Monday, May 31, 2010

Turin, Who Would have Guessed?

Turin: it's nowhere, and it is history, famous for the Savoy dynasty who departed in the 1860s, and for the Fiat plants--the Detroit of Italy. But surprise: it is a pleasant, easy-going city, with some remarkable baroque architecture, good food and a drop-dead view of snow-capped Alps. Not a destination stop, maybe, but (at least with a bit of opera) a perfectly pleasant place to spend a couple of days. They've even got the shroud of Turin, which they brought out for the Pope, although not for us; we had to settle for the Virgin Mary on a cruller.

One thing I don't understand: how it is that Italian cities sustain so many bookshops, with so many books, and in so many languages. Of course I don't think of these people as ignorant in any sense, but it's hard to manage anybody achieving the level of obsessive reading that would seem to be necessary to sustain all that print stuff.

The architecture in Turin is great if you like that kind of stuff, although it may be a special taste; among other things, I suspect they have more heroes on horseback than any other city their size (or bigger). The Chiesa Reale, where they (claim to house) the shroud is also a model of baroque excess elegance.

There is one piece of unambiguous awfulness: a tall skinny red-brick Mussolini tower (above), built (so they say) on purpose to overawe the Savoy Palace. Brings to mind the old joke which holds (remodeled) that the best place to live is in the Mussolini tower because that's the one place from which you cannot see the Mussolini tower. I talked to a local who said some people were sorry the Allies didn't blow it to kingdom come, but he was glad that it was still here, so as to remind the Torinese of what a mistake they'd made.

Food:top marks to Paficco Defillipis in Via LaGrange, hand-maker (it says here) of pasta since 1872. But somebody in the family seems to have discovered the slow foods movement and they turn out lovely veggies and semi-dried meats.

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