin out to take a stroll.

The little cousin passed by a greengrocer and noted a particular fruit that was found only in autumn, the sorb (sorba in Italian, zuorbo in Sicilian). Its flavor is a strange mingling of sour and sweet, leaving in the mouth a sensation of something still acerbic and at the same time too ripe.

Like the children of every era (today it happens with toys), he began to ask insistently, “Vogghiu ’i zuorbi! Vogghiu ’i zuorbi!” (“I want sorbs! I want sorbs!”) So the girl caved and decided to buy her little cousin some sorbs. While trying to buy them she was frightened by an unusual surprise: a well-dressed young man who sprang out of nowhere. He approached her and said, “Signorina, gli zorbi se permetta li pago io” (“Signorina, with your permission, I would like to pay for these sorbs”). The girl shooed him away. “Vada via, mi lasci in pace” (“Go away, leave me in peace”). But her eyes betrayed her words, and the young man continued to insist, at which point the girl (already rather determined) said, “Se ha intenzioni serie, vada da mio padre” (“If you have serious intentions, go see my father”).

Thus was a love born, thanks to the sorbs, at a time when marriages were arranged, with cousins or family friends, when before the wedding engaged couples were only allowed to see each other from a distance, under the surveillance of the malicious glances of the mothers and aunts … This love, on the other hand, was born from “love at first sight.”

The young baker, who loved elegance (he always wore gloves and a hat), wasted no time in declaring himself to the father of his beloved. And he did so impetuously, jumping onto a moving carriage, driven by ’u gnuri, the coachman, one of the poorest and most mocked professions in those days. But that particular gnuri was special: a good and dignified man who since a young age remained a widower, with four children.

Foto: Evelin Costa (
The marriage took place after the war, after 4 years’ worth of letters. It was strengthened over time and remained alive for 67 years.

And after all those years, if in November you were to take a stroll in Palermo and notice an elderly couple holding hands, he with his hat and gloves, she with her still determined blue eyes, and you were to see them stop at a greengrocer to buy some sorbs, those were my grandparents.

– Evelin Costa (trans. by L.C.)

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