Sunday, September 24, 2006

9 December 1955

Just got back from a tour of Genoa, Rapallo, & numerous small towns & villages in between. It was an interesting tour, but I was kept so busy watching everything it was quite tiring.

We left the ship this morning at 7:30; the sun was not even completely up. There were 157 of us going, & I managed to get into the first boat. Seeing Genoa harbor by day made it look different, but not less impressive. I was wrong about the sunken ships—one was the end of a long pier, & I couldn’t locate the other. The white liner had slipped away sometime between Tuesday & today, & in its place was the sleek black-&-white Cristoforo Colombo, a big & beautiful liner.

Three large busses & one very tiny one were waiting for us when we arrived; I wanted to get on the little one, but ended up on one of the larger. Since ours had been the first boat to leave the ship, there was a long delay before the others got loaded & came ashore. At about eight fifteen or so we got going. Of Genoa itself I have little to add to my previous observations. We followed almost the identical route I had walked Tuesday night, into the heart of the city. On the main square, our guide pointed out the Genoa Opera, which like Milan’s famous La Scala Opera House, had been bombed out during the war. Unlike La Scala, Genoa had never rebuilt hers, & the building stands today a hollow, broken shell.

Caught a fleeting glimpse of Christopher Columbus’ boyhood home, behind what appeared to have been the arcade around a church garden. It stands in the shadow of one of the original city gates—huge, round fortress-like things. The house itself is almost invisible, being covered by all sorts of vines. Originally it had been three stories high, but was now reduced to at most one or two rooms. It reminded me of the card houses I used to build on the living room floor; sometimes I’d get them up to three stories. Then I’d bomb them with poker chips, and the whole thing would tumble, leaving perhaps four cards propped against one another.

Victory Square was fairly interesting—garden-like at one end, & mall-like at the other. In the center of this mall, which is surrounded by attractive government-looking buildings, is Mussolini’s little Arch of Triumph—he called it a memorial to those killed in the First World War. And at the very end of the mall a hill rises up &, on it, in red plants are the designs of the Nina, Pinta, & Santa Maria; one above the other; below them are three anchors, also in red plants. Stairs run up the hill on either side, & the hill is topped by an arcade of brown stone. All very pretty.

For almost the first time since we’ve been in Europe, it was a nice day, though very cold. I had my camera, but was very low on film, so I tried shooting singles—snapshots. Surely hope they turn out; it will probably cost a small fortune to have them blown up to a visible size.

The most fascinating place in all Genoa is, without a doubt, the cemetery. It is laid out like a city & is indescribably fascinating. At one end is a hill, covered with thick poplars & large tombs with spirals & domes & towers & arches—like an Italian Olympus. But the most beautiful part of the cemetery are the statues. They stand about in long corridors, by the graves of the people they represent. Nowhere have I seen more realistic figures. They never dust them. The result is that the dust becomes covered in the crevices & folds of clothing, making it appear as though it were real velvet. There is one statue in particular which I was interested in. It is of an old lady in a full Italian skirt & shawl. She stands on a pedestal, holding in her left hand, even with her waist, a triple string of chestnuts, which runs to her right hand, at her side, in which she also carries two large rings of bread. This woman sold chestnuts, beads, & bread on the streets all her life so that she could afford a statue to perpetuate her name. She herself posed for it. She lived only 14 months after its completing, & used to come every day to look at it & lay flowers on it. It cost her 65,000 Lira (then about $3,000), & earned every penny of it herself. That was 75 years ago.

Briefly , to mention some of the other curiosities of the cemetery, it is like St. Michael’s in New Orleans—graves are only rented, & then only for five years with no renewals. The very floors of the corridors of statues are tombs in which bodies are placed five deep—one atop the other. It has, near the corridor of statues, another long enclosed corridor copied after the catacombs of Rome, wherein bodies are placed lengthwise in the walls.

Now, to leave Genoa—Mountains are everywhere, & sprinkled all over, from base to summit, with towns & villages. Tall church steeples rise above the trees everywhere you look. The roads are narrow & writhe around the steep mountainsides crazily. Houses seem carved out of &, in some instances are, into the mountainside. Old forts, castles & churches stand on prominent ridges & peaks of every mountain, as if the mountains were put there expressly for the purpose of holding them.

The houses, in the villages & outside them, are frustrating if nothing else. Nowhere did I see a single-story house. Even on the infrequently sparse sections of road, six story buildings are not uncommon. They are all, without exception, basically exactly the same—tall, square, small sloping roofs, & very straight—no curves or juttings; exactly straight on all four sides. To combat this, & try to appear different, they paint cornices & frames above & over the windows, balconies, & even paint windows where there are none. Each window on each house has green shutters. To hide the fact that all the walls are perfectly smooth, or at best pebble-dashed, they paint lines on to represent blocks; some they paint to look like marble. They paint fancy cornerstones, running up the sides. Paint, Paint, Paint—all of it pastel (usually a reddish-pink or variations of yellow), & all of it faded. The whole thing makes it appear as though they wallpapered the outside of the house. I called them frustrating, for when one does come upon a house with real stone, or real balconies, it is necessary to look twice to be sure. Those very rare houses one finds painted just one color with no pseudo-art aren’t half bad.

Rapallo is one of those picturesque little villages huddled in the few places where the mountains do not run directly into the sea. It is different from all the other picturesque towns we passed through in that it has a real, honest-to-goodness castle. It isn’t a Hollywood-type castle, with walls & miles of drafty halls. This one is rather small, no outer protective walls at all. It doesn’t need them, for it sits out a safe (in those days) distance in the water, with a narrow strip connecting it to the land. It is so old that no one is quite sure who built it or when. Its thick walls are used today not to keep people out, but to keep them in—currently it is Rapallo’s jail.
I could go on describing all the quaint & pretty things I saw today, but I’m really very tired, so if you will excuse me….

Postcard postmarked Rapallo/Genoa, December 9 1955. Subject: A middue (sic) ages castle

Dear Folks

Thought I’d better send at least one card home the regular way (via European mail), so you can see what an Italian stamp looks like.

I’m sitting within view of the castle on the card—it’s used as the town jail now.

Well, we’re shoving off for Porto Fino, where they have the submerged statue of Christ seen in Life.

More later,

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