By Zachary Nowak
In Perugia, just below the Porta Sole panorama where so many of us have posed for pictures, is Orto Sole. A dark green door set in a wall has hidden this secret garden for decades. Now run by a community group, the Orto Sole (“Sun Garden”) has been a place for zucchini and plum trees and grapes but also for fellowship. Umbra Institute faculty, staff, and students have long visited the garden for picnics and feste and in 2019, Umbra started a formal collaboration with Orto Sole. Over the past ten months, students and their professors have met Garden Coordinator Deborah Rim Moiso to connect the garden with their classroom learning.
Before the semester was cut short, the Science of Italian Cuisine class went to the garden to gather wild garlic for their bruschetta and talk about the importance of foraging in Italian peasant life. The Italian Food History class braved stormy weather in February to study herbs and talk about ancient salt recipes. In the face of the wind, Professor Olivier de Maret reassured his students: “Imagine we are standing in a Roman city under siege… A storm is gathering… Rumbles shake the city walls…” The Green Cities class met in the garden with representatives from local associations and the University of Perugia’s School of Agriculture to talk about a future community project there.
And that was the end of class visits to Orto Sole, after Covid-19 sent everyone involved back to the US.
In Italy, Easter is called Pasqua and Easter Monday is Pasquetta, which translate to “little Easter.” Italians spend Easter with their families but Pasquetta is a day with friends, and often one that (if the weather is good) is a picnic somewhere nice followed by a walk in the countryside. As someone who organized many Pasquetta picnics in Orto Sole over the years, I was sad to think of it having sat empty yesterday. It was by all accounts a decent day to be outside: warm enough to be comfortable but a little overcast so no sun in your eyes. It would have been a perfect day to have a glass of wine below the ramparts and joke in a mix of Italian and English. I confess a bit of nostalgia, both nostalgia in the English sense of “melancholy for the past,” but also in the Italian sense (nostalgia is usually translated “homesickness”). I have both of these sentiments for Perugia and doubt I’m the only one.
But then Deborah shared a photograph of the garden from a month ago, just before the green door was shut and locked for the time being. The photograph is at first glance not that exciting. The apricot and cherry trees in the background have yet to blossom; the stalks of last year’s tomatoes hang, limp and dried out, on the latticework. In the foreground, though, are fava plants.
These fava beans were planted by Food & Sustainability students in late 2019 for harvest in 2020. Oblivious to what’s going on in the world, these fava have pushed up through the gravely soil and continue to grow. These fava plants were a small, green inspiration to me today. I’m not sure who will harvest the beans; but the fava plants themselves seem confident that as Umbra students have come to Orto Sole in the past, they’ll come in the future, too. I look forward to a blog with a photo of their return.