I spent yet another evening in Assisi. I really should have stayed here instead of Perugia (which is nevertheless a great place to stay). Assisi has a noticeably peaceful vibe that I felt was doing me a lot of good.
First, however, I must talk about my afternoon in Perugia. I wrote yesterday’s blog at a cafe in Perugia’s historic center, and by the time I finished, it was time for lunch.
I’m not normally one to talk about food, but I had a pasta dish yesterday at La Pasteria di Perugia in the historical city center that’s worth mentioning. It was a tagliolini dish with a creamy mint and lemon flavored sauce. I wish I knew how to make it. It was unique, and very good. I’ll probably never have nothing like it again.
While at the restaurant, I met the Sandro, Anna, and Ilaria Tozzi from Rome (not to be confused with the beautiful and talented Angela Tozzi from Florence, who is no relation, according to the Romans). They told me they come to Umbria often, just to view the natural scenery (which is gorgeous, of course!) and see the occasional art exhibit. Sandro is very knowledgeable about classical music, and most of the conversation involved the pleasures of the music of the 18th and 19th centuries, while Ilaria – an English teacher – and Anna recommended a few sights to see and things to do.
Afterwards, I went to the Feltrinelli book store and bought THIRTEEN books! There was a 25% off sale on books published by Universale Economica Feltrinelli (which are fairly cheap to begin with), so I felt like I had to take advantage.
I bought the two works of fiction by Paolo Sorrentino; a novel called Hanno tutti ragioni (“Everyone is right”), and a book of short stories called Tony Pagoda e i suoi amici. Paolo Sorrentino is the director of La grande bellezza, (in English “The Great Beauty”). Both of his books deal with the character Tony Pagoda, who also appears in Sorrentino’s first film, L’uomo in più (“One Man Up”).
I got Il gattopardo by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (which I’ve wanted to read for a long time, especially after seeing the film version by Luchino Visconti starring Burt Lancaster), and TEN novels by Alessandro Baricco (young Italians quote – or used to quote – his work a lot, and I’ve had him on my list of Italian authors to familiarize myself with for a long time. Hope I get to read at least one of them while I’m here). I pretty much just cleared the shelf. Now I have to think about whether my luggage is going to be overweight when I return to Japan in mid-September.
I went back to Assisi in the evening. The Concert of Silence was scheduled as an outdoor concert for 9 p.m., but there was a flash thunderstorm at around 7, and I wound up with the Assisi crowd (Ivan, Antonella, Antonella’s uncle and aunt, Andrea, and another guy whose name I don’t remember…I really have to get into the habit of remembering names!) drinking prosecco at a café in front of the art gallery where Antonella was exhibiting. Antonella told me about a cellist from St. Moritz, Switzerland, who gave a brief spontaneous concert at the gallery earlier that day. Among the works he played were three movements from Bach’s Sixth Cello Suite. It slowly drew an interested crowd. Magical!
I got to meet him a little later on. His name is Albert Roman. He made a deep impression on me with his refined manners and way of speaking. I could only imagine he brought the same quality to his playing, and I’m sorry I didn’t get to hear him. I gave him my card. While my novel has a lot in it about classical music that would interest him, I’m not entirely sure he’d like it. It combines the sublime with the vulgar, and I’m not sure he’d be amenable to it.
Andrea had already left to set up the concert by the time Albert showed up. It’s a shame they didn’t get to meet each other.
I wound up going to a trattoria with the rest of the crowd. I only managed to eat a pasta dish (strangozzi with the house pesto sauce; very good, of course) before it was time to leave the concert, so I said my goodbyes and started walking to the Bosco di San Francesco…
…which turned out to be a lot farther outside the gates to the city center than I thought. It had fortunately stopped raining, and I was walking along a darkening road with no lights, and thought about turning back, when an Italian woman who by chance happened to be passing and heading in that direction led me there.
I got to the concert about 20 minutes late. It had already started. It had been moved into a small chapel on the premises, due to the further threat of rain.
It was a “concert” of 46 minutes and 20 seconds of silence. There were three other people present, along with Andrea. They were all sitting on the church benches, simply listening to whatever ambient or accidental sounds happened to occur.
I wasn’t too keen on attending, to tell the truth. I figured I experience enough silence from the students I teach at the universities I work at in Japan, but of course the quality of uncomprehending silence is very different than the quality of pure, intentional silence. For me, the 25 minutes or so that I was present for was like a meditation, especially since we were in a church. It was like I was back at Hosshinji in Japan doing zen sesshin. I wound up “listening” to my thoughts, and had a few moments of beautiful clarity. As in a Zen temple, Andrea rang a bell to end the concert, and we all applauded, which seemed odd.
There followed a brief philosophical discussion of this particular concert experience. I contributed the observation that I had had years ago while meditating; you are not thinking your thoughts. Your thoughts exist without “you” (the conscious ego that you consider to be you), so you can’t control them. They think themselves, or something else beyond “you” thinks them for you. It turns out that there are different “channels” of thought, all occurring at the same time, and your conscious mind is kind of like a radio tuner. It can choose which line of thinking to take, but it can’t control the music (or noise, as it were).
That’s about as deep as I ever got in meditation. It’s pretty deep, though. It’s not explainable – or believable – to most people, but their just holding on to their conscious identity. Let that go, and the fireworks begin!
I want to tell you to trust me, that it’s true, but my meditation experience tells me that there are deeper truths that would negate that experience, that there really are no thoughts, and no “you” either! I never got that far, however.
Always have a big question in mind. Never know an answer. That’s the path to enlightenment, or, if you prefer, to God.
On the way back to Perugia, Andrea took me to a wedding party where his wife was working. We hung out at the party for awhile, playing “name that tune” to the music the two-person music act was playing. A lot of the songs were English language tunes from the 1980s – my epoch – so I did pretty well. Surprisingly, Andrea knew a lot of these tunes too. I didn’t know the old Italian songs however.
I wound up having a lot of cake (there was an incredible spread of food at this party, and several different types of cake!) and drinking a few aperitifs at the bar.
When we finally got around to going back to Perugia, it was after midnight, and the city center was closed to traffic. I had to walk up the hill after all that liquor.
It was rough, but I made it.