Genoa is a city in Liguria. You may never have heard of Liguria, even if you’ve been to the Ligurian trophy towns of the Cinque Terre. Many people think the five tiny villages are in Tuscany because clever Tuscan entrepreneurs like to tell people how close the Cinque Terre is to their hotels and restaurants.
Genoa, then, is a port town along the Italian Riviera. It was once celebrated as the birthplace of Christopher Columbus, so Americans dutifully made the pilgrimage to the port city. Then Mr. Columbus fell out of favor and now the new, more fearful American traveler doesn’t go there any more.
It’s a shame, but a blessing, too. The Cinque Terre is being crushed under the weight of the tourists, especially now that the new tourist port in La Spezia has increased the tourist load immensely. But Genoa remains Genoa, a town of contrasts, a town of light and dark the Italians call chiaroscuro. The darkness discourages the scaredy-cats who desire the whitewashing of their destinations. The light is the light at the end of the tunnel we crave to see. There is no light without darkness, no good without evil.
When the well-connected travel planners Anna and Emanuela at Beautiful Liguria asked us what we wanted to see in their home city, we didn’t hesitate to choose Genoa’s underbelly, the narrow alleyways called caruggi that make up the checkerboard heart and soul of the city. We never tire of them.
Why? In narrow alleyways whose cobbles have seldom been touched by the sun, fluid light flows from windows over fish, over vegetables, over artisan carvings, over the tempting thighs of a whore gossiping with another.
You like well-lit places, primary colors, precise directions, informative street signs. You also like surprises; Roman columns propping up the ceiling of a shoe store, an old woman selling lush peaches from a basket. Your soul craves the same contrast, the same chiaroscuro, like it or not.
Walk the dark streets and glance nervously at the “new” pharmacy of Maddale with its murky marble signage:
Expecting medicine, what do you find? Surprise! Artisan carved, wooden iPhone cases!
The darkness likes when we play with it. Genoa’s alleyways make a fine canvas. Take an old barber shop, fill it with light, get a genius to make you some doors, cut some hair with class:
It’s not all about the cutting of hair, of course, it is about the spilling of the warm, diffracted light upon the public streets.
Look up. Artists have played with the light everywhere you look. Light and the lack of light is all the artist has to draw, paint or sculpt.
Of course you might not be attracted to everything you see. Art is not always about pleasant things pleasingly presented.
Genoa is challenging. Genoa is fun. Genoa is a warm light at the end of your tunnel.
Try it—if you’re up to it. Contact Beautiful Liguria if you’re afraid to go it alone.
If you go it alone, you might be served by a good paper map of Genoa.