Quando mi sarò deciso d’andarci, in paradiso / ci andrò con l’ascensore di Castelletto

(‘When I have decided to go there, to Paradise, / I will go by means of the Castelletto lift’)

These lines from Giorgio Caproni’s poem ‘L’ascensore’ are inscribed on the wall of the long and gloomy corridor which is the entrance to this public lift. Behind you the doorway frames a busy intersection between a narrow city-centre street and two traffic tunnels; columns of buses charge in every direction, and between them weave vans, the odd brave private motorist and dozens of scooters (more scooters, apparently, in Genoa than in any other European city). There are actually two lifts at the end of the passage but usually only one of them is working. On the walls are bas-reliefs in slate of indecipherable subjects that could be African, or Art Deco or Liberty, Italy’s version of art nouveau. Nobody looks at them, and usually nobody talks: this lift – one of several – is for commuters between Genoa’s upper levels and the city below. 

In the lift there are two narrow benches and plenty of standing room for Genovesi of all types and generations, sometimes crammed in – the space is only about six by twelve feet. Imperfect mirrors on the walls make your head look discomfortingly bulbous or pointy – best not to look at them either.

A minute or two later both doors open and you find yourself looking down on the multitudinous modern city of Genoa. Via Garibaldi and the roofs of its famous palaces are below – and beyond lies the extensive medieval quarter (some of its carrughe are so narrow that the sunlight never arrives there), and beyond that is the port filled with yachts, ferries and a huge cruise ship. One clear landmark – is it a sculpture or a crane? – is the white spider-like Bigo by the architect Renzo Piano. The nearly window­less fly-tower of the Carlo Felice opera house and one or two uninspiring sky scrapers mark out the commercial centre. Gradually the eye starts to discern individual buildings. The Duomo with its campanile is clearly visible, as are dozens of other church towers and spires. The city’s southern boundary is the sun-reflecting sea, but on three sides the bay is ringed with castle-topped hills and mountains – in January many were snow-covered.

There were thirteen of us on the study week at the language school called A Door to Italy. We studied all morning – there was a class of beginners and two at different levels for intermediate speakers of Italian – and, lucky to have a week of winter sunshine, we explored the city in the afternoon. Many of us are intent on returning to Genoa next year.