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It doesn’t take long to fall into the seductive way of life in Perugia. Like the rituals that go along with having a meal. You don’t just go out to eat here. Dining is more like courting, something to be done slowly and thoughtfully. It begins late in the afternoon with the fare la passeggiata when everyone in town—or so it seems—dresses up and goes for a stroll down the Corso Vannucci.

Photos by David Lansing.

Photos by David Lansing.



What do you do on your passeggiata? Well, there is a lot of window-shopping, though if you are a couple of young girls, that can just be an excuse to bump into some cute boys who might suggest you all sit down at a nearby outdoor cafe for an espresso or a spritz. But you don’t have to be young to take part in the passeggiata. You’ll find elderly women all dressed up walking arm in arm, chatting all the while, and kids licking gelato while holding on to their parents hands, and babies in strollers being admired by old friends and strangers both.

   The passeggiata is the foreplay before cena, the evening meal, for in Italy food is more than just something to chow down because you’re hungry. Food and its enjoyment are part of life. Like sex. And Italians are just as passionate about it (and that, perhaps, is why they have pastries called sospiri—sighs—and bugie—lies—and, of course, the chocolate baci or kisses).

So I’ve gotten into the habit of putting on a fresh shirt and polishing my shoes and joining the passeggiata along Corso Vannucci, eventually stopping at someplace like the Bar Centrale in the plaza, where there are always tables full of beautiful men and women, where I’ll order an aperitivo made with Aperol, a bitter orange and rhubarb liqueur, and proseco.

I’ll slowly sip my drink as the shadows grow deeper, watching the gorgeous middle-aged women in their furs (yes, it’s still chilly enough for furs here in the early evening) as they windowshop next door at Le Cose di Anna. Slowly, the street begins to empty, the café umbrellas are folded and chairs stacked, the outdoor lights shining on the Palazzo begin to take effect. The first part of the evening seduction is over; we all move inside to continue the dance, myself included.

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Damn. I can’t believe I missed it. A couple of weekends ago Gubbio held the Corsa dei Ceri—the Race of the Candles—and I wasn’t there. This is like the Kentucky Derby of phallic symbol races.

“The Gubbini are thought to be slightly mad, so I think it’s okay you missed it,” Maura told me. So what, exactly, happens in this race? I asked her.

She said it was very complex and a little difficult to explain, but she’d try. First of all, this crazy race has been going on for at least 800 years and probably is a mixture of pagan and Christian traditions. But what happens is that the town selects three teams, each wearing white pants and red scarfs with different colored shirts—yellow, blue, or black—and then they build these 20-foot-tall wooden candles.

Corsa dei Ceri--the Race of the Candles--in Gubbio.

Corsa dei Ceri–the Race of the Candles–in Gubbio.



“These candles, they’re like giant penises. And they put vases of water on top of the candles and they crash down and explode and the pazzo Gubbini fight each other to get a little piece of the wet pots because it’s considered good luck or something. Capisca?”

 So first these teams parade the giant candles around town, ending at the Piazza della Signoria, and then at exactly 6pm, the big bell of Palazzo dei Consoli rings and the candles are raised on the shoulders of the men and are carried up the slope of Mount Ingino to the Basilica of St. Ubaldo, the patron saint of Gubbio.

Now, since this is a race, you’d think that whoever arrived at the top of the mountain first would win, but you’d be wrong. The thing is each of the candles is dedicated to a saint: St. Giorgio, protector of merchants; St. Anthony, protector of farmers; and, of course, St. Ubaldo, the town’s patron saint. So no matter who gets to the church atop Mt. Ingino first, St. Ubaldo always wins.

“So why,” I asked Maura, “do they even have a race if it doesn’t matter who wins?”

“I already told you,” Maura said, obviously exasperated by my denseness. “The Gubbini are crazy!”

Still, I wish I’d been here. How often do you get to see a bunch of grown men race around a medieval town carrying giant phallic symbols on their shoulders?


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I don’t know a damn thing about fashion but the fact that people obsess about it and spend ridiculous amounts of money on is endlessly fascinating to me. I mean, I stopped watching Sex and the City after the episode where Carrie Bradshaw realized she’d spent $40,000 on footwear yet couldn’t afford an apartment because I just thought it was too over the top. Nobody is really like that, are they?

Well, evidently they are. Particularly in Italy.

Photos by David Lansing.

Photos by David Lansing.



I have to admit that it’s kind of fun to walk down Corso Vannucci in Perugia and just look at the window displays, which are nothing like the ones in L.A. or NY. Right next to my hotel, for instance, there’s an ancient little alcove, no more than ten feet wide, that has been turned into a display area for wedding gowns. There’s no information available on the window or anywhere else about where these gowns are being sold but there is a tiny little slip of paper on a pedestal that says 15,065. I assume that means Euros and the idea is that if you have to ask anything else about it, you can’t afford to buy it anyway.

In the same vicolo where I got lost a few days looking for a cheese shop is a store selling children’s clothes. But not like Gap kid’s clothes. More like the sort of clothes Audrey Hepburn’s character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s would have worn if they’d done a prequel about Holly Golightly as a 7-year-old. This shot I took of a Degas-ballerina-inspired outfit with Kermit the Frog cape? 2,436 Euros (but that includes the ballet slippers and a child’s handbag so she has someplace to stick her crayons).

Yesterday Maura and I were walking around Maesta when we came across this men’s fashion store in what used to be a church (okay, in the states we turn old churches into restaurants, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one repurposed into a place to sell D&G underwear). It’s called NIBA and is owned by a LeRoy Neiman-lookalike named Gianpaolo Nicolia. Maura picked up a package of Dolce&Gabbana underwear that, she said, would look great on me. And believe it or not, I was actually thinking of getting these shorts as kind of an Italian souvenir for myself until I noticed that they cost 73 Euros—or about $97.

Gianpaolo Nicolia and his $100 briefs.

Gianpaolo Nicolia and his $100 briefs.



But hey, the D&G underwear was cheap compared to the silk pajamas that were going for the equivalent of $759. Would a man really wear a pair of silk pajamas that cost $759? Well, yes and no, Gianpaolo told me. For instance, he himself has a classic pair of striped pajamas but he only brings them out for holidays and specials occasions. Like when he goes to Canne with his mistress.

The trick, he told me, is to buy the same version of the pajamas in cotton for days when you’re just home with the wife. “These,” he said, holding up a pair of cheap cotton striped pajamas, “are only $165.”

I don’t know, I told him. I just didn’t see the point (frankly, I’m perfectly comfortable in boxers and a T-shirt).

“Listen,” he told me, “when you make love to a woman, it is like she is giving you a gift. And just like any gift, you want the packaging to look beautiful. That is why Italian women pay attention to their lingerie and are happy to spend 150 or 200 Euros for a bra. It is part of the present. And it is the same for a man. You are a fool if you don’t pay attention to your undergarments.”

Okay, I can almost buy this (although I did not buy the hundred dollar pair of shorts). But I still don’t understand why anyone would pay over $3,200 for a little girl’s ballerina outfit. 

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Chocolate and sex at Perugina

They’re crazy about chocolate in Perugia. There’s a festival, in October, called Eurochocolate to celebrate what they call the “food of the gods.” There’s also the Chocolate Hotel where the restaurant has a Choco-Menu with everything being made of chocolate.

But the big chocolate draw is undoubtedly Perugina chocolate, the people that make those little blue foil-wrapped chocolate kisses.

Yesterday Maura took me out to the Perugina factory, a few minutes out of town, where we walked around the chocolate museum upstairs. She told me this story, which is probably apocryphal, about how the Baci chocolates came to be: Perugina chocolate was founded by two families named Buitoni and Spagnol. They made a little chocolate called cazzotto, which means punch or fist because that’s what it looked like. But they didn’t sell much chocolate.

The Chocolate Museum at Perugina.

The Chocolate Museum at Perugina.



Meanwhile, the wife of one of the founders, Luisa Spagnol, began having an affair with her husband’s business partner, Giovanni Buitoni. They worked together and every morning, Louisa would write a little love note and place it beneath a cappuccino on a plate with some chocolate and bring it to Giovanni. This gave him an idea and he decided to change the shape of the chocolate, call it Bacio, which means “kiss,” and put a love note in each one.

Then Maura held up the dark Bacio between her two fingers and asked me what I thought the chocolate looked like.

The answer was embarrassingly apparent: “A nipple?”

“Exactly,” she said. “Giovanni shaped the chocolate to look like his lover’s nipple.” Maura smiled, then plopped the dark mounded chocolate into my mouth.

She said, “Do you want another Bacio or have you had enough?”

I told her I could probably handle at least one more.

In the museum they had a lot of the old Perugina ads, some going back to the 30s, all emphasizing the sensual nature of chocolate. Even the original box, which came out in 1922, showed a representation of Goya’s famous “The Kiss” of Romeo and Juliette. A few years later, Perugina came out with a new product, a banana-flavored chocolate that was shaped like a two-inch-long banana. A poster made by the famed Italian artist Federico Seneca for the new product shows a recumbent black man, totally naked, cradling an immense banana between his legs.

“You know,” Maura said, studying the poster, “for us, chocolate and sex always go together.”

That night, before turning off the light, I sent a text message to Hardy: Weathr in Perugia gettng bettr; dn’t pay bet off just yet. 

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I don’t know what the priests were pouring when I was an altar boy, but it wasn’t a nice Montefalco sangratino. I would have remembered that since I usually had a toot or two before Mass.

My favorite sangratino is called Scacciadiavoli, which means “chasing the devil away.” Don’t you love that? It’s worth drinking just for the name but it’s also awfully damn good. The Scacciadiavoli estate, which might be the most beautiful in all of Umbria, is in a little village not far from Montefalco.

There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, about how Scacciadiavoli got its name: Seems back in the Middle Ages, a local woman was possessed by the devil. Back then this could be a real problem, leading to some rather nasty medieval solutions like being flayed and disemboweled. But there was this wealthy noble man from Montefalco, who was a pretty good guy, and he decided to see if he couldn’t personally exorcise the devil. Evidently the treatment required some serious one-on-one time alone in his chambers.

And, hallelujah, it worked. No one was really quite sure what he did to rid the devil in Mrs. Jones, but the most prominent theory was that he had sex with her. Because any Italian worth his D&G sunglasses will tell you that sex is a good way to clear the mind. 

The cure took. But evidently every once in awhile Mrs. Jones would feel that ol’ devil in her bones again and ask her husband’s permission to visit the noble man for a little refresher exorcism. Which he always granted. Because when she came home, not only was she calmer and happier but she always brought a nice bottle of sangratino with her as a gift from the noble man to her husband. And the husband started calling this wine “scacciadiavoli” in honor of the noble man’s prodigious gift.

This went on for a number of years. Until the woman got pregnant. Which seemed a little odd to everyone in the village since her husband was long known to be impotent. Anyway, the Scacciadiavoli vineyards are still there, up in the Umbrian hills near a little village called Bastardo. Nobody is quite sure how the village got its name. But, as you can imagine, there are stories. 

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