Historical Guests

Portofino, a World apart
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 personalitywill 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).

In the morning, before coming down into the town, he would stop near the wall on the curved road below the hotel to admire the majestic panorama of the Portofino Gulf with the entire city of Santa Margherita Ligure including the port and Corte in the foreground. Then he wouldcontinue on to the bakery in Via dell’Arco where he bought his daily piece of focaccia from “Pinamonti” and often he would meet Vittorio Giovanni Rossi, a journalist from Santa Margherita Ligure and ardent lover of that same tasty food typical of Liguria.

There they would chat away in the Genovese dialect.

Whenever one hears this language spoken in whatever part of the world, the spirit of Govi is always hovering above. We’re certain that that spirit, an indispensable element in maintaining the Genovese tradition will live forever. On Gilberto Govi, on his theater, and on his humanity, there is already a large bibliography.  He was a personalitywho, for his capacity to interpret on stage in a dialect rendered comprehensible even to the majority of Italians, the most disparate situations with great vivacity, must be considered like all great comics, a benefactor of humanity.

Gilberto Govi
1885 – 1966