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Roaring Girl
The adventures of the yacht Roaring Girl wandering the seas.
Singing in the Square
07/09/2009, Le Grazie

On Monday night, the festival included singing by this quartet, singing arias and other pieces from operas. It was great fun to listen, and there was a rapt audience.
Our favourite café in Le Grazie deserves a cruiser mention. The Costa Rica is on the front, has free wifi and a small book swap, excellent locally-brewed beer, good nibbles, and a lovely cat! Definitely the place to drop in while the washing is doing its thing.
On Tuesday we hauled up our very muddy anchor and made tracks south. Le Grazie is a very good anchorage though it's a bit of a trek to open water to empty your holding tanks. If they put in a pump-out, it would be very helpful, and make it a good spot for wintering on the hook.

Places and people
Gardens, statues, museums
05/09/2009, La Spezia

On the Saturday we caught the bus into La Spezia, the sizeable harbour city at the head of the bay. It was ‚'¨1.20 each, each way. It took ages to find the tourist information, which is (from the point of view of the visitor) tucked away in the park, down the eastern end of the ribbon of green that extends along the harbour front.
Saturday is the main market day in the town; we weren't buying, but it would be an excellent provisioning spot. There's lots of other shops, and allegedly a chart agent round by the naval base. La Spezia is one of the bigger naval ports in Italy, although apparently it took Napoleon to realise the advantages of this superb natural harbour. It also has a big container port, so the bay does see some very large vessels moving to and fro.
The town is very proud of its waterfront park, laid out in the late nineteenth century and home to various exotic flora. In the Italian style it is very green, rather than flowery, and very formal. It is dotted with heroic statues of unidentified men.
La Spezia gave us a very good lunch (local shellfish spaghetti and nice wine), and we then visited its most notable art collection, the Museu Amadeo Lia. This huge agglomeration of art from the ancient Greeks to the late nineteenth century was brought together by the local family. It's now housed in a old church and convent, dating from the 17th century, and the collection is carefully organised in ways which reflect the building's history.
We had the place nearly to ourselves (apart from some very grumpy security staff, who seemed to resent our interruption). There are some wonderful illuminated manuscripts, including three gorgeous minatures from the Vulgate version of Lancelot du Lac, a wide range of beautiful late-Gothic paintings on gold, and many renaissance wonders. We especially liked the bronze of a horse making a corvette, and some exquisitely painted and very modern looking Roman glass. Well worth a visit and the quite steep ‚'¨6.50 entry fee.

Places and people
Morning caller
04/09/2009, Walking to Portovénere

It's not far on tracks over the hill to Portovénere. On the way we passed this donkey, who brays loudly morning and evening. He shares the field with several goats, on the sere grass and steep slopes that could not sustain a horse or a cow.

Places and people
Lovely swim
02/09/2009, Vernazza

After the rowing we swam off the back of the boat, underneath this glorious cliff. The train runs through it and you can hear its echoes as it passes.

Places and people
Shades of grey
02/09/2009, Elba

Ever-steepening hills fold together. Sailing west into the setting sun, slopes overlap and caress each other, subtly changing colour and line.
It is easy to believe that the island is uninhabited, and project romances onto the slopes and forest. Romans, pirates, Napoleon, dinosaurs: anything could be waiting up there.

Places and people
More high views
30/08/2009, Genoa

This is the view of the docks from the roof, which is worth climbing up for in its own right. It also illustrates our description of the complications of the docks here, which stretch a much longer distance in the other direction (west). From one tiny stone quay, the Molo Vecchio, to this huge dock area.
(The photo was taken through the protective screens around the terrace, and one was dirtier than another: hence the different colours.)
Another feature of the museum is the presentation of the architect Renzo Piano's vision for his home city. As one might expect from Piano, it is nothing if not ambitious. He wants to move the airport out to another, artificial island, connected by subways to the mainland, thus releasing the existing area for a major new site of containerage and ship building. In addition he envisages a new string of open space (a great deficiency in central Genoa), a techno-park, conduits re-aerating the anaerobic harbour basins and so on. A big driver for all these proposals is Genoa's position in the trans-European freight networks (TENs), which of course don't even touch the UK.
These are amazingly exciting proposals from a regeneration point of view, though (surprise!) there is no evidence of how such plans might be financed, nor whether they would bring genuine additional wealth to the many people we saw living in poverty in the old city. (We have rarely seen such obvious prostitution, and we visit a lot of docksides!) We hope that the vision can be expanded to address real need in Genoa itself, and that the best bits of such opportunities won't get lost in a headlong dash for old-world-economic growth.

Places and people
Why do they call it a 'genoa'?
30/08/2009, Genoa

This picture gives a clue. The galleys, when wind allowed, hoisted a sail on a tall mast, and here's a wonderful picture of a fleet of them.
For those not nautically inclined, the genoa is a triangular sail at the front of a boat which comes far enough aft to overlap the mast. It doesn't carry a spar along the top like these ones, but does belly out in a similar way when sailing downwind. (And, as far as wikipedia can be relied upon, the genoa, as a large overlapping foresail, was indeed named after the city.)

Places and people
Museum of the sea
30/08/2009, Genoa

On Sunday we went to Galata, the maritime museum housed in the old shipyard, or Darsena of Genoa. And a very splendid museum it is: we recommend it to anyone.
Amongst the highlights was a splendid recreation of a classic Genoese galley. These fearsome rowing machines were used both for trade and for the mercenary fighting fleet created by Andrea Doria. That is a fast-loading gun on the front.
Hiring out these fighters was an important foundation for Genoese wealth, but even here they couldn't resist ostentation; they decorated the stern boards of these vessels, commissioning expensive and high profile painters for the purpose. The other galley-using nations - Pisa, Barcelona, Venice - didn't waste money on such things, but Genoa could afford it.
The galleys were theoretically crewed in thirds: one third slaves, one third convicts and third volunteers. In fact the volunteers were often ex-criminals, kept in effective serfdom by reliance on company scrip, which supported the energetic casinos run on every boat. The slaves were often Moslem, distinguished by shaving their heads save for a scalp lock.
Genoa in many ways was an Eastern looking city, with many of its colonies on the Black Sea, and close relationships with Turkey and the Levant. This shows in its architecture and food and even today in its plurality.
Another great exhibit in the Museum was the story of Italian emigration to America. This was excellently presented, including a tour round elements of an emigrant steamer, from steerage to first class. The peak of such emigration was the last part of the nineteenth century, a little later than Ireland. Emigration was driven by starvation and disease (pellagra in the north and malaria in the south), as well a the lack of democracy in the newly united country. The exhibition commented that Italian emigration laws set a high standard of diet for emigrants in steerage, and this was often better than the food they had had at home.
It was striking to see both similarities and differences from the Irish history.. Men and women were separated, with boys as young as seven sent to the men's quarters. Food was provided, rather than bought by the emigrants from ships stores. Discipline on board was enforced by a Commissioner. In the pictures from Genoa quay (the main port of embarkation), the steerage passengers often look remarkably cheerful and composed, compared to similar pictures from Scotland and Ireland. Despite these differences, though, they look exhausted, hungry and frightened once they reach America.
That isn't surprising. Neither of us had realised before how many tests were imposed on aspiring American immigrants by the middle of the nineteenth century. Detailed health tests, including for trachoma, mental health, TB and so on, plus questions as to your finances, literacy, job prospects and connections in the country. If you did not get in, you would be sent back, in itself a virtual death sentence.
Following the exhibition, Sarah reread Joseph O'Connor's great book, Star of the Sea, where he graphically describes the conditions on an Irish emigrant ship, and the appalling situation when typhoid and cholera led to the hulking and quarantining of dozens of such vessels off Boston, with consequent riots, uproar and additional death.

Places and people
The roofs of Genoa
29/08/2009, Palazzo Rossi

One of the three museum palaces is the Palazzo Rossi. (Guess what? It's red!) On the top floor there's a flat, made of what were presumably originally the servants' rooms. In the 1950's the then curator of civic museums lived in this flat, and the architect Franco Albini (who designed the layout and displays throughout the museum's palaces) designed and furnished it for her. He created a mix of ancient, Renaissance and modern pieces which he saw as distinctively Italian. After she died her own collection was dispersed, and for a while the flat was rented out. In 2005, in completing the restoration of the building, it was decided that this flat should also be recreated, as a part of the story of the palace as a residence.
The resulting apartment is gorgeous, with a wonderful mix of modern Italian design (oh! the coffee table, the fireplace!) some exquisite paintings and ceramics, and a smattering of classical statuary.
The view is an envy as well, looking south across the alleyways, punctuated by churches and towers, and out to sea.

Places and people
Palazzi everywhere
29/08/2009, Via Garibaldi

The Genoese created a powerful mercantile empire on the back of maritime trade and then by banking. They financed everyone, most notably Charles V of Spain, lending enormous sums at very high rates of interest. The other countries paid with the massive wealth flooding in from the Americas.
During the 200 years of its greatest glory, the great princes of Genoa were stupendously wealthy. They moved out of the tiny alleys of the old town, building themselves palaces. Some were along the waterfront, but the grandest of all moved uphill, above the stink of the city to glorious views of the sea. Here there was elbow room.
On what was then called Strada Nuova (now called via Garibaldi) a series of extraordinary palaces were built. It is literally a textbook of Renaissance architecture, as the styles and formats were collected by Rubens into a widely circulated reference. These palaces were all built on the same plan, with an atrium, a colonnaded garden and surrounding grand rooms. Extravagant frescos, enormous mirrors, and spectacular art collections were used to impress and overwhelm; the grand families drew lots as to whom would house visiting state dignitaries.
Three of the palaces are now combined as one museum, containing a major collection of renaissance art, including many portraits by Van Dyck, a number of Rubens', a superb Ecco Homo by Caraveggio and many treasures of the Ligurian school. There is also a fascinating display of coinage and weights which show the hard management that lay behind the sumptuous clothes and exotic jewels.
This is the courtyard of the Palazzo Tursi, a huge wedding cake of a building around this formal frontage. It is also the City Hall of Genoa, and there are signs to the registrary, to the office of the Syndicat and other mundane activities. The main civic building is a mini-Canary Wharf, somewhat west of the old town (and nicknamed the Big Pencil by the Genoese); it's easy to see that any civic leader would want to hang on to such a showpiece as this palace if they could.

Places and people
The Gardens of Queen Elena
26/08/2009, San Remo

At the top of La Pigna is a lovely, informal garden of trees and walkways. The area has a chequered past. San Remo rebelled against the Genoese in 1753, shortly after annexation, and in 1754 the new overlords pulled down the castle that stood on the peak. An earthquake in February 1877 made the top of La Pigna unsafe and all the buildings were demolished. The garden was created in 1890 on the resulting open space, and dedicated to Queen Elena, who visited San Remo often.
From the top you get this wonderful view across the town and out to sea. It looks really calm, but this was after a day of unforecast northeasterlies blowing at over 20 knots for about eight hours.

Places and people
Mediaeval San Remo
26/08/2009, La Pigna

The old town of San Remo is known as La Pigna, the pine cone, from its shape. It has survived numerous wars and is still a casbah of alleyways and arches. The walls are secretive and blank, save for the modernities of electricity and satellite. Open doors show only steep steps up from unlit lobbies. Voices echo off the walls; children laughing, scolding parents, the lopsided rhythm of phone chatter. There are few people to be seen, and those that wander are mostly tourists. Occasionally a woman stands in her door, or leans over her balcony. A man climbs swiftly through the streets, shoots a secretive half-smile sideways and walks away. Cats scuttle from one patch of shade to the next, or sprawl, exhausted in a favoured spot.
We were stuck in San Remo for four nights. The pilot book says three, and that's clearly the expectation. But no-one took any notice of people who stayed longer, delayed by a contrary tramontana north easterly which was a bit strong for many of the boats heading west to France, and right on the nose for the few of us seeking to venture further into Italy. We shopped Italian style: ice-cream: some wonderfully cheap rope and the small hurricane lamps we've been hunting for ages, a new firewire connector, some sofa throws, truffle oil, and three very clever Brazilian tie-backs for Pip's mane.

Places and people

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Who: Pip Harris and Sarah Tanburn
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