Tuesday, January 10, 2012
A Day in Perugia
A Day in Perugia, a set on Flickr.
Last Autumn, I took myself off to Tuscany and Umbria for a few days just wandering around and taking pictures – as well as filling up on more than a few Italian meals. A couple of days in Pisa and Lucca, followed by mooching around Siena and the beautiful hill villages of the Val d’Orcia. My last day was spent in Perugia, the capital of Umbria, right in the centre of the country.
It’s a city of some 350,000 people, and one which in the past has clearly been a very affluent part of the world. The buildings are ornate, large and very impressive. Like so many of the important Italian towns in this part of the world, it’s built on a hill, so getting up to it is a bit of a trek. Perugia however has spent a fair amount of money building a dinky little metro system which winds its way from places like the railway station, up through sinuous tunnels bridges right into the heart of the city. Very welcoming to me after five days of trudging up from lowly positioned car-parks up into vertiginously located villages.
I took a fair number of pictures of the city – it’s a real joy to wander around. Located where it is, a fair distance from any of the “major sights” in the country, it doesn’t immediately jump out at you as the “Must See” attraction which it is – hence a pleasant lack of tourists (hypocritical sod!).
These pictures however are not the classic Umbrian Tourist Board views of the place. As I set off back to my base in Siena, I chanced across a young guy spray painting a graffiti painting on a wall next to the railway station, and after convincing him I was not after fingering his collar, I spent a while talking to him. Whenever I disappear off on one of these jaunts, I always write a diary, jotting down what I saw, what I felt, what impressed me and what didn’t impress me on my travels. For the five days of this holiday, the dairy ended up just over 16,000 words. Here is the extract (of 492 words) which relates to my introduction to Perugia’s new Caravaggio.
“As I left the station, I looked along the road and saw an Underpass with a couple of interesting looking graffiti on the concrete walls leading into it. I wandered along to get a better look and take a couple of pictures, and as I neared them I could see a few more bending round the corner. I started taking a few pictures and as I got further round, Lo and Behold there was a guy painting one. He’d got his ladder and his spray cans out and was in the throes of doing the outline for a new one. It was pretty big, about 10 feet high and 40 feet wide.
The guy saw me snapping away, stopped and came over to me. He was very suspicious at first, and we had a funny old conversation with me in very stilted Italian, and him in much better English about what I was doing. He was standing there wearing a handkerchief over his face, with the dual purpose of protecting him from the paint spray, and also making him far more difficult to recognise if the fuzz came along the road. He said he had to do it all with a very weather eye out for what he saw as “snoopers”. To start with, he suspected I might be an undercover Italian Cop trying to catch him out, but it didn’t take too long to make him realise that I really was a genuine English tourist just looking for a decent picture to take.
We had a good half hour talking about the politics of graffiti, and he came across as a hugely dedicated young man, mad keen and committed to what he was doing. He explained that the “Old Guys” art was up in the town’s Art Galleries, whereas all he and his fellow accomplices were doing was the same thing, but down here in the city’s underpasses. I’d never thought about it like that and it was hard to argue with him.
The city seemed to have come to a tacit arrangement with him and his fellow Banksys. The underpasses were pretty dismal, being just blank slabs of minimalist, flat concrete, and the authorities seemed to be prepared to let them carry on down here as long as they left the main part of the town alone. I must say, although I can’t quite reconcile the act of defacing someone else’s property with it all, I do find some of them very inventive, clever and often impressive. Most of them have a real zest, colour and a life to them which is hard to resist.
Anyway, I agreed to take a few more pictures and to e-mail them to him when I returned to England, although I did agree not to put any of him up on the Internet, just in case the local plods were looking on the web for evidence to nab him. All in all, he was a really nice guy and it was a totally unexpected and enjoyable half hour in his company.”