A Walking Path in Umbria
The Italian word for ugly is brutto, which sounds better to me. When the weather is bad, Italians say, “fa brutto tempo”. But the weather is not as brutto as a few other things.
For me, the graffiti in Italy is brutto—especially when I see graffiti on a beautiful medieval building. Sometimes we see more creative graffiti in an industrial area near the train stations where it doesn’t look so bad. In fact, some of the lettering is quite artistic. But I hate to see the sloppy scribbles on beautiful stone walls in the old city centers. The second ugly problem is litter. I think I now understand why Italians are not concerned about dropping something and littering. In many towns, such as Perugia, they have an amazing city clean up crew. For instance, when the runners took off for their race last Sunday, they left all sorts of leaflets and trash on the streets. As we returned to the piazza after our trip to the market (about 20 minutes later), we saw four mini garbage trucks on the piazza and the streets were spotless! We’ve also noticed these same trucks on the piazza at midnight to clean up after the students’ debris on the steps. So why would anyone be concerned about litter when there’s always a crew to pick up after you? The third brutto is drugs and drug dealers. We’ve heard this in the north and in Umbria—drugs are becoming a bigger problem. In the past two years, there’s been a noticeable increase. Just last week, two different bands of drug dealers got into a fight and there were gun shots in the streets. The morning paper called it “Wild West” in Perugia. But, it’s becoming a major problem and the police don’t seem to have it figured out.
Speaking of the police, I’d put them in my bad category. They don’t seem to do much and nobody has any faith in them. In Sicily, our friend the cheese maker must protect his goats from neighboring dogs. If a dog kills a goat, Giulio can file a report, but nothing ever happens. In the countryside of Umbria, they’ve been having more frequent robberies because it’s well known that the police won’t respond. Maybe they don’t have a sherif department like we do.
Another bad for me is the Internet, or more specifically, wifi. The good news is that it’s now more available. The bad news is that the service isn’t good. It’s been a pain to be in the middle of a search or a quick bank transaction and to loose service. I think most Italians are using their phones, so having a Smart Phone is probably the way to go for another few years.
Now for the Good! Of course the first item that comes to mind is food. You can always find wonderful food in Italy. Each region has its specialties and we have never been disappointed. However, Tuscan bread (unsalted) is not my favorite. I think one reason it’s easy to find delicious food in Italy is because the Italians make simple food using local ingredients. We never got tired of the food because there was enough variation when we visited the different regions. And no matter where we went, we found good gelato. The best ice cream in the world is made in Italy and it’s definitely good.
A subcategory of food might be the excellent coffee you find in Italy. We think it’s the best we’ve found. But along with the coffee goes the amazing baristas. From the first stop at an airport or train station to the to the bars you find in every town, the baristas who work there are good at what they do. Not only do they make good espresso, they make it fast. Once you find a bar you like, return there again and they already have your preference memorized. I could write a blog about the wonderful baristas we’ve met on our trip.
I would also add, transportation to the good category. Although the trains in Italy aren’t as punctual as the ones in France or Switzerland, they do the job. Compared to the west coast of the U.S., they are great! If we want to spend a day in Seattle, which is only 90 minutes from our home town of Bellingham, we have a choice of one morning train and one afternoon train for the return. If there’s an evening concert, we have to spend the night or drive our car. For almost any mid-sized town in Italy, there’s a train every hour to your desired destination. Not only is there a train, but there’s also the choice of a bus. Often, we take the bus one way, to see the sights, and then return on the train for a faster trip home. They also have some decent subway systems in Italy. The Milan Metro gets you to many of the major sights very quickly. But our favorite Metro was the Mini-Metro in Perugia that takes you from the train station to the top of the hill town in about 10 minutes! Either way, there are many more options for public transportation in Italy and the cost is reasonable.
The historical sites, the history, the art and the abundant natural beauty of Italy must be added to the list. But the most important element of “the good” is the people. They aren’t perfect, by any means. But, in general, the people we meet are kind and generous, polite and gracious, friendly and easy going. Most Italians have a sense of humor and are not too shy. Luckily for us, many have an affinity to Americans because of WWII, and also the fact that their cousin Vinnie lives in Chicago.
Life is getting tougher for the Italians. The taxes are increasing, pensions are decreasing, the youth can’t find work and many of the politicians are corrupt or hopeless. But the Italians are resilient and manage to maintain their way of life and hold on to their culture. Somehow, they find a way to believe in the good, deal with the bad and pray that the ugly will go away.
Below: Brutto Graffiti, My Internet Café (the Café goes in the Good category) the Mini-Metro, enjoying the great gelato, our barista in Perugia, and Italians on the passeggiata