Italian matters

Postcard from Perugia

Six days away in Perugia. Where we’d never been before, despite the daily flights from Stansted Airport near Cambridge to the Umbrian airport very close to Perugia. But three weeks or so ago, Mrs Logic Matters saw a very warm review of an exhibition to mark the five hundredth anniversary of the death of Perugino, and that prompted us to get our act together and organize travel and a hotel. (I can’t but wonder, though, what St. Francis of Assisi makes of having an airport named after him …)

And the exhibition is indeed wonderful, more than worth the trip. It is quite beautifully presented, small enough not to be overwhelming, large enough both to give you a sense of Perugino’s mastery and very illuminatingly to put the artist in some context. The photo above is from the Perugino2023 website here (worth exploring). We very much enjoyed taking the exhibition slowly, a couple of times.

Perugia’s centro storico is rather stunning. And as is frequently the way in Italian cities, the ground-floor spaces in the old, often very old buildings, are used to accommodate shops and cafes in (mostly) such remarkably decorous and sympathetic ways. So the streetscape is a visual delight without being in the least a museum piece. The weather was still too chill for people to be sitting outside cafes late into the evening — Perugia is on the top of a hill, and catches the wind. But even so, there was a bustle to the ancient Corso Vannucci, and we found ourselves caught up in its early evening passeggiata.

Away from the very centre, the city starts to tumble down the sides of the hill along  steep narrow roads and down alleys which turn into staircases. We sent a lot of time just wandering around. But then of course there are all the churches worth visiting. And not least there is the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, where the Perugino exhibition was held. The main two-floor gallery in the Palazzo dei Priori had a complete renovation only last year, and the result is a triumph. The spaces are just beautiful and the collection  includes some real masterpieces, wonderfully well displayed. Visit GNU’s website and look through the rooms  to get an impression.

Since we were staying in a hotel rather than an apartment we had to eat out at restaurants every night. Tough, eh? And while in Cambridge you can eat mostly badly or very badly in a dozen different cuisines, in Perugia you get to eat well or very well in the one Umbrian style.

Well, I exaggerate. But only a little. And we had the best meal out in two or three years at Luce Ristorante — wonderful ambience and service, superb food and wine (imaginative without being over-the-top). We paid at most half what a comparable meal would cost in the handful of “fine dining” places in Cambridge.

And as for coffee … Italian cafés have mostly avoided the plague of “artisanal coffee” which makes for undrinkable brews unless drowned in milk in the English way. So the espresso still tastes as the good lord intended. Which is a relief.

Postcard from Ravello

Down to Ravello for a few days to do nothing-very-much, after a busy stay in Naples (not a city we really knew at all, so a great deal to see!).

For holiday entertainment — having speedily devoured Kate Atkinson’s immensely readable new Transcription, picked up at the airport — I’ve been reading Norman Lewis’s classic Naples ’44.

No, perhaps entertainment is not quite the right word. The wartime diary is wonderfully well written, and often wryly amusing. But too many scenes are cruel reminders of how fragile our social order can be. Not perhaps what I needed right now. I just get all the more angry at the mad Brexiteers’ casual destructiveness.

And there I was, promising myself a temporary holiday from fretting about all that …

Another postcard from Rome

We always like to go to smaller, less-visited places — not just to avoid the teeming crowds, but also because we find that smaller galleries and churches and palazzi can be more humanly interesting and (not feeling overwhelmed) more enjoyable. Three final highlights of our stay have been seeing a fine exhibition Artemisia Gentileschi and Her Times, visiting the small but stunningly frescoed Oratorio del Gonfalone, and going to the beautiful Villa Farnesina in Trastevere (above) which has frescoes by (among others) Raphael. Even the exhibition wasn’t busy, and we were the only visitors to the Oratorio (used for evening concerts and other events — you knock on a door in the street behind, and we were shown it by the President of the confraternity).  All wonderful.

And for when you’ve finished feeding the soul, a top restaurant recommendation: Pierluigi.

Oh, and a pro-tip for visitors to Rome: download the Mytaxi app. Works a treat and makes getting around so easy.

Postcard from Rome

A week or so in Rome, with beautiful sun, some wonderful food, coffees as they should be, quite a lot of wandering around back streets, and a less than frenetic cultural pace visiting a few churches and exhibitions. We arrived just as the not-so-United Kingdom formally triggered the process of leaving the EU. Seems somehow rather appropriate to show our feelings about this folly by leaving the UK for the Eternal City, for however short a time.

I must say that I have found the Brexit absurdities plus the Trump fiasco less than cheering. Though having nothing original or insightful to say about either, I’ve not wanted to bang on about them here. But the political news has been lowering and distracting enough to stem the flow of blog posts for a while. A few more days of sun and noisy civilization, and normal service ought to be resumed.

Another postcard from Florence

img_2432Some wonderful sunny days. Flights to Pisa and hotels in Florence both have enough spaces in December to risk last minute bookings when you’ve seen the weather forecast — but that’s not our way: so this has been sheer good luck. So we took advantage of the blue skies to “do” the Roman site at Fiesole — which perhaps in itself isn’t very exciting, but which does have a very attractively presented small archeological museum which is certainly worth the bus-trip up from Florence.

However, it’s not been all galleries, churches and sites. A certain amount of rather terrific food and drink has been consumed (for mid-culture sustenance, there is Eataly: and after a tough day we can recommend again Olio e Convivium, and Il Santo Bevitore, and a new discovery Il Desco). None will break the bank. And it is a tad depressing that a place as rich and cosmopolitan as Cambridge hasn’t anywhere to touch them.

But no, I shouldn’t say that’s “depressing” even in jest. What’s depressing is the evolving ghastly political news from America. And the continuing profoundly damaging mess that Brexit looks certain to be, thoughts of which are bound to nag away as you wander the side streets of old Europe.

Postcard from Florence

img_2385smBack to Florence for five days. Lovely in the winter sun. Does it perhaps seems a little busier with groups of Chinese tourists than this time last year?  But of course there are still nothing like the dire crowds of summer. One high point has been seeing the restructured Botticelli rooms in the Uffizi which were opened in mid October. The improvement on the familiar Room 10-14 is simply stunning. The old large square room  has been partially divided, to make more wall space. So now the Birth of Venus and Primavera are both beautifully isolated and quite wonderfully well lit too. They can never have looked better.

Here though is a painting from the Uffizi that we’d never noticed before, the Madonna of the Well (c. 1510). Not Raphael as you might think at a first glance, but by one Francesco Cristofano Guidicis, known as Franciabigio. Lovely though.

Postcard from Venice


A wonderful eight days in Venice, staying a few yards from the delightful Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio.  As we remembered from our last visit (too long since), if you avoid Piazza San Marco, then even the most famous galleries, churches, etc., are very surprisingly quiet. When we visited the stunning Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavone, very high on the guidebooks’ lists of must-visit sights, there was just one other family there.

Much of our time though was spent, as it should be, simply wandering around quiet corners by foot and vaporetto. The weather was really kind. We ate (mostly) splendidly. We were bowled over again. Next time, we must stay for longer.

La Traviata at La Fenice

Francesca Dotto singing Violetta was just stunning tonight. Here she is last year in Act I of La Traviata in the same fine production (filmed unofficially I suspect, but still well enough to give you some sense of both the staging and her performance).

“As we approached Florence …”

“As we approached Florence, the country became cultivated to a very high degree, the plain was filled with the most beautiful villas, and, as far as the eye could reach, the mountains were covered with them; for the plains are bounded on all sides by blue and misty mountains. The vines are here trailed on low trellises of reeds interwoven into crosses to support them, and the grapes, now almost ripe, are exceedingly abundant. You everywhere meet those teams of beautiful white oxen, which are now labouring the little vine-divided fields with their Virgilian ploughs and carts. Florence itself, that is the Lung’ Arno, (for I have seen no more) I think is the most beautiful city I have yet seen. It is surrounded with cultivated hills, and from the bridge which crosses the broad channel of the Arno, the view is the most animated and elegant I ever saw. You see three or four bridges, one apparently supported by Corinthian pillars, and the white sails of the boats, relieved by the deep green of the forest, which comes to the water’s edge, and the sloping hills covered with bright villas on every side. Domes and steeples rise on all sides, and the cleanliness is remarkably great. On the other side there are the foldings of the Vale of Arno above; first the hills of olive and vine, then the chesnut woods, and then the blue and misty pine forests, which invest the aerial Apennines, that fade in the distance. I have seldom seen a city so lovely at first sight as Florence.”

Percy Bysshe Shelley to Mary Shelley, 20th August, 1818.

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