(Umbra Institute, Fall 2013)
I ascend the hundreds of brick stairs on Via Appia, approaching the archway which adorns the most picturesque of Perugian postcards. The neighborhood’s salmon and yellow hues are bright, even against the dark, overcast sky. My steps are succinct. I waver from left to right as I admire the mundane sights around me: flowers sitting in windows; depictions of Jesus on satellite dishes; a small, dark café hidden among a row of quiet apartment buildings; dark green vines clinging to the walls. A woman sits on the side of the road, quietly asking for spare change, cup held weakly in her hand. As I near the top, my legs burn like the cigarettes that dangle from the mouths of people wandering leisurely through Piazza IV Novembre. Yet, somehow, the odors of pizzerias and bakeries often prevail over the smell of the smoke. And my fantastic cravings for cannoli always win out over the mindful but loose grip that I keep on the coinage in my pockets.
Shamelessly, I indulge, tearing into packages of tortellini, ripping away at the foil atop bottles of wine, knowing my time here is brief. To be in this city at all is the ultimate indulgence, to which nothing I eat or drink will ever compare. All I want is to consume. Yes, I strive to be gluttonous, to taste not just the food and drink, but to continuously chase after the satisfying sweetness that I can only savor when I travel. If, at semester’s end, I fly back home not fitting into my clothes, putting my skin’s elasticity to the test, I will not be upset. To taste so much in three short months would be the ultimate accomplishment.
More potent and salient than the scents and the flavors, still, is the city’s soundtrack. As guitars strum and accordions fold, my pace slackens and I listen, which slightly masks my American heritage as Russian folk tunes bounce off the stone walls. The performers, though slumped against building facades, manage to lack the desperate energy seen from the buskers at New York’s Penn Station; yet the quality of the music doesn’t suffer. Even the occasional shriek of bagpipes lacks the expected harshness. Lyrics from different decades, artists, and countries flow through the piazza like water from la fontana, accompanied by the conversations of the locals, whose Italian speech is melodic in and of itself.
Almost magically, live performances tend to blend into the studio sounds being played outside bars and restaurants over speaker systems. As I stroll by Porta Sole, I take in the panoramic view, noting the alarming struggle between antiquity and modernity that pervades every neighborhood in Perugia. Ancient architecture mixes with contemporary infrastructure while city lights brighten the hillside, polluting the otherwise stark night sky. Retail chains sit in the storefronts of archaic buildings in the city’s center and flashy cars zoom down narrow roads. Here, every breath is reconciliation between the contemporary and the archaic. What results: an almost constant feeling of nostalgia. The storied past can be read on every street, felt on the old brick walls, laughed at from the ever-so-convenient escalators on the hillside. For many, this city is home: a blend of love, nostalgia, and constant change. And, late at night as I stumble down Via dei Priori, craving a croissant and reading graffiti on closed storefronts, I feel myself making a return to a place that is entirely, comfortably familiar.
About Connor Chan
Connor is from Beverly, Massachusetts and is a student at Connecticut College. He is majoring in English Literature and is pursuing a minor in Computer Science. His favorite author is Virginia Woolf and his passions include music and food.