Chocolate Town

‘There will be chocolate everywhere,’ banners around Turin have been offering this cheering prospect for the last couple of weeks. Naturally, I wanted in on the action. On November 8, we headed for Piazza San Carlo to inhale cacao fumes.

 

 

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Caffe San Carlo

John’s knee has been hurting a lot lately so while I went tripping around the stalls like Homer Simpson in the Land of Chocolate, he elected to stay at what may be the world’s fanciest café, Caffe San Carlo. 

According to their pamphlet, this café was the first place in Turin to get gas lighting and was frequented by such luminaries as Alexandre Dumas, the polar explorer Umberto Cagni, Marxist hero Antonio Gramsci, prime minister Giovanni Giolitti, painter Lorenzo Gigli and many others. 

 

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Piedmont’s Pride

 

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Taking pride of place was the famous chocolate variant in these parts gianduiotto, a mixture of cocoa, sugar and the ‘nocciola del Piemonte’  or ‘Piedmont hazelnut.’

Its name, according to this site, evokes a local story to do with Italian Independence, when two guys Giovan Battista Sales and Giovanni Bellone, set up a popular puppet show in Piazza Castello in the big market in Turin in the late 1700s. One of their characters, ‘Girone’ or Jerome, offered rustic criticism of society and was so popular they took the show on tour. Unfortunately, the Doge of Genoa (whose name was Jerome) objected to the tenor of their show, arrested them and burned their stuff. They recovered from this but back in Turin Napoleon’s ‘good behavior’ police also took issue with two offensive phrases in the Piedmontese dialect:

 

Liberté egalité fraternité, ij fransèis a van an caròssa e noi a pe“!

“Liberty, equality, fraternity, the French get a carriage and we walk for free!”

Viva la Fransa viva Napoleon, chiel a l’é rich, e noi ëstrasson

“Long live France, long live Napoleon, coz he is rich and I’m a lowly ’un”

 

Spectators at the trial were so amused by these lines that the infuriated judges sentenced the puppeteers to death. Luckily, the scamps managed to get away, finding refuge in Asti with the family of Giovanni Battista De Ronaldis, who’d been executed for inciting revolution. This gave the puppeteers the idea of creating a modern character who would explicitly criticize the political situation of the time, and Gianduje was born. This was a character resembling a cheerful farmer dressed in the costume seen below:

 

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The chocolates named for this character were invented by the local confectionary Caraffel and first presented at the Carnival in 1865, when someone dressed as Gianduje threw them into the crowd.

 

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Gianduja handing out candy

 

Sicilian Sweets

Sicily is pretty much the sweet capital of Italy so it was strongly represented, with stalls selling marzipan fruits (frutta da martorana), cannoli and torrone (nougat with nuts). Particularly popular are the sfogliatelle –layered pastries filled with something sweet. I bought two ‘little lobsters’ (arogostine) filled with pistachio cream.

 

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Chocolate cannoli

 

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little torrones, aww!

 

Novelties

One of the most impressive things I saw was a life-sized model of one of the public fountains particular to Turin, which feature the head of a bull. This one is not only modelled out of chocolate but also pours hot chocolate!!

 

 

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Delicious bullspit

 

And then there were these, artistically combining two of Italy’s great achievements, well three if you count the football…

 

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Non-Chocolate Treats

 

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You could swim in there but it would be scratchy

 

Cantuccini are what most of us call biscotti. The word cantuccio literally means ‘little nook’ but also, by extension, a crusty bit of bread that can soak things up. The traditional recipe, originating in Prato, involved flour, eggs, sugar, pine nuts and almonds. The barely wet dough is cooked twice for extra hardness and typically served after dinner with orange juice.

Another non-chocolate treat on offer were caldarroste, roasted chestnuts, which seem very exotic and festive to me because New Zealand didn’t tend to have them, at least not sold on the street.

 

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chestnut roaster

 

All in all, the cioccolaTO (TO= Turin) experience was very satisfactory excursion, even for John who had a little piece of gianduiotto with his coffee. He even got to see some of the fun on our way back to the number 57 bus back home. 

 

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Warrioresses of the Rising Sun

The Museo Arte Orientale (MAO) is one of the best museums in Turin, coaxing you into alien perspectives with amazingly beautiful artefacts and clear explanations, some of which are also given in English. The exhibition I saw today, Guerriere dal Sol Levante, or Warrior Women from the Land of the Rising Sun, showed not only a glimpse of the rare women who fought as warriors but also provided the historical, political and religious context for their exploits. 

The first thing the visitor sees is a video that gives a brief overview of the history of the onna bugeisha, the warrior woman in Japanese society. It ran through a long list of names, often illustrating their stories with cinematic reenactments and it occurred to me that I hadn’t heard of any of them before. So, instead of giving an account of the exhibition itself (as fascinating as it was), I have decided to limit myself to introducing you to some of the big names in Japan’s history of badassettes. 

 

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Meet Fyana: she’s a perfect war machine, but she has a heart!

 

Jingū (c.169-269CE )

Jingū was Empress Consort to Chūai, ruling as regent for her son starting from her husband’s death in 201. Legend has it that she led an army into a ‘promised land’, possibly Korea, and won a big victory. It’s not really clear whether she really existed though. The Koreans object, for one thing, to ‘Jingu-ism’. 

 

Jingu
Empress Jingū (Okinaga-Tarashihime no Mikoto, 1326). Collection of Aka-ana Hachimangū Shrine, Shimane Prefecture.

 

 

Tomoe Gozen (c.1154-?)

Tomoe Gozen  was sister-in-law, concubine and ‘milk-sister’ (i.e. they shared a wet-nurse) to Minamoto no Yoshinaka (1154-1184). She accompanied him into battle, led his troops on the battlefield and stayed with him until he was killed in the Battle of Awazu (1184). In the epic The Tale of the Heike, she is described as an exemplary warrior:

Of rare strength and skill in archery, whether on horseback or on foot, sword in hand, she was a warrior capable of facing demons or gods and alone was worth a thousand men. Expert in mounting the fieriest horses, descending the steepest slope, when approaching the battle, wearing heavy armour with tightened cuirass, a long sword and a powerful bow in her hand, she appeared to the enemy as a first rank captain. She had accomplished brilliant deeds, unequalled by her peers. And so, once again, when many had retreated or fled, Tomoe was among the seven knights who had not been hit.”

p.41 Guerriere dal Sol Levante/Warrior Women from the Rising Sun (Torino, 2019)

 

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Tomoe Gozen, a drawing by Shitomi Kangetsu (1747–1797)

 

 

Hōjō Masako (1157-1225)

The first shōgun for the first bafuku (literally ‘camp’ or ‘army HQ’) of the Kamakura shogunate was Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147-1199).  Hōjō Masako was his consort and when her husband died, she became a Buddhist nun. At the same time, she continued to be involved in politics and became known later as ama-shōgun or the ‘nun shogun’. She helped create a council of regents for the her teenaged son, but he preferred his wife’s clan and rebelled (and was subsequently killed). Her second son was executed by a nephew in 1219 and the Minamoto line was extinguished.

 

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Hōjō Masako by Kikuchi Yōsai

 

 

Kunoichi (1500s)

According to a now disputed source, Investigation of Japanese History by Shisei Inagaki, Mochizuko Chiyo was a noblewoman who recruited prostitutes, orphans and abandoned girls to create all-female force of secret-service ninjas for the Takeda Clan. It’s a good story anyway.

 

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Tsuruhime (1526-1543)

 When Ōuchi Yoshitaka’s power started spreading on the mainland of Honshu, the nearby island of Ōmishima fell under threat. When the head priest at the island’s Ōyamazumi Shrine died, his 15-year-old daughter Tsuruhime inherited his position. As she’d learned martial arts from a young age, she now took charge of the military resistance. When Ōuchi samurai invaded the island in 1541, she led an army that drove them back into the open sea. A few months later she raided the ship of an Ōuchi general, cut him down, then drove his fleet away with bombs called horokubiya.

 

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Oan (1600)

In the period of the ‘warring states’ (1477-1573), warriors tended to prove their kills by collecting the heads of their victims. The heads then underwent a treatment called kubi genshō ‘making up of the heads’: washing, hair-styling, applying make-up and blackening teeth. This was usually done by women. The Oan Monogatari is the testimony of a girl named Yamada Kyōreki or Oan, the daughter of a Samurai, who had this unenviable job:

 

“My mother and I, together with the wives and daughters of the other samurai, were in the keep from which we threw bullets. The severed heads taken by our allies were gathered in the keep. […] Not even the severed heads scared us. We slept surrounded by the smell of blood from those old heads.”

 

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“This one shouldn’t need much work. Stinky though.” (Head here actually belongs to a woman, story here)

 

The Jōshigun (1868-1869)

The Boshin War (or if you’re not into the whole brevity thing ‘War of the Year of the Yang Earth Dragon’) was a civil war fought between ruling forces of the Tokugawa shogunate and those seeking to return power to the Meiji Imperial Court. Aizu was the site of the bloodiest episodes and among those fighting was a 30-strong voluntary brigade of women later known as the Jōshigun. In that area, warrior-class women were trained in the use of weapons from an early age, particularly the naginata, a long pole with a curved blade at one end. Takeko Nakana was one of these women and, when she was wounded in battle, such was her valiant spirit that she asked her sister to behead her so that the enemy couldn’t take the head as a trophy. You can read the whole story-in-pictures here.

 

Nakano Takeko

 

 

 

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Illustrated Story of Night Attack on Yoshitsune’s Residence At Horikawa, 16th Century (note woman in armour)

All Saints at the Monumental Cemetery

This week the big cemetery, Turin’s Cimiterio Monumentale, has been positively bustling. The carpark is packed and florists are touting their wares in little kiosks just outside the walls. Well-dressed visitors have been popping in in chatty groups with buckets, brooms and bouquets. Everyone is getting into the spirit of a big couple days in the Catholic calendar: Ognissanti (‘All Saints’ Day’) on November 1, and I Morti (Day of the Dead or All Souls) on November 2. This is the time of year when a lot of Italians honoring their dead loved ones by visiting cemeteries, tidying grave sites, leaving flowers and generally taking some time to reminisce.

 

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The other day, passing by, I decided to go in and see what was going on. The first thing I noticed was that it was extremely well kept: there were flowers everywhere; a lot of the tombs and headstones had actually been polished and the shrubs and rose bushes had been carefully pruned. The second thing I noticed was the statuary was very impressive, clearly meant to be appreciated as much for its artistic as its symbolic value. Italy, possibly even more than other European nations, placed a high value on funerary monuments well into the twentieth century and even received reviews from art critics.

 

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The first monument I saw was a sculpture dedicated to the Gambaro family by sculptors Edoardo Rubino (1871-1954) and Giussepi Velati Bellini (1867-1926), both of whom were known for many other beautiful artworks. Rubino, for example, sculpted a monument to Umberto I in Rome and the architect Bellini created two of the finest Art Nouveau buildings in Turin including Casa Florio on Via Nizza. 

 

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In fact, the very next tomb was in Art Nouveau style with funerary niche designed by the same Giussepi Velati Bellini and a bronze bas-relief by Gaetano Orsolini (1884-1954). High-class Torinese of the Belle Époch were clearly very serious about the quality of their cemetery furniture.

 

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Another beautiful plaque, this time in Symbolist style, was a frieze of fifteen angels by Davide Calandra (1856-1915). Although I didn’t realize it at the time, Calandra was the artist behind a sculpture I’d seen in Bueños Aires, to Bartolomé Mitre. This makes sense, though, because the crème de la crème of Argentina seemed just as concerned with leaving impressive monuments to the dead, as we found on our visit to La Recoleta, the VIP cemetery in Bueños Aires.

Although there were plaques attributing the artists for these examples, a lot of equally impressive pieces remained unattributed. I was particularly taken with this specimen,

 

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a little perturbed by the color and vivacity of this sarcophagus,

 

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and startled by this realistic vision of old age:

 

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It wasn’t just the statuary that was grand. Just as central Turin is distinguished by its porticos, the cemetery has an arched corridor that gives it the feel of an outdoor palace. There are even frescos on the ceiling:

 

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Branding

 

After a while, even these marble magnificences began to pall compared to the stories about the people stowed away. The cemetery is not only a repository of bones but also of fascinating stories about the people who contributed to the city’s history.

Among the notable figures buried here are the man responsible for funding and creating the cemetery, Carlo Tancredi Falletti di Barolo (1782-1838); celebrated actress Carlotta Marchionni (1796-1861); automobile pioneer Giovanni Battista Cierano (1860-1912); Piedmontese-language playwright Luigi Pietracqua (1832-1901); and first photographer of the Shroud of Turin Secondo Pia (1855-1941).

 

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British-born Italian writer and poet Annie Vivanti (1866-1942) has a particularly charming plot. Her novel The Devourers, was supposedly inspired by her daughter, who was a violin prodigy. Supposedly, in 1890 she met future Nobel Prize Winner Giosuè Carducci and they had a love affair. I don’t know if it’s true or not but Carlo Emilia Gaddo claimed that Carducci carried her bloomers about with him in a suitcase and took them out to sniff them now and then. 

 

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An impressive batch of scientists reside in this City of Silence, including Jole Ceruti Scurti (1922-1981), a prominent professor of mycology. Giuseppi Levi (1872-1965) founded Turin’s histological school and taught three Nobel laureates: Rita Levi-Montalcini, Salvador Luria and Renato Dulbecco. There is a plaque to Rita Levi-Montalcini (1909-2012) but I don’t know if she is buried here or at Rome, where she was living when she died. Born in Turin, she studied at the University of Turin Medical School and graduated summa cum laude M.D. in 1936. With Mussolini’s 1938 ‘Manifesto of Race’ she lost her position as Giuseppe Levi’s assistant and made her own apartment into a laboratory where she studied chicken embryos. When the Germans invaded Italy in 1943, she and her family fled to Florence and so escaped the Holocaust. In 1946 she went to Washington University in St. Louis, USA, where she remained as a research associate. In 1956 she and her colleague Stanley Cohen discovered and described Nerve Growth Factor, an achievement that brought them the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

 

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The Jewish section of the cemetery was my favorite. It is enclosed by walls and is much more overgrown and less statue-heavy than the rest, with a ‘Secret Garden’ feel. I surprised a blackbird from a bush growing over someone’s headstone and it literally yelled at me, suggesting that this part is not visited that often. There has been a significant Jewish population here since the 15th century, when they were escaping persecution in Eastern France.

 

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From the Jewish cemetery, I emerged into a more modern section, where there were blocks of plaques covered with flowers and electric candles. This was where most of the visitors were.

 

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I’ve always liked cemeteries as lonely, forgotten places, but here the cemetery is still an integral part of everyday life, which I think is kind of nice.

 

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Death (or allusion to it) renders men precious and pitiable. They move us by their ghostly condition; every deed they do may be their last; there is no face that may not be on the point of being erased like a face in a dream. Everyone, among mortals, has the value of something irrecoverable and haphazard.

Luis Borges L’Aleph

 

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Turin in Ten Writers

One of the things I like about Turin is that it’s just so gosh-darned literary. In 1933 it  is the birthplace of the (now extinct) Giulio Einaudi publishing house and home to some of the country’s best known writers including Cesare Pavese, Primo Levi, Italo Calvino and Umberto Eco. Since 1988 it has hosted the Turin International Book Fair, Italy’s largest trade fair for books. So when I saw a literary guide to the city in a little bookshop, I was immediately intrigued. 

 

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Torino on Paper: A Literary Guide to the City by Alessandra Chiappori

 

This book devotes each chapter to one particular author and provides quotes from his or her books describing some aspect or place of Turin, often adding excerpts by other authors to fill in the picture. For example there is a quote from Giorgio di Maria’s Twenty Days of Turin tucked into the chapter titled “Citta livida e notturna” (“A Lurid and Noctural City”). The book has a little map tucked into a pocket in the back, showing the exact places where the (sometimes fictional) events in the excerpt took place. All in all I like it but, as a semi-literate Italian reader, I wish the quotes were better signposted as sometimes they lack attributions so you have to guess which book the excerpt comes from. 

Anyway, I shouldn’t complain because this blogpost is basically me looting the thing for quotes and then translating them into English. I justify this outrage by arguing that we anglophones are woefully ignorant of Torinese authors and this must stop. So let me introduce you to the following…

 

Edmondo De Amicis (1846-1908)

 

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Nietzsche and De Amicis show Turin was a moustache magnet

 

[H]ere I feel my mind is free. My thought spans the vast piazzas and launches itself through the very long streets, through the great sunburst of alleys fleeing from all sides towards the countryside. The buildings don’t attract a second glance; but for this exact reason they don’t distract you from the greatness of the whole or from the beauty of nature; indeed, here and there they draw themselves back to give room for the eye’s flight up to the Alps and to the hill. In no other city is so much green seen, so much blue, so much whiteness; no other has a laugh so fresh and a spring so splendid, the impression of a renovated world. And then, in so many years the city has transformed before my eyes, I constantly see and love in new faces the faces of the departed, I am enveloped in a cloud of memories at every step, I hear a thousand voices of people and things past that call to me, I drink again the air of youth—my country’s and my own. Here I delight in beauties that are nothing but my eyes illumined and colored by a ray from my own heart.

 

Natalia Ginzburg (1916-1971)

 

Natalia Gi

 

Our city, after all, is melancholy by nature. On winter mornings, it has a distinctive smell of the station and soot, spread through all the streets and down all the avenues; when morning comes, we find it in grey fog, and wrapped up in its scent. Sometimes, through the fog, a dim sunbeam is filtered through, tinting the fog pink and the snow-piles lilac, shining on the bare branches of plants; the snow, in the streets and along the avenues, has been shoveled and gathered into little piles, but the public gardens are still buried under a thick, untouched, fluffy blanket, a finger-high on the abandoned benches and on the rims of the fountains, the galloping clock has stopped, since time incalculable, say a quarter of an hour. Beyond the river the hill rises, that’s white with snow too but patched here and there with reddish brush; and at the top of the hill looms a circular orange building, once the Opera Nazionale Balilla. There is a little sunlight there, and the glass cupola of the Automobile Show gleams, and the river runs with a green twinkle under the great stone bridges, so the city even seems, for a moment, laughing and hospitable: but it’s a fleeting impression. The essential nature of the city is melancholy: the river, losing itself in distance, vanishes in a horizon of violet mist, which makes you think about sunset even at mid-day; and in that moment you breathe that same gloomy scent and industrial soot and hear the whistle of trains.

 

Cesare Pavese (1908-1950)

 

Pavese by Ghitta Carell

 

The asphalt of the avenues was scattered with potholes, with layers of leaves, with puddles. It seemed to have hailed. In the clear light the last red fornicating fires. The school, as ever, was intact. The old Domenico collected me, impatient to get home to see the disasters. Dawn was already coming on, at the ceased alarm, in the hour that everyone was coming out and some operator opens the door and filters the light (so great were the fires), and something is drunk, nice to meet again. He told me what had happened that night in our refuge where he used to sleep. No lessons that day, it was understood. For the rest, even the trams had stopped, wide open and empty, where the end of the world had surprised them. All the lines were broken. All the walls smudged as the crazy wings of a bird of fire […] A cyclist passed who, foot on the ground, told us that Turin was totally destroyed. There are thousands dead, –he told us. –They’ve flattened the station, they’ve burnt the markets. They said on the radio that they’re going to return tonight. And he went pedaling away, without turning back.

La casa in collina (1949)

 

Primo Levi (1919-1987)

 

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Our laboratory resembled an old junk shop and the hold of a whaling boat. Apart from its offshoots which invaded the kitchen, the anteroom and even the bathroom, it consisted of one single room and of the balcony. On the balcony there were the scattered parts of a DKW motorbike which Emilio had bought disassembled, and which, he said, one day or another he would put together: the scarlet tank straddled the railing, and the motor, inside a mosquito net, became rusty as it was corroded by our fumes. Then there were some ammonia bottles, a residue of an epoch preceding my arrival, when Emilio made a living by dissolving gaseous ammonia in demi-johns of drinking water, selling them and tarnishing the neighborhood.

The Periodic Table 

 

Elena Loewenthal (1960–)

 

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That morning Moisìn came with his handcart to the place that is now called ‘the centre’ and at that time was where the city began. He looked for the ghetto, asked for directions, followed them and at a certain point raising his head from the ground saw for the first time that kind of lump that was the Mole under construction, for more than ten years now. Started in 1859 by commission of the Jewish University […] in 1875 the pharaonic construction site was ceded from the bloodless coffers of the community to the ruddier ones of the municipality of Torino, which saw the completion of the Mole Antonelliana only in 1888.

 Conta le stele, se puoi 

 

Italo Calvino (1923-1985)

 

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The institute [Cottolengo] stretched through crowded and poor districts, through the total area of an entire district, comprising an asylum and hospitals and hospices and schools and convents, almost like a city within a city, encircled by a wall and subject to other rules. The contours were irregular, like a body gradually swollen by new bequests and buildings and initiatives: over the wall there poked the roofs of buildings and spires of churches and foliage of trees and smokestacks; where a public road separated one body of construction from another, elevated corridors joined them, as in certain old industrial establishments, augmented by the dictates of practicality and not of beauty…”

La giornata d’uno scrutatore  (The Watcher )

 

Giovanni Arpino (1927-1987)

 

Arpino

 

Into the sky of milk and ash there rose the ferrous scraps of the trams along the avenues. If that sky hadn’t resembled an enormous upside-down frying pan, there would perhaps have been visible, to the west, the thin and tormented noses of the Alps, and to the east the soft outline of the hill of Oltrepò. But only the great winds of March managed to clean the horizons, those winds so bizarre and whirling that they swept the city of Turin with whirlwinds of leaves, of foliage, of skirts, filing the gables and edges of palaces, changing the clouds into strips, brightening the veins of the porticos and female eyes.

 

Carlo Fruttero (1926-2012) & Franco Lucentini (1920-2002)

 

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The piazza that in Torino is familiarly called Carlina is rich in monuments and contradictions. It ought to be dedicated to Carlo Emanuele II of Savoy (1634-1675), the thick, chalky group that rises in its centre don’t celebrate, as we might expect, the undertakings of that duke, but the glory of the count Camillo Benso di Cavour (1810-1861) to whom is owed the unity of Italy and on whose political foresight the Torinese of strict observance today nurture serious doubts. For allegorical reasons (but according to more gossipy historians, not so allegorical) the count seems surrounded by a certain number of half-naked women, not dissimilar to those portrayed on strip-club billboard overlooking one side of the piazza. Another side represents a baroque palace eternally in disrepair, eternally under restoration, the work of the architect Amedeo di Castellamonte (1610-1683). Another, the baroque church of Santa Croce, work of the architect Filippo Juvarra (1678-1736). Another, an eighteenth-century building that in 1814 saw the birth of the Carabinieri Corps, and that today hosts the Legion Command.

A che punto è la notte (1979) 

 

Enrico Pandiani (1956-)

 

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And there Barriera stretches out before me, Corso Giulio Cesare, the beating heart of absurdity. Arabs, Sudanese, Congolese who greet each other, ignore each other, talk shouting into cellphones as if they were giving orders to the world but maybe they were just asking how’s it going. The Chinese people in front of restaurants were getting ready to welcome customers who didn’t have money to pay for a decent lunch and offering the no-frills experience their frequenters expect. One that I know is from the Ivory Coast is leaning against a wall next to the pharmacy, where his clientele waits: he’s narrow in a faded grey jacket and smokes without taking the cigarette out of his mouth, in the lining of his pockets he has a little hashish for the kids who are coming out of school. The 4, the city tram that flies over Turin—whatever that means—whizzes past me and I quicken my pace, jump on a pile of snow massed against the rubbish skips and I climb aboard.

Polvere (Dust) 

 

 

 

 

A Twenty Days of Turin Tour

Today it was rainy and misty in Turin, with a creeping sense of gloom. In short, it was perfect weather to view some of the landmarks mentioned in one of the great modern ghost stories The Twenty Days of Turin by Georgio De Maria. The English translation was published by Ramon Glazov in 2017 and ever since I first read it I have been wanting to visit the places mentioned in this chilling story, just to double check…

 

De Maria - The Twenty Days of Turin

 

As Glazov says in the translator’s introduction, the book “is a sinister, imaginary chronicle of the author’s home city as it suffers ‘a phenomenon of collective psychosis.’” Strolling around the city center on a dark day, it was almost disturbingly easy it was to slip into an apocalyptic frame of mind.

 

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In the twentieth century, Turin was probably best known as an industrial city, particularly as the home of Fiat. Now it is  a center of sports (Juventus), a gateway to the Alps and home of the Slow Food movement. Even so, there is a lingering, almost vinegary scent, of the supernatural. 

 

‘Here we have the automotive industry, we have the ethos of central-city Turin, we have the commonsense citizen who represents the solidest of our institutions…All of that would suffice to throw the most hardened army of specters into retreat!’ (p. 16-17)

 

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still haunted

 

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“In this city, demons lurk under the ashes.”

 

Looming large in the book are monuments found in the city’s streets, piazzas and parks. It was these monuments and statues that I was particularly interested in checking on this little literary tour. One such monument was the statue of Vincenzo Vela in the process of sculpting the dying Napoleon. Vela (1820-1891) was born to a poor family but became a very profilic and celebrated sculptor. His most famous work was the “Last Days of Napoleon” (1867). His connection to Turin began in 1852, when he assumed the chair at the Albertina Academy of Fine Arts and proceeded to sprinkle his monumental works all over the city. 

‘Do you want to know something funny? I could swear the statues of Vincenzo Vela and Napoleon Bonaparte had swapped places. It isn’t Vela with his back towards us is it?’ No, I answered him, I’m sure it’s always been Napoleon’s back, or rather, the back of his armchair. He shrugged his shoulders and gave a sad smile. ‘Must be,’ he said. p.10

 

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One of the tallest monuments in Turin is that of Victor Emmanuel II, near GAM, the museum of modern art. It stands in the middle of a roundabout. VEII (1820-1878) was the first king of a united Italy, Padre della Patria

‘Anyway, I would say that the first scream came from over there, at the intersection.’

‘Near the monument to King Victor Emmanuel?’

‘Roughly. The second scream came from the opposite side, from the area around the cottages…Of course, I couldn’t pin-point where exactly…Then a third scream, much father away…farther away, and yet even more terrible. It seemed like they were relaying some kind of message.’ (p. 21)

 

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Towards Porta Nuova train station is Piazza Carlo Felice, where a particularly gory incident takes place in the book. It’s a lovely spot, with a little fountain shaded with greenery. At the back of the piazza is a monument to Edmondo de Amicis, a children’s author whose novel Cuore used to be my Spanish teacher’s favorite book.

 

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Edmondo de Amicis

 

Anyone who went to Piazza Carlo Felice on the morning of July the third to observe the “scene of the crime” will remember the mustachioed face of the Piedmontese writer, jutting from a slab of marble, still fouled with blood and gray matter, gory splatters from the victim reaching high enough to lick at bas-reliefs of children and the naked feet of the muse positioned on top of the monument. (p.45)

 

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no brain shower today

 

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barefoot Muse

 

Near Piazza Carlo Felice I saw another statue and went to photograph it just in case. As I suspected, it pops up in the novel too. Pietro Paleocapa (1788-1869) was a civil engineer who worked on railways, tunnels and waterways. He even took part in the design of the Suez Canal. He died in Turin.

 

“This square…” I began casually. “At one time it used to be called ‘Piazza Paleocapa? Wasn’t that the name?”

Eligio pretended he hadn’t heard me.

“I’m asking because I came by here once—it must’ve been quite a while ago—and it seemed to me that on that pedestal there was a monument to Pietro Paleocapa—you know, the engineer and government minister—not to Lagrange.”  (p.114)

 

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Paleocapa

 

Another landmark often mentioned in the book is the Gran Madre di Dio Church. This distinctive building was built to celebrate the return of King Victor Emmanuele I to the city after Napoleon’s defeat. The Latin inscription on the tympanum (under the roof) can be translated ‘the Nobility and the People of Turin for the Return of the King’. 

 

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‘At the fore of the neoclassical church stood a monument to Victor Emmanuel I: King of Sardinia—returned to his people—the XX of May MDCCCXIV…” Guarding the church, from either side of its grand flight of steps, were two symmetrical rows of statues in white stone: two veiled women dressed in peplums with open books resting on their laps, each raising a chalice in her right hand, and at their flanks, two angels giving gestures of command.” (p. 67)

 

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Victor Emmanuel I
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Faith with calyx

 

This  is by no means a comprehensive list of the sites mentioned in Twenty Days of Turin, but I was starting to get tired. Besides, for now I was fairly satisfied that, despite the brooding atmosphere, the demons are calm for now. 

 

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Piazza Vittorio Veneto