Genova, my hometown.

“Genova is a tight-fisted city. It was born almost out of necessity, lying comfortably on one side, claiming a narrow space between land and sea”, Marzio Angiolani begins, in his Canzoni in salita. You climb, wheezing like an old bus, up steep inclines and tiny streets, where the mountain wind on certain feast days in November sweeps away both clouds and sun. Genova lies prostrate, just past the mountains, and it’s not clear if those immense sentinels have been left to close off the road or to watch the city’s back, whether they’re meant to protect or imprision. Cities need poets to explain them, especially Genova, whose best poets are singer-songwriters. Only poetry can help us to understand them, ignoring sociologists, urban planners, architects, economist and art historians, who can at best grasp one of the many layers that form the body and soul of a place. Genova’s historic centre is mobile, spilling everywhere, a virtual city of steep ascents and lifts, of winding paths that save space and look upward to the sky, of little lanes like secret passages. It’s in the Arch that supports the Nervi Promenade, and in the Marinella, the only cafe-restaurant in the world exposed to the mountain wind, in the suspended iron beams, in the underground mazes and the sharp corners of the Lambruschini Courtyard, in the weary eyes of the Madonna del Gazzo in the Campi gasometer, which coexisted for decades with the Neo-Classical facade of Villa Bombrini. It’s in the spectacular Aquarium, which turns 20 this year and re-launches its 60 dream-like ecosystems of faraway seas, penguins, sharks, dolphins, jellyfish and manatees. There will be discounts, special tickets, wide-eyed children and “sea-floor” walks, like something out of a Disney movie. Genova is in the songs. Sometimes a line translates a feeling, a character, and thus a street, a name, summing up an entire world. Like Strawberry Fields or Penny Lane by the Beatles, Genova has Via del Campo by Fabrizio de André (In Via del Campo there’s a lovely girl/with big green eyes/all the night she stands on the doorstep/selling everyone the same rose). Then, past the palaces, beyond the outline of old warehouses and stacks of containers, past the 130-square-metre Old Port, is the blue line of the sea. In his book La cattiva strada (the evil road), with verse-like words, De André writes, “the sea is an occasion for constant entertainment because it’s always moving, it gives you sound, it gives you smell, it’s alive. Passing boats are always an event, because a boat sighted at sea is always an event, like the breaking of the waves… once you reach the sea, you sit there and contemplate, and all strange desires disappear”. This Genova is open to the world, a city of spices and mixing cultures, though it is no longer La Superba. It’s the curious Genova of trade and cargo, the Genova that draws its energy from the sea (in the literal sense), because one day the perpetual motion of the waves may be harnessed to provide light for the city. De André (nicknamed Faber) provides another reading of this restless, much-sung-about, much-narrated yet mysterious city, with songs that echo the ups and downs of Genova’s fascinating asymmetry. Via del Campo 29r reopens as the Emporio Museum dedicated to Genova’s singer-songwriters, a crossroads of memorabilia. It includes albums, covers, posters, articles and reviews, photos, books, rare recordings, Faber’s historic guitar and his school report cards, all collected and preserved by his childhood friend Gianni Tasso passed some years ago. It’s a place where time stands still, beyond news stories and controversies, landslides and floods. The fragility of the land, as seen in last year’s easthquake, conceals unexpected strenght. People shovelled away debris with dignity, grumbling and suffering. But then a courageous movement began, with fundraising, recitals by Claudio Bisio and Lella Costa and the Long Night of Genova concert, to “save the city with music”. It featured Tullio De Piscopo and Vinicio Capossela, the voices of Biagio Antonacci and Gino Paoli, Jovanotti and Negramaro, artists who had experienced those terrible days and shared them in the “out fo the mud” worksites. People sing, in spite of everything, and don’t bemoan their fate. So perhaps it’s right that guidebooks proudly include itineraries suggested by songs and songwriters, along with traditional routes. But before chasing off to Boccadasse after C’era una volta una gatta (there once was a pussy cat), stop to marvel at the 46 palaces of the Rolli, World Heritage Sites. Imagine the Republic, re-founded by the Doria family. In the 1500s and 1600s it was the bustling centre of traffic, courts and embassies, a city where palaces were “ordered up”, suitable for hosting state visits according to lists divided by categories (the rolls of public lodgings). Pause at the Ducal Palace, to see the exhibition Van Gogh and Gauguins Journey (through 1 May). Visit Via Garibaldi, with the amazing symmetry of Palazzo Bianco and Palazzo Rosso, a treasure trove of works by Caravaggio, Veronese, Rubens and Van Dyck. It’s hard to connect the sumptuous formality of the former La Superba with the epic Old City. We discover the latter in songs of the sea and disenchantment, the ballads and shattering description of Paolo Conte: “Macaia, monkey of light and madness/haze, fish, Africa/sleep, nausea, imagination”. The ducal city, with the Romanesque cathedral of San Lorenzo, and the Palazzo San Giorgio with its layers of history, has no need of poets. Its beauty is there to see. The other Genova must be discovered, following sensations. From the wharf, follow the Sottoripa porticoes past shops displaying shiny snap-hooks and steel mast cables. Via Gramsci is part market and part souk, where the sounds, perfumes and African women swathed in blinding colours are reminescent of Marrakech. “In the quarter where the sun of the good God/doesn’t shine” (La cittá vecchia, also by De André), there are now phone centres and shops selling kebabs and trifles. But if you go into the dark Vico della Pece, absent from the guidebooks, you enter the unknown realm of epic folksongs (near the Emrbiaci Tower). We can also follwo Bruno Lauzi into the Foce quarter, where he lived in 1950 and my family live, and picture him walking during the sirocco, under still, cloudless skies. Memories and nostalgia are evoked in the recently completed film Una canzone del Paradiso (a song of Paradise), part true story, part vision. Thanks to special effects, we see Tenco, Lauzi, Bindi and De André. It was directed by RAI veteran Nicola Di Francescantonio and the basic idea is liquid. Neither fiction nor documentary, it’s a romantic diversion, with real actors and embodied ghosts. Gino Paoli acts as guide accompanied by Don Antonio Gallo, the “street priest”. This journey into the past is dedicated to Genova and its poet/musicians, the port and Via Pré. It’s also a tribute to craftsmen whose only trace remains in names like the Salita Pollaiuoli (poulterers’ ascent), Vico Indoratori (gilders’ alley) and Via Orefici (jewellers’ street), and to a page in the history of italian music. Gino Paoli says, “the Genovese were once wise, and washed the city with seawater so as not to waste it”. But he also says, “the beauty of the city is its people”. One of them is the unforgettable Claudia Pastorino, the first female singer-songwriter, who wrote, “Genova is one hypothesis among many/Genova curses and wrings her hands/Genova sells herself cheap/Genova is in the end merely a child’s game/and don’t leave your umbrella outside the door/ the real Genova of the alleyways will steal from you, too” But it doesn’t steal your umbrella; it steals your heart.

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Pubblicato il 21 agosto 2012, in Travels con tag , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Aggiungi il permalink ai segnalibri. Lascia un commento.

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