And so we begin the travelogue of the incredible trip that Jaci and I took this last April.  11 days in Genoa as “V.I.P.” guests of Franco Ghisalberti (and his family and friends).  For those new to, Franco is the person who for many years now has led the rediscovery and appreciation of the virtuoso harp guitarist Pasquale Taraffo.  With common goals, he and I have been collaborating on the ongoing story and archive of the career and instruments of Taraffo and his contemporaries in Genoa.

With poor communication skills in each others’ language, it has been an unusual work-in-progress between two disparate “pen pals.”  What would ensue if I ever met the 83-year-old classical music-loving philanthropist?  We were about to find out!

Franco invited us to visit him a couple of years running, and we finally found the means and time to go (we skipped our planned 20-year anniversary return to Ireland in 2009 in order to plan this more extensive trip to Italy).  We thought we were just going on vacation, but it turned out Franco had other plans: a full, day-by-day schedule of harp guitar research and adventures!  In fact, it wasn’t until a few days before the event that I learned I would be giving a public lecture (and I hadn’t even brought the pope outfit).

Not knowing the full extent (and seriousness) of our itinerary, we actually came close to canceling the trip when we were delayed once, then again (and still jostling flights and routes when finally at the airport) by that pesky volcano that all but shut down Europe.

Thank goodness we persevered, as this would prove to be the trip of a lifetime.  Day  1 consisted of nothing but a really lousy flight on Alitalia, on an old plane with worn bucket seats that defied any attempt at sleeping.

As you can see.

But we slapped ourselves awake to meet our benefactor Franco, along with Sylvia, the delightful full-time translator he had engaged to be our guide.

The morning was spent on a cab ride around the coastline of the city, including our first authentic gelato.

We were then dropped off at our hotel, adjacent to the restored opera house and this magnificent piazza (courtyard).  From here we set off on the walk to Franco’s home.

Passing by the birthplace of Christopher Columbus.

A  fascinating city built on top of itself over 12 centuries.  The “streets” and alleys, originally designed for nothing wider than a donkey cart, were a warren-like maze of adventure.

Scaled-down vehicles do get through most places.  Laundry hanging out of seemingly every window or between buildings (technically illegal) reminded me of the spaghetti scene in Lady and the Tramp.

The ground floors were of course the oldest, and fantastic stone carvings and other architectural elements were everywhere, such as this random element framing what is now a small pharmacy.

We finally reached the top of the long cobblestone walk, at this beautiful church (nicely renovated).  These cathedrals are everywhere it seems.  This one was built by a well-to-do woman one day after she was late to her church by a few minutes and not allowed entry for the service (Oh yeah?  Well then I’ll just build my own church…).

In this panoramic postcard, one can see the church at top right.  Franco’s home (~ a quarter of a floor in one of those several-story buildings) is to the right and behind.  His balcony overlooks the docks for the cruise ships.

Franco had been delightedly telling me that he had a surprise waiting for me at his home.  I was too tired and overwhelmed to even contemplate what that might be, until he let us in to his living room…

…can you stand the suspense?

Next week: Franco’s Surprise