In June 2017, my wife Jaci and I enjoyed another European trip, instigated in part on my musical interests and activities; on her part, it would be to see similarly interesting things, and for both of us, many friends.
After a wonderful time in Scotland, we made the short journey from Edinburgh to Genoa, Italy, home of my esteemed Taraffo collaborator and our dear friend Franco Ghisalberti (along with family and many other friends).
In the past, we’ve been spoiled staying with Franco and Margarita in his home. For this trip, we were equally spoiled staying in a 5-star hotel nearby. There was a special concert planned at the hotel in a couple of days, so “convenience” was the operative word for this trip.
Here’s a nearly 180 panorama view from our window:
From what Franco said, apparently, we could practically have thrown a stone and hit the building across the promenade where he grew up. It was somewhere in this area shown above. He said the buildings were bombed during the war but have of course been rebuilt.
In the morning, we strolled up to Franco’s, once again passing by the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta just around the corner from his home. This is one of the tallest landmarks on the coast of Genoa – we always try to spot it when we fly in, and had thought we had, except that it looked like some sort of giant “Erector Set.”
Turns out we were right – the beautiful structure which dates back to 1548 is undergoing another restoration.
On our dozens of walks past it over the years, we’d only briefly glanced inside, so, with Franco joining us, we decided it was time for a quiet private tour.
It was commissioned by a wealthy Genovese merchant (?) in 1482. I can’t even fathom just strolling in off the street into something from that long ago. But that’s what this beautiful city is full of. Niches in the main columns contain larger-than-life-size marble statues carved by the finest masters in the late 1600’s. Similar period oil canvases adorn the walls.
Even their construction ladder was a historical piece from another time and place.
Underneath the restored organ.
Back at Franco’s, we discovered he had learned a new American word: “Lazy Boy.”
When we could pry him out of it, he showed us some of his latest antique treasures (left, a new antique music box).
Time for his nap, so Franco’s neighbors – our recent Dutch friends Else and Jans (below) – volunteered to take us to a couple of other out-of-the-way landmarks.
Tucked in a narrow alley off another alley off of…well you get the idea (we could never have found it), the oldest chocolate shop in Genoa, still in the original family since 1866.
Traditional handmade sweets of every description.
Still made exactly the same way with original stone rollers and other antique machinery in the back room – a working museum of sorts.
And another few alleys away, the oldest pharmacy in town, with stacks of homemade soaps.
Afterward, we all met up for dinner with special friends Alberto & Luisella Basso. Almond coconut prawns were just one of the decadent appetizers!
The next day – Friday – would end in a special concert Franco had once again orchestrated (sorry, I mean “organized,” he didn’t conduct). We had the morning free, and I had seen posters around town for a special Dino Fest or something. So Jaci and I took off for the town’s Natural History Museum, which we were unaware existed until this trip.
On the map it was just a few short blocks; in reality, every one of those blocks was more vertical than horizontal – one of the endless 3-dimensional architectural puzzles in this charming city built on hills. A hundred feet from the entrance of our hotel, we start off at one of our favorite spots – a “simple” connecting stairway that gets you to the street just a few yards away as the crow flies. An IMAX camera couldn’t take it all in.
Several twists and turns later, we arrived. Alas, the special exhibit was geared more for school children but was very nicely done.
We enjoyed the original exhibits more.
I also enjoyed eavesdropping on the Italian grade school group reciting their charming reports on (I assume) paleo-topics. My favorite was the kid who simply played the Theme from Jurassic Park on the trumpet. 5 gold stars!
Last episode, I mentioned the expertise of the taxidermy at the Edinburgh National Museum. Genoa’s has not been so updated but was still of historical and scientific interest for this zoologist. Above, just a portion of the bird hall.
There were many unfamiliar to me, like the Himalayan monal (Lophophorus impejanus). Nice to google when I got home and discover they’re still around.
Plenty of creepy stuff…surprisingly, Jaci took pics of the old bat display…
…while I was mesmerized by those horrific deep-sea anglers I grew up with in my nature books.
2 centimeters of pickled horror.
The Lepidoptera hall was quaintly Victorian and reeking of over a century of fumigant.
A very modern-looking gemstone room.
Our favorite adventure was hitting what we thought was the elevator button for the 2nd level, the doors opening and stumbling into the facility’s inner sanctum. We would’ve loved a tour! There was no one around, so I snapped a couple pics as we “pretended to be lost.” Yes, we’re museum geeks. BTW, Did I tell you Jaci got to work several weekends at our L.A. Natural History Museum? (they have a hidden costume collection).
We always demand farinata when we visit, so Franco had it delivered for late lunch. A giant pastry-like pancake made from local chickpeas. This year, they had added a new twist – a decadent “french fry” version of the same.
After clean-up in our hotel, we went downstairs to a reserved room where tonight’s concert – our old friend Fabrizio Giudice – would take place. There to film was our camera crew from our 2016 Pasquale Taraffo documentary – Paolo and Luca!
Once again, Franco introduced his “famous” collaborator from America (that would be me).
Another short impromptu speech. 5 minutes before, my translator for the film, Bernard Patrick had shown up unannounced, so we quickly went into our “routine.” I had little to say this trip other than telling the audience about the successful completion of our documentary project and its popularity – 4500 views and counting, equally distributed between Italian and English-speaking viewers.
My esteemed collaborator, the world-class guitarist Fabrizio Giudice, performed predominately on 6-string. His virtuoso concert included works by Bach, Paganini, Tarrega,and Giuliani.
He finished with four harp guitar pieces on his Gazzo – Mertz’ Hungarian Fantasy and Fabrizio’s meticulous transcriptions of some of Taraffo’s recordings.
We make a good team. Wish I could do this for a living.
We saw many old friends at the reception afterward, including pianist Giacomo Battarino and Chiara Rinaldi (my other fearless translator from past trips) and Margarita. I also met a couple of other local guitarists, one of whom we’ll meet up with in our next episode.