Thursday, January 31, 2008

San Costanzo and the Mini-Metro

Tuesday was the feast of San Costanzo, the first Bishop of Perugia in the first or second century. Legend has it that he was martyred by the Romans but it took a bit of effort. First, he was scourged, and then plunged into boiling water, only to emerge unscathed. The Perugini celebrate this feast on 29 January eating a kind of bread called "torcollo di san costanza" which appears to be fruitcake in the shape of a large donut. I think it has something to do with single girls seeking fidanzati.

The highlight of the day is a candle light procession from the duomo, the church of San Lorenzo, through the center of the city and down the steps of San Ercolano (another patron of Perugia) and thence to the cheisa San Pietro -- my very favorite church. The few blocks before San Pietro is set up as a street fair with vendors selling everything from hardware items of indeterminable purpose to clothinfg, and thence to different regional foods. I bought a flashlight, socks and a wool scarf. All very necessary.

Whatever your feelings about San Costanzo, there was no doubt that the Perugini were in a festive mood. It was giorno festivo
Schools were closed, as were businesses, and families gathered in their Sunday best to stroll the Corso Vanucci. And there were street vendors, stilt walkers, a brass band at one end of the street near the big fountain, but the best scene was down the street in front of the Teatro di Pavone (theatre of the Peacock). There was assembled a street band of old timers: two drums, a jawbone-- what a rhythm section! -- accordian and sax. What were they playing? Give a listen: That' right: When the saints go marchin'in. What else?!

Judy and I went across the way to find something to eat, and sure enough the only place open was the WORST pizza in town -- the dreaded harbinger of the decline of Italian culture: The Happy Pizza Shop! Funny thing though -- the crowd was filing into the alley next door -- following the crowd we were soon to discover the meaning of it all: the long-awaited premier of Perugia's own minimetro
There were hundreds of people lining up to ride Perugia's controversial leap into the future for free! A great day: St. Minimetro, Auguri!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Catching Up Weeks 2 and 3

Week 3

Last weekend we enjoyed a wonderful concert at the Sala di Notari – cello and piano – I can’t recall the names of the artists but the Beethoven was wonderful and the audience went wild – four encores!! I haven’t seen anything like that since Bruce Springsteen in the late 70’s.

The week had its share of problems: one of my texts was never ordered, or so it seems, although that gave me a legitimate excuse to scale down the amount of material I intend to cover this semester to something a bit more in keeping with possibility. I am consoled by the patience of my students – who also see this as a blessing. I found a classic Life of Francis (Sabatier) available free online through Project Gutenberg. That will fill the gaps nicely, I’m sure.

Actually I found an interesting way to cover some of the episodes in the life of Francis. I was able to download the famous cycle of frescoes by Giotto that depict the life of Francis as written by Bonaventure. These were projected in class and I was able to narrate the most significant episodes portrayed. Actually this was a perfect prelude to the field trip to Assisi that was planned for the following Friday.

Below is a slideshow of the frescoes:

On to Assisi: what a privilege to be able to visit this magnificent gem of a town! I have gotten pretty skilled at navigating the major sites and I’ve become increasingly knowledgeable about their significance. So I am always eager to guide first time visitors – especially students.

Of course we had some problems: many of the students were not quite up to an 8:30 AM departure. Umbra does not schedule classes on fridays and therefore thursday nights are part of the weekend -- even if there is a significant field trip the next day I suppose. We've all had our share of sickness so far in this young semester, and I had to take one of the students back to Perugia after our hike down to San Damiano and back. Happily, Mrs. C was able to escort the remainder of the group while I reluctantly undertook this mission of mercy.

But also there were blessings. I maintain that you cannot visit Assisi without experiencing some unexpected grace or kindness or both. And that was my experience on Friday. Everyone I dealt with as I tried to get help for my student was extraordinarily generous from the woman in the infopoint in the “piazza del commune” who called the taxi, to Paolo the cabdriver, and Regina who met us in Monteluce to take my student home, allowing me to return to Assisi. But the best was yet to come.

Whenever I had visited Umbria in the past, one of my first intentions was to visit Don Aldo Brunnaci at the Casa Papa Giovanni in Assisi. Don Aldo is a hero of mine, having taken great risks to hide and protect dozens of Jews during the war. Judy came to love him too. (When he learned she was Ebrei-- he always greeted her with “Shalom!”) I was in Assisi, by chance, the morning after he died last year at the age of 93, but I was so glad that I had seen him two weeks before and he greeted me from his deathbed with characteristic good humor. Rita, his devoted assistant and housekeeper described him then as “vicino morto ma sereno” – near death but serene. So I had barely enough time to stop in an pay my respects to Rita on Friday, but when I did, she greeted us and ushered us into the dining room where we had sipped tea with Don Aldo in better days. There on the table was a picture of Judy and me flanking Don Aldo in March 2006. She had been reviewing some memorabilia and had put this aside as if expecting us to show up at any minute! Needless to say, this little episode was sufficient to put all of the frustrations and hassles in perspective, and to remind me why I was here in Umbria.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


I'm just adding my greetings to Mike's. Ciao to all readers of this blog spot. We will - literally -
keep you posted.


Getting Started

Well here we are in Perugia! After so many months of recruiting and enrolling students and planning our courses (and desperately studying Italian) we have finally moved into our Italian home on the via del Paradiso.

This year we have ten great students with us. Five are from SBU: Maggie Amend, Alex Bianco, Andrea D'Angelo, Charlie Dwailabe, and Brittany Lollier; and five are from Neumann College: Anthony Borda, Philip Borda, Samantha Clements, Heather McDermott and Teresa Marino. The SBU students are interested in international business, especially marketing, and we are looking forward to working with John Burke, a loyal Bona alum with extensive Italian business experience, who will join us in May. The Neumann students have already studied a little Italian. Sam, Heather and Teresa are education majors and will be studying special education with Judy this semester. (More on that in a moment.) All ten of these students will be taking my course: Contemporary Global Issues: The Franciscan Worldview.

Judy's course is called "Special Education: A Comparative Approach" and it combines the content of an introductory special ed course that focuses on American policies and practices, with a sampling of some unique Italian approaches to special ed, such as found in Arezzo and Emilia Reggio. She's also arranging for her students to tutor Italian children who are studying English.

My course combines a study of the lives and influence of Francis and Clare of Assisi with a special attention to their relevance to such issues as global poverty, interreligious conflict, particularly relations between Muslims and Christians, and environmental problems, especially global warming. Later this month, we'll be visiting Assisi, and when the weather improves we plan to visit La Verna and Montecasale.

I will post more details regarding these courses and other activities as they develop. (If I can figure out how to do it, I will post links to our course syllabi.) One of my ambitions is to get the students to contribute to creating a website that will report on the various global problems they will study, and provide resources for education and advocacy. When that comes on line I will provide the URL.

I hope you will continue to visit this site and post comments if you wish. I will be posting items about our experiences in and out of the classroom. There's already a lot to report, and not all academic! Stay tuned for photos and anecdotes that will give you a picture of life in Perugia for me and Judy and our students.