Italian Market Festival 2023

And what a lovely day it was on the second day of the festival when the rain stopped and the sun came out. Not too hot and not too cold. So crowded that if you fainted, the people packed around you would probably hold you up. But everyone was cheerful and polite. Lots of dogs, lots of kids, and food and music.

Sarcone’s Bakery and Ralph’s Italian Restaurant have graced South 9th Street for more than 100 years.

But there are some newcomers to the area. A century ago, the merchants in the market came mostly from Italy. Today, they are joined by immigrants from Cambodia and Mexico.

The highlight of the festival is the greased pole climb, where some plucky (or very foolish) young men attempt to scale a 30-foot high metal pole that is greased with lard. The object is to reach the prizes dangling from the top: cheeses, sausages and, presumably, envelopes of money sufficient to cover any medical bills. The greased pole climb went on hiatus for a few years, I’m sure because of insurance issues, but it’s back and more popular than ever.

Pole climbing, which seems to be endemic in Philadelphia during sports celebrations, is actually an old tradition which can be traced back to Celtic times. Some Pagan-style revelry certainly adds to the fun. The greased pole climb, known as the Albero della Cuccgna, or Cockaigne tree, has a rich tradition not limited to Italy. Which goes to show you that youths’ propensity to take senseless risks knows no borders.

At any rate, greased pole climbing is definitely a team effort. The heavier and stronger guys form a burly base at the bottom and increasingly lighter and more agile guys scramble up their backs with towels to wipe the lard off the pole so they can brace themselves around it so even lighter and more agile guys can scramble up their backs and snatch the cheese and cash. If you are interested in how the pros manage to scale these greased poles and grab the goodies, click here and here.

Spring Colors in the Market

The Italian Market near my home (although it now more of an international market) is an inspirational feast of shape and color. See for yourself.

Cherry blossoms near the 9th Street market, South Philadelphia.

Baby Bananas


Nice melons!

How often do you see fresh chick peas?

Chayote Pears

Cranberry Beans

The burning question!

Happy Holidays From My Neighborhood

Happy holidays from South Philadelphia! Things have been a bit unwieldy around the house since Boris published his little Christmas story, How the Tabby Got Its “M.” He’s walking around with his tail in the air, and expects us to wait on him hand and foot. Like we don’t do that already, right?

Thinking that I need an excuse to build my character, I have decided to sort out and organize the mishmash of files that have become more unruly with every computer upgrade. They go back more years than I’d like to count, to the days when the Internet had no pictures and some people with dial phones accessed on-line bulletin boards with gizmos from Radio Shack (not what we called it) that emulated touch tones.

But not everything new is an improvement. That’s why I love my neighborhood, especially during the holidays. Besides the abundance of Italian delicacies, the Ninth Street Market and surrounding neighborhood is packed with Asian groceries, Mexican groceries and food purveyors from all over the place. Buying from local on-the-street vendors, bakeries, butcher shops and so forth must be what food shopping was like in years past before everything got sorted and shrink wrapped. I realize that big food is likely here to stay and some of it does make its way into the market. The vendors are in business and they have to make a living. Still, I feel so lucky to have such a treasure within walking distance.

The market’s been around for a long time. Take a look at some older pictures here.