Liguria, April 2009
Mikel and I spent two glorious weeks in Liguria in April 2009. We rented an apartment in the old city center of Genoa, amongst the old medieval and Renaissance buildings that define the old port. [No! Wait! My sister asked me if I were really tired when I wrote that sentence, with the use of the word "old" three times. What I think was really going on was that I was still thinking in Italian, and, in my mind for the first "old" I was thinking "centro storico" (historic center); for the second, "antico," which you use for old places; and "anziano" (figuratively ancient) for the third. Whatever. Genoa is an OLD city full of romance. That damned word "old" always gets me in trouble, such as when I wrote on Facebook that I spent a lot of times with OLD friends in Genoa.]
I lived in the city off and on for two years back in the early 80s and have forever been in love with not only the mysterious walled city — Europe’s largest intact medieval town — but with the entire region. I can honestly say that my time there has more profoundly influenced my lifestyle and cooking more than a lifetime of living in the South. I have written often on this blog about Genoa and Liguria, the crescent shaped sliver of land, Italy’s smallest region, that hugs the northwestern shore of the country. Mountains famously tumble down to the shore in the easternmost Cinque Terre, but Mikel and I didn’t even go beyond Santa Margherita to the east, and we ventured to the west not at all. There’s so much to see in Genoa. Next time we’ll explore more of the Italian Riviera, which stretches from Tuscany all the way to France. Above, Genoa is to the west, on the right. This sunset shot was taken from the balcony of my new friend Paola Rosina’s home up in Sant’Ilario Alto, above Nervi. Paola and her sisters are making wine in Gavi (see my blog for September 29, 2008), north of the city, at their La Mesma winery. No oak, no added sugar, no chemicals, just straightforward, crystalline classic Gavi (DOCG) made from the local cortese grape, the way I remember the wine from my days there so many years ago, before the so-called “international style” of winemaking infiltrated even the most remote regions of the world, such as the entroterra (inland) wineries high above Genoa. Though officially in the Piedmont now, Gavi was historically Ligurian and the wine has always been part of the Genoese table, though some Ligurian winemakers (whose wines are inferior to Gavi, I might add) are pushing for restaurants that serve classic Ligurian foods to serve only officially Ligurian wines. What a mistake that would be!
Our stay in Genoa ended up being a far more social affair than I had anticipated. After all, I hadn’t been there since 1990 and hadn’t lived there since 1983. But real friendships have no sense of time, and we found ourselves dining with both old and new acquaintances almost every night. So much for cooking in the apartment we rented!
Rather than write a linear account of our trip, with historical asides, I’m simply going to paste in some photos here and use them as my inspiration, relying on my journal more for facts and spelling (which is always weird when dialect words are involved).
Here is Mikel proving that the caruggi — the narrow alleyways that define the old city center — are sometimes so narrow that you can reach your arms out and flatten your palms against two buildings. The foundations of most of the buildings were built from the 10th to the 13th centuries, but some date to the year 800. The first major building boom after those medieval/gothic structures were built came during the early Renaissance, when much larger houses were built on top of the earlier ones, often incorporating many of the earlier structural details such as the vaulted gothic arches. Some buildings were never changed, and the old squares where families built their cluster of houses are some of the most interesting and charming in Europe, especially since they provide a well-lit space amongst the dark caruggi. These family groups were called alberghi, which gradually came to mean hotels.
No family square is more intriguing than Piazza San Matteo, where the wealthy Dorias rebuilt in Gothic style the family church in 1278, then surrounded it with their private homes. The bas-relief in the lintel above one of the doorways is of St George, the patron saint of the city, slaying the dragon. The black and white stone that is used in these buildings — white marble and the local black slate (ardesia) — are said to have given the city the name of Il Bianco e Nero – the black and the white — but I’ve always thought that the flickering of light down in the city center, where shadows are jet black and the celebrated Ligurian sun ahead is pure white, inspired the moniker. In the corner of the square, a tavern has been in operation since the early 19th century. For over 50 years the Migone family has run an excellent wine shop there, and now they have a casual restaurant offering excellent versions of classic Ligurian fare and a good selection of wines by the glass. One night after dining in another trattoria where there has been a kitchen fire, we dropped by Migone for an after-dinner drink and dessert. We had been in the wine shop several days earlier and the hostess, who was the daughter of the wine shop owner, recognized us. In Genoa, we found, once you go in a place one time, they treat you like royalty every time afterward. Not that you aren’t treated royally to begin with. When I told the hostess that, in lieu of dessert, I wanted a big glass of red wine, not one of the light, local reds, she said, “Oh, you mean an important wine!” She suggested an Amarone, a 2005, and it was delicious. When she went to pour it, she asked if I also wanted an “important” pour. I had never heard the expression before but Paolo confirmed it. And indeed the wine — easily a $70 bottle here — was big, and meaty. She must have poured me 10 ounces. It cost about $12.
Our first night in town, we went out for drinks and dinner with Markus Wiedemeier, whose apartment we had rented. On the drive in from the airport, I could already see how much cleaner Genoa had become since my last visit in 1990. Upon entering the historic district downtown, with its rabbit warren of alleyways, I saw at least two dozen palaces that had been cleaned of centuries of grime, and hip new restaurants, shops, and cafes had opened in what was formerly the haunt of sailors, whores, and drug addicts. Genoa is the Mediterranean’s largest port, and it rivals Marseilles for having a reputation as a rough place. But I’ve always loved the city and never had any fears there. Now that it has been spruced up and the old port opened to pedestrian traffic, with museums and a huge aquarium and a marvelous naval museum and boardwalks that run for several miles where formerly only dockworkers could roam, I can’t imagine why more folks don’t go there. I don’t know a more fascinating European city, and I have been to dozens of them. At Altrove in the charming Piazzetta Cambiaso, an old palace now houses a wine bar, gallery, restaurant, and theater where you might see live plays or hear jazz or watch a performance artist conjuring his muse. The piazza itself has been paved alternately with plexiglass and teak decking, and the effect is of being both indoors and out at the same time, like being on the fantail of a docked yacht.
For dinner we ate at Trattoria Da Franca, long known for its pasta with lobster sauce. Both Mikel and Markus chose their fish ravioli with a cappone sauce; I had the macaroncini di frutte di mare, sauced with a little oil and a little tomato. Their ravioli filling and sauce were made with ombrina (cappone in dialect), a fish related to our redfish and drums and croakers (they all make thumping sounds). In Roman times, the head was favored — hence, “cappone”– for its use in sauces. The recipe probably hasn’t changed much in the past 2000 years.
The next day we had lunch in an unmarked trattoria in Piazza San Bernardo. We both ate the inestimable testaroli al pesto, a sort of crepe made from chestnut flour, sauced with the first of many versions of pesto we would sample over the next two weeks. Mikel had sauteed veal liver, and I had cima, a stuffed veal breast roll, the recipe for which I published in the New York Times Sunday Magazine over 20 years ago. Here’s a link to the article, with recipes. Piazza San Bernardo is a typical Genoese square, where Renaissance palaces abut the Gothic and where graffiti mars even the most recently restored buildings. Though the restaurant had no sign, and no customers, the menu of the day looked wonderful and the fragrances were astounding. (The restaurant filled before we left.) In some parts of the old city, you still have to dodge dog turds; and prostitution, which is legal, sees nearly every doorway filled with buxom lasses — many of whom are young and attractive — in the daytime. They must stop work at 8 pm. So much for “ladies of the night.” I did note that an inordinate percentage were African, and I was surprised to see that Via di Pre, to the west, which has always been the immigrants’ street, is now filled with halal butchers for the large Muslim populations, as well as South American and Caribbean shops. No problem finding food or baked goods on holidays now, though the focaccia we bought from an Algerian on Liberation Day (May 1, their Labor Day), was soggy with inferior oil. We got to know the whores in our street; they were very nice women and they were very lowkey, not pushy the way they can be in Amsterdam. Every time we left our building, we always got a “Buon giorno!” from them.
Later in the afternoon we met Gianni Martini and went to his beautiful apartment overlooking the harbor for tea, then Paola joined us and we went to the home of Ester de Miro, with whom we had so much fun in Rome, for an appetizer of kir with fresh fava beans and salami before heading to the new, noisy, but very good l’Axilla in the Portello section of town. (Axilla is a dialect word — there are no ‘x’s in Italian proper — meaning excited… it can mean sexually excited as well). I had classic Genoese minestrone (see February 11, 2009); Ester had Genoa’s peculiar cappon magro (an elaborate, often architectural, seafood salad with salsa verde); and Mikel ordered corzetti, a type of Genoese pasta that is stamped in molds to look like coins (there’s another version of corzetti from the suburb of Valpolcevera that is shaped like a figure 8 — also mimicking an ancient coin). While everyone else had Genoa’s classic stuffed vegetables, I chowed down on delicious tomaxelle, veal involtini (little rolls of meat), a dish from the entroterra. We drank a lovely 07 Dolcetto. And slept like logs.
The tradition of eating raw fava beans with salame (and, in Genoa, it is usually the excellent, and barely cured, salame di Sant’Olcese from a nearby hilltop village), is a Genoese one. The Genoese are very particular about their fave, and in Sant’Olcese, a barkeep told me that now in Rome and Naples and Florence and Milan they eat fave e salami and act as though they’ve been doing it all their lives, when, in fact, no one but the Genoese did it until recently. At our friend Josie Tarragoni’s our last day in town, we ate fave that she had just picked in her garden. At lunch she told us to Eat up! They won’t be any good by suppertime! It is typical to serve the fave e salami with a fresh Sardinian cheese, as in the photo.
One day we took the little Casella railway that winds its way up through the hills above the city, where every hilltop is crowned with a medieval fort, to go to the village of Sant’Olcese. The railway used to be a real throwback to another time, with wooden seats and open windows. I’ve taken it before. You can still rent the old wooden car, which evokes another era, for wedding parties and the like, but nowadays the modern cars are covered in graffiti and there’s likely to be only one car moving except at rush hour. The shot of one of the forts was taken from the moving train.
Camogli and San Fruttuoso
On another day we took a train to Camogli, which, in my opinion, is just as charming as Portofino and not overrun with the jet set and shops, and where the fishing boats are actually fishing boats, not just water taxis to the yachts too big to fit in the tiny harbor.
The first things we noticed when we got off the train and started walking down to the waterfront part of the village were these enormous old frying pans that are used for Camogli’s annual fish fry, an event that has been going on for decades and during which thousands of pounds of fish are fried and given away. (They have to replace the pans regularly; now, I’m told, they’re stainless steel.) The festival grew out of a local tradition but has become a big tourist draw for the town. Since 1952, the Sagra del Pesce di Camogli has taken place during the second weekend in May, this past weekend. When we were there, new nets were strung up along the quai. Wooden hearts bearing the names of loved ones, special dates, and private wishes were tied to the webbing. I think that the villagers must sponsor the new nets, or perhaps place a bet, raffle-style. So charmed by the incredibly picturesque little town where I have so many fond memories, I forgot to ask. Instead, we took a boat to San Fruttuoso, the impossibly pretty cove around the bend where the 11th Century monastery was donated to the FAI (The Foundation for the Italian Environment, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving Italy’s treasures, both natural and man-made) by Princess Orietta Pogson Doria Pamphilj, the vastly wealthy descendant of the great Genoese admiral Andrea Doria, in 1983.
Unbeknownst to us, the director of the Ligurian branch of the FAI is Andrea Fustinoni, whom we had met just the day before, and who had invited us to join him for lunch in his family’s hotel in Santa Margherita, just around the bend of the mountain. (Portofino harbor is nestled in the tip of the promontory, between San Fruttuoso and Santa Margherita.) It’s amazing to me that both Camogli and tiny, gorgeous San Fruttuoso have managed to remain fishing villages. Mikel and I didn’t even bother to go to Portofino, where I have been many times before. We didn’t need to see billionaires’ yachts and fancy shops. There were plenty of those in Genoa proper.
You can see for yourself in these photos how indescribably charming these places are. The water is crystal clear and the setting is stunning. The architecture is breathtaking. Oh, and the food, of course, is delicious.
It was in San Fruttuoso, above, where I once tasted musciami made from dolphin, the mammal. Similar to jerky, strips of muscle were dried in the sun, sliced paper thin, and used as garnish on seafood salads or pasta dishes, or warmed in a pan with olive oil and garlic. Nowadays musciami (also know as mosciami) is made from tuna. I shot the photo to the right, also in San Fruttuoso, from under the arched basement of the abbey, of the fisherman taking care of his boat. The little harbor filled with stones that were washed ashore in a storm in 1915. Prior to that storm, boats could be hauled up under the building, out of the weather. Though the abbey has been restored to its Roman-Gothic style, there was an even earlier church built there in the 8th Century, then destroyed by Saracen invaders. Rebuilt in the 10th century, it was enlarged by the Dorias in the 13th. In the 16th century, Andrea Doria added his own personal tower, which provided protection of his (ipso facto) cove.
Camogli is almost too pretty to be believed, but our friend Josie Tarragoni, who lives on a hill above Recco in the background, says that it’s impossible to live there in the summer because none of Camogli escapes the sun. In the photo above, looking west, the beachside culminates in a promontory with church and fort to the west and the grassy, hilly Monte Portofino the the east. In the far right corner of the photo above, if you were to walk up to the dark red building, you’d find a couple of arched passageways through to the harborside, below.
Though charming and deceptively simple, these fishing villages are neither mere tourist traps nor are they quaint and backwards. In the photo below a group of local men (one was the mayor) were installing solar panels on the lighthouse, which indeed guides the men back into port when they are out at night, fishing for anchovies and sardines, using lights to lure the fish into their nets.
Some of the best focaccia, the daily bread of Genoa — that dimpled, yeasty dough that is baked in flat pans and drizzled with olive oil and salt — can be found at Rizzo bakery in Camogli. Rocco Rizzo is Pugliese, and he uses his family’s best extra-virgin olive oil on his focaccia. Yum!
Genoa first began its own facelift in anticipation of the 500th Anniversary of native son Christopher Columbus’s portentous maiden voyage of 1492. In the late 80s, one of the first rumors that swept through northern Italy was that there would be a high-speed railway built between Genoa and Milan. As designers and decorators and perservationists and restorers began coming to town to help in the massive overhaul of the city — including rebuilding the opera house, churches, and other structures destroyed in World War II — prices soared. The entire city was gussied up at once. (That fast train, however, wasn’t even approved until last year. Construction is yet to have begun.) Renzo Piano, the architect most famously known for the love-it-or-hate-it Pompidou Centre in Paris, also a native Genoese, was hired to design much of the restructuring of the port, opening the waterfront to foot traffic and the city to hordes of visitors. Buildings were cleaned, re-frescoed, and restored. Vaulted wine cellars in the basements of ancient buildings were rediscovered and transformed into shops, bars, and restaurants. Name brands moved into the caruggi.
Piano was given huge responsibilities, from restructuring the old port to rebuilding the opera house, and from designing a subway system to creating retail spaces where old cotton warehouses once stood on the docks. Some of the projects are still works in progress, but the city is amazingly clean these days, nearly 20 years after the Cinquecentesimo Colombiano, and the waterfront bustles with activity, with its massive aquarium, its fascinating naval museum, and its open, sunny spaces. Cleaned again when the city was the Cultural Capital of the E.U. in 2004, Genoa, known as La Superba — the proud, virtually glistens in its new role.
Piazza Ferrari is at the center of town, separating the old walled city from the elaborate Belle Epoque banks and shopping arcades of Via XX Settembre and the luxury shops of Via Roma. The opera house opened its new season while we were there with ballets by Stravinsky, Vivaldi, and Ravel performed by the Bejart Ballet to a full house. Though the original facade of the building was kept, the architect Aldo Rossi, who finalized the design, thoroughly modernized the interior, with controversial walls built to mimick old Genoese city streets. Even outside the old center, Gothic structures run up against much more modern buildings. The city is always surprising.
I don’t go to Italy to shop, but there’s nothing you can’t buy in Genoa.
I don’t think we went in a single store other than those that sell food. (Oh, wait, that’s not quite true: I did go in the UPIM department store that years ago moved into the Caserto palace in Piazza Campetto. I wanted to show Mikel the Filippo Parodi statue of Hercules killing the Hydra. Poor Hercules, a lion skin thrown over his shoulder, now rises up from ladies’ foundations. The swirling fabric hiding his privates makes for a most peculiar image! See below.)
Not to be missed in Genoa are the palaces of the fabulously wealthy families that help design the western world — the Dorias and Spinolas and Pallavacinis and others who were largely responsible for creating the systems of modern banking, shipping, and worker pools that fuel our daily lives. Many of the houses are maintained as museums, several as truly ‘house museums’ with the furnishings intact so that you can get an idea of how they lived at the height of the Renaissance. There are over 150 historically important, and intact, private palaces in the city. In Via Garibaldi, a World Heritage Site, 18 massive homes have faced each other along the now-closed-to-traffic street for nearly 500 years.
Some of the palaces house painting collections. There are canvases by Rubens and Van Dyck (both of whom lived and worked in Genoa for years), but, for the most part, the paintings are by famed Genoese artists such as Cambiaso, Strozzi, and Magnasco. If you haven’t heard of them it’s probably because the Genoese have a reputation for being “closed” and not open to outsiders, and, remarkably, much of the wealth of Genoa has traditionally stayed in Genoa in the same families. When palaces have been donated to the state in the past 100 years, they have also more often than not been lovingly maintained (and lived in), with the original works of art. Palazzo Rosso, Palazzo Bianco, and Palazzo Tursi are all owned by the city and can be toured, but Palazzo Spinola is the seat of the National Gallery, and the museum provides a wonderful glimpse into the home that passed through the hands of some of Genoa’s wealthiest families, including the Dorias, Spinolas, Grimaldis and Pallavacinis. You even get to tour the kitchen, with its massive wheel that sent the dumb waiter up and down between the floors. Unfortunately, photography isn’t allowed in the palace, which is nearly impossible to photograph from outside (below, right).
Though it wasn’t too far to walk, we took the sleek new Metro (only five stops and the longest metro construction project in history, after Rome’s!) to one of the most impressive of all the palaces, Andrea Doria’s Palazzo del Principe on the western side of the harbor. Its formal gardens and fascinating collections are only enhanced by its massive scale.
The old plantings of the garden have been restored, with both edible and showy specimens that are historically accurate. Ancient tangerines are espaliered against a wall, full of fruit. In Via Balbi, six more monstrous palaces, several housing the University, tower over the street which was laid out in the early 17th century. From the terrace of Palazzo Reale, you can view La Lanterna, the city’s symbol, as well as the snow-capped peaks of the Alps in the distance. La Lanterna is the city’s ancient lighthouse that has stood in the harbor for centuries, welcoming ships. The lighthouse as we see it today was built in 1543; that tower was built on an earlier one from the 12th century, and that one on a 130-foot tall rock that was used as the natural harbor marker in ancient times. It is in the far upper left of the photo on the right, below.
Though we saved most of our indoor amusements such as house museums and the aquarium for rainy day activities, we toured the Palazzo Reale on a brilliantly sunny day, which allowed us to better appreciate the clever work of the architect who designed it to capture as much light as possible.
Everywhere you turn in Genoa are architectural marvels from several different eras. With the opening of the port to foot traffic and all the new structures, you never know what you will see.
From the ground, the buildings are often so close together that you can’t see their sides beyond the first or second floor, but that doesn’t stop the owners from keeping the trompe-l’oeil frescoes on the exterior walls freshly painted. In areas that were formerly scenes of urban decay and desolation, fresh new projects are going up or are already established.
In the black and white photo below of Piazza Tuogoli di Santa Brigida, which I took in 1990, the old public wash basins (“tuogoli” is a dialect word for “trough”) had very nearly been abandoned and the buildings were filled with mostly illegal immigrants. Now the washing station has been restored, the buildings renovated, and the development includes a theater and studio space for practicing artists.
By the same token, many places that were bombed out in World War II simply never got rebuilt until recently.
Piazza delle Erbe was a mess when I lived there; it’s one of the hippest places in town now. In this photo of Piazza Santa Maria in Passione, also taken in 1990, the square and convent remained in squalor for 50 years after Allied bombs destroyed them. Now the area is teeming with architecture students from the university next door and tourists flock to the nearby Torre Embriaci, one of the last of the medieval family towers remaining in the old city. Fascinating to me, though, is that the tourists are almost never American. Other Italians, yes, to a degree, and Brits and Germans who have been coming to the Riviera for centuries, yes. But Americans? I have rarely seen one there.
The Genoese say that it’s their own fault: that they are generally a closed group (and it’s true that they are much more reserved than southern Italians… but that is true of northerners vs. southerners in all of the northern hemisphere — think New Orleans vs. Chicago, Paris vs. Nice, Hamburg vs. Munich, Hong Kong vs Beijing, Vietnam vs. China, Segovia vs. Bilbao….) They also say that they don’t know how to, or don’t want to, promote tourism. But what indigenous peoples do promote themselves? I think much of the problem has to do with the city’s peculiar spacial restrictions – how it is carved into rock that is all but perpendicular to the sea and all of the land is valuable and called-for. The airport is a scary seaside landfill with few planes from anywhere coming and going. (Not that scary airports keep people away: I’ve flown into some frightening landing strips in the Caribbean, and that doesn’t seem to have scared anyone off those islands.) Lufthansa, which provides the best air travel to and from Genoa, doesn’t even have its own ticket booth in the airport there. And it’s not particularly easy to get to. You need to fly to Rome or Munich or Milan from the States before you can get to Genoa. And then there’s that rough Marseilles-like reputation, which is ludicrous now in light of all the renovations to the fascinating old town.
Back in the 80s, few people in the States had even heard of pesto, much less the wines of Cinque Terre. I could go walk the hills between the villages for hours and never see a soul. We sunbathed nude on the rocks between those little villages and fished for octopi and ate sea urchins and even sea dates (now illegal to harvest), a type of mussel that burrows into rocks. Now you must have a pass to enter the Cinque Terre trails and, from the water, you can see the dust clouds rising up from the hills from the hordes of trekkers through those lands. But few of them make it the few miles over into Genoa. They’re missing out.
When I lived in Genoa, nearly every highbrow I knew held Magnasco, the painter, in high regard. I had never heard of him and couldn’t figure out what the big deal was. He was a Genoa native who painted phantasmagoric landscapes, often detailing the elaborate social events of the city’s illustrious past. I had always found the slithery, dark muddlings of his canvases to reveal nothing of the closeted society that Genoa prides itself on. On this trip, though, I studied the gloomy, stormy landscapes and saw that they are illuminated by bright little globs of paint, a technique that I read is called pittura di tocco or dabbing style. For the first time, I recognized the artist’s brilliance in perfectly depicting his home town, and saw that his style had indeed influenced Guardi, Goya, and Daumier. For thirty years I’ve been looking at these paintings and I realize that I still have so much to learn.
I think that’s what I really love about Genoa. How it so easily enables me to get outside myself, and my own petty mindset, so that I can see things in another light. And come away changed. Isn’t that what travel is supposed to do?
So as not to bore you to death, I am inserting a food shot here. After letting the time slip by in museums, we also lost track of restaurant hours. A couple of times we found oursevles having to find a tourist trap or a bar to eat in. I know I shouldn’t order fried fish in waterfront joints, but when the oil smells fresh, I go for it! Pictured here: fritto misto and grilled vegetables.
I’ve never had much of a sweet tooth, but I’m a fool for fresh and dried fruit flavors. Genoa, with its long history of trade (and wars) with Arabs and Saracens, has long held sweets in high regard, and the city’s myriad pastry and candy shops take the confectioner’s arts to their highest levels. Some of the shops, such as Romanengo, Klainguti, and Profumo, have been open in the same location for nearly 200 years. Their recipes go back even further. In the photo above, candied fruits, an ancient technique that has all but disappeared, retain their original shapes and colors. When bitten into, the fruits exude a luscious syrup that is imbued with the flavor of the perfectly ripe fruit. These are from Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano in Piazza Soziglia, amongst the caruggi.
Opened in 1814, the carved marble facade, ceiling frescoes, and elaborately sculpted wooden showcases of Romanengo have been continually drawing customers in to sample what are perhaps Italy’s finest candies. Some Genoese have told me that their quality has been surpassed by other candy makers, but I saw no other candied fruits in the city, and even Romanengo offered but one tray of them the day I dropped in to buy some to bring home. They opened a second shop in the ritzy Via Roma in the 1930s. It, too, is a gem of a boutique, where the packaging alone (done to order) is an artform in and of itself.
Even older (1805) is Vedova Romanengo in Via Orefici, not ten doors down and across the street (the street names often change at every bend or after crossing a piazza, or square). This pastry shop is run by another branch of the Romanengo family, whose famous split from the confectionery dynasty is still a subject of gossip amongst the Genoese, whose sense of history is, to put it mildly, a bit more profound than ours. This family drama has been going on for as long as America has been a country! Vedova Romanengo is a coffee and pastry shop, with excellent chocolates and outdoor seating.
Fratelli Klainguti, also in Piazza Soziglia, is a bar/pasticceria, which means that they serve not only coffee and drinks under the crystal chandeliers, but also a wide variety of cakes and pastries and homemade ice cream. It was in Klainguti where I first tasted gianduja semifreddo, a creamy, semisoft ice cream made from chocolate and hazelnuts, back in the early 80s. I lust for it in America. Klainguti was founded in 1826 by some Swiss bakers who were hoping to make a go of it in America. When they literally missed their boat, they opened their first shop in Genoa… and never left.
One day it poured rain and the temperature dropped down in the caruggi. We watched the barrista as he carefully prepared their signature hot chocolate, thick and unlike anything you have tasted before. Duck out of the rain and take a table in the back. You’ll be transported to early 19th-century Geneva. Or, in good weather, take one of the tables (see photo, above), in the piazza and have a sandwich before diving into one of their scrumptious cakes.
Though it opened in 1827, Profumo is the buzz-word around the old city center these days. David Downie wrote in his food and wine guide to Genoa and the Italian Riviera, “this lovely landmark shop is widely and rightly considered the home of Genoa’s most refined pastries and chocolates.” Downie’s latest book on the region (his third) is an excellent sourcebook, but the book is clunky and difficult to carry along, with a poor binding and an impossible-to-use index. Nevertheless, if you’re headed that way, I highly recommend it.
Situated just off Via Garibaldi in the ground floor of Palazzo Lercari Franco, Pasticceria Confetteria Villa di Profumo makes some of the prettiest candies you will ever eat. The fruit jellies are imbued with fresh flavors such as raspberry, clementine, and rose petals. (The ones in the photo above came from Profumo.) Their candy-coated green and black “olives,” indistinguishable from the real things, are filled with a hazelnut-flavored chocolate for the black ones and a creamy white chocolate for the green ones.
Their packaging (here they are wrapping the boxes of olives Mikel bought for his staff) is meticulous and clever. If you cross Via Garibaldi and go down to Piazza del Ferro, and continue on down the caruggio (Vico Superiore del Ferro) 20 yards or so, you’ll come to the best ice cream shop in town, which Maurizio Profomo opened in 2007. We sampled several flavors, the all-natural ingredients for which were proudly listed for all to see. Days later when we dropped in the candy store, it was packed with clients picking up their cakes for the holiday weekend (Liberation Day, May 1, is the equivalent of our Labor Day), but the clerk on the right in the photo, who took our order, recognized us from when we had been in the ice cream shop the week before. They could not have been nicer. All of the merchants treated us so kindly everywhere we went. If we returned to a shop, they acted as though we were long lost friends.
Of course these are a mere sampling of the sweets shops of Genoa. When I lived there in the early 80s, I had a coffee every morning at Caffe Pasticceria Mangini, a favorite hangout of politicians and businessmen on Piazza Corvetto for well over 100 years. Their coffee is excellent, perhaps the best in town. I’ve also eaten many sandwiches while standing there, waiting to take a taxi or a bus or the little train to Casella, or before walking down to Brignole station to catch a train to Camogli or the Cinque Terre. I’ve also eaten my weight in “brioches,” which is a sort of catch-all term for any number of pastries. Our last outing in Genoa was to the home of the designer Josie Tarragoni, above Recco, to the east. We took a dozen pastries from Mangini and they were gobbled down.
Don’t let me make you think that Genoa is not a modern city, though. I’m the one who’s the old fogie and attracted to traditional foods and charmed by old architecture (however enthralled by the sleekest and most modern concrete structures I am). There’s new graffiti right alongside the old (the above, near the Giardini di Plastica on the edge of the ancient quarter, just outside the Porta Soprana — one of the medieval city gates, was twenty-five feet long and 10 feet tall). The biosphere (below) in the Old Port contains the world’s largest fern collection and the restructuring of the port itself is a great example of excellent urban planning. You may not like Renzo Piano’s designs, but his public spaces work. I don’t know how to begin to describe how awful the port was before. And not that it was just inaccessible to foot traffic, but also that you couldn’t even see the marvelous buildings that faced the water. St George’s Palace (Palazzo San Giorgio), one of the most important buildings in the city, sat in the middle of a frantic roadway! Now look at it, as you emerge from the new metro station! (And compare this image to the one on the right, which I took in 1990, of the poor building stranded in the middle of the road that separated the Genoese from their famous harbor.)
As I’ve been writing this blog about Liguria, I have had the idea that perhaps yet another reason that folks don’t go to Genoa is the fact that the food is very old and traditional. You would be hard-pressed to find plates of food that are highly stylized, with Jackson Pollock-like splatterings of sauces and stacked rchitectural assemblages. The food is so close to the earth, so basic, so utterly simple and delicious that it needs no artistic flourishes. (See my blog entry about “Pasta Not Swimming in Sauce” from May 7.) Even in the fanciest hotels and at the home of multimillionaires, I ate simple pasta dishes, and fresh fava beans, peas, and salad greens. In one trattoria in the historic district, a young chef tried to improve on cappon magro, the already highly architectural seafood salad of Genoa, but her attempt to gussy it up was unsuccessful, and her deconstruction of the dish missed the point of binding it all with salsa verde, which she instead splattered around the plate. The flavors of the just-caught fish were fine, but the dish had lost its appeal. We were not surprised when there was a kitchen fire later in the evening, hurrying us along to leave. The chef had simply over-reached instead of sticking to tradition. How ironic that she had tried to deconstruct one of the few elaborate dishes of the Ligurian repertoire!
When I was researching the culinary history of the South Carolina lowcountry back in the 80s, and trying to restore many of the lost dishes (including, believe it or not, shrimp and grits, which was not on the menu of a single restaurant in Charleston in 1986 when I opened my shop there!), I often met resistance from chefs who said that people wouldn’t pay to eat simple home cooking. I don’t blame them for trying to put their own name on the traditional dishes because in today’s restaurant world, they practically have to make the dishes their own in order to stand out. In our reality-show-world, everyone has to be a star. And since eating out has replaced going to the movies as our entertainment, diners here expect to be wowed. Of course it’s not just here, but anywhere the air waves and wires send out television and internet broadcasts. Somehow Genoa, however, has remained true to its own cuisine, and most of the chefs, even the young ones, try to prepare the most traditional form of a dish that they can. Indeed, they (and the candy makers and the focaccia bakers) are judged by how authentic their cooking is. I asked several Genoese friends about certain trattorie (for the most part, I don’t eat in ristoranti proper because I prefer the simpler cuisine and service of the smaller, family-run trattorie) and their praise and/or criticism was judiciously considered, and often precise: “It’s still very good, but their grissini [breadsticks] are not.” “Their pesto is too delicate. This is a new trend, this very mild basil they’re growing in the shade, and almost no garlic in the sauce.” “She’s the best seafood cook in town, but her pasta is dull.” “It’s no better or worse than it has ever been in 40 years. It’s what it should be.”
I must say that I was disappointed in the mild, hothouse-grown basil that seems to have lost all of its flavor. When I lived in Genoa, basil was grown on the terraced slopes of the Ponente, crammed into stone boxes with garlic. Greenhouses covered those terraces, with glass roofs that opened during the day to catch the sea breezes and closed at night to keep out the chill. Now, I’ve read that the basil is all shade-grown to make it even milder! That said, the pesto I had at the home of Josie Tarragoni, high above Recco, was some of the best I’ve ever had. It helped that the basil came from her yard, and the 100% Taggiasca olive oil was pressed from destoned olives from her own trees, as delicate and sweet as I’ve ever had.
Beyond pesto, here are some of the basic foodstuffs and dishes of Genoa. To the right, troffie, a handmade, twisted pasta served with pesto, green beans and potatoes. To make pesto alla Genovese, follow my instructions on September 16, 2007. And, for God’s sake, use a mortar and pestle!
Below, artichokes. as sure a harbinger of spring as peas and asparagus; the local ripe Taggiasca olives, some of the mildest grown, with almost no taste of vinegar or salt, on a plate with marinated anchovies (see April 2, 2009); and, to the right, a tub of salted anchovies and a jar with just-picked rosemary and sage.
Above, left to right: torta pasqualina di bietole (savory tart of Swiss chard); table set with Gavi, the popular almost-local white wine made from the cortese grape, and focaccia, the daily bread of Genoa. Next row: Genoese polpettone, a meatless “meatloaf” made with pureed green beans and potatoes; stockfish rehydrating in the window of Bottega dello Stoccofisso, unchanged since I lived nearby 26 years ago; and focaccia col formaggio, a flat pizza-like dough filled with tangy Ligurian Crescenza cheese, which is, as Fred Plotkin has written, “probably the most addictive food on the planet.”
Above, an assortment of mushrooms, vegetables, cheeses and fish marinating in oil at Serafina Artigiana Alimentari in colorful Via Canneto Il Curto; just-picked fava beans above Recco; perfectly crunchy and yeasty breadsticks, hand-rolled, with irregular sizes and a hint of the wood-fired oven where they were cooked; ronde de Nice squash and zucchini with the flowers intact in Via Macelli di Soziglia; cuore di bue tomato from Sardinia, similar to, but rounder and larger than the favored costoluto genovese of summer; and the old tripe shop in Vico Casana.
Often the little shops where these ingredients are sold are right next to a modern art gallery, a hip restaurant, or a fancy clothier. My friend Caterina Gualco, pictured with me here, has been representing avant-garde artists such as the members of Fluxus in the historic district for 40 years now. And my friend Viana Conti, the art critic, continues to curate shows, write catalogs, and review exhibits regularly for a number of local and international publications. Here we are recently, below, at Ombre Rosso, another new restaurant that features traditional fare but that is run by former unviersity professors and antiques dealers. Located on a verdant square, the restaurant features a 1000-year-old wine cellar where you can have private dinners. In the fuzzy SX-70 polaroid from 1983, Viana and I flank Cesar Domela, the great Dutch constructivist who died in 1992. Domela was represented by my friends Gianni and Alberto at their Via Roma gallery, Martini e Ronchetti, which is also celebrating its 40 anniversary in Via Roma.
What’s 26 years among friends?!
Genoa has always embraced artists, even visiting ones. (I know, from personal experience. When I lived there, I took photos and painted and drew and sketched and made prints. And they sold.)
The most obvious changes in the city, at least to me, are along the harbor. To the left, the huge new aquarium, one of the largest in the world, is built to look like a super tanker, and the “bow” of the building actually is a freighter that now houses some of the exhibits and a restaurant.
Right across from the harbor, under the medieval arches known as the sottoripa, though, you will still find ship chandlers that have been there for over a hundred years, as well as some specialty shops such as this tiny one offering corks and winemaking equipment (see photo on the right).
A gothic building sports Empire caryatids. The fascinating Galata Sea Museum allows you to become an emigrant for a day, following the path from Genoa’s port, through customs, onto the ship, and on to Ellis Island. Like the Holocaust Museum in Washington, you learn the person’s story as you get an idea of what the conditions must have been like on those 19th century ships. From the roof, you can see much of the city and surrounding coastline.
Everywhere, there are concerts and exhibitions. The poster below, in the charming Piazza Giustiniana, advertises an exhibit entitled “Visions and Ecstasy,” showing at the Ducal Palace, now a huge municipal facility that faces its own enormous square, the piazza Matteotti, as well as the bustling traffic of Piazza de Ferrari that links the old and the new parts of town. The exhibit featured canvases by
Caravaggio, Guercino, Bernini and Gentileschi.
What I kept having to remind myself was that Genoa is not a huge city, in spite of the importance of its port. Its population is only about 600,000. Actually, that’s a really nice size town. Though Washington DC, where I live, is about the same size, we are surrounded by several million people. The entire three counties into which Charleston, South Carolina, and its suburbs sprawl have about the same number of people.
The layers of civilization and history, the diverse peoples who have imprinted the city, and the delightful climate and access to both mountains and sea are making Genoa more and more attractive, however. Many people go through Genoa en route to Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, and North Africa. And many people from those regions have come into the city to settle.
On the left, the stylish new Garibaldi Restaurant/Cafe mixes antiques and modern lighting with its offerings of food and music. It’s nestled into the former entrance hall of a grand medieval palace that was renovated during the Renaissance, when Carrara marble columns replaced the originals supporting the Gothic arches.
At the very beginning of our stay, Mikel and I met Andrea Fustinoni as he was leaving his office in Palazzo Lomellino in Via Garibaldi (see photo of the courtyard, below). He invited us for lunch at his family’s Grand Hotel Miramare in Santa Margherita, where we had delicious food and great company with his partner Fabio D’Amato and the Master Gardener and writer Gottardo Bonacini, whose most recent book won the Grinzane Hanbury Prize. Gottardo is redoing the grounds at the famous hotel where Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh honeymooned, and he’s designing several installations for the Biennale of Venice.
Here we are in one of the fanciest places around (the only place we saw Americans in two weeks) and just look at the simply delicious fare. A seafood salad features tender octopus and squid with an arugula mayonnaise; the pasta that followed was dressed with tiny octopi and squid in a light tomato sauce, made simply by reducing the seafood juices.
In the photo below, Gottardo and Fabio crack up about something, probably one of my utterances in the language I always seem to revert to, what I call “franglaisiano,” a mishmash of French, English, and Italian.
Dining with Friends
Time spent with Ester Carla de Miro d’Ajeta, my dear friend and film scholar, is always joyous. We have remained in touch over the years and have managed to get together a few times. In 1984, when I was living in New York City and working as the Food Editor and American Liaison of the French-language magazine, Ici New York, she came to see me with her friends Daniella Bezzi and Margaret Canepa. I cooked dinner in my sixth-floor walkup in Spanish Harlem and Margaret, who lives in Genoa half the year and in Maine half the year, asked for my recipe for cornbread, which I had served them. As I dictated the recipe, Margaret wrote. At the time she and her husband Gian were living in New York. One evening in Genoa Mikel and I went with Ester to join the Canepas for dinner in a local pizza parlor up in Castelletto above the city. Margaret had recently been transcribing all of her recipes written on cards and scraps of paper to a disk, and had come across that hand-written recipe from 25 years ago! It was raining that night in Genoa and the pizza parlor was closed, so we ambled around the hills until we came upon the charming Ristorante Osteria Maniman, tucked behind an ancient wall off the cobbled Salita San Nicolo. I ordered the famous lardo di Colonnata, which was served with honey and walnuts. Fat from the back of the pig is salted, rubbed with spices, and packed into tubs of Carrara marble to cure. Typically, it is sliced thin and served with crusty bread. This particular batch tasted strongly of nutmeg. I didn’t use the walnut and honey, but saw lardo offered with them several other places during our recent visit.
In the black and white photo, Franesca de Laurentiis, whose penthouse apartment is across the hall from Ester’s in Via Roma overlooking Piazza Corvetto, is on the left of the table and Josie Tarragoni, whom we visited at her lovely home overlooking the Riviera de Levante, is on the right. Ester’s in the background. The photo was taken when I visited Genoa in 1990. Here’s another shot of Ester and Josie at Josie’s house on Easter Monday back in 1983, when we ate a kid roasted over an open fire and torta pasqualina made with hundreds of tiny artichoke leaves, each of which had been hand-peeled!
Dinner at either Ester’s or Josie’s house is always simply divine. Ester is from the south, and cooks some dishes that are not Ligurian — her orecchiette with broccoli, for example, or her stuffed peppers. Josie served us fava beans from her garden with the local, short-cured salame.
Above, Francesca camps it up a bit as she pours some Franciacorta Spumante before dinner on Ester’s terrace one evening on our most recent visit. Here Ester and Gianni prepare to dive into those delicious orecchiette.
Earlier in the day, we had been to Barule, Gianni’s farmhouse in the country where he grew up. When his parents lived there (and when I lived in Genoa), the road stopped about a mile from the house. It was a stiff climb up hills to get there. His folks are long gone now, but he has put in a road and has been in the process of modernizing and renovating for several years now. It’s one of the most magical places I’ve ever been. (See my New York Times article from 1989 here.)
Now when you approach the property, there are sculptures made by Marc Didou and assemblages made by Claudio Costa, who was Caterina Gualco’s partner for many years and whom I knew when I lived in Genoa. Claudio unfortunately died in 1995, but the work he did at Barule, using the old farm implements, is brilliant. I found examples of Claudio’s work all over the property, including these panels hanging on the wall of the tractor garage down the hill in the meadow.
Gianni’s personal story is truly remarkable in that he was the first member of his family to venture out from the village where they had been tenant farmers for 400 years. In the 80s he was able to buy the land, just after his father, who was one of the most handsome men I’ve ever met, died. As a child, Gianni got up at 5 am and walked miles (often in the snow or rain) to get to town to take a train to go to school in Genoa. He went on to get an architecture degree and his gallery has been showing some of the 20th Century’s most renowned artists for 40 years now.
When we would visit Barule back in the early 80s when his parents were still living, Gianni would never let his mother know that we were coming. She would get mad, because, she always said, she would have killed a chicken. She needn’t have, because she always made tons of food, seemingly out of nowhere. Her name was Celeste and she spoke mostly dialect (which Gianni slips into when he’s there amongst his family members), but she and I had a special rapport, and “ma bella Celestina” was perhaps the best country cook I’ve ever known. Her food, in fact, reminded me of my paternal grandmother’s Appalachian cooking, with its use of greens, corn meal, and cast iron skillets. The old chesnut-drying barn, below, is being converted into a guest house, but in times past, chestnuts were gathered from the surrounding hills (where mushrooms are plentiful) taken around to the back of the building which is built into the hill. You can walk right up to the loft area in the back. The chestnuts were spread out on the floor of the loft, then smoldering fires were maintained in the bottom level, which had a dirt floor. When the chestnuts were thoroughly dried, they would be ground into flours for use in pasta, cakes, and breads.
Here are the Martinis at Barule back in 1983. I love the image, below, of Gianni and his father gathering hay as a storm approached.
Mikel and I had a lovely day at Barule with Gianni and Paola near the end of our visit. We had a simple lunch of pasta, a salad, and fresh strawberries. The ones that Paola is preparing in the ancient stone sink are store-bought, but we used to find huge, incredibly sweet white ones growing wild on the property. Gianni says they’ve disappeared for the most part, but wonderful little fraises de bois were coming up all over the place. It was Gianni who taught me to sprinkle a teaspoon of vinegar (red wine is preferred. You can see Celeste’s homemade wines, vinegars, and liqueurs on the table in the photo above) and teaspoon of sugar on the berries for a half-hour before serving to draw the juices (I know I’ve already written that on this blog, but it bears repeating).
I don’t know when I’ve had such a good time, as you can see in this photo that Mikel took of Gianni and Paola and me. You can see that he had a good time as well in this image, sporting his Blackberry Storm that worked amazingly well wherever we went. The land at Barule hasn’t changed much, and the village of Rossiglione hasn’t, either. His niece, who was a mere child when I lived there, is a grown woman, working at Leonicini, one of the excellent bakeries in town where we bought canestrelli and amaretti that are soft and delicate, not hard and dry like those from other parts of Italy.
Gianni and Paola are such a cute couple, I’m so happy for them. I only hope that they, and the Canepas, and Ester, and Josie, and all the folks who received us with such open arms will come to the States and let us return the hospitality.
At the end of the day, we brought in the cheese grater and cutting board we had let dry in open air. The old pear tree looked out over Barule as it has for years. And we headed back to town.
One of our first evenings in town, we took a cab up the Righi hill because I wanted to revisit the old Ostaia Du Richettu which is embedded in the walls of one of the ancient hilltop forts surrounding the city, now located in the middle of a nature preserve. Nowhere could I find any mention of the restaurant other than an address and phone number, so I asked around to see if it were still possible to be served some of the traditional dishes I remembered eating there 25 years before. Everyone seemed to think that it probably hadn’t changed much, so we took our chances and went. I was taken aback when an Asian man greeted us, but the variety of regional pasta dishes we shared were excellent and my galletto alla piastra (young rooster on a slab) was just as I remembered it, though we were seated in a brightly lit room instead of on the terrace that overlooks the park, next to the wood-burning fire where they grill the little birds. They warned me that they birds would take a half-hour. No problem. We ordered wine and pasta and settled into a relaxing evening.
Galletto alla Piastra
Also known as pollo al mattone (chicken under a brick) or pollo alla pietra (chicken under a stone), galletto alla piastra is one of the signature dishes of du Richettu. The first time I had it there, it was undoubtedly the best grilled chicken I had ever had. In the States, I had for several years been disgusted with the flabby, yellow, cottony, big-breasted chickens available in supermarkets, and had simply stopped eating them. Much has changed in the past 25 years, and what is called organic and free-range and natural is now regulated by law. Rules have tightened in both the EU and the States , but I have learned that it’s the breed and the feed of the chicken more than anything that determine taste and texture.
Livornese chickens are to Italians what the poulets de Bresse are to the French. When I lived in Genoa in the 80s, the woman who sold me chickens was from the entroterra and raised them herself. A young new pollovendola has since opened in the caruggi, selling only the finest poultry. At du Richettu, the chicken was marinated in oil and herbs and placed over a roaring wood fire several feet over which was positioned a heavy, flat grill – the “slab.” The bird – always a plump young rooster, never a hen (in the States, you’re looking for a real fryer, about 10 weeks old and no more than 3 pounds. Good luck!) – is spatchcocked, or split and made to lay flat. Many cookbook authors will tell you to remove the backbone, but that is butterflying, not spatchcocking.
An aside, con permesso: There’s no getting around the word “cock” when you’re talking about roosters, unless you want to use the generic, though asexual, “chicken.” The word for rooster and the word for penis have been the same in many cultures since time immemorial, and it wasn’t until the 19th century that prudish Americans dispatched “cock” for “rooster,” a word previously unknown in English. As though hens don’t roost! In Sanskrit the word is “kukkuta;” in Old Slavic, “kokotu;” in Old Teutonic, “kok;” and in African Senga, as in Kaffir, it’s “kuku;” in Wisa, “koko;” and, most telling, perhaps, in Latin, it was “cucurio,” meaning, “I crow.”
“Spatchcock” has a cloudy etymology, but it probably evolved from dispatch + cock. It’s a fairly new term, but the technique is ancient. Don’t remove the backbone, because the bones are wonderful to crunch on.Simply cut straight through the backbone with heavy poultry shears, then flip the bird over and splay it and press firmly down on the center of the breastbone with the heels of your hands (or with the help of a heavy pan such as a cast iron skillet) to get the bird to lay as flat as possible. Some chefs remove the ribs so that diners don’t crunch down on the tiny bones, but the moist little morsels of flesh surrounding them are delicious, so I say give everyone bibs and hand towels and let them go at the bird in medieval fashion!
Now, marinate the bird in olive oil seasoned with salt, pepper, and the fresh herbs of your choice –garlic as well, if you desire. Overnight in the refrigerator is good. The next day remove the bird to come to room temperature about an hour before grilling. While you’re preparing your grill fire, you’ll need to gather your weights. I have several common bricks that I wrap in heavy aluminum foil and oil well, but a cast-iron skillet with other weights in it will do. I’ve used rocks from a driveway at a friend’s house. It needs to weigh a lot, about 10 pounds.
Your fire should be medium low, so that you can hold your hand over it for 5 or 6 seconds. Remove the chicken from the marinade and let it drain for a moment, then place it skin side down on the grill. Immediately place the bricks on top and allow to cook, without moving it, for 15 to 20 minutes. The skin should be golden brown. If it’s not golden brown, let it go another five minutes. You can cook this bird in a skillet set over medium low heat as well. Pour a little of the marinade into the pan before you begin and let it heat up until it’s just beginning to sputter a bit before you add the chicken and weights. When golden brown, turn the bird, being careful not to pierce the crackling skin. You may have to scrape under the chicken a little at a time with an overturned metal spatula to get it up. When the bird is turned, replace the weights and cook for another 15 to 20 minutes or until the juices run clear and the internal temperature is at least 160?. Remove the weights, remove from the grill or pan, and allow to rest on a plate for a good ten minutes. I like to squeeze lots of fresh lemon juice all over the bird, then plop it down in the middle of a platter of arugula that I bring to the table, allowing guests to carve off what they will.
Lunch at Josie’s
When the metal gates opened and we looked out over Josie’s beautifully landscaped front yard, with her sweeping view of Monte Portofino, Mikel turned to Ester and me and said, “I see you saved the best for last!”
It was, indeed, our last afternoon and we had gone to have lunch with my old friend in her new home. For years Josie, who is a designer, made the accessories for Pierre Balmain, while keeping her own shop in Perugia. Josie’s father was a financier and collector of the Macchiaoli, the 19th-century Italian school of painters that predated the French impressionists. A few years ago, Josie and her brother managed to bring their father’s collection back together for an impressive exhibit and monograph of which she is very proud, and rightfully so.
Though she has always been around wealth, Josie has always worked hard, and there is never a dull moment in the conversation with her. Like everyone in Europe, she is so glad to see the States freed of the Bushes.
Her new house, up above Recco, hugs terraced hills that include a vegetable garden, an olive grove, and several outdoor dining and seating areas. It’s actually a little compound of several houses — her little “villagio,” as she calls it. The bust is of Josie when she was a young woman.
Here, she is serving us salame with fava beans from her orto. Ester and Mikel look mighty happy, don’t they?!
To the east, the view, through roses, is of the little hilltop chapel.
After lunch, we walked up through her terraces so that she could show us her various plantings, which included giant agave and cymbidium orchids in full bloom. When she asked the gardener if he had sprayed the roses, he said yes, that only the red ones had beetles, but then she found beetles in her white roses and began picking them out herself. We talked about the many perils of rose gardening, about the best way to harvest olives (Josie’s are harvested by hand and she drives them down the hill to their local mill within a couple of hours of picking), and about keeping goldfish.
Her kitchen was a brilliantly designed dual galley space, in which every cabinet closed to hide all utensils. She had several dining rooms, including one in the back with 4 flat-screen televisions where she could project images of the artworks she sponsors.
As we climbed up the terraces, the view changed dramatically, but I am always drawn to the silvery grey-green leaves and sinous trunks of an olive grove. Josie’s is particularly charming to see because it is so well maintained. The taggia olive is the local variety, one of the most delicate tasting of the hundreds of varieties. It had all but disappeared simply out of neglect for many years, but Josie has nurtured her grove with the same care she gave to her designs and to her father’s art collection. She’s truly a master of the domestic arts as well.
Our journey had all but come to an end, but I had learned a lot and had been buoyed by time spent with friends both old and new. I’ll continue to write more about Genoa. I have hundreds of photos I want to share, so this is, once again, to be continued…