Perugia (briefly), and an abrupt end to my time in Italy

Why hello there! I imagine most of you had given up on me, as it's been oooooohhhhh six months since I last wrote. I am sorry about that, I haven’t been ready to write about it, but I'm here now, and I still have a few things to say.

Spannocchia wrapped up on November 30th. The last two weeks were full of preemptive nostalgia, happiness, sadness, and just generally so much emotion. On the last day, we had teary goodbyes while the cats sat on our suitcases.

We were driven to Siena to part ways, and I caught the bus to Perugia, where I was going to go for four nights before meeting up with Rebecca, another intern, for more traveling in Italy before I headed to London for a few days, and then home. Once in Perugia, in a feat of old-school pre-smartphone competence, I managed to buy a bus ticket and transfer to a local bus that dropped me a few blocks from my AirBNB, then navigate, without a map or compass and only using my memory of the directions, to the apartment. Naturally, most of the walk to the AirBNB was uphill (I feel like Italian cities are some sort of M.C. Escher painting—every direction is uphill) and on a cobbled street, but I've learned that if you don't make eye contact with gawking passersby, then they can't make you feel awkward. I arrived extremely sweaty and tired at around 8 at night, and was greeted by a lovely German woman named Katherine, my host. After hauling my bags up two flights of tiny, steep, narrow stairs, I stayed in, and went to bed early.

Out of the dream, into the nightmare

The next morning I awoke into what felt like a nightmare. I had a slew of text messages from my sisters—our mother had been in a bad car accident back home, and though she's ultimately ok, they said, I'll be seeing a lot of emails about it. My blood turned to ice, and I felt nauseated, and I started to shake and cry. I frantically read through the flurry of emails from the day before, all sent after I'd gone to sleep, and I at least felt lucky that I could condense all the uncertainty and limited information that had seeped out of the course of hours back home to just a few minutes as I read through everything. Her car was T-boned by a truck, and she broke her left femur, cracked her right tibia just below her knee, broke her left arm, and cracked two vertebrae in her neck—pretty banged up, but thank god no spinal or brain injury.

I badly wanted to talk to my family, but because of the time change everyone was asleep. I didn't know if I should come home right away—I had a whole two weeks of travel planned and paid for with Rebecca, and I felt guilty for still wanting that. Above all, I knew that coming home would mean that it really was the end of my time at Spannocchia, and potentially the end of this traveling part of my life (although—actually not, stay tuned!), and I wasn't quite ready to face that.

Lightness and Darkness

After reading through all the emails from my family, I had about four hours to kill before everyone woke up back in the U.S., so I headed out and had a very surreal morning walking around the city. Perugia is beautiful, of course, and even though I'd never been, it felt familiar, perhaps because after three months living in Italy, I'd finally started to feel accustomed to these very old places. But I also didn’t feel the magic that I’d felt in Siena, in Volterra, in Florence, in Chiusure, or any of the other beautiful, old Italian cities that I’d been in; all this time I had been thinking it was these places that were filling me with wonder, but really it was I that was filling them with wonder. Perugia became nothing but a beautiful backdrop for my own internal crisis, a stage for my loneliness and sadness.

I meandered down the main street, pondering the discord between my body’s habit of moving towards a destination, and my mind’s knowledge that I had nowhere to go. From several blocks away, I saw that the street ended in a panorama awash in a burst of golden light—the morning sun was low and shining back up the street towards me. Amidst the brightness I could just make out the spindly, shimmering silhouette of a slowly turning Ferris wheel. It was so odd, so whimsical and dreamlike nestled in among the gothic stone architecture around it, that I became completely entranced, and made my way toward it.

The piazza with the Ferris wheel, Giardini Carducci, was deserted on this Monday morning, save for the childlike tinkling of a music box tune spilling out from the wheel itself and eerily filling the square. The whole scene felt unearthly, but fitting, too—I would never have imagined this, just as I would never have imagined my mom’s car crash. I felt unsettled by it, but somehow comforted, too. No one was there but me, and I couldn’t help but feel that it was a sign: that this was here for me. And there was just so much light.

I had read about a series tunnels under Perugia and realized upon looking at my map that the entrance was in the very piazza with the Ferris wheel. I found the subtly marked escalator that led down, and discovered the bizarre underground world of the Rocca Paolina. It was nothing but curved hallways with a mess of stone arches, and occasional recesses off to the side. With each turn I felt like I should exit outside, but it would just lead again to more dimly lit halls, like some medieval funhouse. I walked slowly through as Perugians bustled through, the tunnels merely part of their commute to somewhere else. Even though I kept feeling like there should be a window somewhere, I liked this darkness, too.

After the tunnels, I felt satisfied that this was all I needed from Perugia, to experience lightness and darkness, and realize that a place only has the meaning I give it. Once in touch with my family back in Boston, I booked a ticket for the next day home, Perugia to Rome, Rome to Boston, and then to the hospital to see my mum.

Thank you for reading, it’s been hard to even think about writing this. Since I came back, many people have asked enthusiastically “how was Italy?!” and I don’t know what to say, because now my experience at Spannocchia, which was magical, feel completely entangled in the crisis that came immediately after, and I feel I can’t talk about one without the other.

I should mention, too, that my mum is nearly fully-recovered, save for some nerve pain in her hands.

I don’t quite know the direction that this blog will go, but I have a few more posts in mind. And, I’ll be heading to Norway this fall for grad school, a Masters in Agroecology, so the adventure continues.