To be a true “temporary citizen” of the city, you have to be able to identify the interesting, odd, or just plain crazy residents who make Perugia hum.
Mauro the Prophet > Mauro is hard to miss: he’s a slightly chubby middle-aged guy with lots of hair and a big brown beard. He thinks he’s aprophet but wears jogging suits (red, black, and white), often with Juventus colors. He gives sermons at the top of his lungs in his two favorite places: in front of the steps and in front of the Pavone. He says some pretty poetic stuff sometimes but can also be cliché: he yelled at me once “we are all sinners!”… Thanks, Mauro.
The Panhandlers > “Do you have some small change?” “Any (cigarette) papers?” “A donation for my baby?” “Would you offer me a cigarette?” The compensation for Perugia being relatively “pushy” missionary-free is that it’s a soft touch for cadgers, scroungers, downbeat buskers, and downright beggars. It surely won’t be long before one or more of the pigtailed gypsy girls is pleading dismally for your coinage. As a sign of the times, Alan even saw one guy whose sign was pleading for gas money. In dustier weather the must-wash-your-windscreen brigade are stationed at intersections and there are plenty of ragged guitar heroes belting out knock knock schlockin’ on heaven’s door. Oh, and the sellers of dismal roses in nightclubs. Alan says that for 2 euro you get to grab a sad flower from a whining Bangladeshi and err, put it somewhere where the, err, sun doesn’t shine. The city fathers seem fairly tolerant of panhandlers and even unlicensed buskers but some café proprietors are less than enthusiastic about having their clients harrassed. In most cases a polite but firm no is sufficient to liberate yourself.
ZZ TOP’s Italian Cousin > Actually he’s Romanian, and his name is Valerio. He first appeared in Christmas 2009 wearing a Santa suit, and he’s been belting out tunes ever since. His favorite number is called “Piccolo Amore,” but has been known to do Creedance Clearwater every once in a while. Apparently the mayor himself gave Valerio permission to play here unharassed. Throw the guy a quarter if you walk by!
lived in Rome (“è una storia complicata…” he told me). He’s been playing for over twenty years and gave me an odd grin when I asked him if he ever got sick of playing the music from the Amelie soundtrack. “No, not really,” he said, “because I am the one playing it in the movie.” Apparently he met Yann Tiersen in France and they produced the music together. Wow. Anyway, Alessandro really gets into his playing and would appreciate a coin if you do too.
The Chalk Guy > You’ve likely seen giant faces or animals drawn on Corso Vannucci near the Benetton store. These brusmatt are the work of Martino, a quiet man with an eloquent soul. He tells us that he finds support in Perugia, translated into “coffees, coins, boxes of chalk, chats, and intense gazes.” We appreciate his contribution to the beauty of the city: check out his blog at MartinoPitture.blogspot.com
The Luckless Poet > This guy is tall and muscular with long, wavy hair and often wears Indian-style clothing (his most-beloved outfit is a yellow shirt with orange pants). He can be seen in Corso Vannucci and on the small steps of the Palazzo dei Priori trying to sell his novel. He seems very persistent in the face of little acceptance from the public, but I’ve heard that he can be a little too persistent. Give him a chance if you’re interested in a reflective, autobiographical novel. He also meditates on the overlook point behind the Giardini Carducci, and once took the bemused Elena on a shamanic voyage. He is also joined occasionally by the rompiscatole artist woman.
Osvaldo > You can’t miss Osvaldo. Nikos refers to him as “Gandalf.” He’s tall, gaunt, somewhat older, and his funky clothes and jewelry make him resemble Tolkien’s wizard. He’s quite pleasant, and often reads his paper in via Maestà delle Volte, asking politely if you have any “coins that are weighing you down.” You’ll also see him walking in Corso Vannucci with the “kids”: his little brown, ill-tempered dog, Rudy, and his two cute black puppies. Rudy often walks around on his own, barking furiously as if he owned Corso Vannucci.
Tobia > He works in public relations and media and has a passion for porchetta and junk food, enough to make himself ill several times a year. He loves the mountains, James Brown, and Quentin Tarantino soundtracks (but not the films themselves, oh no!). Tobia can sometimes be found harrassing drunks and drug-addicts on the corner of Via Fani and Corso Vannucci, where he works at the Edicola. He has a soft spot for babies and Poldo’s dogs. You might miss him so keep a sharp lookout for a dapper, white-haired gentleman with bright eyes. He fiercely dislikes the Prime Minister of Italy and will bark in your face when he hears the name Berlusconi.
Poldo > The only woman in our section (which only proves that men are weirder than women), Poldo’s real name is Paola. Poldo is the Italian name for Wimpy, Popeye’s friend. You can’t miss Paola: she is a petite, platinum blond with long hair and two huge white dogs, Dogo and Argentine, who sleep with her at night. She usually wears super-blue eye makeup and short skirts, often with wild outfits. She’s still in the process of showing me all her cool tattoos and is a big grifo supporter. She’s been a vegetarian for twelve years and claims to cry every time she sees a chicken breast. She told us she speaks in English using only the present tense because she doesn’t know the other ones, but she does quite well.
Mysteries in Perugia > I tried to write a book of essays on Perugia, on its crazy, funny inhabitants, but it morphed into a lighthearted mystery. It’s a story set in the back alleys of the foreigner’s world here in Perugia, with Compagno Paolo as its protagonist. I know this seems like a shameless plug (actually, it is a shameless plug!) but if you like the Perugia Personalities section, you might like this book. It’s available at all the bookstores in the center: La Feltrinelli, in Corso Vannucci, Grimana across from the Stranieri, and L’altra Libreria in via Ulisse Rocchi). The text is bilingual: Italian on the left, English on the right; just €8 for a lot of laughs. Peril in Perugia sold its first five hundred copies in eleven months. Its sequel, Death by Chocolate (set during the Eurochocolate festival) should be sitting right next to it on the shelves.