Ode to Perugia

The sun rises hot and early over the hills of Umbria. The elevated town is the first to bathe in the light, but only the baker and the pidgeons are stirring. Piazza IV Novembre is disturbed only by signori and signorine of old age, and a handful of students on their way to an early class. They pass underneath the arch next to the duomo, the street narrowing as it descends towards the university building. Some stairs and a small door lead to the roof of the salmon coloured palace, where some students have a smoke before class – others just survey the town from above while the smell of sweet bread rises from the alley below. This medieval settlement is perched on a hill in a way that makes it appear inward-facing and outward-looking at the same time. On colder mornings mist rises up from the Tiber valley.

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A piece of warm, oily focaccia for lunch, and then the endless afternoon unfolding. Walking past the steps of the aquaduct, or reading a book on the city wall above Rocca Paolina. The town is a self-contained universe, a keeper of secrets, an incubator of affairs, a fairy tale set in marble and stone.

Perugia, with its chocolate in October, its swinging jazz in July, its artichokes in May. Perugia, with its winding alleys and its flowing Corso Vannucci, full of people during the day but a sea of people at dusk – “andiamo a fare due passi”, let’s go and wander, let’s go for a stroll, ice cream cone in hand. Back and forth over Corso Vannucci, to Piazza Italia and to the Duomo again, to finally scour for an empty spot on the church’s marble steps to rest the feet and the soul. The vagabonds and their dogs and guitars, the students and their beers in plastic cups… A walk around the Duomo up to Porta Sole and you find yourself in a quiet place, looking over the city walls and into the dark valley, stars flickering above your head.

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A dimly lit Corso Guiseppe Garibaldi brings us to a door in the city wall, and stepping through it cracks opens an inky vista – distant hills can barely be made out, if not for the faraway city lights that shine amber in the thick night. The park is deserted, but this is where every Perugian’s friend Patrick once had his bar: a simple affair of a small cabin storing drinks with a hole in the wall to serve them through, plastic chairs strewn around the park ground, a square dance floor lit up by a string of white bulbs: tiny Japanese girls dancing salsa with dark Spanish boys. Fireflies lighting up the night skies.

Things have changed however. Even in Perugia, things change – and as in all fairy tales, a portion of evil has found its way through the crevices of the stone walls. Winters here are cold, trees are bare and skies are grey. But come April, the red ceramic roofs warm up again, the chestnut trees bloom, the swallows return to display their skills in low flight, the students smoke and sit on the steps of the Duomo, the crickets screech from the trees, the people of Perugia walk back and forth along Corso Vannucci, the bakers bake their bread, and all dreamers find their home in this town of enchantment.

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