If you have been following me for a while, you may know how much I love Genoa and how hard I try to describe the city – and my region in general – from an authentic point of view.
You may remember my most recent post about the city, where I gave you a list of reasons not to miss it when you come to Italy, the one about a food tour to discover its delicacies, or another one about the oldest confectionery shop in Italy, which is in Genoa.
I don’t live in the city but I try to go there as often as I can and I am always on the hunt for interesting things and events to tell you about. When I found out that one of my favorite projects in Italy was teaming up with a lovely shop in Genoa to set up an exhibition that would describe the city using some objects, I was really thrilled. What a great and unique idea!
The project I just mentioned is Fatto Bene, an archive of Italian everyday products that have a long history. I have come across the project on Instagram and immediately fell in love with it because it gave me the opportunity of discovering products I didn’t know and, most importantly, to reflect on the importance of items I would see every day without even noticing how beautiful, stylish, unique or old they were.
I have been following Fatto Bene on Instagram for a long time and when I saw that they were having an exhibit at Paccottiglia, a concept store full of magic located right in the heart of Genoa, I knew it would be awesome. And it is, believe me!
The shop is little and the exhibition is tiny as well but gives a very important message: sometimes everyday objects can describe a place better than monuments do. Marble churches and historical monuments surely have their indisputable importance but it’s what normal people usually do every day, year after year, that shapes the character of a place.
Therefore, the simple yet unique idea of Anna and Alex of Fatto Bene was to find 15 objects that would describe Genoa, its character and its daily life at best. The mission was not easy because Genoa is a complex city, it is not just a maritime city but has a strong relationship with the countryside as well, it has always been open to influences from all over the world yet it is uniquely Italian and it is full of objects that have a very long history.
However, with their selection of 15 items (plus one), Anna and Alex succeeded in representing the character of the city at its best. Inside the shop, in a little and quiet room, all the objects are placed on a table and most of Genoa is there in front of you.
If you haven’t seen them before, some of the objects might seem a bit weird. For example, there are some yellow sulfur tubes: they are called cannelli di zolfo, Genoese mariners brought them home from their travels and were used as a remedy against the stiff neck. They were really popular when I was a kid and the fun thing is that they are virtually unknown elsewhere in Italy.
Another weird item is some kind of stamp: it’s a croxetto, a stamp that aristocrat families used to have their crest impressed on the pasta they were serving, as a way to show their power and importance. Speaking of food, the exhibition also includes the special pan used to prepare farinata, the thin pancake made with chickpea flour that is so typical of Genoa.
My childhood is also part of the exhibition because, among the items selected, there are the caramelle Lavagetti, eucalyptus candies that were always present in my grandmother bag: I will always remember taking a look inside the bag and seeing the iconic yellow, green and black packaging of such candies. By the way, they are still produced in Genoa nowadays, exactly as they were in the past.
But candies are not the only thing that reminds me of my grandmother, another item is the mandillu, a big squared cotton tissue that was used to carry things, like fruits and vegetables picked in the fields, or to wrap fresh warm bread. My grandma used it to carry a couple of peaches, which we would eat together under an oak tree when I spent summer afternoons with her in the countryside.
The selection goes on. On the table at Paccottiglia, you can spot the saponi Valobra, amazing soaps with a super stylish packaging, which are still produced as they were at the beginning of the 20th century, and another unique jewel: the Lavanda Coldinava, a perfume that comes from Colle di Nava, a valley in inland Liguria that is renowned for its production of lavender. But there’s also turchinetto, a blue powder used in the past to do laundry and make it sparkling clean.
Genoa’s connection with the countryside and with farming in general is represented by other two specific items: the slate that comes from Fontanabuona, a valley where the slate has been extracted and processed for more than 2500 years and where it is still a staple in the economy, and il Bugiardino, a little yearbook that carries all information needed for agriculture, farming and cooking produce in Liguria, as well as all lots farming wisdom that can be applied everywhere.
On the other hand, the importance of the sea for the city of Genoa is represented by the wool cap and striped t-shirt, the uniform that all mariners used to wear; by Metallor, a detergent used to clean brass parts of luxurious cruise liners; by a candle specifically made for the Italian Navy, and by the Rex ashtray, produced by Radif, a Genoese firm that has been manufacturing china for the most important Italian cruise liners in the 19th and 20th century.
The last product is a pinwheel, made just outside Genoa and sold all around Europe since 1836. I loved the idea of describing a place using some of its most common yet unique products and because it gave me just another opportunity to try and show you how special Genoa is. After all, they have chosen Genoa and not another city for such a project: this must mean something, right?
Well, now I’d like to hear your opinion: what are the Italian objects that best describe the country? I’d love to know what you think!
If you are interested in learning more about Italian culture and lifestyle, I’d suggest you jump on my digital Vespa and join Be Italian For A Month, your 30-day virtual journey to Italy.
You will also learn some Italian words, you’ll receive some typical Italian recipes – ready to be cooked and enjoyed, you’ll get to tour around Italy, and learn about Italian traditions, proverbs, stereotypes, you name it. Plus, some cute surprises along the way!