Ascent and Fuga

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.

Il duomo di San Lorenzo, Genova – Photo by gnuckx
San Lorenzo, Genova – Photo by gnuckx

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.

Carmagnola – Photo by Davide Papalini
Carmagnola – Photo by Davide Papalini

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?

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