'Explore Umbria' With Steve McCurry

07/29/2014 10:16 am ET | Updated Sep 28, 2014

Perugia is about an hour's train ride away from Spoleto, and Steve McCurry's exhibit there is fabulous. He is a terrific photojournalist, probably best known for his powerful National Geographic cover shot of the beautiful 'Afghan Girl' with the piercing eyes. He has captured wonderful images of Umbria, including another beautiful woman with piercing eyes. I ventured to Perugia last week and was well rewarded for the effort.

I had no luggage to lug, so I walked down the mountain/hill, taking the direct and steep alleys right down the middle; amazingly enough, this walk is less challenging for me than it used to be, and I am proud, and I think my fear has lessened after a few weeks here. I am still amazed at the speed with which the Spoletans of all ages navigate the narrow and steep stone alleys; kids actually run down the steep inclines, and women of all ages wear shoes that look absolutely treacherous to me, even without the ancient cobble-stoned hills. As with so much in Italy for me, I remember the words, 'piano, piano', and proceed very slowly, still aware of the possibility of slipping and rolling ungracefully down the hill like a bowling ball, crashing into everyone.

Anyhow, when I got to the bottom of the hill, I was planning on taking the bus from Piazza Garibaldi to the train station, which is a flat 15 minute walk away. All in all, I could have taken two buses, one from the top to the bottom and another from the bottom to the station; I seem to have missed them all and ended up walking the whole way. I think I made a conscious decision to walk to the station after I asked directions from a street food vendor, and he told me (I think) that I should just walk because it was close and easy; I think he shamed me into walking, but it was really fine. I ended up walking back to Piazza Garibaldi at the end of the day, too, so now I know it is very do-able. And the train ride was just fine; when I arrived in Perugia I did have to find the exhibit, and I did get lost in my wanderings, but, again, somehow I managed to get there. I am still amazed when I arrive successfully, and wonder if I will ever figure out how to get from one place to another in any kind of straight line.

As an aside, I have never felt unsafe in my wanderings in Italy, and even at night and even in strange places I have not really been fearful, although I think I am always aware of my vulnerability. I am not really a middle-of-the-night wanderer, but I have found myself in the wrong place in the dark a few times; again, I know I am vulnerable, but don't really fear any harm.

According to Wikipedia,

"At 0.013 per 1,000 people, Italy has the 47th highest murder rate in the World. This makes the murder rate in Italy one of the lowest among Western countries:[citation needed] it is less than 1/3 that of the United States. Italy is also safer than Finland, France, Australia, Canada and the U.K. and roughly as safe as Spain, Germany and the Netherlands.[9]
Italy is also a country with lower rates of rape than most other nations of the Western world. It has the 46th highest per-capita rate of rape in the world meaning that Italian citizens are 7 times safer from rape than American ones. Similarly, Italy has a lower per capita rate of rape than most of the advanced Western countries in the European Union.[9] "

My understanding is that crimes against the person are just really rare in Italy, although, as we know, institutional crime and corruption and crime against property (ie, purse-snatching, etc) is a different story.

So, when I finally arrived at the Steve McCurry exhibit (after a stop for coffee and a few direction requests), I was glad to be there. The exhibit is in two venues in bustling Perugia, another beautiful medieval mountain town. The town has restrictions against car and truck traffic, as most of the mountain towns do, and so walking is the best and sometimes only way of getting from one place to another. In my perpetual naivete I had assumed that I could easily get to the exhibit and then find a great lunch place in Perugia before getting the train back to Spoleto; I forgot that nothing in Italy is easy for me!

The exhibit, "Explore Umbria" is displayed, in each venue, in one large room, and the large photos each lie on the floor, on raised platforms that are back-lit from below. The effect is pretty dramatic, and once my eyes adjusted to the near-darkeness, and once I realized that I had to walk carefully between the raised platforms, I could concentrate on the art and was overwhelmed by the vividness of the colors. When I looked closely at each photo, I was overwhelmed again by the vividness of the image, of the moment in time that it captured.


Directions painted on the street






View from above of the exhibit


Duomo - Orvieto



SPOLETO - Festival dei 2Mondi