Marche is a beautiful region in Italy, home to the library of Leopardi, the castle of Piero and Francesca (the two star-crossed lovers of Dante’s Inferno), and the Renaissance’s idea of an “ideal” city.
It is also freezing, and was plagued by untimely rain and snow throughout our trip. However, in Marche’s case, the weather only added to the allure of the region, casting a mysterious air over Leopardi’s strangely decorated cabinets and Francesca’s bedchamber.
We arrived at Leopardi’s home around 3:00 p.m., where we were divided in two groups for the tour. I would wager that the library of Alexandria had roughly the same number of books as the depressed Italian poet. Room after room was filled with every genre imaginable.
After our tour of Leopardi’s house we were free to browse his unheated museum; everyone but the perpetually curious Mr. Sammartino opted for a nearby cafe instead. If the gentle reader has never had hot chocolate in la bella Italia, they will be as surprised as we were when, instead of receiving a hot, chalet-reminiscent beverage to warm our souls, we were each presented with a cup of gelatinous chocolate pudding. It was so thick it had to be ingested with a spoon, and made unfortunate slurping noises when an adventurous individual attempted to do otherwise. But who can object to chocolate in any form, really?
After we all warmed up and payed, we walked back on our double decker bus and headed towards Urbino, the ideal city.
November 15: Urbino
Noveber 15th, 2007 was one of the most memorable days of my life. It was the first time I have ever been in a Renaissance villa, and the first time I felt completely free to embrace my historical fever, bouncing philosophical and speculative questions against others, and having the same done to me. I have been to the Roman Forum, stood in the shadow of the Colosseum, and eaten gelato by the Pantheon, and one feels gripped in those settings, too, but the feeling is temporary. One is always jostled by Japanese camera-wielding tourists or having to rebuff suspicious looking umbrella-sellers. They’re part of the scene and what makes traveling special, but they detract from mental time-travel.
In Marche, I was safely enclosed in a restored Renaissance villa, with nothing but beauty surrounding me. Every window had a spectacular view, largely unchanged for hundreds of years.
The most amusing part was the graffiti from the 1700’s, illustrating how some things never change in Italy.
After our tour of the villa, called the “Galleria Nazionale delle Marche di Urbino,” we decided to see what else the lovely city had to offer. Full of unblemished hills and breathtaking views, we were not disappointed. However, it was, naturally, a bookstore, that got my eyes to pop. There, sitting in a display case, was my favorite author, her books translated into Italian. I should explain that, if it had not been for the inspiration of this particular author, I probably wouldn’t be in Italy in the first place. I thought it a fitting tribute to buy a number of her books, even though I won’t be able able to read more than a page at a time for months.
That night, after we had taken our leave of the “ideal” city, we were marched up a mountain in subzero temperatures for a picture, during which time we sang Jack Johnson and Ligabue to avoid freezing to death.
Throughout the trip, and for some time before, we had been playing an all-school game of “assassins.” Everyone secretly receives a spoon with the name of their victim written on it, and one must touch their victim with the spoon to “kill” them. The last man standing wins.
The mensa (cafeteria) was a particularly dangerous location, since it was one of the only places where we all congregated. Once, to escape an assassination attempt, Brendan pulled a Matrix-like escape through the crowded food line, where he left bemused Italians and Americans alike in his wake. He made it safely to the kitchen, where the bewildered lunch ladies let him out through the back door, to safety and freedom.
Unfortunately, he was assassinated that night at the bus stop.
The night of the 15th was, unfortunately, a slaughter. Jesse, camp counselor extraordinaire during her summers, eliminated all the remaining players, to the chagrin of those who had been playing it safe all week in Viterbo.
As usual, today was frightfully cold, but the cold was mitigated by chocolate. That’s right, my friends. We visited one of the chocolate capitals of the world today. Perugia is the home of “Baci” chocolates, Perugina chocolates, and everything else your sweet tooth could desire.
To start off the day, Brendan, characteristically, wanted to hike around Perugia in the cold instead of going into one of the lovely, warm chocolate shops. We obliged him, but after our faces began to go numb with cold, even the boys wanted chocolate.
After indulging ourselves and buying gifts for our host families, it was time for lunch. Italian food is excellent but repetitive, so naturally when we spotted a Mexican-American bar we suffered the wait and indulged once more, this time on nachos. We saw loads of other Americans, all happily abandoning themselves in the pleasures of spices.
But alas, the time eventually came to get back in the bus and go home. My gifts were promptly eaten by my host cousin Simone when I got home, who remarked in his classic Viterbese: “Grazie, grazie Eerrrica. Posso avere solo un’ altro? E poi basta, basta sicuramente … Cavolo e’ bono quello, c’e piu?”
Author’s note: I wrote the post above during the academic year of 2007-2008 when, not knowing one word of Italian, I decided to spend the year in Italy living with a host family. I went through School Year Abroad (SYA), a program I cannot recommend highly enough.