Italy 2021 – Seconda Parte

If you’re picking up this narrative in the middle, you may wish to see Prima Parte, which was posted late on October 4. As noted at that point, our plan for Tuesday October 5 was to head to Genoa to see art in some 16th-18th century palazzi.

A few words of context are in order here. Genoa the city (as I’m using it here) is a port on the Ligurian Sea. We have been staying in Chiavari, about 35 minutes to the east of Genoa. But Chiavari is still “in” Genoa, because modern Genoa is also a “metropolitan city,” basically a province governed from its namesake central city. So the city of Genoa is a city within the metropolitan city of Genoa: think of the city and state of New York, if NYC were also the state capital.1 Before the 19th century, Genoa (the city) was the capital of the Republic of Genoa, an independent city-state with extensive maritime provinces. Much of the modern-day city dates back to that period of Genoese history.

Anyway, parking is difficult in Genoa, and I had never had the experience of riding in an Italian train. So we took a train to Genoa, and it proved to be a pleasant ride: quiet, fast, and easy. If we had left an hour earlier we would have ridden an express train, which has fewer stops; but it was still fine.

Once at Genoa’s Brignole station, we got day passes for Genoa transit and headed to one of our favorite places, Piazza Ferrari, site of this lovely fountain.

It’s the site also of some interesting public art. Here, Judy and Lew stand next to a chair from an exhibit by Gaetano Pesce. In this case, the surface of the chair is made up of items of clothing, all lacquered for exposure, except for a few additional ones that have been added by passersby.

In the Piazza Ducale, another Pesce chair. The front, maybe.
And maybe the back.

The main attraction bringing us into Genoa this day was an art exhibit on the Strada Nuova. Again, some explanation is in order. We are used to the idea that people with wealth will move to places in the country; but that isn’t always the only choice.2

In Genoa and many other Italian cities, nobles built their mansions right in the heart of the city, just feet away from each other. In Genoa, that is Strada Nuova (“New Street”) along the Via Garibaldi, home of the Palazzi dei Rolli, a system of 42 Genoese buildings that in 2006 became a Unesco World Heritage Site. We took in an exhibit in two of the buildings: Palazzo Bianco and Palazzo Tursi. The families must have liked each other, because the two palazzi are connected by a second-floor walkway and share this spiffy courtyard.

It’s a big exhibit, including not only paintings but other works of art as well. We saw the violin used by the Niccolo Paganini, who was (of course) a Genovese. And we saw a subset of a larger exhibit, involving more of the houses, that will open next week. The exhibit permits use of cameras without flash, and I did record a few items that I found interesting.

I confess that I know little about fine art, so my observations are probably pretty superficial. I was impressed by the number of religious paintings. In a time when Catholics weren’t allowed to read the Bible in their actual languages (and most couldn’t read the original languages), religious art probably served double duty as religious education.

This is Giuseppi Vermiglio’s painting of the Sacrifice of Isaac. Abraham seems particularly awestruck by the appearance of the angel. And Isaac seems appropriately relieved.
This is Mathias Stomer’s “Salome with the head of the Baptist.” Biblical decapitations seemed to be a popular topic of Renaissance painters; this one appears particularly dramatic. The plain dress of the the woman to the left is suggests that she is probably a servant. As in most paintings of the period, figures like Salome here are depicted in Italian period dress.
And I just liked this one: Bernardo Strozzi’s “The Piper,” which appears to have no political or religious connection at all..

After art, it was time for dinner. I haven’t mentioned here how hilly Genoa is. Here are a couple of views up and down side streets that we passed on our way to dinner.

A look up a side street. These are everywhere! Sometimes restricted to residents, but more often public streets.

And a look down a side street.

While waiting for our restaurant to open, we decided to take a trip on one of the the Genoa “funiculars.” These are inclined railways, running up and down the hillsides, in tunnels for the most part.

Judy and Lew getting on the funicular. Note the tunnel outline at the top; also, the floor and the tracks are inclined, but the cars are level. Except that you’re going up at an angle, it feels much like a streetcar.
And the view down from the top of this particular funicular railway.

Our return home wasn’t as photogenic. Dinner was delightful but it ran a bit long. By the time we got to the metro station, the subways were closed, so we took a bus to the nearly-deserted train station. The midnight train was somewhat different from the one that brought us to Genoa: it had assigned seats, which led to some moving around and an inquiry from the conductor. But its onboard toilets were welcome. We got back to Chiavari in time for (and in need of) a good night’s sleep. I didn’t envy John and Elaine their half-hour drive into the hills.

Wednesday was the Holy Day itself: Judy’s birthday.

Judy had heard about a fixer-upper in Soglio, and we started by heading there to check it out, about a half-hour drive. The realtor texted apologies: he didn’t have the key; the key was with the owners in Milan. But the trip gave us a chance to revisit a place that is important to the family.

This area is lovely, but it’s having its economic issues. Soglio is a frazione (small village, without its own government) reachable by switchback roads halfway up Monte3 Ramaceto from the Torrente 4 Entella in the Val 5 Fontanabuona. In 2019 we visited another frazione called Costa di Soglio, still higher up the mountain. Soglio is small, with fewer than sixty residents, but Costa di Soglio has fewer than ten residents and most buildings there are abandoned.

Nicole and her partner Nicola are part of a movement to rejuvenate tourism in the area, which has a network of old “roads”–paths, really–for transport of salt to customers. Situated on one of those salt roads, the Locanda del Sale6 has some history. The 200-year-old building was originally the convent for the Chiesa Parrocchiale (parish church) of San Michele next door. When we visited in 2013, it housed a British-style pub, but by 2019 it was a nice B&B. Along with tourist agencies in the area, the B&B is promoting tours and hikes along these old salt roads. We hope they are successful, because they are terrific hosts and their place is one of our favorite places to stay.

Nameplate on the church. The building goes back to the early 19th century, but the parish is much older: “sec. XI” means “11th century.” Yikes!
Here’s a view from Soglio down the valley to the south, a town called Calvari.
And a look up the valley to the north, a town called Pianezza.

There remained the matter of a birthday meal. Judy had heard wonderful things about a restaurant that specializes in funghi (mushrooms). Closed today. We’ve always enjoyed the ravioli at Osteria U Pelegrin in Romaggi. Also closed today. We read something about Gastronomia Olga in Chiavari and headed there. The place we went to was a storefront deli with no seating–obviously not the place we were looking for. But wait! Turns out they have another place by the waterfront. The downtown Olga manager called ahead, and they were expecting us at the waterfront Olga with plenty of wonderful food. Still a deli where you order at a counter, but you can take it to a table. So we celebrated Judy’s birthday with an impromptu luncheon at a place we hadn’t known about before.

We started Thursday at the house in Chiavari. Lew took a walk to the oceanfront, but closed roads on his way back delayed him by a couple of hours. Meanwhile, the other four of us played Italian Clue!

At Ipercoop I found a compact version of “Cluedo” (the game’s original name when it was introduced in England during WW2).

Scarlett, Mustard, White, Green, Peacock, and Plum all retain their familiar names, although without titles; the challenge for us visitors was learning to play the game with the Italian words for the weapons and the rooms. Some we could guess, some we had to look up.

Veleno is poison, a coltello is a knife, and a manubrio is a bicycle handlebar (think “pipe”).

A soggiorno is a living room, a sala di pranza is a dining room, and a camera degli ospiti is a guest room.

That package on the table? Treats Judy bought at Caffé Defilla. Most shops make it a point to wrap things beautifully.

Lew having returned, after Clue7 we headed to Chiavari’s market district again. Judy had seen some fabrics that she wanted for curtains, and she arranged to pick them up in a day or so. The picture below gives some idea of the variety of the inventory; but this was just one of three rooms, all loaded with options. I would have been paralyzed by the choices, but Judy figured it out.

We ate dinner at the house, finishing up leftovers from our various shopping and restaurant trips. I said goodbye to John and Elaine, who would be headed to Rome the next night for their return flight. I decided to make it an early night and do my packing in the morning. And early enough, I was ready to go.

The middle case is my carry-on–a seemingly indestructible SKB case with my camera and laptop. Heavy, but very secure. The others are TravelPro suitcases to be checked.

One last brunch at Ipercoop, one final espresso on the outside observation deck at Genoa’s airport, one more selfie, one more photo with Judy . . .

The first part of this journal started with photos of Italian Alps from the plane before dawn, and it seems appropriate to end with a photo of the Swiss Alps on the way to Frankfurt and then home.

It’s not the iconic “Blue Marble” photo of the earth from Apollo 17, but looking down from a plane does remind me of our common humanity–especially after a trip like this, with so many encounters with new food, odd plumbing, complicated transportation, and different customs, and unfamiliar languages.

Let’s enjoy our blessings where we can. I’m grateful for the opportunity to enjoy this trip and to celebrate Judy’s birthday in the company of family, and to return home to still more family.

Grazie!

You can find Judy’s view on her blog at https://blog.judithlavezzi.com/.

Notes:

  1. Soglio and Romaggi, in the hills where the Lavezzis come from, are also in the Metropolitan City of Genoa.
  2. In many America cities, millionaires spent their money on mansions in the city. Clevelanders might think of the Millionaires’ Row that used to exist on Euclid Avenue.
  3. mount
  4. stream, sort of
  5. valley
  6. “Salt Inn”
  7. Elaine solved it: Mrs. Peacock committed the murder in the cucina using the candeliere.

And Now, Three Letters

I received notice recently that I had successfully completed the Professional Qualifying Course (PQC) for the Professional Registered Parliamentarian (PRP) credential.

Parliamentarians are hardly top-of-mind for most people, although legislative parliamentary rulings make news occasionally. (Google “Senate Parliamentarian” if you like.) I became a Registered Parliamentarian (RP) early in 2020, and I wrote about that at the time.

The new designation involves three letters instead of two. It includes the word “professional,” and there’s a bit of irony there, since unlike most people who pursue this credential, I don’t plan to begin a practice as a professional parliamentarian. (I’ve had two great careers already; I don’t plan to start a new one.) Earning my PRP was an opportunity to test the level of my knowledge and skill against the yardstick of people I work with and admire, and I’m glad to join them.

I have a page on the overall topic at https://lavezzi.us/point-of-order/.

Thanks go out to my study group colleagues (you know who you are); to our friend and mentor, Patricia Koch; and to Jim Connors, who helped me and others in OEA qualify for NAP membership several years ago.

And on a bittersweet note, let me express much respect and affection to my late friend, the parliamentarians’ parliamentarian Jim Williams, who encouraged me to pursue this goal back when I would have been happy to stay an RP.

Italy 2021 – Prima Parte

I’m in Italy this week to celebrate the birthday of my sister Judy. This will be my third trip here with her and a rotating cast of relatives, and it’s a bit different from the others.1

Past visits have been working trips of sorts, with a lot of posts and even more pictures,2 but I’m determined not to do that this time. I’m going for something like To Catch a Thief, with Americans relaxing on the continent, reading in the chaise longue by the pool, dining and partying with the smart set, all punctuated with pleasant piquant adventures. Still, some updates are called for, so here we go.

On my last flight into Milan, I was surprised to see a rather otherworldly sight as the plane went over the Alps, with the clouds forming a floor and the mountain peaks sticking out above them. I didn’t get photos then, but this time I was ready, and I got a couple of photos of the view, just at dawn:

That “ground” is actually the tops of clouds, seen from above.

Judy and Lew met me at the airport and took me to their B&B in Chiavari. After settling in I lay down for an hour, and later on Friday we headed downtown for passeggiata, dinner and gelato.

The passeggiata is the Italian version of a promenade, or “walk in the park.” (Think “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” from Hello, Dolly!) It’s a rather public stroll, sometimes in a park or town square; here in Chiavari, it’s on the lungomare, or waterfront. We tourists lack finery, but we can do some opportunistic people-watching.

Italians seem to take more care with their dress than we do, and style is on display. You have the impression that people selected the parts of their wardrobe with care, even with casual dress. That sweater over the shoulders? It was selected thoughtfully and then draped for just the right effect. Judy says that Italians keep fewer items in their wardrobe, but of higher quality. My Costco cargo pants just don’t seem to make the grade. And my Merrell hikers are functional and comfortable, but certainly not stylish.

About one party in five seems to have a dog. Grassy spots are hard to find, and not all the people have those little plastic bags. Pedestrians seem to take the unfortunate results for granted. You learn to watch where you walk.

Kids seem to have a bit more freedom here, and there seems to be less hovering than we see in the States. We observed some parents who were seated in the park overlooking the waterfront, while children played on the breakwall rocks. They were scampering up, over, and around boulders as big as them, with no great signs of concern.

Motorbikes are everywhere here; they zip in and out of the auto traffic, and sometimes onto sidewalks as well. And of course, they accelerate like anything. Lew and I saw the unusual sight of a car losing an encounter with a motorbike. A parked car was making a U-turn, with a car blocking his lane–probably hoping to take his parking spot. A motorbike going in the same direction accelerated to his left around the traffic, crossing into the empty oncoming lane, and clipped the bumper of the turning car, knocking off parts of plastic bumper and light. An inch either way, and the accident could have been serious–or no accident at all!

This was all exhausting work, and we needed a lovely dinner at Luchin, followed by gelati at Gran CaffĂ© Defilla, which has a lovely chocolate fondant sans zucchero that meets Judy’s needs for sugar-free desserts.

On Saturday John and Elaine joined us from Soglio, where they have been staying at Loconda del Sale (the “Salt Inn”) in Soglio. We worked on photo records for a while and then headed to the shops around the Piazza Mazzini. Many of the shops are on the street level of Renaissance palazzi straddling Via Martiri della Liberazione. Here’s a look down one of the colonnades.

We saw a movie theater getting ready to open the latest Bond film, No Time to Die, which was filmed partly in Matera, where we visited in 2019. So we noted the show times for tomorrow and went off for dinner.

By this time on Saturday most places required reservations, but we found tables at an Indian restaurant, named (of course) the Taj Mahal. We enjoyed the food there and had a hoot at the Kama Sutra Beer they served John.

We started Sunday with a tour of the Abbey of San Girolamo (St. Jerome) of Cervara, a 14th-century Benedictine Abbey that is now a part of the Portofino park system. Pictures aren’t allowed in most of the parts and since the tour was in Italian we didn’t necessarily get a clear idea of what was what. (I picked up an English brochure.) But the place is lovely, right overlooking the sea, and it’s worth a look on their website or the Wikipedia article.

The next day, we headed to the aforementioned Cinema Mignon–a modern theater in this 15th-century building–to see No Time to Die.

The theater is small, seating a few more than 150. The seats are offset so that each head is between the seats behind them, and it’s quite clean and comfortable. The “clean” part may get some help from the absence of the big concession hall we’re used to. Items are available from vending machines, but there are no mountains of popcorn and rivers of soda. I didn’t see anyone actually eating or drinking during the film.

A couple of observations reminded me that Italians take their film seriously. We paused at a display with artifacts from a Cannes Film Festival years ago, something that I’ve never seen at an American multiplex. And they are screening Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 Breathless.

We enjoyed the film, although none of us would claim to understand just what was happening or why. You’ll read no spoilers here. I definitely plan to see it again in English.3

After the film we made a stop at Ipercoop, which probably means “hyper-co-op.” It’s a department store, perhaps closest to Target in scope and style. In 2019, when we were staying a half hour away in Soglio, we made several visits, and now we’re staying about five minutes away. We arrived near their closing time, picked up some supplies for dinner, and headed back to the house to cook an actual meal. Rather pleasant, actually.

This update was intended to be published on Monday, but it was not to be. Lew, John, and I took a nice hike, just barely staying dry. A strong thunderstorm hit the area later in the day. That didn’t seem to interrupt our connectivity, but the same glitches that affected Facebook back in the States affected my web host, and I wasn’t able to publish.

As I hit the “publish” button this morning, it’s 7:30 on Tuesday here, and we’re getting ready to take the train to Genoa. We hear there is a tour of art! in Palazzos! Surely there is gelato there as well. Ciao for now!

This is the first of two parts of my journal from this trip. Feel free to check out Parte Seconda.

You can find Judy’s view on her blog at https://blog.judithlavezzi.com/.

Notes:

  1. If you’re interested in seeing some past trips, you’ll find the 2013 trip here and the 2019 trip here.
  2. I’m still trying to put them into better logical frameworks.
  3. These mentions of the language barrier aren’t the stereotypical American whining. People here who say they know no English still know more of our language than we know of theirs. Almost everywhere we go we find people who speak English well enough, and they seem to enjoy using English. We have basic greetings, and we try to be cheerful and polite. The natives seem to appreciate the effort. The language deficiency is ours, not theirs.