Thursday, February 25, 2016

Marco Polo, Turandot and China Night at the Stranieri

China Night at the Stranieri.

The Stranieri
One of the enormous benefits of life in Perugia is the diversity of the student population.  My class at L’Universita per Stranieri has students from Belgium, Sweden, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Israel, Holland, Turkey, Palestine, Senegal, Korea, Libya, one guy from Canada and two guys including me from USA.  And Italian is the lingua franca of our class.

my class
Earlier this week I attended what I thought would be a simple concert by student at the Stranieri (short for Universita di Stranieri, University for Foreigners.)  We were urged to attend by our Italian teacher, Bianca, because one of our classmates, Anna, was in the chorus.  I had been copying Anna’s homework for about a week and thought I’d show my gratitude by attending and filming the concert.  What I found as I entered the Aula Magna of the Palazzo Galenga was a packed house of mostly Chinese students.  I soon learned that it was not just a concert, but a welcome to the many Chinese students enrolled in the MarcoPolo/Turandot program, which sets aside so many seats for students from China who wish to study here.  The Turandot part of the program was especially for students who wished to study music, art, dance etc.
. . .

Marco Polo?

I’m sure you a familiar with Marco Polo, the famous 13th Century merchant-explorer who visited and stayed at the court of Kubla Khan, and whose account of the many wonders (pasta?) he found in this relatively advanced civilization was widely published to a skeptical yet curious Europe.  Later it inspired Cristoforo Columbo, claimed by Italians as a native son, but possibly a Catalan converso Ebraio. 

“Turandot” is set in medieval China with its popular aria,  Nessun Dorma, sung by Prince Calaf who awaits his fate as he courts  the icy Princess Turandot, Interestingly, the opera, with its characters Ping, Pang and Pong,  was banned in China for  72 years after its 1926 premiere in Milan.

 After an hour of the usual series of long-winded speeches by everyone from il magnico Rettore of the Stanieri to the Perugia chief of police, the concert began.   I’ve posted a few videos: two of the chorus: “Va pensiero,  the chorus of the Hebrew slaves from Verdi’s opera, Nabuco, and another number from China called the “Bed of Chrysanthemum flowers.” The third, by a remarkable pair of students, is an American pop song “Perfect”  by  the“boy  band” One Direction. There were several other knock-out numbers, particularly “Non piu andrai, Farfallone”  from Rossini’s Barber of Seville sung by student Geng Zihao in a booming baritone voice.  I couldn’t get a video, oto.
Geng Zihao

The evening was unlike anything I’d ever seen.  I gave “Bravos” to some of the students after the show and  now I enjoy their courteous greetings when I see them around town.  Like so many of the foreign students at the Stranieri, I’ve come to love these kids, their openness, and passion for Iphones and learning!

Saturday, February 6, 2016


Traveling with a Ghost

   This is my first time back in Perugia since my beloved Judy died last summer.  We had been coming every January for nearly ten years, but our last visit was cut short by her swiftly deteriorating health.  Ever since, I have felt almost a duty to return and complete our trip.

    I recall one time a woman from
Judy's aerobics class ran out of a shop when  she saw us pass by soon after arriving.  "Buon tornato! E 'certamente gennaio perch√© qui √® di nuovo Judy!"  (Welcome back.  It must be January because here is Judy again!)  Now I must explain several time each day why I am alone:  "Mi despiace ma mia moglie ha morta"  (I am sorry but my wife has died."  And as I walk the dark lonely medieval streets of this ancient city every stone is haunted. So I'm not really alone;  I'm traveling with a beautiful ghost.

    Ten years ago Judy and I enrolled in the Universita per Stranieri (University for Foreigners) to learn "un po' Italiano" -- very little, but we had a ball distracting each other and making friends.  So I enrolled for the next course "advanced beginner" this year.  This has been more painful than I expected but I still believe it's necessary to look my grief in the face with courage; that was Judy's final gift to me.  And I do believe it's already getting better ...

 . . . with a lot of help from my friends

    We developed a nice tradition over the years:  On our last night in Perugia, we would to eat one last pizza al zucco at Al Mangiar Bene, then "faremo una bella passiagata"  (take a beautiful walk)  circumventing the 3,000 year old Etruscan wall that surrounds the historic center, and finally stopping one last time to buy two Baci at "Sweet sweet way" for our nightly dolci.  Well, I nearly lost it when I saw that chocolate shop the other day --
I think I will stay away for more reasons as well

    And last night I braved a return to Al Mangiar Bene, happily accompanied by my old friend Wally and enjoyed Umbricelli with Sugo d'Oca (spaghetti with goose sauce), a bottle of Montefalco Rosso, and Panecotta caramelo for desert.  Wally paid. And I was OK, thanks Wally

    Everyone has been so kind to me this week and I have already had more fun than this post would have you think.  I do have many fun tales to tell in this blog.  Stay with me, it's getting better!