|Genoa: La Staglieno, theatre of grief|
The music was Rosie’s choice I hasten to add; I nearly caused an accident in the excitement of having seen the cemetery; got a few drivers understandably and even justifiably annoyed as I had to change my mind twice about which way to go; parked the car on the far side of the extremely long façade, so that we had to walk our way to the entrance in the late morning July heat intensified by the molten tarmac carpeting the full length of our pilgrimage.
The entry on the left hand side of the façade is announced by a clustering of flower kiosks with bored, kindly ladies and sleepy gentlemen. As we passed through into the main building, and despite the memory of the long façade we had just walked along, we were struck by the endlessness of the galleries doubling up on each other, fading into the distance. It is immense. Measureless sleep. The first thing we noticed, apart from the familiar mood of duly processed death, was a small gravestone (gravestone number 580) of a favourite nun, Madre Domenica Teresa Solari whose memory was being honoured with small battery-lit candles with images of Mary, silver coloured hearts, flowers and other plastic stuff.
We were the only ones to be walking through the cemetery at that time. The gallery, a boulevard of grief, presents the curious spectacle of the life of death to visitors strolling down its pleasantly wide, well shaded streets, where angels talk with souls and father time is cross and sombre, while grimacing death dances lecherously with nubile, young, shrouded girls, pliant and charged as the objects of our desire. Strolling from one carefully staged scene of grief, commissioned by a doctor surrounded by the symbols of his trade that appear to have come to life, to another devoted to the wife of a wealthy merchant, disconsolate at his loss, but impeccably dressed, pommaded and infinitely respectable in his eternal pose of conjugal and Christian piety, we see beautiful naked ladies contemplating skulls, naked men and women, strong and heroic, wrapped around each other in hungry desperation. Here the doors to the after life have been left open in the pyramid so that the living can peak in, even if they only see darkness; there a man sits stretching his legs in his comfortable chair set within the niche facing the side, contemplating an idea he is not sharing with us. Old ladies looking behind them are dressed in their finest lace shawls, girls, remarkably like the original illustrations of Alice in Wonderland, are lost in this strange world where the hard boundary between life and death appears no longer respected. They sit or stand on tiptoe or are lifted to the busts of their grandfathers by their buxom mothers to offer a last kiss. As one looks from the lower galleries to the raised galleries flanking the pantheon, you see also the backs of the sculptures set within the arcades, which, because of their position no doubt have been given almost as much love and detail as their front. What is most striking is the way the thick layers of dust have made all these sculptures appear their negative, as if they have been lit from below. Sometimes the mis-en-scène shows an extraordinary compositional daring and sophistication. The dynamics of angelic flight, or the dramatic gesture of a last act of generosity. Others delight because of their miniature detail and yet others because of the way the light makes arms, legs, folds, breasts and tummies turn liquid. But all this can be seen elsewhere. What makes this place unique is the way people show their extraordinary ordinariness eternalised in stone, their crumpled humanity as they participate in the grief of their family which has to compete and stand out relative to the family next door. There is one that stands out for a different reason. It is certainly not my favourite but it is strange, it is a sculpture of a man in his late forties or fifties dressed in a loin cloth, standing poised on a slim tall pedestal leaning forward with his arms raised one finger pointing up and a stern expression. Is he a prophet? Is he warning us of something? Surely we already know. We can hardly escape it here. I didn't inlcude my picture of him here. I found him worrying.
the walnut seller
Contact me at: email@example.com
copyright © jacob voorthuis 1994-2010
All written material on this page is copyrighted.
Please cite Jacob Voorthuis as the author and Voorthuis.net as the publisher.