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Eugene Weekly : Views : 01.05.06

Eugene in Italy

Ducks are everywhere.

by Paige Lehmann

Every year students from the UO infiltrate the twisted, medieval streets of Perugia, Italy, to study Italian over the summer. These students wear Duck T-shirts, sunglasses, skirts and jeans, take photos, and sometimes stay longer than the end of the program, reminiscing about Eugene over a glass of wine, reminiscing about their old life before they came to Italy, and their old life in Italy that they are just about to leave. Some of us come back to re-create the life we had, mixed Oregonians and Italians, Americans and strangers, and sometimes we stay. But the cords that attach these two cities lace us closer together than student visits and digital photos. The cords infiltrate both cities and remain, glistening off the walls from fresh Aerosol cans, they're the street murals that Eugene passed on to Perugia.

Images from walls of the Perugia train station

As the year turned gray and Italy stopped being as she likes to look in movies and turned a cold shoulder on all who knew her, two Eugeneans parked their car by my house, by the Perugian train station, and unsheathed their weapons and their stereo. They parked by the street for a week and painted a massive political mural about the war, Bush, Berlusconi the Italian president, and Mussolini from World War II. Here Eugene politics flared out as the anti-war mural showed its colors. Renaissance angels flank either side of a giant face that mimics political posters in Iraq, but the face is a composition of two faces juxtaposed: it has characteristics of both of the infamous Italian leaders, with Bush pointing his finger in the air below them, his mouth open as if to continually say to all passersby: "We must fight the war on terror."

I stopped on my way home from the station on a cold evening as the lights dimmed and the wind picked up and my fingers were red and frozen, and they were still out there, painting with their stencils, discussing the latest movement of the mural, and where it should go next. My roommate told me that they were from Oregon so I stopped and, in Italian, told one of them where he was from.

"So you're from Oregon?"

"Yeah, I lived in Portland and Eugene."

"Ah, Eugene is beautiful, isn't it?"

"No place is as beautiful as Eugene."

We stood under the streaming light of the streetlamp, mist descending on us, and reminisced about the beauty of Eugene: her cascading avalanche of trees, her Saturday Market, and we even convinced ourselves that she had sun, remembering summer days, bringing her to the height of Italian movies by beaming on all her good parts. He was here because he also fell for Italy, like a lover who follows his partner cross country, then realizes that she was never more than what he'd created in his mind, that the partner was, in fact, a completely different person. In four days he'd move on to India.

Ducks find themselves in all parts of the world, touching fingers and waving for a distinct moment. My California dentist was a Duck. My sister saw a Duck in Hawaii. She was wearing an Oregon sweatshirt and he called from across the street, "Go Ducks!" My Italian partner wants to be a Duck and also dons the green and gold — when all of the other shirts are dirty. Sometimes I see Ducks still here in the city center, where the Cathedral fountain splashes at all hours and a maze of people constantly walk past each other. I'll hear girls speaking in English and wonder — are they Ducks? One time I saw a blonde girl, hair cut just before her shoulders, a brown purse hanging at her hip, the strap resting over a shoulder covered in an Oregon sweatshirt. I turned on my heel and, to the embarrassment of all Italian etiquette, mimicked the man, putting my hands to my mouth and yelling, "Go Ducks!" She just walked on, lost in the crowd as I stood there before the maze fell back in on me.

But the Ducks prevail on Italy's highways, storefronts and schools. We may stand next to each other on the train, on the bus, thinking that the other person doesn't speak English, not knowing that we may have passed by each other, wearing flip-flops on 13th. As I sat on the bus going up the Perugian mountain to the town center, I was feeling distant and longing for home, not sure if the Italian air was for me. I peered out the window, into the schoolyard of the local high, and Donald stared back at me, furious, with his fists in the air, spray-painted on the wall. The words "Don't Give Up" floated beside him in English. It felt like the mural was painted just for me, and I knew that even though Italy is on the other side of the world, it's not that hard to find Eugene.

Paige Lehmann is an Oregon Duck. Her work has appeared in Living Perugia and LCC's Denali.