Monday, February 18, 2008


On Saturday, February 16, we attended a convocation at the Universita degli Studii de Perugia, or the University of Perugia. The ceremony marked the beginning of the 700th year of the university’s history. St. Bonaventure University is planning its 150th anniversary – will we be around for another five and a half centuries? It’s almost impossible to relate to this kind of historical time, but Italians are surrounded by their past. In Perugia, it’s impossible to walk down the street without encountering the remains of Etruscan, Roman, Medieval, Renaissance periods – and as the minimetro shows the future is here as well. Our house is about 1000 years old and stands guard over the Porta Eburnea in the medieval wall. In the garage below our place is a trap door that covers a walk in Etruscan well – very spooky. The Etruscans were here about 2500-3000 years ago – or were they the Umbrii? Italians even have a verb tense to express this kind of time – the well-named passato remoto.

The convocation was very interesting. The president of the student body spoke. He opened with a reference to the death of English exchange student Meredith Kerchner who was viciously murdered back in November. I was touched by this sincere expression of generational solidarity. This death, almost unprecedented in recent Perugian history, underscored the fragility of life for the young.

He also mentioned a recent row involving Pope Benedict, who cancelled a visit to Rome's University di Sapienzia in the face of protests. It seems that in 1990, when he was still Ratzinger, the future Pope had opined that Galileo had been given a fair trial four centuries earlier. (The physics faculty was particularly incensed. See what I mean about historical time consciousness?) The student referred to this lack of academic hospitality as ironic given the role of Pope Clement V who established the University in 1308. Whistles of derision greeted these remarks. That's Clement -------------->

But most courageously he spoke about the need to overcome the “gerontocracy” that governs the professions. This is a term I have heard several times. Professional opportunities in Italy – and the privileges they bring – are monopolized by old leftist boomers, the so-called generation of ’68. One of them, Bettoni a very popular Communist leader, whose position is comparable to our Speaker of the House gave a speech that was well received – 8 applause interruptions.

But without a doubt, my favorite part of the program was the singingof the Italian national anthem. Italians call it Inno di Mameli (Mameli's Hymn) after the then 20-year-old student and patriot, Goffredo Mameli who wrote the words in the autumn of 1847 in Genoa. Another Genoese, Michele Novaro set the words to music two months later.

Usually, Italians sing the last verse and one chorus.
The chorus is translated as follows:

Let us join in legions!
We are ready to die!
We are ready to die!
Italy has called!
Let us join in cohort,
We are ready to die!
We are ready to die!
Italy has called!

You can listen to the chorus as sung by the university choir.
Notice the rousing “Si!” that traditionally concludes the song.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Riding the Minimetro

I mentioned the minimetro in a previous post. Well, in the past week, Judy and I have become regular riders. The minimetro stop -- Cupa -- is about a block and a half from our door and for a mere Euro quickly delivers us to the stazione or the big downtown Coop -- at Fontivegge. Along the route, Perugini have hung protest signs in the form of bed sheets with messages that read:
"Troppo rumore. Basta!"
(Too much noise. Enough!)

This is hard to understand: Italians regularly shout at each other, or more usually yell into their cell phones as they walk, drive or weigh melanzane in the supermarket.

Check out this little video I made of a ride on the minimetro.

You'll note that the background conversation easily drowns out all other sounds. Notice the protest sheet hanging from the building on the right and catch a glimpse of the old historic center rising high in the distance. Enjoy the ride!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Remembering Don Aldo

Last Sunday, Judy and I returned to Assisi to attend a memorial mass for Don Aldo Brunnaci. In case you didn’t know, Don Aldo was the canon of Chiesa San Rufino and the host of the pilgrimage house Casa Papa Giovanni xxxiii, where I stayed during my first visit to Assisi. San Rufino is the church where St, Francis, St. Clare and Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II were baptised.
The baptismal font is still there at the back of the church as your enter, and to the right is a painting by I-don’t –know-who, maybe Dono Doni of a baptism. Guess whose. Most importantly, Don Aldo was a great man, a hero, quite possibly a saint, who was protected dozens of Jewish refugees who came to Assisi seeking refuge during the Holocaust.I was at his funeral last year at this time and glad I was here for the memorial. At the church, we were greeted by Rita, Don Aldo’s assistant, the cook – whose name I couldn’t recall – and Sorella Johanna, a pilgrimage Sister. Johanna had served Don Aldo as Eucharistic Minister during his last days. I was introduced to Vescovo Sorrentino, the Bishop of Assisi, who was saying the Mass. He greeted us warmly in Italian: “Molto piacere!” and beamed as Rita told him that we represented St. Bonaventure University. Don Aldo had a great affection for our university and pride in the honorary degree it had bestowed upon him in 2002.

Il Teatro Morlacchi

Last Saturday, we took our friend John out for dinner at Bellini’s – our current favorite restaurant -- Sicilian fare: octopus and cannoli. Afterwards we repaired to the Teatro Morlocchi for an evening of classical music: Webern, Schubert and Chopin. The performers were a young peoples’ orchestra from Prato, accompanied by an extraordinary pianist. Judy ran into one of her aerobics amici, Leah, who turned out to be sitting in front of us. Perugia gets to be more of a small town every time we step out. The music was played with great enthusiasm and talent, of course, but equally beautiful was the theater itself, named after Francesco Morlacchi, a relatively obscure 19th Century Perugian composer who had the ill-fortune of writing and producing his own version of The Barber of Seville the very same year as Rossini. The theater was built in the 19th Century and designed, I am told, by the same master who designed La Scala in Milano!