Umbrian towns are generally small and locals usually advise you to try visiting two towns per day. To a New York-er who is accustomed to daunting skyscrapers, deafening sirens, and bustling streets, this is a feat easier said than done. The long, hearty breakfast in the enticing atmosphere of Forte Sorgnano and the curiously refreshing dive in the pool make it difficult to arrive at our first destination before noon.
Today, we happened to a. Gubbio is relatively small and a short walk on its streets sided by angular and imposing buildings brings you in Piazza Grande, where Palazzo Comunale hosts a museum that have inside the oldest writings in the Italian peninsula for which the town is known. Side alleys are charmingly winding up on the hill going in all directions. On the lower part a dry river bed is surpassed by bridges with no role in this season. Stores that sells ceramics abound, the proximity to Deruta, the famous “zone artigianale”, helping them to stash a large inventory. On top of the hill is the monastery of St Ubaldo connected by the town by a “funivia”, a precarious ski lift that we could not easily locate, giving up in getting up the hill.
Giving up on locating the ski lift turned out not to be a bad decision after all. Right after we departed from Gubbio, the intimidating storm cloud that had been lingering over the area since morning finally gave in and the gentle drizzle gradually transformed into a torrential rain storm. By the time we reached Perugia, it was raining in sheets and we did not know what to do with ourselves. Raging rivers were flowing down from the top of packed streets causing accumulations of pools of cold water on the perpendicular roads. People were running on the streets seeking shelter where they could and holding flimsy umbrellas whose efforts to shield their owners from the rain were utterly futile. We drove towards the upper town in hope of finding some streets that were not yet flooded and eventually reached Piazza d’Italia where we cruised on the streets afraid that if we got out of the car we would have been washed away by the heavy rain. After about an hour of cautiously navigating the car in circles, the rain sheets morphed back into gentler but still-icy cold rain drops. I parked the car and walked to the Galeria Nazionale de Umbria in Palazzo de Priori. This art museum is truly remarkable; it traces the development of art in Perugia between the 13th and the 19th centuries. Like those in many other Italian cities, these local galleries put locally renown artists in the spotlight. At the time we visited the museum, a modern photography exhibit displaying photography by Sandro Becchetti, a famous Italian photo journalist.
The rain finally stopped completely and everybody slowly emerged from their shelters and onto Corso Vanucci. The city came alive. At the time, Perugia was hosting the Umbria Jazz Festival and stages speckled the city. Jazz seemed to be everywhere, almost inevitable; there were small jazz groups serenading pleased audiences in restaurants, on the main walkway, and in squares. Perugia regained its reputation as a lively university town; it is the proud host of the University for Foreigners, a famous schools that teaches Italian art and culture for youth from all over the world. After a delicious, Umbrian dinner on the corso, we walked the small alleys entering in various spaces used by artists, musicians and DJs during the festival. Photographs were hanging on the walls, various art pieces were adorning the empty spaces and young people were hanging outside happy to show their work. On the main stage in front of Palazzo Priori, an Australian woman’s jazz group was playing a repertoire to the delight of a standing crowd dancing on her tunes. Long lines formed at ice cream parlors and nobody looked to intend going home. The atmosphere was serene in a city were serenity lingers for ages.