Thursday, September 21, 2006

6 December, 1955

In 1492 Christopher Columbus discovered America. In 1955, I discovered Genoa. Chris got the far better bargain.

The first glimpse of Genoa was strikingly beautiful—it was slightly after noon, & a heavy mist was just clearing away, showing the city as if in a dream, spread out over the hills; grey towers & steeples rising above huddled buildings, & white skyscrapers along the shore.

That was Genoa as seen from the USS Ticonderoga (CVA14). Once in the city, the impressions are somewhat different. First, like most European cities, there seems to be no plan—streets meander thither & yon with no purpose or destination in mind. There are myriads of side streets, invariably going up or down-hill steeply. Neon signs are everywhere, but just plain raw tubes—no backing; if you come upon them from the wrong direction, they appear to be written backwards—which doesn’t mean much since I can’t understand Italian anyway. The effect of all these signs sticking out in the narrow alleys (can’t truthfully call them streets) is that of a kaleidoscopic rainbow.

The buildings themselves are heavy, old, & sprawling. As usual, they sit out on the street, & look like they’re trying to squeeze the already narrow streets—like a closing trap. Many of the buildings are huge, with ornate, palatial staircases & archways behind great doors which open inward from the streets. Some of the banks are literally drive-ins, for I saw cars parked inside the large courtyards, as they might be called.

There are several "main drags," but they also wander so aimlessly that they’re almost impossible to follow. Most of the business is conducted on the side streets—the sidewalks in front of Marshall Fields in Chicago—even in front of the Talcott Building in Rockford, are much wider than most of the streets. Almost every other business establishment is either a grocery, a bar, or a butcher shop. These butcher shops are fabulous places—refrigeration is unheard of, & the meat hangs around on large hooks—they have some of the most disgusting looking things for sale there; squid & entrails & other things I have no idea at all of what they could be. All these grocers & butchers are in sharp contrast to Gibraltar, where there are none to be seen.

So I walked up one street & down another, the only pattern to my travels being to take the direction with the most lights.

Being the foreigner is quite an unpleasant change—never again will I think anyone who does not speak perfect English—or any English, is stupid.

No doubt by morning I shall have lost my voice entirely; right now I can hardly speak--& even then it’s an effort.

The harbor of Genoa is swarming with ships—long black tankers, graceful white ocean liners, & stubby little freighters. Though it was dark when we came in, & we were in a covered boat, I think I noticed several sunken ships lying about the harbor, lights marking their masts & outlines. Coming back, we were in an open boat, & I was so enthralled with watching the city, glistening & glimmering on the mountains, that I didn’t check the ships.

Now, if you will excuse me, I shall exit, playing Camille….

No comments: