Genoa/Genova

10 Jul

Genova. Stress the first syllable and silence the V. Murmur it like a lover’s name. Unmistakeably Italian but open to influences from the wider world through its busy cargo, ferry and cruise terminals.

Italy’s sixth largest city and its largest seaport has been an entrepot since Etruscan times (from 700BC) when olives, wood and honey were traded for furs. It’s showing signs of stress and decay but still beguiles travellers.

Walking the city I sense a faultline both physical and temporal. Part of Genova perches on a cliff edge with a vista of muted cream and ochre buildings climbing the hillsides. We take an elevator 70 metres down to the avenue below from our street above. In another part of town we step from Christopher Colombus’ 16th century home to the 1960s within a few metres. Medieval buildings were razed to make way for ugly, multistorey office and apartment buildings now riddled with concrete cancer, pigeon droppings and unimaginative graffitti. We try a short cut and get trapped for a time in endless concrete.

Enough architectural beauty remains to delight the eyes. Hands down most beautiful interior is the Baroque Church of Jesus built by the local Jesuit community. Construction started in1589 and took forty years. Walls and ceilings are covered with lustrous paintings and frescoes by Pieter Paul Rubens, Guido Reni and Andre Pozzo. We first visit during mass then again early the next afternoon to sit in cool contemplation of the genius of the artists.

If I had to say what’s missing for Genova to rate higher as a liveable city it’s the lack of parks and gardens in the city centre. There are precious few places for kids to kick a ball or play in safety, or green space to chill out.

Scooters rule the roads and every inch of parking lots and pavements is covered with them. Cobbled pedestrian shopping streets open onto piazzas with cafes and bars, many with bright umbrellas providing shade from the 30 degree early July heat. One street back from Via della Maddalena a sex worker in a short orange skirt like a beacon stands at the crossroads, others sit on wooden chairs in the street outside their apartment. Clearly the lunch break is used for more than eating.

Maybe it’s hill walking and/or ubiquitous cigarette smoking; Genovese are lean. Women favour full cleavage, figure hugging short jersey dresses and vertiginous sandals. Everybody seems to be on holiday even when they’re clearly working. Like the policemen taking a shot of espresso and catching up on gossip. No one is in a hurry and manners are polite and easygoing.

One lunchtime we eat at a harbourside restaurant. The only free table is next to a large family party celebrating a baby shower. They have to take down their handmade poster to make way for us. The slim, young mother is crowned with a fake olive and berry wreath and the table is covered with gifts. Family. Our food on that occasion is ordinary, bog standard pastas I do better but the beer and the atmosphere are perfect.

Evenings we strike culinary gold. I rarely rave about restaurants but Braxe deserves it. Just 100 metres from our hotel, the Melia, Braxe Restaurant is run by fifth generation restauraters. The decor is modern, low key, quality. I’m a sucker for the perfect beige cloth napkin. The two brothers who take turns running the show served us with good humour and delicious food and wine. We paid less than fifty euro both times. For our final dinner before boarding the 9pm ferry to Sicily we cross the road for a last colourful, crisp, delicious vegie pizza at Mattoni Rosso. Why oh why must we tolerate soggy, tasteless pizza outside Italy?

Note:
Braxe Restaurant corso A Podesta 51R – 16128 Genova 02084620992 http://www.braxe.it
The family also runs Trattoria detta del Bruxaboschi, which has been serving food since 1862.

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