She seems hard at first, like her aim is only to challenge you. As I climb endless sets of unforgiving stairs, the echo of my hard footsteps resounds. As I walk upon narrow, winding streets covered in cold stone, I am surrounded by concrete buildings on either side. This is only her surface, though, not her character. The hardness evoked by her stone streets is a façade. Because she is tough, she can endure great hardship. She protects her people in a cradle of intimacy, and in her strength she comforts them. She comforts me, too. She kindly wakes me with the scent of freshly brewed espresso and delicate croissants. Ascending another stairwell and having one more foreign conversation, she encourages me to grow. Perugia – that is her name. For the time being, she is making me a Perugian.
I knew she would be small. She does not have Milanese sophistication or Florentine art, and that’s why I chose her. She flaunts no heirs, and her humble confidence is derived from thousands of years of establishment upon a mountaintop. Like the most precious wine of her region, her maturity only increases her value. She has changed, but she openly bears her past upon her breast – ancient Etruscan walls, medieval churches, buildings perfectly aligned together like a full bookcase, each showcasing its unique binding and title.
That was all I knew before I began abiding in her heart. After a few weeks of living by the beat of her quarter-hour chimes and rhythmically belated meals, I am more familiar with her ways. She really is charming. Her natives smile and forgive your ignorant faux pas, like ordering frothy cappuccinos after mid-morning or eating dinner before 7:30. My how she cooks! Her ingredients are seasonal, and she is currently specializing in truffle pasta dishes that have a heavy, earthy flavor as distinct as the city itself. She doles out two bacci – one for cheeks and one for tongues; both are rich and sweet. She is so hospitable. She welcomes visitors, and students are not put off by her years. Every evening her people meander out of the stonework and back alleys, gathering spontaneously on the piazza steps. Her beauty enraptures; when I look at the world from her perspective, her panoramic views inspire me.
Those with so much character offer their difficulties, too, and I am learning to cooperate. She stubbornly speaks one language only. Fortunately, it is more beautiful than my rough brogue, lilting with o’s and a’s, iamo’s and issimo’s. She sleeps little, and she does not respect those who wish to. Late into the night, or rather, early into the morning, her inhabitants jeer, banter, and laugh through her empty, reverberating streets. Her atmosphere is not as fresh as her freely flowing water; I must hold my breath as I plunge into clouds of rank second-hand smoke. Mere weeks ago, the street performers serenading me below were once too perfectly Italian; now, their accordion music is an all too familiar record stuck on repeat.