Summer is upon us, with weather in the 80’s and 90’s, and highs next week predicted to go over 100. We have at the last minute put together a plan to escape to Normandy for a few days.
A dear friend back home (hi, Esteban!) has been prodding me to write up a trip I made to Genoa in April, a magical experience that I’ve been keeping all to myself.
I’d long been wanting to visit that city, which my husband and I passed through decades ago. At the time, we stopped there for a single day and I can remember only one moment: We were ascending some medieval turret or cathedral tower through a narrow stone staircase with slim, vertical slits allowing a view of the port. It was hot, I was panting from the climb, I looked out at the view over rooftops toward the water and the busy port, and—in a sudden flash—I had a moment of sensing a powerful past connection with the place. Ascribe it to a neural misfire, if you wish, but I experienced it as a groping for some veritable past lifetime experience.
Decades later, when I was doing my training as a hypnotherapist, I had the opportunity to enjoy a regression with my mentor. There I was, horizontal and in a state of hypnosis, when—whoosh—I found myself reliving a scene from a previous lifetime in Genoa.
Depending on your beliefs, you may wonder whether this experience was authentic or a “mere” product of a trance. Personally, through working with clients and on my own, I’ve come to believe that previous lifetime experiences are “real,” though sometimes approximate or metaphorical. In any case, it ignited the creative part of my brain, sparking the idea for a historical novel that I have on the back burner.
Thus it was that I was determined to make it back to Genoa at some point during our year in Paris.
With my novel project very much on my mind, I flew down for a week’s vacation with my family and we landed in an apartment I’d rented through VRBO, wonderfully located on the top floor of an old building near the ancient city wall. The most extraordinary element of this apartment is its library. The apartment belongs to a family that collects books about Genoa, its art, history, and culture, including tomes of photographs from the late 19th century, collections of paintings by local artists, and volumes about the many palazzi. I was in paradise—and took it as a cosmic go-ahead signal for my projected historical novel partly set in this city.
A little staircase next to the kitchen leads to a rooftop terrace offering a 360 degree view of the city. In the distance is the port with hydraulic lifters, cruise ships, elevated motorway and marina. In the mid-ground, the medieval center has rooftops crowded so close together that they make one textured surface. Closer in: the cupolas of nearby churches, cornices of the buildings, and rooftop gardens. Finally, the city is set against hills with a fascinating mix of lovely and atrocious construction—a huge medley of architectural styles stretching across a terrain sweeping up and away.
I was very drawn to the system of public elevators and funiculars that enable people to get up into those hills quickly. The Santa Anna funicular took us in just a couple of minutes from the old center to a more recent neighborhood, probably dating from the 19th century, that was greener, quieter. We got out, walked around and stopped in a garden restaurant that served pinza, a kind of light pizza made of farro flour.
We ordered the quattro staggioni (four seasons) pinza, supposed to come with four kinds of topping. But, alas, all the mushrooms were gone, apologized the young, very slim waiter. So just leave them off, I joked, and then it’ll be a pinza tre staggioni. The waiter was amused, and when he returned with the food, he said “Ecco la tre staggioni,” presenting it with a comical flourish.
After eating, we returned to the funicular to go back down. There was only one other person inside, an older woman. We were sitting inside waiting for it to leave when, lo and behold, who should step in but our waiter, carrying a piece of pinza and a zero-calorie coke.
The woman said to him, “Look at you having lunch, tutto completo, and is that a beer you’re having, too?” And he said, “No, it’s a zero-calorie Coke,” and she asked, “Why the zero calories?” and he said, “I have to watch my waist line or else”” – and he made a funny gesture for very, very fat, and she said, “Oh, me too, if I don’t watch what I eat, then–” Funny gesture for very, very fat, at which point they were both laughing and so was I. Then the woman (not guessing that I understood Italian) said to him, “Look at the stranieri (foreigners), who are so excited about the funicular, while here we are, taking it every day.” At which point, I of course wanted to surprise her with my Italian, so I said, “Yes, because for us it’s special.” She was delighted I’d pierced the language barrier and began talking about the old days when the funicular ran on water instead of electricity.
That scene in the funicular felt magical in a way that had to do, more than anything else, with my deep love for Italy and my new love for that particular city. It’s one place I hope to visit again.
We also made a day trip down to the Cinque Terre. Here is a photo of the view from Vernazza.