High atop Genova there is a grand statue of the virgin Mary, nigh as tall as the Christ of Świebodzin, looming over the faraway sea … nearly as high we had to climb to our Genovese couchsurfer, but, all of a sudden, without any effort: we are still suspicious whether it’s just been something we’ve eaten that day or whether we actually acquired superhuman strength.
Our diet is governed by Murphy’s Law these days. When going from Savona to Genova – the destination, due the concave coastline, in sight; in treacherous proximity, for to overcome closed tunnels and non-existent beach promenades we had to climb a lot of mountains instead of just following the shore –, when going from Savona to Genova, we entertained the thought of having pasta for lunch. Ha, ha, you’ll say, pasta in Italy, what could be easier!?
If we laugh at that, it’s the kind of sad, sardonic laugh that makes you wish to unask the question. The few ristoranti that there were along the way had been closed, either because of the ubiquitous siesta, or because it’s been Monday, or because they were on holiday, or they sold only pizza.
While Italy generally serves the best ice cream and just the best, their pizza is the best and the wurst at the same time. Comunque, anyway: we were sick of even the best, we wanted something different, we wanted some pasta. Fleitepiepen. Nada. Niente. Nothing. Only yesterday, when we didn’t search for anything particular at all except perhaps for any generic place-to-sit-down, pasta was everywhere. The basic problem, however, persists: If in Italy you have any need for a specific sort of shop or institution, you can bet it will be closed at whichever time you arrive there. This even includes churches: about half of them are closed.
The other half is pretty spectacular. Almost every church we’ve visited – 20-ish just within Italy so far? – has got some truly astonishing element, if not the whole construction is a miracle. In Torino we discovered Guarini, a Theatine monk and mathematician who specialised in daringly broken cupolas and labyrinthine ground layouts. In Genova, a cathedral with a conspicuously gothic exterior surprises with the blandest of all bland ton vaults inside, supported by beautifully intricate gothic columns: a wartime fire had damaged the romanesque construction so badly that almost everything had had to be replaced. Only the ceilings still look sufficiently stable, so that only the lower half of the aisles was rebuilt in the new, gothic style. How exactly to imagine that? If only we knew. Almost every single church — no: every single church, regardless from which epoch, is decorated in a baroque splendour that in North Germany no-one could imagine, let alone execute. The amount of leaf gold used in any small portion of Italian countryside must by far exceed the reserves of Fort Knox.
Then there was Carmagnola, where with another 60 kilometres still to go (actually, since later that day we broke our record in how far to get lost, 85 km) we intended to stop just for a short moment to regard a tiny, particularily obviously strange-looking church. It had a brick cupola, topped by another layer of straight roof as if some construction was going on up there right now. Peeking in through the door, the crew of white-haired men that carried heaps of flowers in and out for the next day’s celebrations ushered us inside and began, in a mix of French and Piemontese, to show us every single dusty corner. The eccentric roof was typical for the area, they said. Following different pairs of guides up and down the ancient, creaky staircases of a small-town church that has not received any UNESCO boons as their better-known, but scarcely more remarkable counterparts in the cities, we discovered the (unused) priests“ apartment, the secret passages behind the choir, the organ empora … “Vuoi sonare?”, one of the men asked and wiggled his fingers.
The next town, in fact the next settlement at all, was more than thirty kilometres away. Since we searched for pasta, once more we were condemned to pizza. After the overnight stay in Mondovì, we climbed the Ligurian Alps almost effortlessly, rushing down on the other side with the panorama of Savona beneath and a 20 % slope ahead of us.
If instead our newly-found hillclimbing skills just depend on training, they are going to persist for a while. The next few days, we shall saunter further down the Ligurian coastline, where, according to the maps, the path resembles a sine curve. After La Spezia, we plan to cross the Appenine mountains twice: to go to Bologna and to return. Emma, couldn’t you have moved into Toscana?