Historical Guests

Portofino, a World apart
    January 2011

    Pope Gregorio XI in Portofino.

    There have been so many pontiffs with the name Gregory that it requires either a prodigious memory or a profound knowledge of the history of the Popes to remember the respective historic periods and the events that they refer to. Of the sixteen Popes with this name (the first four being saints) Gregory XI, Pietro Roger of Beufort, whom we shall discuss here, was quite important in the history of the church. We are in the 60’s of the fourteenth century: The situation in France is catastrophic as a result of the One Hundred Years War and of the struggles between the Armagnacchi – faithful to the Duke of Orléans, and the Borgognoni – anglophiles. In Italy the situation was dramatic as the rights of the church were being contested by local potentates.

    December 2009

    The Philosopher Nicola Abbagnano in Portofino.

    To talk about Nicola Abbagnano means in a certain way to talk about Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino, the cities he chose as his second home and for which he demonstrated his love to the point of leaving in writing his wish to be buried there.

    Abbagnano was a swallow who returned to this city every summer from the fog of Padania to rejoice over the sea, the green of the hills, the climate and perhaps even of that unforgettable sunset of Portofino that Andrè Gide called I’heure bleu (the blue hour).

    A magic moment, it lasts only a few moments in which the whole environment, including the air, turns a tender blue, a poetic atmosphere that Abbagnano certainly enjoyed. He, who vibrated with a gentleness that was expressed in his clear eyes full of light, and a smile sketched on his lips. Observing him, with his refined and good natured countenance, he seemed a poet, a dreamer more than a philosopher, immersed in the severity of his discipline. And yet, a poetic vein runs through all his work.

    December 2009

    Truman Capote arrives in Portofino

    The write Truman Capote in Portofino

    Spring 1953: Truman Capote makes his entrance in Portofino in a red Renault accompanied by Jack Dunphy, his lifetime companion, and a noisy couple of dogs. Together they rent an apartment over the Delfino Restaurant, on the top floor with a grand terrace, and there they stayed until the end of October.

    He was born in New Orleans in 1924. When he took this long vacation he was already a celebrity, known in his country for his gifts as a brilliant writer and for his intemperate and transgressive life. He had his literary debut in 1948 with the novel “Other Voices, Other Rooms“, followed the next year by a collection of short stories entitled a “Tree in the Night” and in 1951 by the novel “The Grass Harp”.

    By 1953 he had already written for the theater and for the cinema.

    He came to Portofino with the intention of working in peace and quiet on the screenplay for “The House of Flowers“, and at the same time on a project for a new collection of short stories. The distractions of summer proved to be many however, and he let a good part of the time slip by. At the same time, in Portofino, there were many gatherings of a whole slew of friends and celebrities.

    July 2009

    The great musician Victor de Sabata in Portofino.

    The great musician Victor de Sabata, born in Trieste in 1892, conductor of the orchestra of teatro La Scala, an academic of Santa Cecilia, awarded the Gold Medal for Arts and Letters of the city of Milan, and decorated with many Italian and Foreign honours. After a serious heart attack in 1947 due to overwork while in America, he spent a lot of time in Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino because of its ideal mild climate.

    Here, where he wanted to spend the last years of his life, he was very close to the young pianist Piero Lo Faro.

    Recognizing his talent, he wanted to encourage him and attended manie of his concerts.

    A person with a princely demeanor and a distinctly aristocratic presence, de Sabata often used to visit his friend Piero in his beautiful villa and take walks along the beach of Portofino. He lived in a suite in the Metropole Hotel and then in the Regina Elena where his great friend and doctor Ettore Alberti went to cure him and give him comfort.

    He died in the Casa di Salute Villa Attilia, a sanitorium, in December of 1967.

    Victor de Sabata
    1892 – 1967

    June 2009

    Salvator Gotta loved and lived Portofino.

    Among his many recollections, Gotta loved to tell about his first “non arrival” in Portofino.
    “I was in Santa Margherita visiting Pastonchi and maestro Giordano. In the afternoon we decided to take a walk and chatting while we walked, we arrived just beyond Paraggi. There, one of the two stopped to say after that point there’s a little fishing village, Portofino, it’s not worth the bother to go there, we can return”.
    Some time passed, this time Gotta came to Portofino invited to the Splendido Hotel by Raffaele Calzini, already a famous journalist of the Corriere Della Sera.
    It was then that Gotta ‘s love affair with Portofino began, for that’s exactly what it was.
    He rented a house, the San Martino, which is a villa just beyond the Piccolo Hotel, where Hauptman, the German playwright, had stayed. In that period Gotta ‘s stays were for the most part in the summer, during the winter he returned to Milan, to his house on Via Boccaccio.
    Calzini and Gotta began to write about Portofino in the newspapers and to bring it to the attention to the Italians who until that time had favoured other vacation shores such as Viareggio, Venezia, and Capri. You must remember that our riviera owed its reputation to the good winter climate. The vacations were primarily during the winter and the vacationers were primarily foreigners.
    Furthermore, this colony of foreigners who had “discovered” Portofino did not love the idea of spreading the news of this spot. There was a sort of guarded jealousy of their elitist choice. It was like an exclusive club, very hesitant to accept new members except for the few Genoese who from business contacts had developed social relations with the English and thus were able to penetrate the social circle.
    Now, Gotta was breaking, if you will, the little court with his mission of publicizing the area.
    During the second world war Gotta moved definitively to Portofino together with his wife Adelina and her elderly mother. His only son Massimo was an official in the Savoia Cavalleria and was one of the protagonists of the famous Russian charge.
    Gotta lived together with other friends in a house that came to be called the “Alcazar” which was then destroyed in bombardments. Several Portofinians died as a result of these bombardments. Gotta then moved again to San Giuseppe in a one room house with his wife and mother-in-law.
    Some episodes from this period are narrated in “Macerie a Portofino” (the Ruins of Portofino) written right after the war.
    After the passing of the great storm of war he rented another house with a garden in the center of town called “Villino Aranci”. From then on he distanced himself from Portofino less and less until he finally left his apartment in Milan for good.
    He assumed the office of president of the newly formed “Azienda di Soggiorno”. He executed the duties of this office with great distinction for many years but sadly left it when its politicizing became unbearable.
    In the 1950’s, the boom years for Portofino, Gotta undoubtedly contributed to the growth of tourism and to the international reputation of Portofino.
    We remembered him seated at the Excelsior Cafè, with his perennial Bitter Campari and with his many friends from the world of literature, journalism, and cinema. Among them were; Laura Adani, Renzo Ricci, Eva Magni, Luchino Visconti, the designer Biki, Fosca Leonardi, Giovanni Mosca, Orio Vergani, his editor Arnoldo Mondadori, and Mario Crespi owner of the newspaper Corriere Della Sera.
    But in the long winters, the “commander”, as the Portofinians always called him, loved to talk with the sailors and fishermen, tell them his stories and listen to theirs, a Portofinian among Portofinians.
    In this much beloved refuge he would continue to write until his last days, the many books and newspaper articles in which he spoke of Portofino.
    In the memorial of the church of San Giorgio, above the entrance to the little cemetery that faces the sea, a sign commemorating him reads: ‘Salvator Gotta loved and lived Portofino”.Among his many recollections, Gotta loved to tell about his first “non arrival” in Portofino.

    I was in Santa Margherita visiting Pastonchi and maestro Giordano. In the afternoon we decided to take a walk and chatting while we walked, we arrived just beyond Paraggi. There, one of the two stopped to say after that point there’s a little fishing village, Portofino, it’s not worth the bother to go there, we can return”. Some time passed, this time Gotta came to Portofino invited to the Splendido Hotel by Raffaele Calzini, already a famous journalist of the Corriere Della Sera.

    June 2009

    Cesare Esposito worked a great deal in Liguria.

    Cesare Esposito, born in Naples, worthy artistic heir to Vincenzo Gemito, Gaetano Esposito, and Edoardo Dalbono, lived and worked a great deal in Liguria and in Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure in particular. As his great friend and admirer Enzo Cochetti wrote: “Cesare Esposito is a complete painter; his methods are very effective, his technique, perfect and his possibilities infinite. Attentive contemplator of nature, he found in the riviera a source of inexhaustible stimulus for his talents. Delicious waters, dense and just tones, cut with taste, sustained with effective contrasts of light and shade; wide sweeping ligurian landscapes, succinct, with exact observation“.

    In particular we remember the port with the fishing boats of turn of the century, Santa Margherita Ligure, the boats pulled up on dry land, and the nets which were the dominant motif of his inspiration and characterize his work in an original way. He was a sincere painter and the charm of his art was the effect of its simplicity. He portrayed what he saw through the prism of his sensitivity and he knew how to transform his understanding of life into the world of form and colours. In many houses in Santa Margherita Ligure we find oil canvases and pastels of this artist who loved Santa Margherita Ligure and lived therefor a long time in the Grand Hotel Miramare. In the Miramare, the pride of the hospitality of Santa Margherita Ligure to foreigners, there is a great oil painting exhibited, the work of Esposito.

    March 2009

    Gilberto Govi, the Ligurian Actors in Portofino.

    Portofino Gilberto Govi

    The name of Gilberto Govi is known not only in Liguria but also in all those places where Ligurians, in the course of their long history, have brought their presence, their “Genoesity“. A language, that for centuries was a language enriched by words from every part of the world both ancient and modern, was reestablished in all of Italy by the theater of Gilberto Govi. Perhaps this personality will be of little interest to a non-italian reader, not however in America where there are numerous descendants of genoese immigrants, and especially in Argentina. In the Boca, for example, which is the section of the port of Buenos Aires until very recently Genoese was spoken.

    Gilberto Govi was born in Genoa but his family from Emilia.

    In Genoa, where he grew up, he absorbed all the characteristics not only of the dialect but also of its customs, of its oral traditions, and its manners. Because of this he must be considered one of the maximum representatives of dialect theater in Liguria. Just as Perpetua, Manzoni’s character in his seminal work “The betrothed“, became italian, so did many of Govi’s caricatures become dialect words in Liguria. The “Giggia“, the authoritarian wife of the hen-pecked Genovese, “Sandro” the simpleton, a pretender to his daughter and many others. Govi loved to stay in Portofino and Santa Margherita where he had a villa on San Lorenzo hill near the nineteenth century hotel Guglielmina (now a residence).

    March 2009

    Ernst Bloch in Portofino.

    Ernst Bloch, who was part of that intellectual circle in Heidelberg that included the sociologist Max Weber, Karl Jaspers, the founder of German existentialism, and the hungarian Marxist philosopher Gyorgy Lukaks, was a great German philosopher of Jewish origins who opposed the Nazis and left Germany in exile in many European cities and then in America. In 1927 the philosopher stayed for quite some time in Portofino  in a little house in the hills with the young polish girl Karola. Twenty years younger than him, she would eventually become his second wife.

    There was still no electricity in that house and the philosopher had to write by the light of an oil lamp which he brought with him whenever he came to Italy. It’s true that progress still wasn’t as diffuse then, but houses without electricity were rare in 1927. Evidently Diogene was searching for the man with the lantern and he …. with the oil lamp. He had already writtenThe Spirit of Utopia” which is one of his most important works and which the twenty-two years old Karola struggled to read and understand. Bloch was working on “The Inheritance of This Time” in which examined the phenomenon of nazism. On occasion, in a pause from his work, he would bring his young companion to a trattoria in Corte for dinner. Sometimes they would take a walk up to the top of Portofino mountain.

    February 2009

    Andrea Doria in Portofino.

    It isn’t easy to get one’s bearings in this complex period of history that goes from the period of the “signorie” in Italy to the formation of Spanish domination on the peninsula. Carlo V. whose ancestors left him half of Europe as an inheritance, was for that reason i puzzle. When he played the game of forging alliances, he was easily tempted to “throw in the towel”. Speaking in particular of Andrea Doria who in his last years was allied with Charles V. it is terrifying when one notes how this great man changed sides so often. Andrea Doria was in admiral of Francesco I, the king of France, when the Adornos dominated Genoa with the support of the Spanish.

    Andrea Doria was allied with the French and had established his general headquarters at Cervara where the Fieschis were quartering their troops in the courtyard of the monastery. In a location so impenetrable it was difficult to be attacked by adversaries, who would have easily been seen anyway by the guards placed at strategic points on the mountain. Andrea Doria, for his part, maintained a blockade of the port of Genoa. impeding ships supplied with provisions from landing. In that year of 1527 Andrea Doria stayed quite some time in Santa Margherita Ligure. It would be his last year in the service of the French King. It is well known how, for questions of money, in that same year the admiral made up his mind to pass from the side of Carlo V, of whom he was once a great supporter and from whom he had in exchange the prerogative to direct a great part of the gold coming from the Americas to Genoa.

    February 2009

    Francesco I at the Cervara Portofino.

    Francesco I, the king who in 1515 succeeded Louis XII came to Italy in September of the same year to redeem the duke of Milan taken from France two years before as a result of the victory of the Holy League sponsored by Pope Giulio IIAfter the defeat of Massimiliano Sforza at Melegnano, the young king of nineteen years ruddy and ambitious, became one of the richest and most important regions of Italy. This, he believed, was the moment to make his bid for the imperial crown. Another young potentate had appeared on the European scene however. He was Carlo V, who had inherited Flanders and the Franca Contea from his father Philip of Habsburg and the kingdom of Spain from his mother, Giovanna la Pazza, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella.

    Francesco I and Carlo V are two names that remain in the heads of all student for the important roles they played in history. Carlo was named emperor in 1519 at nineteen years of age and in May of 1525 defeated Francesco I after a resurgent conflict for domination. Almost everyone knows that after this conflict the king said the famous phrase, “I lost everything except honor”. Few have bothered to retrace all the places where he was held captive. At first he was placed in prison in the castle of Pizzighettone on the Adda river where the understanding Carlo, being himself young, concede to the thirty year old monarch the possibility of being surrounded by vivacious women not disposed to deprive him of the pleasures of feasts and orgies.

    February 2009

    Don Giovanni of Austria in Portofino.

    Don Giovanni of Austria, natural son of Carlo V. was the great admiral who defeatated the Turkish fleet at Lepanto. Besides the Venetians, the Genoese, and the Pontiffs, he had as his ally the winds. First, the northwest wind that pushed his galleys against the enemy, then the southeast wind which prevented the Moslems from attacking. His stepbrother, Philip II, was not so lucky with the winds three years later in 1574 when, on behalf of the very christian king Carlo V, he was sent from Naples to Genoa to try to calm the smoldering conflicts between the old and new nobility for governance of the city. In fact he was blocked by an opposing wind at Portofino and was a guest at Cervara with an honorable welcome. It seems that he aspired to become master of the turbulent Genoa and probably held meetings with representatives of the old nobility who had occupied Portovenere, Sestri Levante, Chiavari, and Rapallo, lands east of the Republic.

    February 2009

    Maria de’ Medici in Portofino.

    Maria de’ Medici, daughter of the defunct grand duke of Tuscany Francesco I De Medici, was 27 years old when for reasons of state her uncle Ferdinando conceded her in matrimony to the 47 years old Enrico IV of Borbone, king ara of Navarra (from 1572) and of France (from 1579). Pope Clement VIII had annulled the first marriage of the king with Margherita di Valois (who could not have children) because she confessed to having contracted the marriage under duress. Married to the king of France through the power of attorney of M. eur de Bellegarde, ambassador of to Florence, by cardinal Pietro Aldobrandino, nephew of the Pope, Maria set sail on October 13, from Livorno in a superb galley escorted by six others belonging to the grand duke, five from the Pontiff, and two others from the Knights of Malta.

    February 2009

    Padre Paolo Segneri in Portofino.

    The great Jesuit preacher, originally from Nettuno, was considered in all of Italy a charismatic personality of great distinction. In fact, his sermons without rhetoric had an incredible success in those times in which Italy, half asleep, lacked stimulus and was, submitting to a period of decadence. The spiritual mission was to give a goal to human life and the throngs of the faithful venerated Segneri to such a fanatical point that they would do anything to obtain some physical memento, cutting pieces of his clothing, slicing splinters from the furniture he sat on, or from where his coat was hanging. Padre Paolo Segneri was sought by the Genoese senate and invited to Genoa “La Superba” (The Proud) in 1688. On his way from the Grand Duchy of Tuscany he stopped at Lerici, then he departed from there Saturday April 24th for Genoa. However a strong westerly wind blew in from the high point of the promontory making it impossible to continue.

    February 2009

    Charles Louis de Montesquieu in Portofino.

    The French political writer, who travelled extensively in Europe to observe its institutions and customs, was also in Genoa which he did not in fact judge favorably. Certainly “La Superba”, which was persistent in its effort to remain dominant over little rebellious Corsica, was the same which had lost out on the discovery and conquest of America, and that in the century of enlightenment did not yet have a decent road to go to Tuscany. To reach that grand duchy it was necessary to travel by sea. By land, with mules, it was exceedingly dangerous not just because of the risk of falling from one of the steep rocky paths that curved around the Apennine mountains, but because of the risk of being attacked by the brigands frequently found in those mountains.

    Charles Louis suffered on the sea and preferred the mules. So on November 21,11 1728, when he reached Portofino, this little village seemed blessed by God for the rejuvenating pause and walk on the mountain that it offered. Surely, during the three days he stayed in Portofino he took the opportunity to gather information about the political situation of the town, a dependent of Genoa. Thus from the “smaller” he could better understand the “larger”. He stopped to sleep in an inn where, he writes, “I found very good red mullet, good wine, and good oil”. The great writer of “personal letters” then arrived in Portovenere where he had a pleasant stay and where he savoured the “frutti di mare“. But he had a particularly good impression of the red mullet in Portofino and mentions it in his book “Voyage in Italy”.

    February 2009

    Lazzaro Spallanzani in Portofino.

    When we observe along the so-called “beach of the women” at the Pedale in Santa Margherita Ligure – Portofino, all the skin divers (male and female) that submerge and emerge like so many frogs, it is exceedingly humorous for us here at the end of the twentieth century to think that in 1785 the forty-five years old scientist Lazaro Spallanzani swam in these very same waters to study the necessity of contact between the eggs of amphibians and the liquid sperm for reproduction. He had come to the abbey of Cervara from Portovenere where he had conducted important studies in taxidermy.

    This personality, a great traveller and attentive observer of nature in all its multiple aspects, though not written about extensively and known primarily to a handful of specialists, was nevertheless a Spallanzani great experimental scientist, a forerunner of the great Louis Pasteur who did important studies on spontaneous generation which he demonstrated to be impossible. He was thus a not very recognized pride of the century of the enlightened. Among his discoveries was the exam for the system of the circulation of blood. He was a professor of natural sciences, obtaining this post through the empress Maria Teresa of Austria. In that summer in which he resided at Cervara he was the guest of the monks with the permission of the Prior of administration don Benedetto Spinola. He united work with pleasure because surely nothing was more beautiful to him than in the evening, after having dined quietly in the monastery, to relax in his chamber in the freshness of his earthly plants and gaze at the sea.

    February 2009

    Henry Alford in Portofino.

    Henry Alford, the Anglican cleric who with great attention to detail described in pen and pencil the coast from Cannes to Genoa, was also in Portofino Italy in 1868 where his co-national Montagu Brown, English Consul in Genoa, was his host on the peninsula of Portofino. From there the two went by foot on an excursion on the mountain to enjoy the wonderful panoramic view. Here they could feel part of an uncontaminated nature so different than western England and inebriate themselves on the lush scents of mediterranean vegetation. They had left in the morning when it was still cool. Alford, contrary to his friend Montagu who was used to the area, had worn a tweed raincoat which he immediately took off after the first climb.

    They walked a long time, chatting as they went. Alford held his cape under his arm.Finally they arrived at a little hill on a steep vertical cliff overlooking the sea and there they stopped. The marvellous view limpid to the horizon sparked the imagination. Alford and Montagu remained a long time sitting on a rock almost enchanted. They then left and from one little valley to the next they made in one day a long tour of the mountain. After having passed the village of San Lorenzo della Costa, they reached Ruta. It was already evening and Alford realized that he had left his raincoat somewhere along the road. “Don’t worry” Montagu told him “the people here are honest. The raincoat will be delivered to the authorities and sent to England” (1).

    February 2009

    Richard Wagner in Portofino.

    In the summer of 1853, the famous composer Richard Wagner, was living the enchanting Mediterranean experience for the first time in Genoa. He was enthusiastic about the city and its surroundings, its people and its atmosphere. We know from a letter he wrote to his first wife Minna Wagner that “The oleanders were high with flowers, the nights were divine“. From the esplanade of Castelletto the view of the gulf was beautiful: to the east, the powerful mount Portofino, to the west one saw the riviera until the distant mountains of France. But, as often happens in the summer, the weather, which had been lagner splendid, suddenly changed. The sky darkened in a short period of time and a storm arose and a great electrical charge had formed. He was alarmed by the sudden change, by the thunder and lightening that discharged over the sea and on the mountain. The next day the coast was owerwhelmed by huge waves that may have suggested the music for the “Ride of the valkyrie”. From far away Portofino had stimulated a spark of creative inspiration in the great romantic composer.

    Richard Wagner

    , a World apart.

    February 2009

    Alfred Noack in Portofino.

    In love with the beauty of the Ligurian riviera and in particular of the Portofino Coast, Alfred Noack dedicated a large part of his life immortalizing it through photography.He was a true prince of this art, one of the first, and we are indebted to him for his many images of Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino of his time.

    He was originally from Dresden, the splendid capital of Saxony, called as is known, the Florence of the north. The city was completely destroyed by allied bombardment the final day of World War II.

    Alfred Noack was thus a lover of art and as Giuseppe Mercenaro writes, “... he brought to the exploration of the riviera his background. His eye was nurtured by the city of his origin where painters, some Venetians like Bernardo Bellotto, painted portraits of the city, its bridges, and its parks with near photographic exactness. In Noak, the climate and the artistic legacy of Dresden can be read in his Ligurian landscapes“. He came to north Italy because in Germany he was overshadowed by his teacher Herman Krone. In Italy instead, and above all in Liguria where he opened his own studio in Genoa in via del Filo 1, he developed his art with success.

    February 2009

    Federico Nietzsche in Portofino.

    “Home is in those places where the soul is enchained” wrote Voltaire the great french thinker. Fredrich Nietzsche confirms this affirmation and demonstrates how there is a profound connection between the places that have inspired artists and intellectuals and their works. In his bookEcce Homo” he defined Portofino as a “small forgotten universe of happiness“.

    The magical charm of Portofino is a “waking dream “.

    Not many people know that it was here in Portofino that he wrote a good part of “Thus Spoke Zarathustra“. When he wrote the apology for voluptuousness and sensuality he describes the pro- montory in these terms: “In a dream, the Jietzsche last dream of the morning, I found myself on a promontory protruding beyond the world, I was holding a scale and I was weighing the world”. Of his sojourn in Tigullio, which coincides with one of the most important periods of his life, there exists few traces, and these few come mostly from his own pen, in some letters and in his memoirs. The first part of the above mentioned work was born in 1883 in the “quiet, precious cove of Rapallo, carved between Chiavari and mount Portofino”.

    February 2009

    Umberto I di Savoia in Portofino.

    In 1879 the Rome-Genoa line, an important connection in the structure of the Italian railroad, was completed. Umberto I, who at that time had been king of Italy for a year, decided to travel the entire tract that connected the capital with “La Superba“. The itinerary included a brief stop in the station of Santa Margherita Ligure and then in PortofinoThe king already knew of the local amenities made famous by writers and poets and he loved the little city whose name reminded him of his illustrious spouse. The royal coach arrived at 4:45 in the afternoon of August lst. Santa Margherita Ligure to which on November 26, 1863 was added the adjective “Ligure” to distinguish it from the many other municipalities in the kingdom with the same name, was a rich city, the richest with this name.

    February 2009

    Valery Larbaud in Portofino.

    What a strange destiny, that of the writer Valery LarboardA great admirer of Italy and translator of the great author from Trieste Italo Svevo, he is, notwithstanding this, little known in Italy outside a restricted circle of specialists in french literature. Born in Vichy in 1881, he would die there in 1957, the year in which he was struck by a cerebral paralysis. His life was one long voyage. Thanks in fact to his favorable financial situation he could allow himself to live pursuing his interests. His personal aspirations lead him to wander throughout Europe totally immersing himself in the culture, in the customs, and in the language of the countries that he visited, and in particular those he loved most: Spain, England and above all Italy.

    His travels included Liguria and the eastern riviera which he consecrated with words of awed admiration, grateful for such beauty. He stayed in Portofino, learned its dialect, loved to chat with the locals, and travel (sometimes by land, at times by sea) the tract which connects Portofino and Santa Margherita. His days were marked by precise punctual habits, each one tied like a ritual to a different place; breakfast in Santa Margherita, tea in Rapallo, and dinner in Portofino.  By 11:30 pm the whole village was asleep, everything was quiet and the only window illuminated was the author’s, a sign of his intense desire to make his own the places that he loved deeply.

    February 2009

    Guy de Maupassant in Portofino.

    Who, driven by romantic sentiments, reaches Portofino by boat and pauses for a few brief instants in a sort of enchantment and tries to contemplate the spectacle before him, will have more or less the same vision that struck Guy de Maupassant more than a century ago. It is through the eyes of this author that one approaches this timeless village. Yes, timeless! Because they are the same words of Maupassant that can be used to give form to his vision: “a little village, Portofino, that envelopes like the arc of the moon around this calm basin“.

    February 2009

    Gerhart Hauptmann in Portofino.

    The great writer of German naturalism Gerhart Hauptmann came to spend the winter as the guest of his friends the Browns in the castle in Paraggi in 1912, when he won the Nobel Prize for Literature for his celebrated drama “The Weavers”. He had already divorced his first wife Marie Thienemann, daughter of a rich banker from Dresden, and was remarried to Margaret he Marschalk with whom he had already taken several trips to Italy. In that year the duke and duchess of Sassonia-Coburgo-Gotha were also on holiday in Santa Margherita Ligure. When he was staying in Santa Margherita, Gerhart Hauptmann would often go to the Caffè Colombo, in front of the little gardens where he would offer aperitifs to the Browns. He found it extremely pleasurable to relax with his friends in that place and enjoy the sun while it was so cold in Germany. He felt very comfortable in that caffe, certainly different from German caffes, but it was furnished all the same with all those comforts that the “belle èpoque” had even brought to this part of Italy so beloved by the Germans.

    February 2009

    Gabriele D’Annunzio loved in Portofino.

    In February 1898 Eleonora Duse was a guest in Santa Margherita Ligure. The great artist was looking to recuperate her health compromised by her strenuous theatrical tours. Besides this, the vacation represented a special parenthesis to the turning point which her relationship with Gabriele D’Annunzio had taken.

    They had recently made up after the brusque break-up which she had wanted because the artitic betrayal she felt by the Poet when he entrusted the interpretation of the play “La Città Morta” (The Dead City) to the French actress Sarah Bernhardt. The play “Sogno di una Mattina di Primavera” (Dream of a Spring Morning) written for Duse was the first act of reconciliation by D’Annunzio.
    In turn, she offered a gesture of good will and good taste following from Rome, via telegraph, a performance of the play which was the cause of their separation. The third gesture of reconciliation was by D’Annunzio who joined Duse in Santa Margherita.

    In three sonnets he left the proof of his loyal love.

    February 2009

    From the the Kingdom of Italy to the present.

    Parrochialism also meant emulation. Santa Margherita Ligure, beyond succeeding in having the addendum “of Rapallo”dropped from its name and being renamed “Santa Margherita Ligure” through an 1863 decree by , also succeeded, as did Rapallo, in getting two railroad stations, San Lorenzo della Costa, and Santa Margherita-Portofino, to serve the city in the 1868 railway that united Genoa with Sestri Levante.

    The two stations serving Rapallo were San Michele and Rapallo.

    Portofino, not being able to have its own station for the obviously geographic reasons, did succeed in getting the coastal road its border. With the advent of new roads and rail lines the golden age of the Portofino coast began, characterized by the construction of splendid villas, grand hotels, and the emergence of elitist tourism.

    In this same period many Santa Margheritans and Portofinians who had had relations with South America returned home after having made fortunes. They began to construct beautiful houses whose painted facades are still the pride of the two towns. After the first World War Santa Margherita and Portofino became more and more exclusive as did Paraggi with its splendid beach. After the second World War, despite the advent of mass tourism and the fashion of owning second vacation homes, the two towns of Santa Margherita and Portofinodid not lose their charm which endured as a result of the wise urban political policies followed by the two towns.

    February 2009

    Wassily Kandinsky was a guest in Portofino.

    The great Russian painter, one of the forerunners of abstractionism, was a guest in Portofino at Christmas of 1905. We don’t intend to write a biography much less a description of his art, that is the job of the critics. Instead we want to let it he known that he was a grand lover of Italy where his parents had brought him when he was but three years old. He then lived in the Ukraine with his aunt Elizabeth because his parents divorced. There, he studied the piano and cello and learned German. At twenty years old he enrolled in the University of Moscow and specialized in Political Economy. In 1889 the Society of Natural Sciences, Ethnography, and Anthropology sent him on a mission in Vologda where he became interested in the local decorative arts.

    In the same year he attended the World’s Fair in Paris. In 1893 he obtained the post of Course Assistant in the faculty of Roman Rights in Moscow but in 1895 he discovered the “Mills” of Monet, turned down a teaching job and left for Munich, the city of artists to dedicate himself to painting. There, in the studio of Anton Azbé, he met his compatriots: the painter Marianna Veriovnica of Petersburg who would later move to Ascona on Lago Maggiore, Alessio Jawlensky, and the Swiss painter Paul Klee with whom he would found “Il Cavaliere Bleu” and lyrical abstractionism.

    February 2009

    Guglielmo Marconi in Portofino.

    Only out of respect for chronological order have we waited until now to remember in this review of personalities connected with Portofino, the scientist of world importance and genius of physics, Guglielmo Marconi and his mythical yacht the “Electra”. The great benefactor of humanity was in Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino very often in the years between 1932 and 1937, and the boat, whose fatal name he wanted to give to his daughter, remained moored in the port of Santa Margherita Ligure. It was in fact in the Villa Repellini of Pedale, half way between Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino, where Marconi with his assisten Mr. Gerald Isted, who was staying at the Hotel Regina and some other Hotels at the time, installed the first parabolic antennae, a forerunner of television.

    February 2008

    Francesco Petrarca, illustrious guest in Portofino.

    To quote the words of the supreme Italian lyric poet who enthusiastically speaks of Cervara and of the coast of Portofino seems a bit too erudite, but it is absolutely not possible to forget Francesco Petrarca among the illustrious guests on the Portofino Bay. Guido Scetten, the archbishop of Genoa had invited him.

    This humanist & scholar who as I have already noted had the spirit of a poet and had decided to spend most of his time in this wonderful place (cara requies mea) and had even elected to be buried there. Petrarca and Scetten had both studied in Avignone. So when the archbishop invited the poet to the abbey the invitation was accepted and it was here that Petrarca may have found the inspiration for some verses of his poem in Latin “Africa“.

    The great friendship between the grand poet and the archbishop Scetten is documented by the affectionate expression Petrarca used when referring to him. He called him “My Guido” (it should be noted that in Italian “Guido” also means “guide”). Together they would converse or recite poetry while strolling through the monastery or on the balcony that overlooked the sea with a beautiful view of the peninsula of Portofino.