La Serenissima

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Perugia – at home and away

A weekend home in Perugia

One weekend, I just decided to stay at home, visit some of the museums on Saturday and make home made pasta for Sunday lunch, and generally just “hang out” in my neighbourhood. As it turned out I picked a great time to do this – entry to all the museums was free that weekend!

I started at the Galleria Nazionale. The building which houses the collection commenced construction in 1292. The first city art collection was started in the early 1700’s when the newly established Perugia Academy of Drawing commenced.In 1863 it was decided to set up a civic picture gallery named after Pietro Vannucci (Il Perugino) which included not only his work but that of Pinturicchio, Piero della Francesca and Luca Signorelli. In 1878 the collection moved to Palazzo dei Priori, where it is housed today, and it has been renovated and added to many times.  It is a gorgeous building to be in now – lots of wall sections have been removed, the windows hung with simple, modern translucent blinds, so the sense of light and space is a lovely effect in a medieval building.

The collection  includes many names familiar to those of us who slaved over our  Story of Art by E H Gombrich in the dim past – Arnolfo di Cambio, Duccio di Buonisegna, Fabriano, Perugino (Pietro Vannucci), Pinturicchio, Giovanni Boccati, Bendetto Bonfigli and Piero della Francesca. It was a wonderful afternoon spent steeped in such history. Unfortunately no photos were allowed in the gallery – so you’ll just have to use your imagination for this bit!!

As it is in the same building – Palazzo dei Priori – I also went to the Collegio del Cambio. It is the Merchants and Bankers Giulds, 2 of the most powerful groups in the city.  The entrance to this part is marked by a great wooden door built in 1505.Inside there are 2 rooms open to the public – the Sala dei Legisti (yes, lawyers room) and Sala dell’Udienza (the council room). I’m reading from the site about Perugia that I have previously included in the sidebar ( and it says that the Sala dell’Udienza is the finest and best preserved 15th century room in Italy. It has a wonderful crossbow vaulted ceiling and frescoed walls done by Perugino.

On Sunday I went to the Museo Archeologico – but first, I wanted to order my fresh pasta from Maria downstairs. She said she would be closed by the time I was through at the Museo – but not to worry (“tranquillo; sta benne”) she would leave the pasta at Il Bar, with my name on it, to put in the fridge. I thought this was too much trouble for her, but she assured me not. I will tell more of this story below, after my adventures in the Museo.

Well, first of all I headed off across Piazza d’Italia, and then down the “scale” (steps) near where I’d had dinner with Margaret one night, and on down the hill to the Museo. The Museo Archeologico Nazionale dell'Umbria is located in the Domenican convent of San Domenico and was started by a donation from the patrician Francesco Filippo Friggeri of Perugia in 1790. The collection was enlarged in 1921 with the addition of the Bellucci Pre-historical and Palaeontological collection and in 1948 with finds from the archaeological sites of Cetona, near Siena.

I quote from Perugia online “The collection includes a number of Palaeolithic and Aeneolithicremains, found chiefly in Umbria, from the Bronze and Iron Ages, that date back to the inhabitants of the Apennine regions from the 16th to the 12th centuries BC. The Etruscan archaeological remains from the area are particularly important and date back to the Villanova-period (9th - 8th centuries BC), as well as to the rich tomb gifts of the Hellenistic period: urns and sarcophagi, vases and gold objects, works in bronze and weapons.

 The prime piece of the collection is the Cippo di Perugia (3rd –2nd century BC), which is the longest Etruscan inscription ever found. It is a boundary stone with a contract between the Velthina and Afuna families concerning the property of a piece of land, and includes a judiciary sentence." I spent a couple of hours there and tried to capture something of the collection on film.

Meanwhile, back in via Caporali, my fresh pasta awaited … but I needed to go to Il Bar – Caffe Bonazzi – to get it. I wondered if Maria had had to rush off and maybe forgot. BUT, oh ye of little faith, of course she hadn’t! I went in to Caffe Bonazzi, and straight away the waiter said “ah, Susanna – your pasta!” And there it was, 3 little parcels no less, neatly wrapped in white waxed paper with my name written on the outside.

I went upstairs, made a salad and some Napoli sauce, cooked my pasta and downed a glass of red, and toasted Maria (and her son Cristian who is equally to praise for his pasta making talent) for their excellent pasta and generosity.

A weekend in Venice

Perugia story  that there was a travel agent around the corner in via Bonazzi. So, after a week or so, I decided to pop in and organise a weekend in Venice. It was Thursday and I hoped to go Friday afternoon. I discovered that Venice is a constantly popular place and bookings are tight. Anyway, I spoke with a young woman who was terrific – very patient and really hung out to get me the best deal she could in a nice hotel. She was outraged about some of the prices, as it was just me in the room, and kept insisting that she could do much better. What she came up with was Hotel Fenice et  des Artistes, right round the corner from La Fenice, the Venetian opera theatre. I did not realise at the time that there had been a major fire in la Fenice in 1996 and the restoration  was as yet unfinished. I would learn all the details about this five years later when I read John Berendt’s book “The city of falling angels” (a great read by the way, for anyone very interested in Venice).

I caught the train to Venice which means you travel by regional train from Perugia to Florence and then Eurostar to Venice. The latter part is terrific with a proper dining car, flowers on tables and waiter service. (Just a note here – the talian Eurostar is far superior to the French equivalent, especially in regard to a real dining space). I ended up sharing a small table with a young businessman who was going there to attend meetings. We had a good old chat about all manner of things – partly in my broken Italian but mostly in English, which of course he spoke very well.

When we arrived the day was still sunny and pretty warm, with showers and cool change forecast for the evening. I got the vaparetto to San Marco, and used my map to walk to Campo San Fantin, through San Moise and via XX11 Marzo (and crucially past the Amex office!) to my hotel.

It turned out to be lovely, with an old iron fence around a beautiful garden. I got my room key – I was on the fourth and top floor. The lift (an eeny meeny one, much smaller than in my apartment building) stopped at the third. Ah well, not to worry, I only had a small case for the weekend. The lift opened opposite a narrow stair case, more like a ladder than stairs. My room was up there somewhere. I climbed up and sure enough found a number that matched my rather large key! The door opened out somewhat like a cupboard … I was beginning to wonder if I should have gone for one of the more expensive options!! …

To my amazement my cupboard opened onto a gallery, complete with a lovely sideboard with lamp. To my left was about 10 feet of low, built in wardrobes.  Beside that was a beautiful new bathroom with designer fittings in white, gorgeous deep sea green tiles and honey coloured wood work. Very nice, but still no actual bed evident. Well, I kept walking to the end of the gallery to find a very comfortable and reasonably spacious bedroom with telly, with attic windows affording a view of terracotta rooftops and glimpses of tiny alley ways. Not bad at all my my reckoning – it was really more like a small apartment. I  set off and explored around the San Marco area in the afternoon and just enjoyed soaking it all up.

Feeling a bit peckish by 7.30, I decided to have dinner at a restaurant I had passed by in a piazza around the corner opposte la Fenice, called  Ristorante Al Teatro (this is also mentioned in berendt’s book). But, in such a stylish neighbourhood, I changed for dinner into my all purpose black jersey pants and long cardigan, topped with a pale lime pashmina. By this stage the evening was getting cooler, but there was still that slight balmy feel in the air. Because of this, I opted to eat at one of the tables (beautifully set with white linen etc) outside in the piazza. From here, I had a view of many Venetian couples, dressed in evening wear walking around near la Fenice and going into the various restaurants for aperitivi or meals. I had a delicious meal and some very nice wine and decided I’d just stroll about afterwards for the good of my digestion … a good idea at the time, but I was soon to be deluged upon by the swift and dramatic rain storm. Well, it was magic anyway; I had a hairdryer back at the hotel – in the meantime I’d just enjoy the spectacle of it … well, ok, from underneath this thoughtfully placed awning!
 Saturday and Sunday morning saw me doing nothing in particular but merely enjoying the environment. 

Late on Saturday afternoon, I was enjoying an aperitivi and people watching outside a little café in via XX11 Marzo. I was straight opposite a very swish Louis Vuitton store. To my amazement, a group of young African guys selling knock-off bags set up shop right outside the Louis Vuitton store. Even more incredible, their wares included LOTS of Vuitton knock-offs. I thought well, this could be interesting. Nothing of the kind of course; it was as though they were invisible to the real fine leather goods purveyors.

All of a sudden, there was a buzz of excitement and the knock-off guys quickly packed up – I now realised why they display everything on a sheet. At a second’s notice, they pick up the corners of the sheet – somewhat like Dick Whittington, except for the stick – and gallop off! After a very L-O-N-G  interval, three carabinieri strolled nonchalantly into view from stage left. They scanned the street and buildings with unseeing eyes, looking everywhere except where our erstwhile traders had been camped … well, everything in order of course. Five minutes later, the traders returned, unfurled their sheets and bags and BINGO – back in business, carabinieri-free!!

I caught the train back to Perugia Sunday afternoon. Lots of people returning home after the weekend, with individuals, couples and families packed into the carriages.

Back in via Caporali, I went to catch the lift in my building – out of order. No problem, I’ll take the stairs – a sweeping marble staircase in fact. Well, there was a metal security door in front of the bottom step, so I pushed on it to open. Niente, nada, nought. Hmm, maybe I’ll try the security phone outside and get one of the neighbours to buzz me in. Nothing doing … so I though I’d check with my amici at Il Bar. When I entered there was the usual gang of early evening elderly men enjoying a wine and animated coversation. I explained that “il ascensore non e functionale” (the lift isn’t working) upon which the group  of elderly men began talking animatedly amongst themselves. They asked the barman several questions, as it was he who I had spoken to about my problem. There was a lot of shrugging and a lot of “Che peccato” (what a shame). Eventually, I said not to worry “no fa niente”, I’d just go back and wait for someone to come home, maybe they would have a key.

I was sitting disconsolately on a chair when one of my concerned elderly gents appeared at the door. We greeted eachother, then he proceeded to the security door, looked at it and pulled it towards him. Of course it opened didn’t it? Of course I was an idiot who thought doors to stairs pushed IN. Of course it was a case of “tirare” rather than “spingere” … who knew? Later, when I had recovered myself, I returned to the bar to say thatk you again to the assembled concerned citizens. Sadly, they had departed – probably rushed home to tell their families about la stupida Australiana!. So I  apologised to the barman and told him “sonno pazza, stupida … confondero tirare con spingere”. He thought that my saying I was pazza (mad) was hilarious and he didn’t agree at all!!

Arrivederci Perugia …

So, there you have it. My life as a pretend Italiana was over. I travelled home, via Milan and Paris to visit some dear friends, then home to Melbourne, vowing I would try to keep practicing my Italian. I did do this sometimes, usually with Julian’s Mum, who is a real Italiana. Living in Perugia was a most wonderful experience and gives me great memories and pleasure just thinking about it.