I spent last weekend visiting my friend from graduate school Zach Nowak. Zach’s now the Director of the Umbra Institute and invited me to come stay with him. I had never been to Italy before and the combination of seeing an old friend and free housing seemed like a great idea.

Zach’s an Italian citizen but he’s originally from Rochester, New York and has a deep love for, and deep knowledge of, his adopted city. He’s lived there on-and-off for close to 25 years and seems to know everyone. It is a small dense place and it was difficult to walk 50 feet without running into someone he knew–an academic colleague, a barista, a delivery person with their tiny white van impossibly navigating the narrow streets (and by narrow I mean, not as wide a many an apartment building hallway in the United States), or a cheesemonger or, well, just anyone else.

Perugia is a testament to the ways in which society is an intergenerational effort (something I think about a great deal these days as cities like Detroit and Cleveland crumble and Putin bombards cities in Ukraine to dust). The city consists of layers of different eras of building. There is an Etruscan layer–which includes eight city gates and a wall, all in excellent condition–, a Roman layer, a medieval layer, a Renaissance layer, and a modern layer. All of the layers continue contribute to the built environment.

The city is a maze of tight dense streets. There’s no logical layout, except that everything culminates in the plaza in the city center. The plaza is surrounded by buildings of the different epochs and its layout dates to Etruscan times. The main Catholic church, for instance, is located on the spot where a Etruscan and then a Roman temple once stood.

We didn’t really do much except walk around a lot and talk about politics and our various research projects. Zach’s a maven in food studies. He had a lot of stories about the local culinary culture. We had pastries and coffee for breakfast on the plaza and ate a handful of classic Perugian restaurants. I had pasta in all but one of them, De Faliero a la Maria, a place on the lake–I should have mentioned earlier that Perugia’s wealth for many years came from the fishery of a nearby large fresh waster lake–where we had the traditional Perugian torta, essentially a piece of flatbread stuffed with a filling of greens and mozzarella.

Umbria Jazz was on while I was there so managed to catch a fair amount of music. The best band we heard was a New Orleans style swing group called Tuba Skinny. They were lively, danceable, and offered a nice blend of creative and traditional sounds.

On Monday, I traveled to London where I am now and will be for another ten days or so. Sadé and the boys will be joining me soon and after London we’ll be heading to Sitges, which is just South of Barcelona, where I’ll spend three weeks writing up a bunch of the research I’ve done, they’ll enjoy the beach, and we’ll explore the area together.

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