On Preferring Genova ...

A shameful admission ... perhaps, but I didn't fall in love with Verona. I don't know what I expected.  I may have accidentally watched Letters To Juliet once and you might say, that serves you right, Di

It was a very pretty movie set in an Italian summer.  Meanwhile I was there in September on an overcast day and I couldn't help noticing how much they had tidied things up for the movie.  And I think I was disappointed.

I really like Genova.  I like the extremes of Genova.  And it doesn't pretend to be anything it's not.  The gritty is there, right next to the pretty, in that northern Italian city located on the edge of the Ligurian Sea.

Trieste didn't seem to be pretending, not at all, during the few hours spent there.  And the local restaurant we found served food that I'm still dreaming about.  I love Rome but not like Genova.  Rome is simply something else.  Magnificent.

Acqui Terme has fabulous food and wine.  And the people were lovely but still, I preferred Genova.

Venice ... rainy, overcast, crowded.  I don't know, it didn't capture me but perhaps I need to go back there in summer, or spring.  On a sunny day anyway.  And Cinque Terre ... I'm still muttering about the crowds I found there.

Naples, that was something something else!  It was like nowhere I've ever been before.  Not like Istanbul, nor Cairo.  Not Singapore.  Naples was just its ownself.  I loved it but I imagine it's obvious by now ... not like I love Genova.

I write all of this in a bemused state of mind.  I need to pop in and visit Florence one day, and maybe drive through this Tuscan countryside everyone raves about.  Even if it only confirms what I suspect ... that Genova has everything, and more, of what I prefer.

Maybe Italy is like a pick-a-path story.  Maybe you simply find what you love best there and stay loyal to it.  I don't know but that's how it is for me.

There are so many reasons ...

There are so many reasons that Italy has slipped into my heart but one of the biggest is surely the people I have met here over the years.

The people of Piedmont have simply added to that particular experience of Italy.  There was the intensity, the laughter, and the pure joy of spending those hours working with Carla in her restaurant kitchen on Monday ... then the kindness and patience of the people in Acqui Terme's Market with those foreign photographers yesterday.  Last night it was all about the generosity of the people who led us through an exquisite multi-course dinner. 

There is a saturation that occurs, for me, here.  A saturation that is not just of a physical nature but there is a very real sensation of my soul being filled ... or whatever 'organ' it is that stores joy.  It fills and overflows and simply sparkles so many times in day when I'm here.

Sure there is the beautiful landscape, the visible histories, the wine, the food, and the language but there are also the people. 

Yesterday the lovely man pictured below arrived at Diana and Micha's, laden down with gifts and toting his own gentle charm.  Needless to say we adored him, both for the fruit and even more after he called us all beautiful women.

For all that is difficult, in Italy in these current days, there is still so much that is beautiful and I am truly grateful to the people who allow me in.

Genova tomorrow, the day when I get to introduce everyone here to that Ligurian city I love so very well.

Remembering Rome ...

I was looking through my photo files ... there are 1000s of images that never see the light of day.  And I found one of my Rome shots which inspired me to go wandering through old blogs I had written about Rome.  I found this which is good because I have been missing Rome today.

I remember when I fell madly and passionately in love with Rome. I had gone there expecting to be disappointed by a myth fallen on hard times but found something else ... 

Rome was a city that was more than I imagined a city could be.  It was a mix of ancient and beautiful, of sophistication and of real people who wanted to chat.

I stayed on Campo de' Fiori in a hotel with the same name.  The entrance was stunning, it was like stepping into a story. There was a daily market there in the square,where I could buy flowers and food.  There was a superb little bookshop where I found a good book and, on another corner, a delicatessen with wine and cheese for my evening because ... I was in Rome and one must have some chianti and cheese while reading that new book.

It was a city of angels.  Bernini and his students had sculpted a series of them on Ponte Sant'Angelo in the 17th century.  There was the arrogant angel by Raffaello da Montelupo.  I loved his 1544 rendering of the Archangel Michael, and Peter Anton Verschaffelt's rooftop Michael, sculpted 1752, too.

Angels and archways perhaps. I felt so comfortable with the architecture there. I spent hours in Castel Sant'Angelo, fascinated by the history and feeling of that ancient place . It was originally built as a mausoleum for Hadrian, as in Hadrian's Tomb, but was converted into a fortress for popes in the 6th century. It was magical wandering along old passages, or just sitting in the sun trying to comprehend that that really was Rome's River Tiber below me.

I had lunch with Paolo, a friend of a friend, and we wandered the city for a while.  He told me his stories of the city he loved. An old friend took me home to his family for dinner on the back of his scooter,  and his wife cooked a beautiful Roman feast, introducing me to mozzarella di bufala and prosciutto, followed by veal, artichokes and chard ... and then there was a midnight tour of Rome on the way back to the hotel.

I bought a painting from another Paolo, in Piazza Navone ... the place where the artists gather.  He took me off to a cafe for coffee and we talked for a long time.  He had been a history teacher until his art had become self-supporting. We talked of movies, books, writers, societies, children and life ... it was magical too. His painting, the painting I bought, was a titled 'Diving into Life' ... it seemed like something I had to have.

I loved Piazza San Pietro in Vatican City and bought the ticket that allowed me to climb the 300+ steps to the cupola on top of the Basilica.  You reach the top and voila, there is Rome, far below in all of her beauty.

Inside the Basilica ... the sculptures were outside of my ability to describe them. I stared for a long time, perhaps hoping to comprehend the beauty via some kind of osmosis. Michelangelo's Pieta was stunning but Bernini's monument to Alexander VII was almost overwhelming ... somehow, Bernini had made heavy red marble seem like soft velvet.

I loved it all ... the Pantheon took my breath when I turned a corner and found it unexpectedly there in front of me. The Trevi Fountain, even the Spanish Steps at midnight, all but abandoned.

I have to go back, and soon, there is no other solution.

A memory from my last time in Genova alone …

There is something truly delicious about lying in bed here in Genova, listening as the street comes alive … the first footsteps, the quiet voices, followed by louder voices as people roll up the doors of their work place, and the clank of the coffee cups on saucers begins soon after.

I doze a while longer then wake again, this time to the laughter of men on the street below. I imagine them stopping for an espresso at the cafe as they head off to work … friends who meet everyday, on their way, and I envy them their routine for a moment.

There’s music but I nap just a little more … until it becomes impossible to ignore my craving for focaccia. I pull on clothes and step out, almost into a neighbour. She laughs and apologises in Italiano. I reply in French for some early-morning-not-quite-awake reason.

I don’t speak French.
The bonjour feels strange in my mouth and I only recover when I find her holding the street door open for me and I say ‘Grazie’ and smile ... located in place and time.

I have some days without shape or form ahead of me, days where I can organise the creative chaos of my life. I have been waiting so long to reach this place of peace and isolation in the midst of the everyday noise of the ancient city.

For me, wandering is rarely about sights seen. When I was in Cairo I only saw pyramids as my plane climbed up through the pollution and left the city however I met some truly interesting people. And so it is that my idea of travel is more about people and the feeling of place. Barcelona was the first city in recent years that forced me to be the tourist, perched on the outer shell of the city, excluded from everyday life by virtue of being foreign and without people who knew me.

Here, back in Genova, I’m always a little off-balance and shyness hunts me down easily but it is good to be back in La Superba and writing again.

Day 2 - Genova, Italy

Today has been a mad crazy freefall into the narrow streets of this ancient city.  Into interviews, into the kindness and generosity of a friend, and of many strangers too.

Without Paola there wouldn't have been the magical introduction to her hometown. I might have found these places but over time and without my translator.

This morning was meant to begin with a slice of the best focaccia in the world, and it did, but that led to an interview and photographs at the bakery an hour later. Not only that but we were sent on our way laden down with some more of the best-ever focaccia in the world. Photos to follow when my internet issues are resolved.

We discovered a cafe called Cafe Boomerang where the cappucchino was so creamy and light it was immediately marked down as a favourite.

We wandered the alleyways visiting a soap and ecetera place, an exotic old shop full of mysterious things and ... ended up conducting an impromptu interview with the owner.

Shoeshops, bookshops and then there was the fresh pasta shop with the cafe through in the other half - better I photograph it than explain, as words fail me here. On to the chocolate factory where we have an interview booked for 2.30pm, and the shops ... did I mention how quaint they are, and I use 'quaint' because I'm not sure how else to describe the old world charm of something that is real and apparently unchanged over decades.

Then there is the habit of aperitivo here.
I'm learning that if you order a drink at a bar, a huge plate of food may appear with it. It might be that I enjoy more than one glass of wine but I'm becoming quite traumatised by the quantity of food that comes with each glass. The waiter understood my 'Dear God!' last night and we all laughed.

So we stopped for a non-alcoholic Shirley Temple drink before lunch and out came the plate of food ... the peanuts, the pistachio, the chips, the salami, the cheese and the focaccia.

We were only there because I was needing to rest my achilles some before lunch.

Lunch was at Da Maria's - an interview is booked for later this afternoon but it is known as being an authentic and affordable Italian kitchen-type restuarant. Paola chose wild boar while I caught up with an old love ... ravioli.

And somewhere in-between the breakfast focaccia and the lunch there was also the very special and wildly extragavent expresso with bananas and whipped cream. We went to the original shop and not one of the copycat shops that have appeared since.

Genova is a beautiful, warm and welcoming city.
It has raced to the top of my favourite places in the world list ... let's see how it goes in the days ahead.

I hope alles goed where ever you are.