Category: Navigating Italy


Saw a mountain. Climbed a mountain.

We climbed a mountain above Castellucio because our dad told us to. It was a lot of fun and we felt very accomplished afterwards. We were also lucky because some friends who stayed later there said that a huge storm hit with hail and everything.

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The view wasn’t half bad.

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Welcome to America

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We are on the plane and already are clearly back in the States. The in-flight shopping offers all manner of wonderful products we cannot get in Italy, such as this charming figure who, floating in the backyard pool we don’t have, will make the atmosphere of central Indiana just like Venice!

We can’t wait.

Blue Tickets

In line (sort of)

In line (sort of)

Sometimes things are easy in Italy, sometimes not. Last week, I happened to see in the paper that the Italian National Soccer Team would play their final pre-World Cup match vs. Luxembourg here in Perugia. The team is called the ‘Azzurri‘ or ‘Blues,’ named after the blue color that signified the Savoy dynasty whose king, Victor Emmanuel II, was the first ruler of a unified modern state of Italy in 1861.

Pre-sale tickets to members of the National Team fan club were available online for three days, and starting this morning at 10:00 the remaining tickets would be sold. So I contacted our friend Michael, here with his family from Australia for a year (and about to go back home the same time we are), and we decided to go down to the ticket office, located in Tabaccheria 18 near the train station, about a half-hour early to get in line.

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Chit no. 64 (white)

When we arrived, dozens of people were already there, holding paper chits with numbers on them. We went into the store and got some chits ourselves, as their stamped number would indicate our place ‘in line’. “These are some of the last tickets,” the cashier said as he scratched the number ‘4’ on the white slip of paper, the maximum number of tickets each of us could buy. When we told him that both our families had 5 people, he shrugged and explained that the machines were set up that way (to prevent mass purchase and scalping), and there was nothing he could do. He told us to wait outside. We were numbers 063 and 064; that didn’t seem too bad.

tabaccheria sells cigarettes and other goods, but also performs a whole suite of daily services, from buying lottery tickets to paying electric bills and re-charging phone credits. A store worker gamely strung up a candy-striped plastic tape and asked everyone to line up along it up a set of stairs just outside. Within 10 minutes, the initial queue was unrecognizable; the plastic tape ignored. A steady stream of new arrivals crowded around the store entrance. Drivers passing by honked their support. A TV crew arrived to get a few shots for the evening news. We kept pressing forward, trying to avoid the sun which was just coming around the corner of the building, and mindful that although we all had numbers, those numbers might be trumped by one’s place in line. Be prepared either way.

This is a comedy.

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Holy Motors

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The First Ferrari IndyCar – in the early years of F1 competition, the Indy 500 was included as an event.

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Micah inspecting a Vespa with a side-car at the Museo Piaggio

On the way back from Verona, we visited Maranello, home of the Ferrari motor factory, museum, and test track. This visit had been a dream of Jakob’s for many years, due to his dedication to industrial design and his interest in ‘going fast.’

Motor vehicles play a prominent part of Italian culture and sport; racing is one of the most popular spectator sports (motorcycles and F1) and participatory activities (as anyone passed by an Audi doing 180 km/hr on the autostrada can attest).

We had already visited, during our trip to Tuscany, the Museo Piaggio, where the eternal flame of Vespa, the iconic Italian scooter, is kept alive; this post records Jakob’s thoughts about stylish Italian transport.

(Our title refers to the strange but wonderful film, Holy Motors, which we watched earlier this year.)

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Gubbio: the Hard Edge of Light

20140507-082040.jpgOn Sunday, while Perugia was wrapped up in soccer fever, we got out of town and headed into the hills to visit the medieval town of Gubbio. Gubbio is an old mountain town, an hour from Perugia, whose Umbrian culture dates back well into the first millennium BC. In fact, the longest and most detailed liturgical documents from the classical world were found in the 15th century near the theater at Gubbio: seven bronze tablets of the 3rd-1st c. BC (the Iguvine Tablets) inscribed in Umbrian using the Etruscan and Latin alphabets, and now displayed in the Museo Civico.

The tablets are concerned with religious rituals: purifying the town, purifying the mountain above the town, purifying the town’s army, procedures for sacrifices, and the operation of religious funds. As it was an auspicious day (Rebecca’s birthday), we took the opportunity for a visit.

We arrived just after an important medieval-modern religious ceremony had begun to occur — the beginning of the Festa dei Ceri (Festival of the Candles). Essentially, the Festival centers on a ‘race’, held on May 15, from the town up Mt. Ingino to the Basilica of St. Ubaldo. Groups of men, affiliated patrilineally to one of three saints: Sant’Ubaldo (patron saint of masons; his color is yellow); San Giorgio (patron saint of merchants; his color is blue); and Sant’Antonio Abate (patron saint of farmers and muleteers; his color is black), carry heavy wooden ‘candles’ topped by statues of their saints.

Models of the candles from the Basilica museum

Models of the candles from the Basilica museum

Previous statues of the three saints, from the Basilica museum

Previous statues of the three saints, with their colors, from the Basilica museum

Heavy and awkward candles: 263 to 287 kilos (580-633 lbs.) each and 4.9 to 5 meters (ca. 16 ft.) tall. Ubaldo is the shortest and lightest, giving his team a significant advantage as they traverse 4.3 kilometers (ca. 2.5 miles) and about 320 meters (>1000 ft.) of elevation. Every 70 meters (230 ft.) or so, the bearers switch out — at full speed — so that they don’t kill themselves with the effort (though sometimes this happens). At the top of the course, Ubaldo always has to enter the Basilica first, and his bearers then shut the doors on the other two saints. We were not there for the actual race (the town would have been packed with visitors), but for the slow transfer of the candles and statues from the Basilica down to the town. Still, the bearers were dressed in their outfits and colors, accompanied by bands, and celebrating the start of the festival period. The exit, and return, of divine images is one of the most ancient of religious traditions. Jill and Matt wonderfully described and photographed the May 15 race on their blog last year. Here’s a video to get a sense of the mass intensity and insanity of the race day:

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Marble Marvels

Micah and a marble worker

Would Magritte say that Micah was with a marble worker?

We just finished our Easter (Pasqua) break; the kids were off 10 days from school, and Alan and Barbara were visiting. We took a tour of coastal Tuscany, from Lucca in the north to Cerveteri in the south, accompanied by lovely spring weather.

One day, we took the A11 north to Carrara, location of the great marble quarries that the Romans first exploited in bulk beginning in the second century BC. Above the town, the peaks are white — not from snow, but from being cut down for the bright stone that makes up the mountains.

We visited the Civic Marble Museum in Carrara, had a fantastic pranzo at a Calabrian restaurant next to a working marble yard, and then toured one of the underground quarries before finishing the day at Forte dei Marmi, now a posh holiday beach town.

Micah was keen on the adventure; all day (and after) he talked about the ‘marvel quarries’. Continue reading

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