Oliver decided to just hang out in the cool living room of the hostel during the heat of the day. The only book in its library in English was a history of Genoa, which was perfect.
Hmmm. The Medieval bestseller about the lives of saints was written by the Archbishop of Genoa in 1275. It had been two hundred years at that point since the two ships returned from the First Crusade bearing the ashes of John the Baptist, who would then be named Genoa’s patron saint. When the ashes which were on two separate ships were brought together, the rough seas calmed. The crusaders reaped the spoils on this conquest: they also claimed to have brought back the holy grail, the emerald chalice in which Jesus served the wine at The Last Supper.
The ritual of bringing the ashes down to the port was again invoked, successfully, one hundred years later when a wild tempest threatened to submerge all of the ships in port.
Marco Polo allegedly dictated his book, The Travels of Marco Polo to a fellow inmate while imprisoned in Genoa as a war prisoner. As a Venetian, he was fighting for his hometown in yet another skirmish funded by wealthy Genoa merchants to destroy a rival seaport.
Etruscans: 800-400 BC. Weren’t the Etruscans the aristocrats with all of the gold jewelry, the marble sculpted sarcophagi with imported luxuries accompanying the dead to the afterlife, the women who wore flowing dresses tied with ribbons, the dashing male warriors and the ones who made yet another bronze statue of Romulus and Remus suckling the she-wolf? Ollie combed through a few photos of museum exhibits. Yes, they were. Really, that long ago? Their DNA placed them 5,000 years prior in the Anatolia region of Turkey. Although they had a system of writing, there were no surviving texts. Well, that was understandable Oliver thought. He had already tossed books from college beat up beyond use.
Hmmm. The history gets a little vague here. The city cemetery dates back to 600 BC and has Greeks, Ligures and Phoenicans. Who actually conquered the Estruscans: Phoenicians or Romans? Probably Phoenicians, then Romans, Oliver decided based on zero facts. Phoenicians conjured images of huge wooden ships with mascots on the front, which somehow seemed earlier in history that the Roman Stoics hanging around the public square discoursing about civilization. He wondered how different they may have been than the Etruscans. Or did they all in fact just emigrate there and get along.
What were the Carthaginian Wars? The Ostrogoths, the Lombards, the Frankish Empire… Oliver was beginning to get bored. He’d never remember any of this stuff. He was just wondering the influences here. Well, so far it just seemed like all of the civilizations within hundreds of miles moved to Genoa and stayed for a very long time. It seemed like it might be a nice place to live when it was peaceful.
Trying to sort out who the Ostrogoths and Goths were, Oliver read of an agreement between two warring leaders reached in 493 to divide Italy. St the celebratory banquet, Theoderic made a toast to Oadoacer, then killed him “with his own hands.” A general massacre of Odoacer's soldiers and supporters followed. Theoderic and his Goths were now masters of Italy. Oliver had his doubts about this guy’s integrity. Then he came upon two observations making him wonder if Theo was truly a good man or a charismatic murderer.
From the Anonymous Valesianus, Excerpta II 59-60, allegedly came this view:
Theoderic was a man of great distinction and of good-will towards all men, and he ruled for thirty-three years. Under his rule, Italy for thirty years enjoyed such good fortune that his successors also inherited peace. For whatever he did was good. He so governed two races at the same time, Romans and Goths, that although he himself was of the Arian sect, he nevertheless made no assault on the Catholic religion; he gave games in the circus and the amphithatre, so that even by the Romans he was called a Trajan or a Valentinian (considered two of the best-ever emperors), whose times he took as a model; and by the Goths, because of his edict, in which he established justice, he was judged to be in all respects their best king."
And another cite quoted Theodoric in his letters to the Jews of Genoa as follows:
"The true mark of civilitas is the observance of law. It is this which makes life in communities possible, and which separates man from the brutes. We therefore gladly accede to your request that all the privileges which the foresight of antiquity conferred upon the Jewish customs shall be renewed to you..." and "We cannot order a religion, because no one can be forced to believe against his will.”
Oh, no. It was definitely thoroughly sacked and burned in 934-935 by some naval commander with twenty or thirty ships sent by the leader of its small, but mean Shia Islamic caliphate from North Africa. This guy’s fleet not only defeated the Byzantines who, reacting to the wholesale destruction of Genoa, tried to stop him, but then he sacked Sardinia and Corsica on his way home, returning with 8,000 prisoners. That seemed like a lot to handle.
Whoa! Genoa sold Baltic, Slavic Georgian, Turk and other ethnic groups of the Black Sea to the Muslim nations of the Middle East beginning in the 12th century and managed the slave trade from Crimea to Egypt until the 13th century. Oliver had wondered what products were shipped over the years following the early recording of animal skins, wood and honey, but had not expected slaves.
When he woke on the couch in the library, it was dark outside. Someone had lit a small lamp on the table next to the book he had been reading. But it was quiet. No one was around. Oliver went upstairs, washed his face, stuffed some euros in his shirt pocket and then stepped out into the city night to explore.
The architecture spanned centuries. He passed tall houses of Gothic, Romanesque, Baroque, Renaissance and mixtures of the same. Winding down a very narrow path between houses so high they looked like palaces, it appeared that balls of flaming light were heading in his direction. As he got closer, he saw that it was two jugglers dressed as jesters juggling flame-lit torches. A parade of merrymakers followed them, laughing and passing a jug. Oliver stood to the side and watched as they passed. The language sounded a one-off from straight-up Italian. He wondered if it was Ligurian.
The alley opened up to a street filled with music and actors dressed in period costume from the 1600s. There were pirates and explorers, Renaissance ladies and barroom girls. Refreshment stands were lit by torches. In a mass movement, the crowd began heading down toward one of the main piazzas. Wood was stacked in a huge pile for a bonfire. It was almost midnight. The crowd began a countdown and the bonfire was lit. Fireworks splashed the sky above the sea.
“Wow. A real summer solstice celebration,” thought Ollie on his way back to the hostel in the wee hours. “How cool was that?”
Oliver woke late. The hostel was silent. He had evidently missed breakfast.
Hungry, he threw on his daypack and set out. Was everyone still sleeping? No cars, no motorcycles, no buses. Oliver crossed a large intersection against the light. It didn’t matter. There was no threat of traffic.
He was hungry and no shops appeared open. He looked longingly in a bakery shop window, but it was dark and a sign read CHIUSO per la festa di San Giovani.
Oh, Saint John. John the Baptist. Genoa’s patron saint. But where was everyone? He would have guessed they’d all left for a coastal resort town if he hadn’t seen them here late last night. Still, no music drifted from the windows. No one was shouting at their spouse so that all of the neighbors could hear of their trespasses. No babies wailed. It was absolutely silent.
He crossed through a large, beautifully manicured park, blooming with bright flowers. No joggers. No one walking their dog or strolling their baby. No skateboarders or bicyclists. Just birdsong.
The park opened up to another neighborhood of partially crumbling Victorian mansions. It was hard to fathom that families inhabited all of these albatrosses. Architecturally, they were stunning, but Oliver could not imagine the cost to heat them in the winters. It was a lot of space for just one family. Were they divided into apartments?
After finding a tiny grocer open and procuring some deli offerings that were unfamiliar but looked good, he came upon a park bench at the crest of the hill affording him an expansive view of the tall mansions rolling down and across the steep hills above the port.
He looked down. Fortresses and walls… He noted a wall ringing the top of the hillside he would definitely try to avoid as it wasn’t clear where to pass through it. This was a tricky city, with narrow alleys, old walls from different ages scattered here and there, and only dirt paths between the palaces and villas. Oliver could not be certain when he would come upon a gate, possibly from Medieval times, barring further passage and was glad he had no particular destination to make on time.
He wandered through a cemetery of ridiculously sublime statuary.
Ah, the grim reaper will eventually catch each one of us in his grasp.
By Camillo Ferrari http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0
He came upon an old canal.
By Bbruno, Creative Commons License 3.0 https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10382769
He passed between tall old buildings, monstrous modern buildings, tiny alleys, broad and narrow streets, palaces, crumbling fortress walls, all the while heading downward toward the port. He drank all of his water.
What? Oliver heard a low drumming first, then rounded the corner to come face-to-face with the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, which he recognized from its black and white striated marble, the dimensional sculptured doorways and the massive lion figures guarding it.
By Mstyslav Chernov, Creative Commons License 3.0
A crowd had gathered along a procession of Christians, some in full robe and bishop-type hats and many carrying large Christ figures. They began a slow filing from the Cathedral. Oliver followed. On they walked to the Old Port. There they stopped and were silent while the Cardinal Archbishop said something. Then he blessed the sea. He turned back and blessed the city and the people.
The narrow strip at the bottom of the hills was lined with restaurants and shops and a walkway along the water. The marine museum was closed, but vendors had set tents up all along the walkway stuffed with racks of colorful clothes and tables of musical instruments, hair picks and sandals for the South African festival.
Aromas of fried plantain, tagine and honey-laden delicacies filled the air. Picnic tables crowded with families and friends exclaiming over the food, laughing and tapping the table to the percussion of the band playing. He liked the war ship replica.
Just as Oliver was thinking that it was all extended families here, no packs of teens or groups of young women, a lone wanderer weaving through caught his eye. His face was weathered, his backpack dusty. With a twinkle in his eye and a slight nod he acknowledged Oliver as another world traveler.
Walking along the port, Oliver peered into an inviting wine bar, closed for the holidays. He wandered further and came to a neighborhood of over forty palaces built between the 16th and 18th centuries. It looked like they would be open the next day for viewing. He picked up a pamphlet. The interiors were sumptuous.
Palazzo Reale, By Phil Tizzani