Classic Italian Scene

While walking through the village of Spello, we just now witnessed a most archetypal Italian scene: a well-dressed man driving an antique Fiat 500 pulled up in front of a perfume store we were standing in front of, rolled down his passenger side window, and shouted to the proprietor; when she came out, he handed her a box of flower petals, and then drove off.


Two nights in a row Lisa and I have been able to steal away for a drink before supper. Last night it was to Bar Jolly here in Gubbio. I took the opportunity to sketch the disused Post-Telegrafi office across the street.

La Festa dei Ceri Preshow

While the La Festa dei Ceri on May 15 has a well-documented program, figuring out the timing and route of today’s first-Sunday-in-May repositioning event was more challenging, and involved piecing together bits of information from the web and Google Translated conversations.

As it happens, we need not have worried, as it all played out on our doorstep on the Via dei Consoli.

Anything we might have imagined this might have been was an underestimate by a factor of ten: hundreds and hundreds of people jamming the streets, a drum corps, a brass band, singing, and small children riding the ceri bareback up steep cobblestones streets.

We jammed ourselves right into the middle of it, joining the claustrophobic procession up the street to the Piazza Grande where everything culminated in a cacophony, with the ceri being raced around in circles by their bearers and then up the stairs of the Palazzo dei Consoli where they will spend the ten days leading up to the 15th.

It was all, to say the least, an experience.

La Festa dei Ceri

We have, by happenstance, ended up in the town of Gubbio the weekend before La Festa dei Ceri, a pageant, held yearly, since the 12th century, on May 15.

The mechanics are difficult to do justice to: there are three large “candles,” which are not candles at all, but rather 300 kg wooden pillars. Atop each gets mounted a figure of one of three saints—St. Ubaldo, St. Anthony, and St. George.

Tomorrow morning, in a sort of festival pre-show, the candles are brought down the mountain from the Basilica, where they spend the off-season.

On the 15th, the scene is described like this on the sign we encountered today:

The culminating part of the festival is reached in the late afternoon, when begins a frantic rush that runs through the city and then goes up to the slopes of Mount Ingino bringing back the Ceri in the Basilica, where they will remain until the first Sunday of May of the next year.

The town is currently being festooned with banners; they hang from almost every window.
There are three different banners, one for each of the three saints: red and yellow for St. Ubaldo; red and azure for St. George; red and black for St. Anthony.

We took a “birdcage”—a precarious-seeming standing chairlift—up Mount Ingino this afternoon to visit the candles ourselves. Tomorrow, for, what, the 800-and-somethingth time, they’ll be the centre of everything; today, they were just sitting alone by themselves in a corner of the Basilica.

It’s all rather weird and wonderful to be amidst.

The three candles, stored in the Basilica.
Azure and red banner
Yellow and red banner
Black and red banner
All three banners hanging on a building
The birdcage lift

Edicola 518

A year ago I posted a list of nine European magazine shops, putting forward: “And so a plan: visit all nine. One could do worse for the spine of an European itinerary.”

We haven’t achieved that goal on this trip, but we did make it to one, today: Edicola 518 in Perugia.

In truth, we didn’t actually visit Edicola 518, as it—the newsstand—is closed for the moment. But the affiliated Paradiso 518, around the corner, a bookshop cum newsstand cum publisher cum event space, was open and welcoming and open.

It was, as expected, dreamy.

Like Do You Read Me?! in Berlin, Paradiso 518 contains an artfully curated collection of books, magazines, zines, and other publications, albeit with a different sensibility, rooted in Perugia and in Italy, though with a global view. Their stock is neither randomly scattered, nor strictly organized, but rather artfully sprinkled for optimal browsing. I emerged with a suitably fascinating selection.

We had a good chat with cofounder Antonio Brizioli, discussing their zeitgeist, as well as our This Box is for Good project (he generously agreed to accept 10 of our “Serrazzano boxes” for gifting to patrons).

Antonio described their project itself as a kind of “box,” to be filled with all manner of words, art, music, creativity, and I suggested it is also a kind of magnet, drawing Venn (like us) toward it.

The visit today confirmed the value of investing in magnetism like this: making things, publishing things, organizing things, with a confident aesthetic, a point of view, an eclecticism, as a way, in part, of drawing kin near, and making your place the kind of place you want to live in.

After leaving the shop, we walked around the corner to see the currently-shuttered newsstand—“Italy’s most beautiful,” it is said—on our way to get burgers at the nearby sports bar. It was, indeed, beautiful, and I’m hopeful I’ll return when it’s open.

We asked Alberto for a recommendations on where to go next, and he recommended Gubbio as a possibility. and so, as I type, here we are. I am lying on a leather coach in the fourth floor apartment in the old city, overlooking a panoramic view of Umbria, writing about the magnet, with hopes that will attract others.