Fiona Graham writes from Perugia: It’s Sunday, which is as good a day as any for some cultural infusion mixed with bit of humour. We are a humorous website, you know.
Anyway, so here I am, sitting opposite the Duomo in a café in the centre of Perugia, pondering the end of a two-week teaching session. Another Negroni with a double-gin shot top and bottom? Or do I do what I came to do? The lady at the next table is the decider.
Talk? Non-stop. Scotland is beyond brilliance. Great art, food, music, housing, weather and sex? To die for. Some have. But it’s all in English said with an accent distinctly south of the border.
Now, I’m a Scot and proud of all those assets she’s found in my country – especially the last. We can do our own bragging, thank you very much. But she has got me on the move.
With an exaggerated glare in her direction – which, of course, is wasted because she’s too busy telling how she wore down her nails on two kilted fusiliers lost in Inverness – I take myself off to see the only known frescoes of Raphael in Perugia.
People don’t much go there. Maybe it’s too hard to find with a climb up the hill towards the basilica that houses it in a tiny chapel behind a thick mysterious curtain.
There are two frescoes, one on top of the other. The top one is clearly the master. The Raphael sports that special something, that enigmatic quality that made him shine above his contemporaries. Look at the hands.
What about the bottom half? It simply cannot be Raphael. An apprentice? The son of a rich father. A cardinal’s catamite ? Both?
Compare the top work, the Raphael, to the clumsy treatment below: the feet, the inferior characterisation of the figures including the daft expression on the nun’s face – definitely not Sister Scary Mary, who incidentally is alive and almost well in the convent in Montefalco.
There is also a bust of the young Raphael next to the fresco that reminds us of what a good looker he was – Inverness back scratcher would have swooned. Mind you, you wouldn’t mind sharing a Negroni or two with him in one of Perugia’s many bars.
If I’m being really honest, Perugia is my least favourite Italian city. Those tall glowering walls, with their sad rimmed windows from which the unwanted and apostates would be thrown to their bone shattering and brain spewing deaths.
Take a squint at the grim jawed griffins, catch the stench of urine in the narrow streets and slopes. It’s all out of a gothic Harry Potter without the humour.
Perugia is dirty and, frankly, it makes me shudder. Perugia looks great from the valley. But don’t go in unless, of course, it’s to see the Raphael. Worth the climb. Reward yourself with a Negroni, but only if the faux Scot has gone.
Put Perugia on your travel schedule, but most certainly do not miss nearby Assisi for it. That’s another story though.