Two weekends ago I was in Perugia. Prior to this trip, two things came to mind at the mention of Perugia 1) The place where Amanda Knox was arrested for murder and 2) Chocolate. The latter proved to live up to its reputation. The former, surprisingly, proved to be an icebreaker, or at the very least an awkward conversation starter. And now that she’s been in the news this past week, a reoccurring theme. Just FYI most of the Italians I’ve spoked to think she’s totally guilty, much like most Americans find Adnan Syed of the Serial Podcast totally guilty. Whether either is true or not, it was the opening topic to a conversation with Perugian college students that lead to my friends and I crashing their graduation party.
Before we get to that story, I’d like to break here for one of my many insightful thoughts (hehe). It really is funny how being in countries like Italy, France, Spain, can inspire you. And it makes sense too. These are countries with extravagant histories and a meaning behind every street, fountain, church. Pick a place in Italy and I bet you it’s been referenced in literature globally. Even the smallest of nameless towns have had a point of significance in European history. For example, I was in a neighboring town, Recanati a couple of Tuesdays ago to visit the house and birthplace of a infamous 18th century Italian Poet, Giacomo Leopardi. Yes, if you like this sort of thing, Tuesdays are a motif in this blog because Tuesdays, my free day of the week, is aka my solo day-trip time. I explore, I ponder, I discover.
Giacomo Leopardi is up there with Shakespeare in Italian literature. He’s well known for his poetry, but also for translating ancient latin scriptures to several different languages. His family was very influential in the providence of Macerata, the providence in which Potenza Picena and Montelupone where I live is part of. My host family dropped me off at the mouth of the wall that surrounds historical Recanati and I trekked up what seems like my 100th hill to the Leopardi square. The road leading up to the Leopardi home is paved with newly restored cobble stones. The store facades are nicely decorated with flowers and a fresh coat of paint. Once at the top of the hill, I looked at what seems like the biggest 4 story home I’ve seen thus far in these small towns accompanied by a disproportionately small entrance. A humble exterior serving as a humble introduction to the majestic interior. The Leopardi home, which is still inhabited today by his family, is a prime example of old Italian aristocracy and higher education. The original library and classroom (Giacomo and his siblings were home schooled) is preserved, open to the public, and apparently regularly used by scholars… or so the posh tour guide who spoke with an English accent mixed with the airy extensions of an Italian accent.
While were on the subject of cultural discovery, I’ve recently discovered the amazingness of farm to table dinning and like the perfect summer hat and men (not boys), there’s no going back. I hate to harp on a well-known stereotype about Italy, but there’s a reason why Italian food is considered some of the best in the world and that is the freshness. Almost everything I’ve eaten so far is not only homemade or made from scratch, but also home grown and the taste reflects that. Last night, at my host Mom’s mother’s beautiful country home, we made Pizza with her ginormous wood burning brick oven. My first thought when I saw this oven, alongside the cozy chimney, was… people pay out of their asses for a meal cooked in this oven. And I’m here just watching and learning and eating for free! I kneaded doe, mashed fresh tomatoes, chop onions, pick rosemary leaves of their stems, and added mozzarella balls to warm baked pies. They were simple, no toppings, no fuss pizzas and they tasted heavenly.
To be honest, I wish I haven’t been brought to this culinary light, because up until now, I was content with the blissful ignorance that most Americans have about their food and that is, of course, what’s in it. Now that I’ve not only eaten and seen where my food grows, I have a solid appreciation for the extra devotion Italians put into the quality of their food.
Now back to Perugia. Perugia is in Umbria, the most central region of Italy and located in a valley between mountains. It’s cold, windy, and stunning.
The saturday night that we visited, my fellow American english language teachers and I were wandering the streets looking for a bar. When that happens, I default to following the noise…it never fails. We found a small semi-crowded bar with a loud group and started some small talk with the bartender. After a few basic phrases, he honestly and earnestly says “I’m sorry, but I don’t understand” and then turns to the loud group and shouts “Who here speaks english and wants to talk to these pretty ladies!” Although he was probably just trying to pawn us off, it worked in our favor, so I didn’t care. And that’s when we started an awkward discussion about Amanda Knox with a group of loud Italian students. The conversation lead to talks about music, sports, and then finally an invite to their private graduation party at the Velvet Club. Down the stairs, up the street, and a 20 minute walk later we were at the bar getting served cake, watching a slide show of the graduating class, and of course enjoying the open bar. Truth be told, I don’t remember much of the rest of that night. Needless to say, there was a lot of alcohol involved and what we all agreed was a night well spent.