OLD NEAPOLITAN TRADES STILL PRESENT
In 1800 Naples, as in the whole Campania, was a plethora of arts and crafts, imaginative and sometimes very specific, many of them carried out by peddlers who roamed the streets of the city or in the suburbs. Over the years many of these trades are slowly disappeared because obsolete and unproductive, while others even have lingered on till a few years ago. Interesting to know that each pedlar had its characteristic strong “cry” that emitted as he walked through the streets to warn people about its product.
To tell the truth, even today, around the Neapolitan hinterland or in some small countries, where certain traditions are slower to die, we still can find some of these ancient jobs, also if some is seasonal.
In many areas it is not difficult, for example, run into a seller of watermelons (MELLUNARO), mussels (CUZZECARO) or ears of wheat (SPIGAIUOLO).
What follows is a list of old trades that if lucky, you still can have the chance to meet around in the narrow streets of the province of Naples.
The “mellunaro” is the classic seller of watermelons (called mellune d’acqua), yellow melons (mellune ‘e pane) and green melon (mellune ca’ rezza) the ones we can store and keep hanging in a grid of straw to consume later during Christmastime. The melons seller, now as before, in the summer is still present in different countries. Watermelons once also were sold in individual slices, while for those who had to buy a whole watermelon, the seller effected the “test” to show that inside it was a bright red color, synonymous with right ripeness and sweetness. The prove was performed by cutting a piece in the shape of a cone (or triangle) starting from a central end of the fruit until arriving to its central part. The traditional seller’s cry was usually “tenghe ‘e mellune chiene’ ‘e fuoche” (I have watermelons full of fire).
It’s the seller of roasted chestnuts, who with a cooker, a large pot riddled with small holes and a woolen cloth (to keep the heat of roasted chestnuts), on cold winter evenings enlivened the chilly passers by selling some hot chestnuts wrapped up in a newspaper sheet. A times, early in the morning, he also sold the so-called Allesse (chestnuts peeled and cooked in water flavored with bay leaves, fennel seeds and salt) and Palluottele (ie chestnuts cooked with the skin).
It was the pitchman who repaired knives. He went around with his cart through the urban streets and by a foot pedal drove a grindstone to sharpen blades of penknives, scissors and knives. Nowadays, it is difficult to find these peddlers around, especially as knives and scissors have become consumer goods sold cheaply, making repair less convenient.
Despite it’s very common to find around peddlers selling fruits and vegetables, by a three-wheelers vehicle or truck, today someone still goes around to sell only a single product. Here’s someone of them.
It’s the seller of onions and garlic. Once, it was a farmer who dried garlics and onions, harvested in his small farmland, then came to city to sell them. Their main characteristic was to weave dried bulbs and leaves, so as to form long braids which he carried on his shoulders.
He was the strawberries seller.
A peddler who, from spring till summer, went around the town selling this fruit. Once, strawberries were collected in the countryside or in the suburbs (especially in Afragola, where it says strawberry culture was already active in around the fourth or third century BC).
Today, these specific sellers go around for the streets driving a three-wheelers vehicle and often aren’t farmers.
He was the seller of mulberry fruits, both white and black, known in Naples as “Ceuze” or “cevze”.
He was a peddler who, after collecting the fruits in the countryside, moved into towns and villages of the surrounding area to sell these sweet fruits for the delight of the buyers. Usually, he attracted the crowd with colorful and entertaining cry like “Ceuze annevate“, because, often, mulberries were sold still covered with hoar-frost. Or “tengo ‘o mèle e te pitte ‘e russe ‘o musse, ca ciucculata!” (I’ve the honey which makes red your lips, as sweet as chocolate!).
He is the seller of mussels.
There was who sold fresh mussels and the one who sold them cooked. This one usually had a removable stand, equipped with chairs and bench that gave customers the possibility to sit and eat a soup of mussels (boiled mussels) prepared by him. At one time, the mussels were abundant along the beaches of Sorrento, Bay and Cape Misenum. Today, we from time to time can still find along the road a stand of a mussels seller, collected in the area, but because of the restrictive hygiene rules such sale is now prohibited, while the shellfish typically purchased at any fishmonger comes from authorized farming only.
This was the person selling spikes of grain.
They are ears of wheat boiled with salt water in a big copper pot that the peddler carries around the streets still hot (on a small support with ball bearing wheels), through the cry of “Doje, doje…. manco ‘o ffuoco me paghe”, (two, two… you not even pay me the cost of the fire). Someone else instead sells roasted spikes.
One selling nougat. Today, these vendors still exists thanks to town festivals and village fetes during which they finds space for their own stall to sell candies and all kinds of nougat, white, with honey or chocolate, with almonds or hazelnuts. In the past, the most appreciated producers of nougat came from Irpinia and Sannio, areas rich in tradition and quality manufacturers.
This is the the player of the Italian bagpipes, instrument that, unlike the common bagpipe, is equipped with more reeds sound (chanters), and accompanied by another man playing a shawm. Originally they were shepherds who came from the mountainous regions of Avellino. With the arrival of Christmas (especially during the Novena of the Immaculate Conception), arrived in the city they walked through the streets in traditional costumes, playing traditional Christmas motifs such as “You come down from the stars”.
They played on request in front of any votive shrine in the streets or in front of the crèche in homes of those who invited them to go in and play. Some time ago, they got few coins in exchange, or simply food and drink they put in their saddlebags made of sheepskin. Today, unfortunately, there are very few bagpipers players around, because those few who play bagpipes are no longer the poor shepherds than once.
Another vendor who still roams the streets, especially on Sunday or during holidays, is who is selling various types of seeds.
I refer to dried and salted pumpkin seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts and lupine seeds soaked in salt water. These seeds are a food for us to enjoy after lunch and as a way to stay more at the table, and for this considered as a trivial “pastime”. The seller of this seeds had various names derived from the kind of seed, unless we say “semmentaro” to indicate in a generic way the seller of different seeds. So we had the “Lupinaro” if refering to the person who sold lupins, or “nucellaro” to indicate who sold hazelnuts. The typical cry of “semmentaro” was “Spassateve ‘or tiempe!” (Spend time having fun).
Besides, the seller of tripe together other boiled offals is very
common, where people can eat it dressed with salt and lemon juice near the stall.
Lastly, I want mention others two occasional trades we usually meet on the beach during summer holidays, just a temporary work some people do to earn something during summertime. They are the water-ice and the coconut sellers.
They both walk on the beach, and the first sells cool drinks made with grated ice flavoured with a sugary beverage, as orgeat or mint. The second trader, instead, sells cool and small slices of coconut which usually keep in a wicker basket screaming “Cocco bello, cocco fresco” (beautiful coconut, fresh coconut).