The Twenty-First Day of Turin

5th May 2024 1 comment87 views

Turin/Torino is tucked up against the Alps in the ‘foot of the mountain’ region of Piedmont. This can perhaps best be appreciated upside-down, as in this visionary map of 1850 before satellites existed:

My mission to Torino is to read in situ Giorgio De Maria‘s bizarrely surreal masterpiece about his native city, Twenty Days of Turin in the skilled translation (2017) by Galician-Australian Ramon Glazov of Le venti giornate di Torino which appeared forty years earlier. I strongly sense a revelatory story yet to be written.

Twenty Days of Turin is a work of imagination perhaps best comparable to Jean Ray‘s The City of Unspeakable Fear (published in 1943 in Nazi-occupied Belgium at the same time as baby me was born in GB). In Turin psychological terrors arise like storm clouds, triggering violent events that aren’t rationally explicable. Jean Ray, enduring the enforced neurasthenia of Nazi occupation, locates his own eerie horrors in an imaginary parodied English small town à la Agatha Christie. Ray claimed to have once been a public executioner in Venice; who knows? Giorgio’s poisonous milieu was of Red Brigade terrorist attacks, police actions, social anxieties, public denial, distant screams, a prevalent odour of vinegar.

But first we must eat. The lanes of the large covered Central Market contain produce of the highest quality.

In a bit of a rush, for variety I opt for a white-skinned horsemeat salami and a same-size sausage of donkey. Alas, their separate identities aren’t scribbled upon the separate identical wrapping papers. Back at our AirB&B, these salamis have no story, so I can tell nothing about them. Yet I avow that almost everywhere in Turin delightedly I find Poretti beers, by far the tastiest range of beers in Italy. . (Japanese Asahi now own Poretti; omnipresent boring Moretti beer is owned by Heineken.) Poretti makes the world tilt:

For coffee, cakes, and ices the peak surely must be this posh place in a plant-filled Galleria, if that’s the word. Myself, I’m drinking ristretto with a little brown sugar for stimulation.

Welcoming us to come inside here for chocolate, speciality of Turin, is…

Oddly, the equally vast open-air market for clothes, shoes, shirts et cetera only contains miles of cheapo junk.  However, kicking off alongside parts of the Cottolengo (wait…), Saturdays feature a multi-street flea market with many surprises. For 2 Euros I buy an old Tower of Pisa which lights up inside. Oh Kitsch! I need a candle to fit in the hollow on top.

The Egypt Museum of Turin is the best Egyptian Museum in the whole world.

Streets ahead of the British Museum, for instance. Surely nobody can qualify as an Egyptologist without spending a year in Turin. Speaking of streets, why do you have to walk three-quarters of the way around the huge building to get inside it, no matter where you start from, no matter what signs say? The irrregular streets of Turin pose mysteries. I want to visit the museum of the history of Turin Shroud research. This museum absolutely does not authenticate the Shroud (in this case the registered fifth copy of an unreliable ‘original’). It’s all about the history of investigations themselves. However, this promising museum is whisked away mysteriously to another location, leaving us only with vast wafting ectoplasm-like Shroud banners at the Cathedral like a trip in a ghost train.

In the Egypt Museum a former Sultan shares his divan with me.

Ah, the Royal Palace and its pictures from deranged history…

I’m shocked at some of the goings-on in the galleries:

Welcome to the Royal Armoury… a couple of centuries of dinosaurian madness in the megayear stream of massacres and pain proudly known by us as history, preceded by bloody prehistory, preceded in turn by sheer mystery.

In the Royal Gardens a delicate chap sketches amidst the tumbled ruins of Turin:

There’s a Monumental Cemetery, as likewise in Milan, although neither is a patch on Genoa’s photo-realist eroticised Staglieno where Roberto and I were locked in (causing my first ever Cthulhu tale, “The Walker in the Cemetery”).

Siempre insiemi, Roberto and I peer into the porch from which stairs descend to a vault:

As in the cemetery, so in the city: long arcades which deeply affects Giorgio de Chirico in 1911 when he diagnoses Turinese architecture of archways and piazzas as essentially metaphysical:

De Chirico is much influenced by Nietzsche, who comes to live in Turin in 1888, both chaps perceiving unseen auguries beneath the surface of things… enough! Just one more connexion: Nietzsche is living in the Galleria Subalpina of coffee and chocs (see earlier) when his mind melts.

Our AirB&B happens to be in the same street as a major part of a vast Cottolengo (yes now) mega-building, the size of Gormenghast but utterly and monotonously uniform. The whole of the other side of our street is occupied by what looked like a military prison, bars on its identical windows. This same Cottolengo carries on round into another street, then along a further street. Some covered bridges connect its different sections. The Cottolengo features sinisterly in Giorgio’s novel, as a bed-ridden madhouse also known as Little House of Divine Providence. Little, it isn’t. Born in 1786 in Bra in Italy, obsessively charitable Mr Cottolengo (“Do take my trousers!”) became sainted in 1934. Here in Turin is at once the first and the final monstrous Old Folks Home in Italy, with ‘long, bare prisonlike walls” (Giorgio) although Cottolengos continue in other lands. Giorgio’s book mentions how murderous psychotic giants are locked in the deepest level of the Cottolengo. Periodically the nun-warders let the giants out to rampage, doubtless in our very street, breaking windows and killing. I briefly encounter a white-habited nun popping out from a scarcely visibly door for a breath of air, bearing laundry. I greet her with, “Buon Giorno”, to which she replies likewise and doesn’t try to trap me in her sheets indistinguishable from her white habit and drag me inside the Gormenghast, as would happen in Giorgio’s alt.Torino. Elsewhere this might be normal, but in Turin it feels like a close call.

During our final night Roberto’s Dacia Duster SUV is burgled by busting a back window, then emptying out the resellable electronics. During the 15 minutes it takes Roberto to clear broken safety glass out of the way next morning, no less than three passing fellows comfort him by saying that the identical misfortune happened to them here just recently. Cristina distinguishes herself by creating a window out of pillowcase plastic bags plus duck tape and I banish all rain from between Turin and Milan Bergamo airport.

When we part from Roberto a torrent pours upon him all the way to Genoa, but Guapa’s window holds firm even though the wind roars on it. Up to date we’ve had non-stop sun and blue sky except for part of one day when a surge of negativity afflicts the collective mind of Turiners and even touches Roberto like a mind-virus entering our AirB&B. “They say it’ll rain all tomorrow.” Oh no it won’t. And oh no it doesn’t.

The view of Alps from Turin, at the end of north-facing streets, is remarkable.

Not just due to the snow-capped wall of mountains – but because the Alps seem so close and yet this isn’t so at all. From Milano you drive straight towards Mont Blanc, very visibly towering upward maybe 30 kms ahead, you judge. But a road sign says that Mont Blanc is 130 kms away. Eh, how? Ridiculous! The implausible truth begins to dawn half an hour later as forested foothills rear up as to become mountains in their own right, eclipsing Mont Blanc and all of its snow-capped rocky entourage way beyond.

Turin is known in esoteric circles as a city of occult mysteries. One only needs to mention Gustavo Adolfo Rol, ‘The Impossible Man’. Master of playing cards as well as of no less than fifty paranormal powers—or as he preferred to say, paranormal possibilities, ‘The Great Vanguard’, chum of Fellini, former banker, is fully at home in high society… enough!

On a kindred quest we are heading closer to those Alps as the crow flies…

… to the forested peaks that hide the white heights behind them. We’re invited to visit the subterranean temples of Damanhur—an esoteric utopian community—thanks to the good offices of Enrica who has written 50 books concerning everything under the sun.
The name Damanhur nods to the ‘city of Horus‘ in Egypt. Secret volunteers began work in 1978, digging into a mini-Alp of extremely hard rock by hand for 16 years. The resulting temples are gorgeously decorated with richly symbolic art, which the community (of 600 persons) don’t wish to be phone-photoed by outsiders as this might upset the positive vibrations. Quite right too. If visitors are pointing phones, they won’t actually see.

In the early 90s a disenchanted volunteer denounced the secret project to the authorities. You can build on the surface of your own property but you don’t control what’s underground; consequently the large hidden temples were illegal. For a year or so the authorities considered dynamiting the whole area at random to destroy wherever the temples might be. This would be a bit like to dynamiting Lascaux due to lack of planning permission. Fortunately Damanhur prevailed, and by agreement revealed itself, to become a destination for well-behaved spiritually-minded tourists as well as part of a thriving eco-food business and educational center for school visits. Damanhur would like to do more school outreach but petty pedantic safety regulations hamper them increasingly plus burdening them with the high cost of permits; so the present leader tells me at lunch. The photo above is, of course, pirated, for the greater glory of these ‘Temples of Mankind‘ which are pretty bloody impressive.

Salt and Tobacco used to be state monopolies in Italy for tax purposes, and the signs stating this remain intact, even if the circumstances have expired:

In wine terms, Turin is next to Barolo Country. Roll out the Barolo, Let’s have a Barolo of fun…! The best Barolo can set you back a thousand Euros a bottle on-line. A Barolo below 50 Euros on a menu  seems a bit cheap. After experiments Roberto and I settle on a more cost-saver Barbera d’Alba, a close cousin tastewise.

And so to Valentino Park, offshore from which oarsmen row up and down the broad Po, though not at this precise moment.

Previously these waters were overlooked by ‘The Impossible’ Gustavo Adolfo Rol from his unearthly  museum of antiques and relics of Napoleon that was an apartment. Next along, the University’s Botanical Garden hides all of its exotic plants sternly away from the public to protect them from attacks of madness and melancholy. Yet through a Narnia door there’s an enchanting fairytale woodland with little inset stone circles for nocturnal dances by fairy (fata) feet.

Afterwards, in Neapolitan-speciality restaurant A Smorfia (part of a group) Cristina has a marine medley:

I eat a rabbit in lush sauce. Roberto wants to celebrate Italy’s best ever comic talent showcased upon one wall on the right, namely Toto from Napoli. (L)a Smorfia (derived from Morpheus) is the tradition and the book of interpreting numbers from dreams for national lottery purposes. A dream penis signifies number 29 and bread in a dream means 50, for instance. Apparently many Italians still rely on this method.

Oddly enough, our local Spanish radio station, Cadena SER spontaneously mentions Torino just before we set out. And from Cadena SER I learn exactly the unique strangeness that I need to know for a story which increasing grows into the spirit of Giorgio De Maria.

Gentle Reader, please wait half a year or so till I write and publish (where?) my tale of The Twenty-First Day of Turin. I merely mention that somewhere in the present blog there’s a tiny, casual clue as to what exactly will convulse Turin in my story-to-come.

1 Comment

  1. An enjoyable account, Ian, thank you, and evocative photographs too. You write engagingly, humorously and with the fluency of a pro (in case you didn’t know) and I look forward to the first volume of your collected travels. I’ve never visited Turin, I think I should one day.

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