Perugia–On Top of the Hill

We’ve made it a habit now to travel on Mondays, since, barring special circumstances, they aren’t usually good busking days. Less people are out and about, and those that do show are tired from the weekend, and don’t have the kind of time or energy that they do in the week’s sweet spot—Thursday through Sunday.

So it was this past Monday that we left Bologna and headed for our next destination, Perugia, the capitol of Umbria.

Perugia had been recommended to us on this very blog, by a friend we met in Leno. She also translated the busking laws that she found on Perugia’s website, whichgave us more of a feeling of security than we normally have stepping into a new place.

Perugia is a beautiful city, rich with history and incredible art and architecture, set on a tremendous hill in the heart of Umbria. That last part, the part about “set on a tremendous hill?” Well, we didn’t exactly know that beforehand. So when our train arrived at 4 PM, we foolishly disregarded the instructions from our hostel to take a bus and decided we would walk the 2.4 kilometers to where we were staying.

Well, it’s possible that had we been carrying no stuff whatsoever, we could have accomplished the walk and made it to our hostel intact. But encumbered by our instruments and two heavy suitcases, it was completely hopeless. We eventually ended up back at the train station, almost two hours after we had initially arrived, battered and sore and with one casualty—the extension handle on one of our suitcases had broken off Despite culling a large amount of excess, mainly clothing, before leaving Bologna, it was clear we still had too much, at least, too much to successfully scale Mt. Don’t Want to Take a Bus.

Fortunately, it also happened to be Mt. This is Among The Most Stunning Things I’ve Ever Seen In My Life. Despite arriving in the rain, on a Monday, completely drained of energy and leg strength, it was clear from the first—we were in the right place. Tangled, ancient streets , stretching back to Etruscan times, an incredible view of what seemed to be hundreds of miles in any direction, buildings that seemed to grow like mushrooms on top of winding streets that seemed to be closed to almost all motor vehicles. It was raining, we were exhausted, but it seemed we had found the right place to play.

On Friday, we enjoy the lovely weather and the stunning view.

Not far from the park, we also took in an incredible “fungi festival,” scoping out dozens (hundreds?) of varieties of local mushrooms…

…some of which were rather large.

Unfortunately, we wouldn’t get to test that theory for a few days. The rain and winter conditions of almost freezing weather and icy winds whipped through the streets, continuing all through Tuesday and Wednesday. Had we just arrived too late? Everywhere we saw signs of the previous week’s chocolate festival, an international event that surely had brought huge crowds to the area. Maybe our timing had just been off, and we’d have to settle for just taking a loss for the week, playing tourist as best as we were able, given the freezing weather. But there were signs of hope—we started to see posters for another festival, one that seemed to kick off on All Saint’s Day, which fell on Thursday. And on Wednesday, more hope—vendors began erecting tents all over the main pedestrian street of the city, the spot that we had already earmarked as the most likely place for us to busk, should enough people arrive.

And arrive they did. We played at eleven on Thursday morning, to immediate enthusiastic response. It was overwhelming.. We immediately gathered a sizeable crowd, and maintained a crowd throughout our one hour set. Afterwards, Rachel and I were in a bit of a daze. Sorting through the experience, I told her that there was a special kind of character to that audience, which seemed to mostly be made up of vacationing Italians, and locals as well. “They were waiting for the balloons,” I said. “You know?” We basked in the feeling. “And we were the balloons.”

Early that evening we set up again, not far from the first place we had played, taking advantage of an array of chairs that had been set up by a local restaurant. We weren’t busking to the seated, which were few, but using the bank of chairs to split the street a bit, so we didn’t feel obligated to perform across that vast space. People could lean up against this created partition instead.

Not that they couldn’t hear us from across the street. The main street of Perugia is possibly the most reverberant open-air space we’ve ever played in. It was actually disorienting at first to hear ourselves bouncing back from the buildings across the street. It’s not quite the luxurious reverberance of Bologna.. Some characteristic of the stone and the marble makes the sound thin and brittle , but still lovely. You don’t consider how an acoustic environment shapes a place and its culture and activities until you actually step into a place radically different than your own. But this is a world of continuous stone and marble, a place where you can climb out to the rounded edge of the balcony of the Palazzo dei Priori and see the piazza below and know that your voice could reach every individual of a crowd assembled, if such a crowd were inclined to listen.

Anyway, we managed to play for about fifteen minutes before we heard, in mid-song, some kind of rumble coming down the street. Like approaching thunder. As the rumble closed in on us it became more distinct, and much louder. It wasn’t thunder– it was a drum line.

The drum line, on their repeat performance on Saturday. Yes, the drive-by was repeated as well, both nights almost identical experiences.
The drummers mostly looked like high-school age students, led by two or three adults, and with a makeup no different from any other high school drum line I’ve seen—snares, marching basses, quads, and oversized hand percussion. The sound was literally thunderous—every hit rippled through the space, every bass thud shook my chest and my guitar, which vibrated in my hands with each thud. We watched as the drum line marched past us a few feet and then delivered a ten minute performance not fifteen feet away from us. I tried to protect my hearing as best as I could while not appearing rude by plugging my ear nearest them with what I hoped was a discrete finger.. When they marched further down the street we thought we would soon be in the clear, but they set up on the steps of the church at the piazza at the end of the street and gave another mini-concert there. It was clearly an event, something that everyone seemed to experience as a completely novel and rousing experience. As they left the piazza and we considered resuming our set, I told Rachel, “I think they brought the balloons.”

We managed to play another fifteen minutes or so before the marching band returned from a side street for another performance, before finishing for the evening. We played another half-hour after they left before packing it in and heading back to the hotel.

One of the few other buskers we’ve seen in Perugia, playing what I thought was a hammered dulcimer. He referred to it as a “pianoforte” in Italian, and said it belonged to his grandfather.
It seems that we had lucked into the perfect time to be playing in Perugia. Not only is it a wonderful city full of friendly and generous visitors and locals,, the festival that we’re in the middle of now will continue through Monday. I’m writing this Sunday morning, after playing for almost four hours both Friday and Saturday, to lovely, enthusiastic audiences. Next week we’ll get an opportunity to see Perugia when it’s not in festival mode, but in the meanwhile we’ll just enjoy it as it comes, loving this air of relaxed celebration.
Bring us to the place. We’ll be happy to supply the balloons. Unless, of course, they’ve already been brought by a marching band.
Balcony sandwiches with best view, and the best company, any busker could ask for.
1 comment
  1. dario51 said:

    Many Summer Years for you

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