Walking at the heart of Genoa

Photo of Walking at the heart of Genoa by Unshod Rover

(Part 2 of 3 of the Genoa Series)

When I visit a city for the first time, I allow myself to be the tourist stereotype: curious, trigger-happy, always lost. The second time though takes on a different battle plan altogether. This time, I don't just look at things and take photos of them; I actually try to really “see” the city, its beautiful, even seemingly minute details and flawed features. I'd like to be its friend, reflecting on its stories and breathing in its distinct smell.

Photo of Walking at the heart of Genoa 1/1 by Unshod Rover

Technically, I already have passed by the city. But it was just a quick stop for gas and some lunch. I felt guilty, to be sincere, upon seeing “again” the Duomo, realizing that I've already photographed it and gotten lost right within the “old town”, and remembering nothing more, but an image of another Italian postcard-ready city.

And so, when my Genoese friend dropped me by the same spot where we left off the night before: by the house of Christopher Columbus, I resolved to make it up to the city. On a drizzling Saturday morning, with the two columns of the Porta Soprana as my giant witnesses, I promised to spend the day befriending the city, and listening more attentively to the stories it would tell me.

Photo of Casa di Cristoforo Colombo, Via di Porta Soprana, Genoa, Metropolitan City of Genoa, Italy by Unshod Rover

After a few slow strides, a stall selling secondhand books was just opening and I did not waste the chance to be the first to run my fingers along the spines and smell the pages of the many old books that tackle various subjects from “How to learn German” or chinese calligraphy to the works of Warhol and Basquiat. I could stay the whole day in a place like this. Content with my great find – a book by a lesser known French poet – I stumbled upon a makeshift market selling “native” products from Latin America, Africa, and Asia. I even found some bags from the Philippines made of recycled materials.

But something caught my attention as I came out of the market, a slogan that goes “camminando per il mondo” (literally, walking across the world). And it dawned on me that I was actually, in some sense, traveling across the world through the books I scanned and the native products I just checked out right at the heart of Genoa's old town, by the Palazzo Ducale to be exact.

Palazzo Ducale was built during a period when Genoa gradually gained economic power over the whole Mediterranean, right after its victories against Pisa in 1284, and against Venice in 1298. The slogan welcomed visitors to the 2010 exhibit of the “Premio Chatwin”, the ninth edition of the prize dedicated to traveler and writer Bruce Chatwin. This edition involved journals, photography and videos of travels done in various parts of Africa. But what really captured my interest was the big panels of illustrations sprawled across the entrance hall of the Palazzo.

“Unchildren, infanzia negata (childhood denied),” by graphic illustrator and author Stefania Spanò with Francesca de Lena who provided the text for the exhibit, features 17 illustrations depicting the many tragedies affecting children all over the world. The pain and horror of the various forms of violence committed against children, from child prostitution in Cambodia to forced labor in Pakistan and children with AIDS in Ethiopia, oozed through the “seemingly friendly cartoon” images.

The images were disturbing, but I could not stare away from them. I believe that most of who I am now is an accumulation of those crucial episodes I experienced as a child. I thought: hey, mine was not that easy either, but seeing “Unchildren” made me realize that I am still among the luckier ones.

When my friend texted me asking if I was able to find a place where I could have lunch, I replied: No, but I did find the world. When he came to pick me up, he asked if there was some place else that I would like to visit. I said I was fine. And so we drove up the elevated part of Genoa and in what seemed forever, I joked: “'Are we lost?” Yes, we were. We took the wrong road and so we had to go back.

Photo of Genoa, Metropolitan City of Genoa, Italy by Unshod Rover

When we indeed reached perhaps the highest part of the mountain overlooking the city and the sea, my friend told me that here in this part of the city take place drug trafficking and many other negotiations of the shady kind. As we stood there in silence, the temptation of Christ came to mind. I wanted to joke about it, but I saw my friend pissed about the fact that we could not see the city clearly because of the fog.

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