Postcard from Genoa, Italy: A seafood-lover’s paradise

The sounds woke me up Monday through Saturday in Genoa. The way-too-early alarm echoed from two doors and two floors down the steep 10-foot-wide street, actually only a pedestrian passageway. The fish monger hurling up the metal shutter, hauling out the trough and filling it with ice to hold the fresh catch of the day. Those jarring noises were followed shortly by the first customers, evidently all friends as interested in exchanging pleasantries, amplified by the four-story buildings, as purchasing seafood.

But the morning sounds quickly reminded me of a meal ahead and what always is central to menus in this port city – an abundance of fresh seafood. Mussels, squid, octopus, shrimp, butterflied fried sardines. The Mister often has remarked that Italians frown upon mixing seafood with cheese, but Genoa breaks that rule. Several restaurants feature striking black and white squares of ravioli filled with fish and ricotta cheese.

Also, Genoa is the home of pesto. Demanding Ligurians expect pesto alla Genovese to be made with D.O.P. basil, found only in the immediate region and terroir-dependent for its flavor. A favorite Ligurian pasta often paired with pesto is trofie, rolled out by hand on a flat surface to taper its ends and then twisted. Another regional specialty sold like pizza by the slice is farinata, made from a mixture of chickpea flour, water, olive oil and salt. The baked-until-golden, somewhat floppy slices are most commonly offered and consumed unadorned .

Almost every guidebook or travel feature tells you to head to Eataly on the harbor. We ventured inside, as we did in Rome, and tried to talk ourselves into eating there. The food did indeed look amazingly good and the display of high quality, authentic Italian food products were enticing. But the atmosphere felt manufactured. The customer base appeared composed of  passengers recently disgorged from the massive cruise ships docked there. Disneyland for foodies. A place to avoid crossing paths with any of the immigrant population now calling the center of Genoa home. We declined to dine. And for shopping? The alleyways in the historic center of Genoa are packed with charming and pristine specialty cheese and pasta shops and meat markets – the places where the locals go.

Instead, we enjoyed a wonderful meal at Locanda Spinola, so popular with locals on a Saturday afternoon that we felt fortunate to get a table. Parents pushed strollers in and out of an upscale cheese shop and a deli across the narrow pedestrian-only street. And now for the gritty side of a port city that keeps many tourists unnecessarily clustered near their cruise ships: a prostitute was standing on the corner. When an interested party approached, the pair subtly would disappear up the street somewhere to take care of business. Another woman immediately took up the station. But Genovesi, young and old alike, were unfazed by their presence. The prostitutes were not harassing or blatantly soliciting passersby, and most locals walking by took no more notice than they would a door of a shop selling products they did not want. The only gawker was me, albeit screened from being caught by the restaurant’s curtained window.

We enjoyed the slow-rise gourmet pizza topped with seared tuna at Savo Pizza Gourmet, and the Mandarin shrimp at Pesciolino were tasty. The casual Le Piastre di Emma is always packed; expect waiting lines. Contributing to the bustling confusion inside is one of the flamboyant owners who dramatically scurries about like a mother hen, perhaps almost to the point of flapping like a chicken with its head cut off. But the place that kept drawing us back was the family-run Trattoria le Maschere. The almost-homely décor fails to draw in many tourists and leaves the tables with their inexpensive platters full of perfectly prepared fresh seafood and classic pesto to the locals. And us.

 

 

That Crabby Old Colonel Cribby Condemned the River Walk to Years of Lowlife Nightlife

Blue Book No. 4, "Go West Young Men," Digital Collage by Gayle Brennan Spencer. Early 1900s' postcard of some of San Antonio's blue ladies is combined with a period mini-postcard image of "Roll Call at Fort Sam Houston" and a page from "The Blue Book."  The page is headlined "Directory of Houses and Women - Class-A" and lists the names and addresses of some of San Antonio's welcoming women in 1911.  Visit www.postcardsfromsanantonio.com.

Blue Book No. 4, “Go West Young Men,” digital collage by Gayle Brennan Spencer. Early 1900s’ postcard of some of San Antonio’s blue ladies is combined with a period mini-postcard image of “Roll Call at Fort Sam Houston” and a page from “The Blue Book.” The page is headlined “Directory of Houses and Women – Class-A” and lists the names and addresses of some of San Antonio’s welcoming women in 1911. Visit http://postcardssanantonio.com.

I had always heard the banks of the San Antonio River Walk were declared off-limits after dark for members of the military in San Antonio for many years, but I had never seen proof:

The area known as the “River Walk” is “Off Limits” during the periods 2400 hours to 0600 hours daily. It begins at Lexington Street, near the Auditorium, and extends about three hundred yards west of St. Mary’s Street, near the Plaza Hotel.

Office of the Provost Marshal, Fort Sam Houston, December 20, 1945

Melissa Gohlke, blogging for the Special Collections at the UTSA Libraries this morning, posted a 1945 list enumerating San Antonio’s lewd spots, so declared by order of Colonel Cribby.

off-limits-list

Although designed to serve as a warning to soldiers, this list was almost as efficient a guide for “those seeking a good time while in San Antonio, Texas,” as the 1911-1912 guide, The Blue Book. Col. Cribby’s list not only identified which places around town were “off-limits,” but why – whether because of immorality, prostitution, danger of venereal disease or gambling.

Gohlke’s post pertained to “San Antonio’s queer community,” but the list aided those in search of bisexual entertainment as well:

All a GI or WAC need do is read the list, understand the codes, and head out for a night of same-sex recreation. Ironically, the military imperative to regulate deviance facilitated the very behaviors such regulations were designed to stamp out.

Some of the same neighborhoods identified in The Blue Book were still hot spots flourishing under the eyes of lax local law enforcement three decades later.

The Blue Book No. 1, "See Sallie after the Alamo," digital collage by Gayle Brennan Spencer. The back cover of the 1911-1912 edition of "The Blue Book" reads "For Information of the Red Light District Ask Me. Meet me at the Beauty Saloon."  This image is combined with advertisements, including Sallie Brewer's, from an inside page of the guide to San Antonio's "Sporting District," a red light and an early 1900s' postcard of The Alamo. Visit   http://www.postcardsfromsanantonio.com/blue_book.htm.

The Blue Book No. 1, “See Sallie after the Alamo,” digital collage by Gayle Brennan Spencer. The back cover of the 1911-1912 edition of “The Blue Book” reads “For Information of the Red Light District Ask Me. Meet me at the Beauty Saloon.” This image is combined with advertisements, including Sallie Brewer’s, from an inside page of the guide to San Antonio’s “Sporting District,” a red light and an early 1900s’ postcard of The Alamo. Visit http://postcardssanantonio.com.

But what about today? This is from the fact sheet for visitors of participants in Lackland Air Force Base’s Basic Training Program:

Off Limits Areas and Establishments

The San Antonio Armed Forces Disciplinary Control Board has placed establishments off-limits to help maintain the health, morale, and welfare of Armed Forces personnel. Your Airman may not visit these  establishments and will know which ones they will not be able to service prior to town pass.

The River Walk has been family-friendly for decades, but now I am curious about what places in San Antonio are deemed too or lascivious or dangerous for today’s military. This list, not nearly as clear and complete a guide to local entertainment as the 1941 blacklist, is from a 2009 edition of the Lackland Talespinner:

The following locations are off-limits:

• Cracker Box Palace – 622 W. Hildebrand • Planet K – all locations in the following counties: Bexar, Atascosa, Wilson, Guadalupe, Comal, Kendall, Medina and Bandera • Voodoo Tattoo Parlor – 202 Aransas • Players Club (PC) of San Antonio – 8235 Vicar • Boys Town – Acuna, Mexico • Widows Web Bar and Night Club – Acuna, Mexico • The Up and Down Club – Acuna, Mexico

With no Blue Book or more detailed list available on base, what’s a newcomer in search of a little lascivious behavior to do?

It’s so simple nowadays. Just follow those huge “come-hither” billboards around north Loop 410 or grab a free issue of San Antonio Current for pages and pages of full-color “service” ads.