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.

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