Beautiful Saluzzo

I didn’t tell you about our trip to Saluzzo last Saturday. We drove up through the back streets instead of taking the autostrada, partially to avoid the toll, partially because the countryside is so beautiful. This is the route our bus to Church (link) in Cuneo used to take when we lived in Saluzzo, so we’re also sentimentally attached. We even took a little turn through Lagnasco. The trees all around are loaded with red and green apples.

Saturday in Saluzzo is market day, so we bought some cheese from our favorite vendor and were invited again to visit their farm up the Varaita Valley, near Melle, Tony’s ancestral home. Then we climbed up through the old city, passing by the apartment where we lived in Saluzzo. Sadly, our favourite grafitti (link) has been cleaned off the wall across the street. But the rest of the old city is as beautiful as ever. I remember wandering it for hours when we lived there.

Saluzzo’s old city is magical because you can walk through it without seeing or hearing a soul. It seems entirely possible at any moment that the old Marquis might come marching through with his retinue, or some townspeople from three centuries ago might pass you on their way down to the market. That was something that severely disappointed me when we moved to Firenze. I expected that the old city there (UNESCO heritage site that it is) would be like Old Saluzzo, only more so. It’s true that the architecture is grander, and there are more streets to wander, but the magic of that expectant solitude is entirely missing. The hordes of tourists, cars, and motorbikes filling the city never let you forget the 21st century. Even when they actually do go to Mass or drive randomly through the streets dressed in period costume, the effect is just not quite the same.

Saturday, though, when we were in Saluzzo, something was really happening. We reached the top of the hill, which is crowned by the Castle, and it was completely deserted, besides a group of Italians having lunch at an outdoor cafe. We sat down on the benches with the view of the city and enjoyed our picnic. We also enjoyed the entertainment of a bride and groom having photographs taken. I am always surprised in Italy when I pass photography shops and all the photos look so bad. The models are always attractive, the scenery is incredible, but the photos are invariably mediocre. I realized why this is as we were watching the photographer. For every shot, he gave them minute instructions on how to place every limb. He ran it like a comedy show of which he was the star. We could tell without even looking at the pictures that they were all going to turn out posed and artificial. Bizarre. Everything else here is so artistic. But at least the video of the photo shoot will be great.

After lunch we wandered over to see if the Castle was open. We’ve never yet succeeded in entering it. A group of Americans from New York was there, waiting for it to open. Several different opening times were posted for different days, different seasons, and different sizes of groups. I couldn’t really make sense of it. Then there was a poster advertising a free event that was to take place at the Castle all that evening. A man in uniform kept coming down the steps and unlocking the heavy gate to let someone out, but never mentioned anything about letting anyone in. The Americans looked nervously at a few busloads of tourists, and said we’d all better wait at the gate so that when it opened we’d be at the front of the line.

We were skeptical of it opening anytime soon. They had asked someone, and thought he said it would be a five euro entrance fee, but I think that meant they weren’t going to open till five o’clock (which probably actually meant more like six). What it actually turned out to mean was that the event was starting at five o’clock. I don’t believe they ever meant to open the Castle. But we got in the back way. All around the Castle walls, there were people in Medieval costume, setting up a military camp (it looked mostly like a Renaissance fair, but the costumes were more authentic). They were doing archery demonstrations, and they had a couple of different types of stocks and a real gallows.

We took pictures in the stocks, but I saw some Italians taking some pretty dramatic ones at the gallows. Then some people rode up on horses, clad in full armor. When we got all the way around to the back of the Castle, we noticed that some of the people who were obviously part of the event were going in the back way, so we decided to check it out. We climbed the steps, passed a display of all the types of money coined in Saluzzo by the different rulers (at that time each city-state did its own money), and reached an inner courtyard of the Castle. Here, a gigantic chessboard was set up, and people in costume were acting out the moves of a man and a woman seated at a chessboard. This had something to do with some historical event, but I confess to an ignorance of Saluzzan history.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t hang out until ten o’clock that night when the festivities were to climax. All in all, though, it was quite a satisfying trip down memory lane.