Closed, cold, grumpy, but also tenacious, prudent, gifted… every great city and Italian region has its own, and these are the first negative and positive stereotypes that you hear about the Genoese. “Some are sampdorians”, someone jokes. But above all they are said to be stingy (the famous “little short arm”), and at the same time, they are said to be generous… but the negative stereotype is often more famous! And that’s all the proof we’d need of the fallibility of the stereotype itself, being able, over time, to affirm everything and the opposite of everything.
But where do these stereotypes come from? And where is the “truth”? Probably in the middle of the two statements, as Latin philosophers already knew.
After a few days of exploration in Genoa, what we have noticed is that all the stereotypes reveal themselves in different shapes and quantities for each person, ultimately gifting, as a result, a kinder and more open city of its fame. However, an ancient fame (otherwise the stereotype would not have had the time to “train” and involve so many people) which therefore must be taken with the necessary contexts and references.
When it comes to stereotypes we must rely on historical facts, “oral traditions” and legends. According to what a Genoese remembers, “in Genoa we still curse Sir Francis Drake and 1588!”.
“Genoa, despite being on the sea, has linked its wealth not so much to seafaring activity as to banking. The golden age of the Superba corresponds to the 16th century, the period of Andrea Doria“, admiral, politician and nobleman of the Republic of Genoa who had the gold in his name”. “Gold” in Italian is “oro”. The time when the city’s coffers left for Spain and they returned overflowing with the gold of the Americas, so much so that it was said: “gold is born in the New World, but is buried in Genoa”.
“In 1585 the war between Spain and England broke out, and Philip II intends to recruit an “armada invencible” to defeat Drake, asking for loans from the Genoese. These, although hesitant to invest so much money, finance this operation which led to the construction of 130 vessels, the armament of 24 thousand men and the terrible battles of 1588″.
“You all know the end of the story: a series of violent storms and Drake’s ability ends Spanish dreams and with them also the beautiful Genoa, which after a century of wealth, possessions and splendor, will find itself completely ruined, paving the way for its own decline”.
“Here begins the distrust of the “furesti”, “foreigners” in Genoese (if it were not for the Spaniards…) and the parsinomy (mind you, not stinginess!) of the Genoese”.
Two centuries later Montesquieu, in his Voyage d’Italie (the one-year diaries between 1728 and 1729), also wrote about the avarice of the Genoese. “Beyond the appreciation of the beauty of the city, the French philosopher recorded the poverty of the Republic, the mild temperament, but very proud of its citizens, male and female. He adds that they are not at all sociable people, perhaps because of extreme avarice: “There is nothing more a liar than their palaces: outside, superb houses, and inside an old servant going around (…). Inviting someone to lunch in Genoa is unconceivable” (p. 108). Further on: “shyness can be overcome, avarice cannot” (p. 152). “The Genoese are not refined in any way: they are massive stones that cannot be cut. Those who have been sent to foreign courts have returned to Genoa as before” (p. 109). Lastly, a singular Ligurian record: “the worst lands in the world”.
Among the rumors: “it is said that the Genoese do not throw anything away, sometimes not even waste. In fact, the firefighters found real illegal landfills at home”. Or the story of the Marquise Giustiniani who, on receiving the Queen of England, apologized for being able to offer her only a coffee, because “you know, everything is so expensive in life…” “But perhaps it was not greed. What we should remember the most about the nineteenth-century marquise Nina Giustiniani, is that, as a noble, she was a republican patriot who raised funds and made propaganda for Mazzini’s Giovine Italia. She was banished from Genoa when she particularly aroused scandal during her participation in a lyrical representation by wearing a colored dress during the days of mourning following the death of King Carlo Felice. She was in love with a young Camillo Benso, officere at the time, and committed suicide for this impossible love at just 34 years old.
But on closer inspection, perhaps “the legend” did not even refer to the past, to Queen Victoria, but to the present, to “16th October 1980. Genoa, “the most English city in Italy”, receives Elizabeth II Queen of England. The queen does not shy away from the formalities of the official meetings, but the pleasure of her visit lies entirely in the meeting with the marquise Carlotta Giustiniani Fasciotti Cattaneo Adorno, who invited her for “the five o’clock tea”. But we certainly don’t talk about coffee.
In short, Genoa seems a city capable of bringing together many opposites and contradictions. Today it apparently shows a “multicultural” presence, more mixed and integrated than other Italian cities. On the street there are groups of mixed friends of all ages, more “refined” home initiatives, “real” shops. You can find a similar spirit, for example, in Turin (thinking of the central Porta Palazzo and its Marrakech-style market-souk, frequented by all). On the other hand, you can feel the distance from Rome, the capital that still keeps its distances – and where in fact the division at the center makes itself felt a lot, as in Piazza Vittorio, to soften in certain areas such as Tor Pignattara and ambivalently in Tor Sapienza. Or Naples where perhaps distances shorten, but not always successfully, when they translate into free harassment and racisms who unfold with a certain nonchalance and indifference.
Among the narrow alleys of Genoa there are Arab tailors, halal butchers, African groceries, Eritrean diners… against the thousand and one tourist mini markets reproduced with the stencil, and always managed by Bengali people (but often not directly by them!), who are spreading in Rome, and beyond the historic center; there is the experience of GhettUp, near Piazza Don Gallo, in the “ghetto” of the Porto Antico, “a place open to migrants, refugees, people of all ages who experience hardships related to emigration or marginalization, citizens, artists , anyone who needs help to solve bureaucratic problems, or even just for a chat, for moments of play and after school. Five projects open to all (in order to make the neighborhood known outside): a literacy course, a point for legal advice, painting courses, GhettUp TV (self-managed experience of “neighborhood television”), the committee and ecological center for the development of interventions to be implemented in the area”. What you notice, in Genoa, are also many writings on the walls, everywhere. They are not just “signatures”, people seem to have a strong need to communicate and sometimes they respond! Writing on the wall that speak of freedom, rights, and doing together.
But also this clashes with another stereotype: “the Genoese are manimani“. “Is it a Genoese word?” “Yes, it is complicated to explain. It means more or less “in case you decide to do so, it could happen worse”. Let’s say it’s an excellent excuse for not taking initiatives”. But remembering certain great Genoese people, you wouldn’t say so!
Photo taglines in English: 1 “Fabrizio De Andrè “street to the sea” 2 View on the Lantern 3 From the “bridge” of the Genoa Aquarium 4 GhettUp 5 The street priest’s square 6 Piazza Don Gallo and an inscription 7 Piazza Don Gallo, in the background some people are eating. The “ugly square” that “the street priest” seems to have adored 8 “How fucking beautiful is life?” 9 “Co-working spies”, decidedly open 10 “Gray people do not understand…” (and then maybe)
“Erase dutiful life” 11 “Each of us has to give something, to make sure that some of us are not forced to give everything” 12 The ancient center 13 Dialogues between illuminations and walls 14 “Hi God!” on San Siro 15 Via del Campo 16 Fabrizio De Andrè 17 Hanging clothes, domes and the bell tower of Madonna delle Vigne (one of the few madonnas represented while breastfeeding) 18 Madonna delle Vigne nursing the baby. Alongside the votes for the boys, obviously blue, and for the girls, obviously pink 19 San Francisco? No, “caruggi!!!” (the small writing at the end of one of the many “climbs” in Genoa) 20 Zen and benzo (diazepines?) 21 The underpass for children’s rights under Piazza Corvetto 22 “Children have the right to be heard in all proceedings that concern them” 23 Giuseppe Mazzini’s grave at Staglieno cemetery surrounded by the forest of the mountains 24 Cemetery of Staglieno 25 Camogli, the “island” with the castle of the Dragon 26 Camogli. Fish festival on the second Sunday of the month. With the occasion (?) jeans are sold off (strictly Genoese invention!) 27 Camogli. Santa Rosa, Jupiter, Cristoforo Colombo. A saint, a god, an explorer. In Liguria, “painted architectures” recur, as do apparently disparate combinations.