There’s a statue of Christopher Columbus by the Piazza Principe Railway Station in Genova.
Since arriving on Monday afternoon this, and the replica of his house is the only artistic indication I have seen that Columbus was Genovese. Dante lived only a few years in Ravenna but, as mentioned, the city is capitalising on that connection. I was a little surprised by the lack of monument (and printed teatowels) for Columbus. He wasn’t mentioned at all on the food tour.
As I passed his statue on my way out of the station on Monday, I did wonder what what would have happened if he hadn’t gone exploring. While I was in New Zealand and Australia, it was the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s arrival. It was a controversial anniversary and in Sydney, one of the Art Galleries displayed a silver statue of Cook sitting on a table looking thoughtful and possibly regretful as he reflects on the outcome of his voyages.
Columbus Day isn’t celebrated in as many states in the US for similar reasons. I wondered if there was a questioning of Columbus’s legacy in Genova. There may have been in the maritime museum but I saw nothing on the streets.
I’ve walked all over the old town and through the grander parts of the city. While space is at a premium and there aren’t as many monuments as you might see in equivalent places, there are some and there are also carvings and engravings on the buildings and in the walls. Genova’s history is clear across the city – even if churches have been sliced in half and palazzos are missing half of an upper floor to allow a railway line or a raised motorway to be built. Sections of the original medieval walls survive; 16th Century frescos of the madonna still linger on the corner of pubs and old signs about not leaving your hand cart in this piazza still abound. This is not a city that has got around to erasing its history. It seems to be that any tributes to Genova’s (possibly) most famous explorer were never there in the first place.
His reputation wasn’t great at the time – he was associated less with his exploration (and he remained convinced that he had found a new route to the East rather than a land previously unknown to most of the Europeans) than with his awful tenure as a colonial governor. Maybe the Genovese took the view that “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”?
I passed the statue of Columbus on my way into the station, to catch a train to Turin, none the wiser.
Genova Piazza Principe is a deceptively large and busy station: 20 platforms. I headed straight to the information display board and after 30 seconds of mild concern that I couldn’t see my train listed, I realised I was looking at the arrivals information again.
So was the coachload of older people who had a minor panic.
Platform established, I boarded the already waiting train and twenty minutes later it pulled out of the station, making its way through the mountains and valley towns – at a remarkably quicker speed than the train arriving into Genova had on Monday.
This was a short hop – just over two hours to Turin with a change on the outskirts to reach my destination station. Yes, back to Turin: I had a return train to Paris to catch at stupid o’clock on Sunday morning, so sandwiching a month in Italy with Turin seemed a good idea.
Coming into Turin from the South, the rail route passes through Asti and the last time I was here, I didn’t actually see it for the fog. Today was bright and sunny. Vineyards stretched almost as far as the eye could see across rolling hills, interspersed with yellow fields ready for harvest and meadows absolutely full of poppies.
I had to change trains at Lingotto and ended up helping a woman trying to find the platform for the 12.41 to Porta Susa. The conductor she had spoken to was giving a very lengthy answer which did not feature the Italian word for “three”.
Once the conversation ended, I asked her: “Porta Susa?” while showing her the Trainline app which today was not disappointing and actually showing we needed Platform 3 where we were standing.
She said something that, because of her gesturing to the empty display boards, I’m reasonably confident was about the lack of information. Some exasperations are international.
Having reached my hotel and dumped everything, I headed into town. A light lunch in Turin,” I thought. However ehat’s displayed at the counter is seldom what arrives at your table… as the baby elephant* carried over the tray with a cheese (gorgonzola and scamorza) and spinach toastie. It was a huge plate.
The soundtrack in this cafe was fantastic: rock n roll, Dean Martin, big band jazz and we’re currently on “Always Look On The Bright Side of Life” with Eric Idle’s dulcet tones drifting out across Turin^.
It would be some time before I left.
*Yes, I hallucinated the elephant.
^I did not hallucinate the Eric Idle track.
It was an incredibly hot afternoon in Turin and far more crowded than the last time I was here. School holidays, end of May sales (in several stores), who knows what brought everyone here. Plus there was quite a heavy police presence with quite a few roads closed resulting in long lines of traffic.
I had no purpose for this afternoon when I set off. I quickly developed one – trying to stay cool. I walked wherever there was shade and a marginally cooler movement of air. Breeze was too bold a concept to hope for.
I noticed that mask wearing was at a lower level in Turin today. Staff in shops and most cafes are generally wearing them but customer use does seem to be dropping here.
By early evening, the temperature had reduced by possibly a degree and the pavement cafes were filling up with people enjoying a Friday evening aperitivo.
That was one herd I was happy to follow.