19 June 2007

it grows on you

Ok, so maybe Genova isn't so bad after all. It seems to depend on where you walk around. Simple, I know. But should you decide to waltz down, say, a glorified alleyway teeming with ne'er-do-wells and hoodlums on your way to the train station in the already claustrophobic heat of August... you might come away with the impression that Genova is for the toughest among us and that maybe you should have picked up some survival tips from the sharks in the city's famed aquarium. And you might later, in the safety of your own home, describe the atmosphere with a phrase along these lines: we were worried that if we screamed for help, it would only summon more ne'er-do-wells to the scene.

Yes, I've told this to people. And yes, I'm sorry. But in my defense, I also told them that the aquarium warranted a visit regardless.

Little did we know that Genova is not only made up of its historic quarter. It's also a great people town that feels real and work-a-day. It's got laundry drying out of windows. Markets crammed with kids and dogs and fish. And fruit and cheese and vegetables. And small crumpled old ladies selling wilted flowers in bunches on the corner.

Heavy rounds of bread studded with dried fruit. Focaccia in the hand of every passerby - wrapped in paper and eaten on the go. And no one looking like they're about to raise themselves from the door jamb that they're laying in to clobber you over the head. Who knew Genova could be so carefree?

Genova is all about the food and we ate like we were starved. Starting with giant sweet cherries and peaches from the market - so ripe that the perfume of the peaches wafted out of our backpack and teased us all afternoon. There was lunch in a casalinga (homestyle) place that while recently written-up in the New York Times still hadn't washed its walls or hands. The menus were handwritten, taped-together sheets of paper and the tablecloths were red and white check - to match the honeydew green walls. There was cold minestrone (we ordered it that way) and sardines both stuffed and fried. We left full. Maybe that was also because of the focaccia we had delved into earlier - with pesto and spinach. Or the amaretti cookies from the candy shop? It was hard to keep track, and too easy to keep eating.

There's a Genova suburb - Nervi - that you can reach easily by bus. Stepping off the bus you'd think you were in Miami, Florida. The streets are lined with villas hidden more by their palm trees than their elaborate gates and thick blankets of humidity rise from the lush vegetation. And there's another similarity - the Wolfsonian Museum with its sister site in Miami. Born of Mitchell Wolfson's design collection both museums are brief larks into the best design of the early 1900's. Wolfson had quite an eye and the collections value shape, line, color... And they're perfect for an afternoon away from the masses. If - and here I should capitalize the word "if" - IF you can find the place. We took a long unintended detour sponsored by Italy's vague signage and arrived at the museum sweated-through and ready for some air conditioning.

Thankfully the AC was cranking - maybe that's what kept the Italians away - and we had the museum to ourselves. We spent the most time in front of a fully-furnished child's room that had been decorated by a famed Italian illustrator. It was surreal and wicked in a way that children would find amusing but that I find somewhat scary. Pigs holding knives in their stumpy feet and eating cake at a crooked kitchen table doesn't make my dreams any sweeter, let me tell you. But apparently, kids love that kind of stuff.

We also spent some time in front of a lumpy wax blob that was apparently a sculpture of Mr. Wolfson. We were sincerely trying to figure out what we were missing. That was until one of the employees came by and told us that while this was in no way the official opinion of the museum, he felt we should know that there were far better pieces in the collection than the mess before which we were currently standing.

Thank you for that bit of honesty sir. And I take back what I thought of your city. Every bit of it. Although, I'm still not going over to the other side of town after dark. On second thought, not in mid-day either. But there's sure a nice aquarium over there.

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