I did not plan to go to Genova. According to my research, it's neither specialized in fabric or clothing making. But Charles Dickens changed my mind.
In his book Pictures from Italy, page 36, he wrote:
......We could see Genoa before three; and watching it as it gradually developed its splendid amphitheatre, terrace rising above terrace, garden above garden, palace above palace, height upon height, was ample occupation for us, till we ran into the stately harbour. Having been duly astonished, here, by the sight of a few Cappucini monks, who were watching the fair-weighing of some wood upon the wharf, we drove off to Albaro, two miles distant, where we had engaged a house.
The way lay through the main streets, but not through the Strada Nuova, or the Strada Balbi, which are the famous streets of palaces. I never in my life was so dismayed! The wonderful novelty of everything, the unusual smells, the unaccountable filth (though it is reckoned the cleanest of Italian towns), the disorderly jumbling of dirty houses, one upon the roof of another; the passages more squalid and more close than any in St. Giles’s or old Paris; in and out of which, not vagabonds, but well-dressed women, with white veils and great fans, were passing and repassing; the perfect absence of resemblance in any dwelling-house, or shop, or wall, or post, or pillar, to anything one had ever seen before; and the disheartening dirt, discomfort, and decay; perfectly confounded me. I fell into a dismal reverie. I am conscious of a feverish and bewildered vision of saints and virgins’ shrines at the street corners—of great numbers of friars, monks, and soldiers—of vast red curtains, waving in the doorways of the churches—of always going up hill, and yet seeing every other street and passage going higher up—of fruit-stalls, with fresh lemons and oranges hanging in garlands made of vine-leaves—of a guard-house, and a drawbridge—and some gateways—and vendors of iced water, sitting with little trays upon the margin of the kennel—and this is all the consciousness I had, until I was set down in a rank, dull, weedy court-yard, attached to a kind of pink jail; and was told I lived there.
I little thought, that day, that I should ever come to have an attachment for the very stones in the streets of Genoa, and to look back upon the city with affection as connected with many hours of happiness and quiet!
Then on Page 49, he wrote again:
In the course of two months, the flitting shapes and shadows of my dismal entering reverie gradually resolved themselves into familiar forms and substances; and I already began to think that when the time should come, a year hence, for closing the long holiday and turning back to England, I might part from Genoa with anything but a glad heart.
It is a place that ‘grows upon you’ every day. There seems to be always something to find out in it. There are the most extraordinary alleys and by-ways to walk about in. You can lose your way (what a comfort that is, when you are idle!) twenty times a day, if you like; and turn up again, under the most unexpected and surprising difficulties. It abounds in the strangest contrasts; things that are picturesque, ugly, mean, magnificent, delightful, and offensive, break upon the view at every turn.
It is the phrase "grows upon you" that made me want to go to Genova. It right away brought to me the feelings I had for a small unknown Spanish city which I had allowed to grow upon me, and the decadent sensation that came with it: you know you are wasting time being there, but you choose to continue doing it because it has grown upon you, like a strange street dog you have accidentally adopted.
Then, the second day, I went to have lunch in a small bistro, where on the table there lying a local Italian magazine left by the previous patron. I leafed through it randomly while waiting for the waiter to take my order. On one of the back pages, I saw this:
Like Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani is not my type of painter, he moved to paris when he was young, as did Picasso, and his style is also too anti classic for me. But I remember him: he is a cancer, and like some of my favorite artists such as vincenzo belllini, felix mendelssohn or raphael, he also did not pass what I would call"the mysterious fatal age of artists" of 37. I am fascinated even mesmerized by the strong contrast between such an explosive outburst of creativity and shorckingly short span of life.
I decided to go to Genova.
It was a foggy and drizzling morning and I was having a headache, The Italian driver was very sweet and considerate, he completely left me alone.
I was in a half awake state most of the trip, then suddenly, I knew we were close to Genova. The fog and the drizzle replaced by heart warming sunshine that also took away my headache, and then, the tunnels, one after another after another.
Why were they building so many tunnels? I wondered. Would not it be easier not to build them at all, just the roads? At places it looks like obvious necessity with the presence of mountain or even small hill, but more time than not, it seems to me those Italian constructors were building it because they wanted to.
And the closer we were to Genova, the better the tunnels. Some tunnels are built with metals instead of concrete, and not only do they have skylight all along the tunnel, they also have small windows on both sides. So the tunnel look light weighted, spaceful and full of light and interesting visual effect with the moving car, a big improvement over the normal dark concrete tunnel, like Gothic churches over Romanesque ones.
And even among the metal tunnels, there are lots of variety, bigger side windows, different positions of those windows, larger checked skylights, differently spaced grids of the metal frames, etc. It made crossing them quite enjoyable.
My first impression of the city, is that it looks somewhat like Hong Kong: the buildings are squeezed into each other, they are grown into each other. Even the palazzi, are not allowed enough space for them to look noble, like in Torino. It seems those in power over the years in this city have had very practical mind, they do not mind putting some ugly modern commercial buildings or even humble residential houses beside the supposedly sublime palazzi, to accommodate the increasing needs of the incoming residents.
So when you look over the skyline, you almost never are looking at one thing, but all different things and styles at the same time, and feel overwhelmed.
The cello music of Shostakovich's second waltz played by two men accompanied me through the Piazza Matteotti where Palazzo Ducale is located, all the way into the ticket office.
I did not spend much time in the exhibition rooms, and when I left, my opinions about Modigliani did not change much. But I learned something new about this unfortunate painter, not only how his painting of celine howard reminds one of Goya's Maja, but also his wife (also one of his main model) Jeanne Hebuterne killed herself a few days after his death, with a child in her womb. A sad but great love story.
The two cello men have left. On the steps of Palazzo Ducale, many people, mostly young people sat, enjoying the sun and the food they bought somewhere, all wrapped in brown papers. Some of them half sat half laid back, and some did really lie down, occupying two or three steps. All of them looked happy, relaxed and serene. A girl with blond hair and white headphone buds in her ears smiled at me when I sat down beside her. And in ten minutes, i felt melted inside, by the sharp sun and balmy breeze.
Like Torino, Genova historical center shopping area is also filled with arcaded gallery, but it does not look as elegant. The design in Torino is more in harmony with the city and with each other, but in Genova, it seems the baroque, Gothic or late Renaissance are put together randomly, distractedly, as if they were in some antique shops. Just when I was about to appreciate the beauty of an arch connecting two buildings, the very ugly gargoyle sitting on it put me off.
But it is a charming city. The people have a high boundless energy about them, in the way they talk, eat, walk and even the way they look at you: the happiness and openness of a port city I have seen in some other places. The African men selling flowers that are already dry, and terribly imitated Louis Vuitton bags and Gucci eyeglasses, and Arabian women selling cheaply made brightly colored viscose scarves are essential ingredients to give the city its bazaar like chaotic charm and exotic eccentricity, but strangely, make it more Italian than Torino or Milano to me.
I really like Torino, I can see myself living in the elegant, orderly glorious city, but it is a city of triste, of sadness somehow, although the people in Torino are always so polite and well mannered. But Genova is irresistible, like an engergetic woman, heavily made up wearing flash jewelry and cheap strong perfume, you know you will not want to marry her or even take her with you, but you can not help looking at her, infusing in deeply her perfume and alegoría, remembering and loving it all, then go back to your normal life, until you are attacked another time by an unexplained nostalgia of chaos, craziness, and craving for simple joy, you come to Genova again.
Rosetta is one of the Spanish costureras(seamstress) I work with to execute one of my prototypes.
She is specialized in brides wear, like almost all the seamstress now I have tried to talk with, who share two things in common: their price is unreasonably high, and they are much more familiar with synthetic fabrics like satin and lace made of polyester, and all other bridal fabric. So when I showed Rosetta my design, she suggested raso(satin) in 5 seconds, and told me she has just the right Raso for that, in color negro (black), with right peso(weight).
Then she uttered a price tag even higher than all the other costureras I have met, much higher. I almost wanted to walk away at that moment.
But I did not.
First of all, she was recommended, and highly recommended by the tailor who has made a shirt for one of my client’s boyfriend. I do not know much about menswear, but I think the shirt was well made. In my theory, his recommendation should match his craftsmanship.
Secondly, her showroom is the biggest and the most elegant I had ever seen until then, which to me means she has enough clients and she must be real good. Unlike Americans, I found Spanish people in general are practical minded, they will not spend lots of money just to impress others if they are hungry.
Rosetta’s showroom is hidden in a century old building in the city center with a heavy chestnut colored wooden door, and the moment you walk in, you feel like a princess already: the plush scarlet velvet curtains on the very tall and slim windows, the pale yellow damask covered rococo style arm chairs, a high table with fresh white lilies and yellow roses, the huge rectangular wooden coffee table piled with catalogs and magazines of luxury brides wear and a big glass bowl of tiny wrapped Lindt chocolates, and then you have to walk on the thick patterned carpet for at least 20 seconds to the other section of the showroom: a very large rectangular white wooden table in the middle, racks of wedding dresses in different styles, colors and fabrics, and unseen from the entrance, a huge mirror occupies half of one wall.
Although I have no interest in brides wear, I browsed around, checking the craftsmanship, wanting to find that delicate sense of consideration from seamstress for a day so many women have starry eyes on.
I did not see any atelier. When I was browsing, another young woman sometimes wafted in and out from a door just beside the mirror, taking in or bringing out a white dress wrapped in plastic covers, and whispering something into Rosetta’s ears. So the atelier must be behind that door.
Rosetta certainly is very good with presence, nobody needs to see the scissors and measure tapes and messy fabrics if it is not necessary.
I decided to give it a try with her, but only with my own fabrics and trims. After a very big frown on her forehead appeared and then disappeared, she agreed reluctantly.
When she asked about linings,
-no, no quiero forros, i told her.
Now she looked at me in such shock i felt as if I just told her I was going to make the dress in an all transparent material, and the purpose of making it was just for jumping into a swimming pool.
But I do not care. By now I have been quite used to similar reactions from them. In fact, I found these Spanish seamstresses rather a snobbish group, they have a certain way of thinking and doing things which they have been thinking and doing for years or even decades, which they believe is absolutely correct and should never be changed.
I tried to negotiate the price with her: my design is not for wedding, i do not need any complicated handiwork like embroidery or beading etc, I am not using any of her materials and no lining means even less work for her. She did not bulge much, and I gave up.
Perhaps I was too desperate. The other costurera I wanted to work on this dress had been ill, the Spanish way, which means I have no idea when she will get well enough to work again, and it has been more than six months after I handed her all the fabrics and trims! Every time when I just think about all these wasted time under the glorious Spanish sun, I have a mini heart attach.
I confirmed with her the fabrics I will need for the dress. 2.8 meters, she said, a little bit more than the sick costurera, i automatically noticed.
Although it is very easy for me to visualize a dress, any dress in the smallest detail, from collar to the length of hem, the size and shape of pockets, the mathematical part of it is always quite mysterious to me, and partly because of this, I highly respected all of these seamstresses, I think they deserve more to be called artists than us designers. They can live without us, we can not live without them.
The business part being done with, I felt like joking or at least saying something to lighten the somewhat thick air. So I brought my usual confusion to her: I do not understand why so many women spend so much money, energy and effort on a dress they only wear one day in their life time, and then put themselves in jeans and t-shirts and sneakers all year round, like a eternal self condemned Cinderella.
Rosetta looked at me through her black rimmed glasses, for 5 seconds, then she broke into a smile, the first I saw that day:
-if not, what will we do?
I was a little bit surprised that this habitual question of mine ended with her philosophic rhetoric.
Most of the other costureras actually agreed with me: they do not understand either.
But perhaps that is why Rosetta is much more successful than all the others I have met,even under this thick fog of national crisis. She understands where she is supposed to be, whether it makes sense or not.