Sunday is my ‘long-run day’, and when in Turin, it’s the day I go up and over the one big hill close to the city, which is Superga. Although this hill has several forest trails, I prefer the road because it’s easier to measure the distance that way and also it’s just easier: I don’t have to think about where I’m going, the ground is even and there are no fallen trees or rockslides to contend with.
Much to my consternation, though, a large crowd of runners had gathered at the foot of the hill, waiting to start a road race. The usual, comfy route was off-limits! With great reluctance, I trotted off in a different direction, seeing where my feet would take me.
Things started out well. I saw a big old villa with fancy statues on the gate, which was interesting for a few seconds. But soon the road turned into a fast-car-only affair and I glumly considered giving up, turning back home and starting all over again. At that very moment, however, I looked across the road and saw a trail leading up into the forest: Number 27.
It was fated; the sign had spoken. Besides, there is always an inviting sense of mystery in an overgrown trail, especially if you don’t know where it leads. I crossed the road and peered at the informative sign. Summoning all my powers of Italian-deciphering, I read the following:
Vines and Villas
The Traverse Road crosses many old villas. Nearby we find the Richelmy Villa, of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which sits on the rural side along the foothills and has a large portico in its inner courtyard. The little isolated chapel can still be seen, which was reportedly built in 1626.
Downstream from the Richelmy Villa, the course passes the eighteenth-century Villa Bocca, previously Villa Capello, and affords glimpses, upstream, of Villa Cannone. These are three precious examples of the residential houses typical of the Torinese hills, built between the Seventeenth and Eighteenth centuries, to which has been given the name of Vines. This term aptly represents the buildings’ dual role as holiday houses of nobles and wealthy bourgeois and as sources of agrarian income from the planting of vines, fruit and vegetables.
The prospect of gawking at old buildings definitely added an extra incentive to the climb, so I ignored the other sign about how the hill is infested with wild boar and set off.
Almost immediately, running turned into walking. The path was very steep and root-riddled and to my mind, walking up hill counts as running. Geoffrey Kamworor, who just smashed the half-marathon record this week, would probably beg to differ. He can run 13 miles an hour, whereas my average is about 4. “But Geoffrey, Geoffrey,” I would tell him if he were there to tssk at me, “Imagine all the nuances you miss by rushing around as you do. Life is not a race, my man! What about all the little butterflies? The way you rush about, they probably die on your forehead as if it were the grille of a Maserati. By contrast, they are completely undisturbed by my elephantine grace—” I stopped talking to myself abruptly at a horrifying sight.
The log was about thigh-height and there wasn’t enough room to crawl underneath, which meant I had to actually climb over it. There was a time when I was a great one for climbing over logs and even up trees. I have a distinct memory of sitting atop a macrocarpa hedge giving condescending praise to my little playmate Damien for his feeble efforts. Alas, those days are gone. What would have once been the work of five seconds now took me a full two minutes. First, I had to decide where to put my foot, then what to grab onto, then how to pull myself up off the ground. Once on top of the log I needed a short rest to take a breath, but I still had to keep my balance. Then came the business of figuring out how to get back down. Exhausting.
Luckily, that was the only log incident on the trail. In fact, after about five minutes the trail disappeared altogether and became a paved driveway. There was a sign saying ’27’ though, so I knew I should keep going. Items of interest included this sign warning against a ‘Guard Poodle’ and a large house that looked like an historic villa but there was no official indication of the fact.
A little way on, the trail became an actual trail again and I was immersed in something approaching wildlife. There were small strange strawberries, a fluffy yellow sort of flower and a physalis alkakengi or ‘Chinese lantern’. All this greenery reminded me of a conversation I’d had with my parents on Skype the day before. Shortly before my mother had started playing with a phone app. that turned Dad into a fire-breathing dragon, he mentioned a plant called the ‘Touch-me-not’, which shrinks from contact with any person it doesn’t ‘know’. Apparently, once you’ve approached it daily and given it water and complimented it on its looks, for about three months, it tolerates you and no longer retracts its leaves. This in turn reminded me of another odd creature boundary between ‘animal’ and ‘vegetable’, the Elysia Chlorotica, a sea slug that steals plant genes to make chlorophyll and execute photosynthesis.
Whilst musing thus on various forms of plant life, I happened across a crumbling archway, probably belonging to one of those Vine-Villas.
This was the stuff. Abandoned ruins! Moldering stone choked with greenery and a deathly hush broken only by the gentle buzzing of bees! Actually, the buzzing wasn’t so gentle. It was very loud and a bit ominous. There must have been at least two hundred of them lurking about. I hoped they were honeybees and not wasps, for instance. I hoped they wouldn’t mind my passing by. Eventually I came to a large shrub where they seemed to be concentrated. They were going mad for its flowers and didn’t even seem to notice I was there, even when I shoved my camera in their faces.
This got me thinking about the human apocalypse. “If it has to happen,” I thought, “For God’s sake, let it happen before the bee extinction. That way they’ll get some time to make their honey and do map-dances in peace.” It was amusing to think of great metropolitan areas such as New York or Rio de Janeiro turned into jungles filled with the sound of bees.
All of a sudden, I popped out of the forest trail and back out onto familiar territory, the road. There were no other runners in sight—they must have passed by ages ago—but there were two cyclists bravely pedaling up the slope. Cycling is a big pastime here and there are always a few elastic-legged specimens, usually men in pairs, though today I saw one lone woman.
From there it was only about a kilometer to the town of Superga, where I was hoping to buy some Powerade at the little shop. Unfortunately, it was closed but there was one of the distinctive-to-Turin water fountains in the shape of a bull’s head, where I stopped to fill my water bottle up and to eat some gummy bears.
From Superga to Baldissero Torinese I don’t remember much, except that all the dogs were very happy to see me because I gave them the chance to show what excellent guard dogs they all were. One dog saw me coming and barked its head off, thereby alerting the dog next door, which did a little dance of joy but held its bark in until I was right next to the gate, when it really let loose. Then the dog next door to that one had its turn. It was like a dance—each dog waited impatiently for its chance to give me a good telling off. The loudest greeting committee was probably this trio of chihuahuas, or two chihuahuas and one miniature Dachshund, which stood threateningly at the gate and roared like a bonsai Cerberus.
After much slog, I was finally headed back down the hill and paused to take a picture of hazy Turin, when I noticed something on the road. It looked like a little ball and I saw that it was some kind of fat little wood mouse. Alarmed, considering the speed and frequency with which cars come along at that spot, I scooped it up and noted with interest that it didn’t seem to mind in the least. In fact, it rolled back onto my palm with a blissful compliance, as if still drunk from all the sun it had been soaking up. Finding a dark, leafy area away from the road, I placed it in the litter and hoped it wouldn’t be clever enough to find its way back to the death trap.
When I got back, I told John all about the mouse and he asked me queasily whether I’d washed my hands, which I had, but I could still almost feel the silky, warm surprisingly heavy heft of it.