It’s time to say goodbye to Perugia. Like standing on the beach with the waves pulling sand away from my feet I’m feeling the current that is about to carry me away. Four weeks ago I arrived in a wave of new students. Over the next weeks I watched as other students came and went in each week’s flowing tide. I’m catching tomorrow’s wave, so it’s time to say goodbye to this place I’ve come to call home. Tomorrow I leave for Rome, then I’m off to Vienna to visit friends, and then I return to Florence to begin my walk over 30 days to Assisi and on to Rome. I’m grateful, but also very sad.
Goodbye to the teachers and staff at Comitato Linguistico (Frederica, Flora, David, Luca, Ugo, Floriana, Giulia), goodbye to the friends I’ve made who live here in Perugia (Gigi, Chiara, Don Paolo), goodbye to my new friends among the waves of students from other countries (Flavia, Thomas, David, Anna, Roxanna, Ibrahim, Jose, Renate, Esther, Jonna, Yagmur, Christopher, Tamila, Patricia), goodbye to my Italian family (Graziella, Luigi and Alessandro).
And goodbye to this beautiful city. Perugia is a special place, a old and gentle city with a lively student population from all over the world, an earth colored town, set on a hill with farmland on one side and green hills on the other. It parties hard when the hot sun goes down, and it cocoons quietly when the weather is cool and wet. Its many hills test the feet and legs, but all exhaustion is smoothed away by its chocolate, its gelati and its wide rivers of Umbrian wine. Perugia taught me how to enjoy Italian food and how to drink like an Italian — from aperitivo to digestivo and beyond. When I get home, Theresa and I will have to do our very best to recreate the Limey served at Dempsey’s on Corso Vanucci.
I learned to drink like an Italian, but did I learn to speak like an Italian? Four weeks is not nearly enough time to cram a beautiful and complicated language into my 56-year old brain, but I can have simple conversations now and I do understand a fair amount of what I hear. As is usual for me with a new language, I read much better than I speak or write. My four weeks have been worth every penny, and as I calculate the dollars I realize it’s been much cheaper to spend this four weeks here in Perugia than to spend it at hotels and restaurants in a typical vacation. My tuition, room and board for four weeks was under €1,600 (about $2,200). The friendships were free.
Some people — Italians even — asked me why I would study Italian before writing my guidebook. It was out of respect. Respect for this country, respect for this culture, respect for this people. I feel that after a month of language study I’m more than a tourist in Italy. I’m a student of Italy. As I walk the pathways between Florence, Assisi, and Rome I will walk with a greater appreciation and a growing love for this beautiful place and a more practiced eye to help me understand and learn.
I found teachers at Comitato Linguistico to be impressively intuitive and extremely helpful in the process of immersing us in the Italian language. When I was puzzled in class, like the strong, happy, young mother she is, Flora would cock her head, look at me with a smile and loudly say, “Sandy! Capisce?” After a few questions and answers I would nod and she would smile and say, “Okaye,” the Italian version of our American word. I would then correct her and say, “Solo in Italiano per favore.” “Va bene,” she’d then say, with another big smile.
I had fun with “OK.” In feigned frustration over dinner one night I took a few minutes to teach people from various countries how to say “OK” in correct, American English. Today, my teacher David came to class with a big smile on his face. He called me over and in pen wrote this word on his palm: “Okè.” He looked at me to see if he had found a way to spell it to help in its correct pronunciation. “Va bene,” I replied, with all the pride of a first-time language teacher.
I would love to come back to Perugia one day — to see these amazing people and to enjoy their beautiful city for at least a few weeks more. These people know how to enjoy life. People who come here, if they are open to it, may be taught as much about happiness as they will be taught about Italian. Every piece of chocolate (or Nutella®) seems to be eaten with a particular delight. Every bit of pasta is the best pasta ever. Every glass of wine has the bouquet of rural Italy. Things seem deeper and more connected here. More sensual. Even the people. I was a stranger a few weeks ago, and thanks to the warmth and hospitality of many, I’ve been made to feel at home.
However, this home is like a beach. The tide is coming in tomorrow morning and it will wash me away, the sands shifting under my feet until the current carries me onward. Here, on Monday, another group of students will arrive in the next wave, and then the next, and on. They will find joy and heart and laughter mixed with pasta and pizza and passato prossimo. They will come to learn Italian. They will leave with an appreciation for this place, like all of us this month who found a happy home for a brief time on a beautiful beach in central Italy.