News starved after a week in Italy, we check the TV: only Italian stations. I have forgotten to pack the backgammon set. We watch the Simpsons in Italian.
In Assissi, T says he’s never seen so many monks in one place--as home to St. Francis it is a huge pilgrimage spot for Catholics from all over the world. Some of the visitors wear burlap sack shirts that they have bought for the occasion (you could see a tag visible…made in China?). Lots of Germans. We saw a cardinal getting into a car outside one of the churches in town, his red cap flew off in a gust of wind and he caught it.
We see more nuns and priests than even in Rome. T says it is the same in Lebanon, where there are more conservative religious folks in the countryside than the cities.
Having walked all that way we went to see St. Francis’ church and tomb--very lovely. Fancy. But the opulent church and tomb seem too grand for a man of deep humility. And we are bothered, too, by how Christianity is tied to military--outside the church is a statue of a tired Crusader on a horse. St. Francis was a man of peace! There is an Assissi coat of arms on the bag of postcards I buy.
Perugia seems a WONDERFUL city (we vow to check it they have an international school here...). Big enough to get lost in, lots of trees, many students, giving it a vibrant cultural feel, beautiful and large historic center complete with Etruscan walls and arches (see photo), parks, plants and benches in every small public area. Great and innovative public transportation including a number of long, public escalators to get you up and down its hills to the old city with ease. Solar panels running parking pay stations.
The “mini metro” departs every minute. Its small cars have 8 fold down seats and standing room for about 15. From our hotel in the old city to the train station across town and down the hill, we encounter not one step.
As in other Italian cities we have seen, immigrants sell sunglasses and other items on the street. Many Africans, others look Arabic.
Where we stay is near the Church of San Ercolano, erected in the 14th C on the spot where the man was beheaded, after having led the resistance against the Goths for a long time. During the Baroque era frescoes were added on the walls and ceilings. There is a Roman sarcophagus dating to the 4th century. Here is the outside of San Ercolano church and a glimpse of the inside:
Here is an Etruscan gate and walls (~5 BC!) :
And a view of the countryside from the old city (from next to one of the escalators):
We board a city bus for the Perugina chocolate factory, now owned by Nestlé. Lots of free samples--yum! Perugina is most famous for its baci (means “kiss” in Italian) candy, a hazelnut buried under various scrumptious layers, wrapped in silver paper that carries a message of love. Here is K beside an enormous one prepared for some kind of festival. We saw a video where one this large was brought (by tractor trailer) to the main city square, where it was carved into small pieces and fed to the local populace. Maybe this is why we love Perugia so much.
Our last night in Italy :-( we spend in Parma, city of food fame (Parma ham, Parmesan) and Tom’s fantasy after someone gave him John Gresham’s novel, Playing for Pizza, to read. This region is mostly flat; we have left the hills of Tuscany and Umbria behind. Parma is an agricultural town that grew into a city. It doesn’t have the charm of Perugia or any of the other towns we’ve stayed in but it is comfortable, pleasant, and has a duomo that is elaborate to the point of garish with gothic froufrou, a square with a wild clock, and an octagonal pink marble structure that we happened to approach during some kind of choir practice--wonderful!
We stroll the town, fat and happy with Italia.
Next morning, on the train to Milan, a cart comes by with cappuccino and Pringles (what is it with Pringles?).
At Milan airport, a curious billboard, below. Think Romulus and Remus. And my last macchiato. And planes to all sort of interesting places.