On sunny days, Sean and I like to follow up our morning cappuccini at Cafe Duoma with a walk to the park at the end of Corso Pietro Vanucci for a picnic breakfast. We sit on one of the park’s many benches, eat yogurt, biscuits, and oranges, and read or write, soaking in the sun. A curved terrace encircles the park, offering a 180 degree view of the landscape below. Tourists come here to pose for photos in front of the picturesque Perugian panorama, families stroll with their children in their prams, and lovers embrace on benches.
One morning last weekend, as we strolled from the park toward our hotel, we were stopped in the street by a man in his mid forties, with thick, dark, shoulder length hair, “Frank Zappa facial hair” (Sean’s words) and incredibly expressive eyebrows, which he proceeded to raise dramatically at us throughout our interaction with him, to prove his many important points. He was accompanied by a young and hip couple we remembered as attentive and enthusiastic audience members from our set the day before. Although he hadn’t seen us play, they had evidently told him all about us. He was a street performer too, a classical guitarist from Spain, he told us, and there was another place to play nearby, the favorite of all of the street musician’s in Perugia – he would take us there. Curious as to what this other spot might be like, as we felt we had already found the best spot to play, we followed him and his friends down the street.
As we continued down Corso Pietro Vanucci, our new friend kept us entertained by explaining to us about a large black plastic garbage bag that he held in his hand, declaring at one point that the bag contained “many shits,” which I though was a joke, as he afterward proclaimed that he was actually planning to use it to clean his apartment. I believed him. The young couple who accompanied him listened and laughed with amusement as he alternated between Italian and English, addressing them and us respectively.
We came to the piazza at the end of the street, and thought that this might be our final destination, but he continued to lead us on, through the piazza, and on to a smaller, less populated side street. We started to wonder how far he planned on taking us, and to toy with the idea that, although the man and his friends seemed perfectly sweet and harmless, this might be some kind of strange scam or trick that we couldn’t quite conceive of.
Our doubts were soon quelled, as he stopped under a magnificent stone arch that curved across a bend in the street. He told us that the reason all of the local buskers like to play here is that the acoustics are amazing. He demonstrated with a bit of rough operatic singing. There were two spots to play under the arch, he said, depending on the weather. The best, he declared, is to play under the Virgin (he made the sign of the cross, and dramatically lifted his eyes to the relief sculpture of Maria and Jesus embedded in the wall); but on especially cold and windy days, (this also required pantomime) the best place to play was in a little alcove on the other side of the arch. He continued, as he had intermittently throughout our walk, to assert that busking on Corso Pietro Vannucci was no good – people were in too much of a hurry and didn’t stop to listen. This place, he declared, was perfect.
We thanked him sincerely for showing us the spot, and told him that we would definitely give it a try another time. We could understand why Corso Pietro Vannucci might not be the best place for a classical guitarist, who relied solely on the sound of his acoustic instrument, and would likely do best in this environment that naturally amplified his music rather than soaking up the sound. It also offered the opportunity of catching people away from the glimmer and glamor of the city center, increasing the likelihood that they would be in a mindset to stop and listen.
We chatted under the arch for a bit longer, listening to the man tell stories of his adventures on a visit back to Spain, acting out the parts of the different people involved, complete with character voices, before he abruptly excused himself and fled. As he left, he shouted something that I didn’t quite understand concerning his intentions for the black plastic garbage bag that he still held in his fist, leaving his friends laughing with embarrassment, and Sean and I with incredulity. While Sean is delighted to accept the idea that our new classical guitar playing friend ran around the corner to add to the collection in his black garbage bag, I cling to the hope that he got a sudden domestic urge and rushed home to clean his apartment.