Italy – Up And Down Genoa

I HAD my notebook with me on this journey, and pledged myself to make notes in it. And, indeed, I did really do something of the kind, though the result of my labors is by no means so voluminous as I would like it to be, now when the work of wishing there were more notes is so easy. We spent but one day in Genoa, and I find such a marvelous succinct record of this in my book that I am tempted to give it here, after the fashion of that Historical Heavy-weight who writes the Life of ” Frederick the Great.”

” Genoa, November 13. — Breakfast d la fourchette excellently and cheaply. I buy a hat. We go to seek the Consul, and, after finding every thing else for two hours, find him. Genoa is the most magnificent city I ever saw ; and the new monument to Columbus about the weakest possible monument. Walk through the city with Consul ; Doge’s palace ; cathedral ; girl turning somersaults in the street ; blind madman on the cathedral steps. We leave for Naples at twelve midnight.”

As for the breakfast, it was eaten at one of the many good caffè in Genoa, and perhaps some statictician will like to know that for a beefsteak and potatoes, with a half-bottle of Ligurian wine, we paid a franc. For this money we had also the society of an unoccupied waiter, who leaned against a marble column and looked on, with that gentle, half-compassionate interest in our appetites, which seems native to the tribe of waiters. A slight dash of surprise is in this professional manner ; and there is a faint smile on the solemn, professional countenance, which is perhaps prompted by too intimate knowledge of the mysteries of the kitchen and the habits of the cook. The man who passes his life among beefsteaks can-not be expected to love them, or to regard without wonder the avidity with which others devour them. I imagine that service in restaurants must beget simple and natural tastes in eating, and that the jaded men who minister there to our pampered appetites demand only for themselves —

“A scrip with herbs and fruits supplied, And water from the spring.”

Turning from this thought to the purchase of my fiat, I do not believe that literary art can interest the reader in that purely personal transaction, though I have no doubt that a great deal might be said about buying hats as a principle. I prefer, therefore, to pass to our search for the Consul.

A former Consul at —, whom I know, has told me a good many stories about the pieces of popular mind which he received at different times from the travelling public, in reproof of his difficulty of discovery ; and I think it must be one of the most jealously guarded rights of American citizens in foreign lands to declare the national representative hard to find, if there is no other complaint to lodge against him. It seems to be, in peculiar degree, a quality of consulship at —, to be found remote and inaccessible. My friend says that even at New York, before setting out for his post, when inquiring into the history of his predecessors, he heard that they were one and all hard to find ; and he relates that on the steamer, going over, there was a low fellow who set the table in a roar by a vulgar anecdote to this effect: —

” There was once a consul at who indicated his office-hours by the legend on his door, ‘ In from ten to one.’ An old ship-captain, who kept coming for about a week without finding the Consul, at last furiously wrote, in the terms of wager, under this legend, ‘ Ten to one you ‘re out ! ‘ ”

My friend also states that one day a visitor of his remarked : ” I ‘m rather surprised to find you in. As a general rule, I never do find consuls in.” Habitually, his fellow-countrymen entertained him with ac-counts of their misadventures in reaching him. It was useless to represent to them that his house was in the most convenient locality in —, where, indeed, no stranger can walk twenty rods from his hotel without losing himself; that their guide was an ass, or their courier a rogue. They listened to him politely, but they never pardoned him in the least ; and neither will I forgive the Consul at Genoa. I had Ro earthly consular business with him, but a private favor to ask. It was Sunday, and I could not reason-ably expect to find him at his office, or any body to tell me where he lived ; but I have seldom had so keen a sense of personal wrong and national neglect as in, my search for that Consul’s house.

In Italy there is no species of fact with which an) human being you meet will not pretend to have per feet acquaintance, and, of course, the driver whose fiacre we took professed himself a complete guide to the Consul’s whereabouts, and took us successively to the residences of the consuls of all the South American republics. It occurred to me that it might be well to inquire of these officials where their colleague was to be found ; but it is true that not one consul of them was at home ! Their doors were opened by vacant old women, in whom a vague intelligence feebly guttered, like the wick of an expiring candle, and who, after feigning to throw floods of light on the object of my search, successively flickered out, and left me in total darkness.

Till that day, I never knew of what lofty flights stairs were capable. As out-of-doors, in Genoa, it is either all up or down hill, so indoors it is either all up or down stairs. Ascending and descending, in one palace after another, those infinite marble steps, it became a question not solved to this hour, whether it was worse to ascend or descend, each ordeal in its ‘,urn seemed so much more terrible than the other.

At last I resolved to come to an understanding with the driver, and I spent what little breath I had left — it was dry and hot as the simoom — in blowing up that infamous man. ” You are a great driver,” I said, “not to know your own city. What are you good for if you can’t take a foreigner to his consul’s ? ” ” Signore,” answered the driver patiently, ” you would have to get a book in two volumes by heart, in order to be able to find ever:: body in Genoa. This city is a labyrinth.”

Truly, it had so proved, and I could scarcely believe in my good luck when I actually found my friend, and set out with him on a ramble through its toils.

A very great number of the streets in Genoa are footways merely, and these are as narrow, as dark, as full of jutting chimney-places, balconies, and opened window-shutters, and as picturesque as the little alleys in Venice. They wander at will around the bases of the gloomy old stone palaces, and seem to have a vagabond fondness for creeping down to the port, and losing themselves there in a certain cavernous arcade which curves round the water with the flection of the shore, and makes itself a twilight at noonday. Under it are clangorous shops of iron-smiths, and sizzling shops of marine cooks, and, looking down its dim perspective, one beholds chiefly sea-legs coming and going, more or less affected by strong waters ; and as the faces to which these sea-legs belong draw near, one discerns sailors from all parts of the world, — tawny men from Sicily and Norway, as diverse in their tawniness as olive and train-oil ; sharp faces from Nantucket and from the Piræus, likewise mightily different in their sharpness ; blonde Germans ana blonde Englishmen ; and now and then a colored brother also in the seafaring line, with sea-legs, also, more or less affected by strong waters like the rest.

What curious people are these seafarers! They coast the whole world, and know nothing of it, being more ignorant and helpless than children on shore. I spoke with the Yankee mate of a ship one day at Venice, and asked him how he liked the city.

Well, he had not been ashore yet.

He was told he had better go ashore ; that the Piazza San Marco was worth seeing.

Well, he knew it ; he had seen pictures of it ; but he guessed he wouldn’t go ashore.

Why not, now he was here ?

Well, he laid out to go ashore the next time he came to Venice.

And so, bless his honest soul, he lay three weeks at Venice with. his ship, after a voyage of two months, and he sailed away without ever setting his foot on that enchanted ground.

I should have liked to stop some of those seafarers and ask them what they thought of Genoa.

It must have been in the little streets — impassable or horses — that the people sat and talked, as Heine fabled, in their doorways, and touched knees with the people sitting and talking on the thresholds of the opposite side. But we saw no gossipers there on our Sunday in Genoa ; and I think the domestic race of Heine’s day no longer lives in Genoa, for every body we saw on the streets was gayly dressed in the idea of the last fashions, and was to be met chiefly in the public promenades. The fashions were French ; but

here still lingers the lovely phantom of the old na. tional costume of Genoa, and snow-white veils fluttered from many a dark head, and caressed many an olive cheek. It is the kindest and charitablest of attirements, this white veil, and, while decking beauty to the most perilous effect, befriends and modifies age and ugliness.

The pleasure with which I look at the splendor of an Italian crowd in winter is always touched with melancholy. I know that, at the time of its noonday promenade, it has nothing but a cup of coffee in its stomach ; that it has emerged from a house as cold and dim as a cellar ; and that it will presently go home to dine on rice and boiled beef. I know that chilblains secretly gnaw the hands inside of its kid gloves, and I see in the rawness of its faces the anguish of winter-long suffering from cold. But I also look at many in this crowd with the eye of the economist, and wonder how people practicing even so great self-denial as they can contrive to make so much display on their little means, — how those clerks of public offices, who have rarely an income of five hundred dollars a year, can dress with such peerless gorgeousness. I suppose the national instinct reaches them ways and means unknown to us. The passion for dress is universal : the men are as fond of it as the women ; and, happily, clothes are comparatively cheap. It is no great harm in itself, this display : it is only a pity that there is often nothing, of worse than nothing, under the shining surface.

We walked with the brilliant Genoese crowd upon the hill where the public promenade overlooks a landscape of city and country, houses and gardens, vines and olives, which it makes the heart ache to behold, it is so faultlessly beautiful. Behind us the fountain was —

” Shaking its loosened silver in the sun ; ”

the birds were singing; and there were innumerable fair girls going by, about whom one might have made romances if one had not known better. Our friend pointed out to us the ” pink jail ” in which Dickens lived while at Genoa; and showed us on the brow of a distant upland the villa, called Il Paradiso, which Byron had occupied. I dare say this Genoese joke is already in print That the Devil reentered Paradise when Byron took this villa. Though, in loveliest Italy, one is half-persuaded that the Devil had never left Paradise.

After lingering a little longer on that delicious height, we turned and went down for a stroll through the city.

My note-book says that Genoa is the most magnificent city I ever saw, and I hold by my notebook, though I hardly know how to prove it. Venice is, and remains, the most beautiful city in the world ; but her ancient rival impresses you with greater splendor. I suppose that the exclusively Renaissance architecture, which Ruskin declares the architecture of pride, lends itself powerfully to this effect in Genoa. It is here in its best mood, and there is little grotesque Renaissance to be seen, though the palaces are, as usual, loaded with ornament. The Via Nu ova is the chief thoroughfare of the city, and the crowd pours through this avenue between long lines of palaces. Height on height rise the stately, sculptured façades, colonnaded, statued, pierced by mighty doorways and lofty windows ; and the palaces seem to gain a kind of aristocratic hauteur from the fact that there are for the most part no sidewalks, and that the carriages, rolling insolently through the crowd. threaten constantly to grind the pedestrian up against their carven marbles, and immolate him to their stony pride. There is something gracious and gentle in the grandeur of Venice, and much that the heart loves to cling to ; but in Genoa no sense of kindliness is touched by the magnificence of the city.

It was an unspeakable relief, after such a street, to come, on a sudden, upon the Duomo, one of the few Gothic buildings in Genoa, and rest our jaded eyes on that architecture which Heaven seems truly to have put into the thoughts of man together with the Christian faith. O beloved beauty of aspiring arches, of slender and clustered columns, of flowering capitals and window-traceries, of many-carven breadths and heights, wherein all Nature breathes and blossoms again ! There is neither Greek perfection, nor winning Byzantine languor, nor insolent Renaissance pulence, which may compare with this loveliness of yours ! Alas that the interior of this Gothic temple of Genoa should abonni in the abomination of rococo, restoration ! They say that the dust of St. John the Baptist lies there within a costly shrine ; and I wonder that it can sleep in peace amid all that heathenish show of bad taste. But the poor saints have to suffer a great deal in Italy.

Outside, in the piazza before the church, there was an idle, cruel crowd, amusing itself with the efforts of a blind old man to find the entrance. He had a number of books which he desperately laid down while he ran his helpless hands over the clustered columns, and which he then desperately caught up again, in fear of losing them. At other times he paused, and wildly clasped his hands upon his eyes, or wildly threw up his arms ; and then began to run to and fro again uneasily, while the crowd laughed and jeered. Doubtless a taint of madness afflicted him ; but not the less he seemed the type of a blind soul that gropes darkly about through life, to find the doorway of some divine truth or beauty, — touched by the heavenly harmonies from within, and miserably failing, amid the scornful cries and bitter glee of those who have no will but to mock aspiration.

The girl turning somersaults in another place had far more popular sympathy than the blind madman at the temple door, but she was hardly a more cheerful spectacle. For all her festive spangles and fairy-like brevity of skirts, she had quite a work-a-day look upon her honest, blood-red face, as if this were business though it looked like sport, and her part of the diversion were as practical as that of the famous captain of the waiters, who gave the act of peeling a sack of potatoes a playful effect by standing on his head. The poor damsel was going over and over, to the sound of most dismal drumming and braying, in front of the Immense old palace of the Genoese Doges, — a classic building, stilted on a rustic base, and quite worthy – of Palladia, if any body thinks that is praise.

There was little left of our day when we had dined ; but having seen the outside of Genoa, and not hoping to see the inside, we found even this little heavy on our hands, and were glad as the hour drew near when we were to take the steamer for Naples.

It had been one of the noisiest days spent during several years in clamorous Italy, whose voiceful up-roar strikes to the summits of her guardian Alps, and greets the coming stranger, and whose loud Addio would stun him at parting, if he had not meanwhile become habituated to the operatic pitch of her every-day tones. In Genoa, the hotels, taking counsel of the vagabond streets, stand about the cavernous arcade already mentioned, and all the noise of the ship-ping reaches their guests. We rose early that Sun-day morning to the sound of a fleet unloading car-goes of wrought-iron, and of the hard swearing of all nations of seafaring men. The whole day long the tumult followed us, and seemed to culminate at last in the screams of a parrot, who thought it fine to cry, ” Piove ! piove ! piove ! ” — ” It rains ! it rains ! it rains ! ” — and had, no doubt, a secret interest in some umbrella-shop. This unprincipled bird dwelt somewhere in the neighborhood of the street where you see the awful tablet in the wall devoting to infamy the citizens of the old republic that were false to their country. The sight of that pitiless stone recalls with a thrill the picturesque, unhappy past, with all the wandering, half-benighted efforts of the people to rend their liberty from now a foreign and now a native lord.. At best, they only knew how to avenge their wrongs ; but now, let us hope. they have learnt, with all Italy, to prevent then.. The will was never wanting of old to the Ligurian race, and in this time they have done their full share to establish Italian freedom.

I do not know why it should have been so surprising to hear the boatman who rowed us to the steamer’s anchorage speak English ; but, after his harsh Genoese profanity in getting his boat into open water, it was the last thing we expected from him. It had somehow the effect of a furious beast addressing you in your native tongue, and telling you it was ” Wary poordy wedder ; ” and it made us cling to his good-nature with the trembling solicitude of Little Red-Riding-Hood, when she begins to have the first faint suspicions of her grandmother. However, our boatman was no wild beast, but took our six cents of buonamano with the base servility of a Christian man, when he had put our luggage in the cabin of the steamer. I wonder how he should have known us for Americans ? He did so know us, and said he had been at New York in better days, when he voyaged upon higher seas than those he now navigated.

On board, we watched with compassion an old gentleman in the cabin making a hearty meal of sardines and fruit-pie, and I asked him if he had even been at sea. No, he said. I could have wept over that Innocent old gentleman’s childlike confidence of appetite, and guileless trust of the deep.

We went on deck, where one of the gentle beings of our party declared that she would remain as long as Genoa was in sight ; and to tell the truth, the scene was worthy of the promised devotion. There, in a half-circle before us, blazed the lights of the quay ; above these twinkled the lamps of the steep streets and climbing palaces ; over and behind all hung the darkness on the heights, — a sable cloud dotted with ruddy points of flame burning in the windows of invisible houses.

down the bay, and presently caught the heavy swell of the open sea. The other gentle being of our party then clutched my shoulder with a dreadful shudder, and after gasping, ” O Mr. Scribbler, why will the ship roll so ? ” was meekly hurried below by her sister, who did not return for a last glimpse of Genoa the Proud.

In a moment heaven’s sweet pity flapped away as with the sea-gull’s wings, and I too felt that there was no help for it, and that I must go and lie down in the cabin. With anguished eyes I beheld upon the shelf opposite to mine the innocent old gentleman who had lately supped so confidently on sardines and fruit-pie. He lay upon his back, groaning softly to himself.