From the Outside Looking In on Genoa

'When the uniqueness of a place sings to us like a melody, then we will know, at last, what it means to be home.'

Paul Gruchow.

Note: I wrote the following post back in 2013, for the Lovin Genova Blog and decided to crosspost it here tonight.  By the way, the Lovin Genova Blog is well worth visiting, if you find yourself curious to know more about that ancient Ligurian city I love so well. 

Genova is a city of layers, so many layers that contain so much history. It is an ancient port city, a city of traders, bankers, artists, and explorers …

But to begin at the beginning, with what struck me that first time I arrived in 2008.

There was this feeling of having arrived in a city protectively nestled, as it is, between the sea and steep hills. As a New Zealander I grew with a deep appreciation for the physical landscape and have a passion for both the sea and the mountains.

Then there were the colours of Genova. Perhaps each person experiences them differently but my over-riding impression was of a city painted in colours that ranged from pale yellow through into a deep orange. Deep green shutters, sometimes blue.

I am a photographer and I admit to being guilty of sometimes saturating the images I capture out there in the city but I defend this as an expression of the intensity of feeling I experience when I wander those city streets.

Paola, my Genovese friend, has gifted me space in her place located in the heart of the old part of the city and I have been able to return, again and again, over the years. I work at her kitchen table, first floor, located in a narrow carruggio – or small alleyway. I work next to an open window most of the time, listening to the life I hear out on the street … and there is so much life. Oftentimes I feel like I have a room in a huge house there in the city.

I hear my neighbours and the people who pass by out on the street, laughing and talking as they go about their day. There is the rattle of espresso cups as breakfast-time comes and goes, then the clink of cutlery at lunch-time. Dogs barking at one another when they meet, another suitcase rolls by, or maybe a class of school children wander past singing. I love the sound of it all.
I live with the ancient city wall almost pressed against the back of my building. The wall that was built to keep Emperor Barbarossa out as he rampaged across Europe in the 12th century.

It has to be known that the people of Genova were business people first and foremost. The saying goes … Januensis ergo mercator – or, Genoese, therefore a merchant. And in their roles as traders and explorers they were in possession of a rather magnificent shipping fleet back in 1155. Barbarossa understood he might require their assistance and left them in peace.

Today the wall still works as a defender … I think of it whenever I lean on my windowsill to get a better phone reception, and my USB modem hangs at the window too.

Each time I return, so many times since 2008, there is a sense of homecoming that surprises me. I come from New Zealand, I have lived in Istanbul, and Antwerp, and yet it is this city in Italy that has won my heart.

I suspect it is because I find everything I require, in just the right measures, in Genova. There is the geography that reminds me of New Zealand, the sense of isolation that comes from being surrounded by hills, and a history so rich, like that found in Istanbul but quieter. The Genovese culture appears to maintain a quiet dignity that I suspect so many visitors have enjoyed over the years.

When I talk to travelers, I discover much to my surprise, that Genova seems to be some kind of secret. It is passed over for the crowded trails in Cinque Terre or for the packed streets of Venice. Meanwhile Genova retains secret pockets of that quiet stately elegance that has won the hearts of people throughout the centuries. Havens of beauty at the end of a funiculor ride or via an elevator that takes you up a hillside to a panoramic view of the city. Tiny shops on ancient streets full of the most beautiful things. Churches and cathedrals with stories woven tightly around them and architecture that spans centuries of development within a single structure.

Those who judge this city externally or too quickly are sentenced to missing the density of experiences that lie hidden in its depths. It’s not an easy city but that, perhaps, is what makes it so very rewarding. It complex and character-filled.

Gustave Flaubert adored it, Petrach wrote of it. Flemish painter, Peter Paul Rubens modeled his house here in Antwerp on palazzi in Genova. And Richard Wagner wrote to Minna Wagner, back in 1853, ‘To offer you on your birthday what I deem the greatest gift, I promise to take you on a trip to Genoa next spring …’

The greatest gift, a trip to Genoa. Richard Wagner and I surely agree.

Source: Richard Wagner quote: from the Genoa Guide, published by Sagep Turismo.