My city mouse beat my country mouse into submission yesterday and we spent the day in Turin. Actually, we went ostensibly to see General Conference, which in Italy begins at six at night. But we drove up several hours early. We happened to park around the corner from the Mole Antonelliana. Supposedly, it is the center of the occult and paranormal in Turin, and like the Withywindle Valley, “the center from which all the queerness comes, as it were.” (Using the word in Tolkien’s original sense, of course, no offense to those who have appropriated it otherwise. We’re talking Turin here, not London.)
Even otherwise matter-of-face guidebooks wax a little kooky on the subject of the mysterious and occult in Turin. But anyone can see by looking at this bizarre building that there is just something . . . wrong with it. Craning your neck to stare straight up to the spindly top feels like the visual equivalent of Ravel’s La Valse, or like a dizzying architectural exploration of Yeat’s “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” Of course, it didn’t help that it’s now a museum of cinema, and all around the outside at street level they’ve posted photos of everyone from Frankenstein to Beetlejuice. Needless to say, we didn’t go in.
So it was a slightly inauspicious introduction. But no worse than our original one, which mainly involved driving up and down Corso Unione Sovietica over and over and over while trying to find such mundane things as cell phone stores and banks that will cash traveler’s checks. It is still extraordinarily difficult to drive in Torino. You can never quite be sure which street you’re on, partly because where there are street signs they can only be seen by pedestrians, and partly because the streets change names every five blocks. We did manage slightly better this time, and once we’d left our car behind, we gave ourselves up to the charm and beauty of this unique and delightful city.
I love art galleries, museums, and cathedrals. But I can’t help it. The thing I love best about exploring a city is just walking the streets, picturing what it would be like to live there. And I think I would love living in Turin. It is all tree-lined boulevards, baroque facades, and palaces. I was amused to find that it is twinned with Salt Lake City. But on further reflection, it didn’t seem so terribly strange. Napoleon got ahold of it for twelve years and organized it as he organized everything. He’s the one responsible for those lovely wide boulevards (whose relatively straight and orderly pattern are indeed more reminiscent of Brigham Young’s Salt Lake than the narrow labyrinths of other Italian cities). It is also thanks to Napoleon that Turin is home to so many beautiful parks. It is incredibly green, especially for a city in Italy.
We walked all over, had lunch in a park, enjoyed the splendid piazzas, had some really rich gianduia gelato (that’s like a super-gourmet Nutella flavor if you didn’t know, and if don’t know Nutella, well then you just need to go find some quickly) and then went back to our car. On the way to the Church, of course we got lost again. It took us an hour to drive what I’m sure we could drive in ten minutes if we were real Torinese. And we were honked at multiple times for not being quite aggressive enough. Oh well. When we finally made it, it turned out they had been having technical difficulties for the last hour. It is never much of a disaster to be late, even very late, in Italy. They never did get the satellite working. So we’re watching Conference from home today.
On the way home we stopped at a kebab shop for dinner and had the best (and cheapest) kebabs/shwarma we’d ever eaten (OUTSIDE the Middle East, of course, on both counts). I’ve noticed that kebab shops in Italy are just like Mexican Restaurants in San Diego. Quality and authenticity are always inversely correlated with price and location.
All in all, it was an absolutely lovely day in an incredibly beautiful place. We just may be going back to Turin every weekend . . .