04 March 2012

LIFE: Change of Scene

SARONNO, Italy – It felt odd to actually be in a place that I’ve visited so many times on Google earth. It’s disorienting. Buildings and streets looked familiar but in reality I had no idea of where I was, other than I was in Chiavari. In real time, the distance between one place and another was often times shorter than it seemed when I was clicking along on my computer. In other cases, the walk along the sea for example, turned out to be a lot longer than I thought it was.
Corso Gianelli
Chiavari is a small city in Liguria, set right on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Something that surprised me was that the boardwalk is actually made of boards, and the beach area, unlike many other towns along the Mediterranean, is separated by railroad tracks. So you have the business part of the city of Chiavari and the the sea front with the boardwalk and bars and cafes and places that sell ice cream. To get from one part to the other there are sottopassaggi, underpasses that pass under the tracks.  

It was obvious that Chiavari was getting ready for summer. The sea front was under attack by bulldozers moving sand and stone as part of the town's project to expand the tourist port. At the harbor, yachts hung high in the air as workmen wielded saws and sanders and brought the boats back to their original sturdy selves.
Via Martiri della Liberazione
Chiavari is a lovely town. It is laid out in a typical Roman grid, even though traces of a pre-Roman necropolis from the 7th to the 8th BC  have been found here, dating it to pre-Roman times. There are main streets, or arteries, running north and south, east and west, and in between the main arteries there are hundreds of tiny alleys, capillaries that connect everything together. 
The two side panels are actually doors that are closed at night.
The historic center is well kept and exceptionally large for the overall size of the town, and its streets are all under porticoes, some dating from the 13th century. There are some stretches where, if it were not for the way the people in the street were dressed, you could easily lose track of which century you were in.  Even with that said, walking along the ancient streets you get the feeling of being in a far-away place, not in terms of location but in time. 

Viale Millo
Outside of the historic center, the pastel colored buildings are regal and rich in architectural details. One of the most amazing places in town is the large, white Basilica of Nostra Signora dell’Orto. For the first couple of days I was there I didn’t even realize it was a church, it looks a lot like the Pantheon in Rome, which is my most favorite building in the entire world.  The fact that there was a bronze statue of a pope under the portico didn’t mean much as this is Italy and there are religious statues and paintings and frescoes all over the place.

Santuary of Nostra Signora dell'Orto
I was going to look for a plaque to see which Pope it was but I was distracted by a local policeman talking to a young man in front of the church. What caught my eye was that not ten minutes before, when I was going into the church, the same young man was leaning heavily on a crutch near the church entrance, looking pitiful and asking for money. And now, there he was, standing perfectly straight and looking just fine, talking to the cop. It was market day in Chiavari, and just like Saronno, there are always a lot of Rom hanging around trying to pick up a few euros one way or another.

The early morning sounds are different here. In Saronno I wake to cuckoo birds or woodpeckers  or sometimes the cawing of the large crow like birds known as merli. In Chiavari you wake to the sound of sea gulls and the delicious smell of freshly baked focaccia. Not a bad way to start a day.

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