Friday, March 29, 2013

Perugia, Umbria

I see Perugia is back in the news this week, once again for the same reason as usual. It is sad that in most English-speaking people's minds it is synonymous with just one thing: that truly horrible, and infinitely fascinating murder which took place in 2007.

This saddens me. It saddens me because Perugia is a wholly different place in reality. Perugia is the place I grew up overnight from a child to a young adult. It is the first place I lived alone, or at least in a shared student flat, or even two - the first with two Austrian boys, the second with three Koreans and a Scottish girl.

I was 18 years old and I sat an Italian exam prepared by the Italian government. We were told one person would win a scholarship to spend the summer studying in Perugia uni, all (basic) expenses paid. I didn't dare dream but somehow I won it. It was pre-Ryanair of course so I went by train. Forty-eight hours straight from a cold, damp Glasgow to a stiflingly hot Perugia station. Anyone who knows the town, knows that you walk out the station at the foot of the hill into a boring 60s suburban-looking town. It's dirty and noisy and frankly nothing special. For a moment you wonder where this old town you've read about is but outside the station is a bus marked 'centro storico'. It drives up a hill you can't really see from the station for about 15 minutes and drops you at the top. The air is cleaner, burning hot. You turn the first corner and come across this truly magical sight. White buildings everywhere, students everywhere chatting, laughing, eating. I was 18 years old and had never left home and suddenly I was standing in this square with the keys to my own little flat in this wonderfully exotic location to a Glaswegian girl. I loved every second of it. I loved the smells, the food, the architecture, I loved speaking Italian and I loved becoming independent - going home when I wanted, to the beach when I wanted. I loved the uni canteen that fed you more for lunch than I expected to eat in a week for about 50p. I loved watching my blue skin turn brown and my mousy hair turn bright blonde in the sun. Everything was magical. I took countless photos of beat-up old Fiat 500s. I drank Orvieto on my balcony eating fresh figs from the tree that was overhanging it. I visited the region, I marvelled at the architecture. I even sunbathed nude in a monastery... accidentally! I travelled to Assisi and Florence, to Milan and Como.

Given Perugia has a wonderful international uni, I imagine thousands upon thousands of students have my memory of the place. I just think it sad that when Marcel's generation come home and tell their parents they are thinking about studying for the summer in Perugia, their thoughts will be dark ones rather than realizing their child is most likely in for an experience they'll still be raving about nearly thirty years on.

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