Sunday, August 14, 2011

Wholly Mole

For a museum about the Art of Vision, - Turin's Museo del cinema, housed in the 19th century Mole Antonelliana, is a strangely difficult place to see, at least from the outside. You can see from it, in fact, the panorama from the top is breathtaking, but you can't really see it - or at least, it defies capturing on camera. You only get pieces of it on a photo, for it is sandwiched between apartments blocks, and despite its height, it peeps between terracotta roofs, unless you're equipped with sky hooks the only way to get the whole thing in your shot is to distort it by foreshortening that impressive dome, or cutting off the spire, or the bottom floors, losing the sense of proportions.  
Once, inside, you don't immediately get the full picture, either. There's a fair bit of queuing involved, since everyone wants to go up in the panoramic elevator.  It's a bit dim, on the ground floor. The first thing you see is the plastic-swathed coffee shop, named Cabiria, like the movie. The tables are lit from within, and go from lilac to red to green; there are screens set into them so you won't be bored as you munch on your piadina.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Toby's hour

It just stood there, a shadow on the pathway. As still as a sentinel, so still, and for so long, that it almost seemed unreal, as if time had stopped. 
We stopped too. 
It seemed impossible to just march past such watchful stillness, and the path through the woods, which had until then seemed nothing more than a track between a dozen trees, joining one stretch of river-walk to another, seemed to grow into a dark forest, where the wild things are.
Plus, it might bite.
But then some cyclists buzzed by, and it stumbled out of the way of their slicing wheels, and became a dog again, and rather sorry for himself.
Herself. I stood corrected. I wasn't convinced; it looked like a boy to me, but my assertion that it was a Belgian shepherd was conceded, so I decided to yield the point.
The dog was not scared, not thin, not particularly lost looking. We just walked by.
"It probably got out of its garden, you know, ran away. Belgian Shepherds are terrible for that," I said, remembering when Sam killed the ducks. That was twenty years ago, but I still remember what they did to Sam afterwards. "Or maybe it's been abandoned. Poor thing."

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Fruit Flies: Cavour

Cavour is a  baby Alp that has strayed from the pack, it sticks out of the muddy, field-rich plain like a stone fallen from heaven. No, 'that' Cavour wasn't born here, you know, Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour one of the Fathers of the unification of Italy (150 years ago this year) came into the world in Turin, under French rule at the time, and just took the title out of the family collection; his country house isn't here either, that's over somewhere near Cuneo.
But the village celebrates him handsomely anyway, at the Town Hall, with lots of flags and flowers, and some ant-foul-fowl netting that's suggestive of some pigeon-related drama in the past.
ooo - Nice bust, even if it's all a bit tenuous.
There's nothing vague about the Rocca, though. The pretty village nestles under it, on the plain, like a kitten curled up next to the mother cat.
From the main piazza, full of flowers and pinky-yellow houses, you can walk right up the mountain,  before long you're looking down on the church tower if you've got the stamina.
Or just drive up. Much better.
There used to be a castle at the top, and before that, I don't know, some sort of Celtic settlement. 
There are ruins, the usual religious statue in a pergola. The pergola has an inscription along the lines of 'delle alpi inviolabili delle ridenti pianure, le ossa ed i ricordi di sua sabauda fierezza". Sabauda fierezza is a fancy name for Savoy pride. There's also a restaurant tucked into the cliffside, and on the grassy knoll, benches - and the view.
Every country is a patchwork of ways of life, but you're never more so aware of it, than up here. The wild and the tamed, stone and soil, peak and pasture pushing against each other, like two tides.
It's all about apples, Cavour. There's a festival in November, the Tuttomele, in which they celebrate ... everything apple, and make a fuss of their twin city in Argentina, Las Varillas. Lots of Piemontesi went to Argentina, mostly just before and after WWII. Hardly any came back.
Apples! Apart from the obvious cakes and pasties, they make liqueur from it, and bars of apple chocolate, and, from September to July, little cakes and round chocs with rum and almonds, called Cavours. We bought the absolutely last ones made before the shop closed for the summer holidays.
The other thing to do, on Cavour's rock, is to watch the flying. There's so much to see, from the submarine clouds,
to the butterflies basking on the rocks,
and silver planes sliding across the silhouetted mountains,,
... and daredevil deltas, racing around the peak with a cheery wave, so close that it feels like you could hand them a sandwich, as they splutter past the hilltop, and off into the blue. Cheese and apple, maybe.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The point

Punta della dogana is the tip of the city. Well, one of many tips, maybe, but it feels like an especially pointy bit of Venice, a little blank triangle of solid ground in a world where sky and lagoon manage to squash the city into a fat squiggle at most, a man-made crack between them.
 This triangle belongs to the city's Accademia delle Belle Arti, ensconced in the rooms and courtyards of the old Hospital for the Incurables (let's hope it's nothing catching). Full of goodies is understatement of the year, but this here is the one piece that everyone, all our fellow canal-and calle wandering gawpers, too cheap to pay entry fees, like best.
It is a sudden rush of perfection, a delight of white at the end of a long walk, the pristine figure, curved, young and alert, Boy with Frog, by LA artist, Charles Ray .
This is the point of art, surely. Refreshment perfected.
Another young man is standing around. He is twenty years old; about as pale as the boy, but wearing more clothes. Shiny shoes, the classic black pants and pale blue shirt of Security Guards everywhere. Meeting his gaze, those chilly eyes, the colour of the horizon, and the word Kapo springs to mind.
Two ladies sidle up to the statue; they are saying things to each other in Spanish about cheeks. You can just tell.
The Kapo hustles them away roughly, harsh. Don't touch, he growls. There's no sign saying you can't handle the trim gluteus, if anything, it seems to invite a palm and a giggle. Nobody seems that interested in the boy's face, or the frog he holds. The Kapo is stern. The women walk away, a little crushed.
Seconds later another pair of ladies arrive. They are tourists from somewhere more exotic, but their hands also can't help reaching for the bum. Touching butts is lucky everywhere, it seems.
I suddenly wonder if it's shame that makes his eyes so hard. Perhaps he feels shooing tourists away from an acrylic posterior is beneath him.
A girl comes out of the Academy; his boss, it seems. She asks him what he's doing out there, she says something about not being paid to just watch one piece of art, that he's needed inside. He looks at her like she's soap and lampshades already.
We move off down the quay towards the lounging gondoliers, as the other tourists do. There's no luck to be had here.
The boy with the frog stands with his face pointed out to sea, but his gaze is fixed on his prisoner, helpless, upside-down. And the guard looks on.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Roof of the world

 There are lessons to be learnt, on your way to the top.
Firstly, that patience is its own reward.
From the balcony on the Mole Antonelliana (built 1863-89 yada yada yada), you can see the whole of Turin. You can see how it's made, and what it's made of.
Roads along Roman lines, for one thing. Elegant porticoes and squares, for another. 
Lots of red, white, and green.
For a five-year-old, it's the chance to talk about the nature of fear, and civic pride, and how sometimes people cut in line, and you just have to let them do it, but you don't have to be pleased about it.
It's a chance to see the point of mathematics, and think about speed and capacity, when figuring out how long we're all going to have to wait until it's our turn to go up in the lift.
It'a a chance to discover, with an air of disappointment that may stay with him for the rest of his life, that what grown-ups call  'the top' of a building doesn't actually mean the top. The teeny tiny pointy bit, his uncle reasons, would snap off if we all went up there.
It's a chance for me to eavesdrop, and to share an unspoken thought: huh, to hell with 'all', I want to go to the top.
Not really. I hold my breath, and look over the side, but only for a moment.
High is high enough.
This is of course Turin's tallest building, a squared dome, a grey island sitting in a sea of terracotta roofs.
Up here, you have a sense of place, whether you're looking off towards the misty Alps,
... or at Superga,  that solid, white reminder of  Il Grande Torino, a tragedy played out close to home in every sense.
This is the roof of their world, and the torinesi are rightly proud of it.
Everyone should get high in Turin.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The river road

And it seems like it goes on this way forever...
James Taylor
It is not all like this, by any means, so don't get too romantic about it. 
The Lambro Valley Trail starts out perfectly, with optimism and clear signeage, in a dreamy tunnel of leaf and light. It's all so simple, with a hopeful vanishing point to look forward to, if we just keep carrying on the same way.
But life is never quite like that.
This is the Lambro, from which you get Lambrusco, and Lambrettas. It is one of the threads that powered  Milan's industrial heritage. The river is shallow and fast, suspected of a lot of dirty secrets; some would say, much like the locals. Here's one, who did not appreciate us walking by, and went to sit in a pine tree.
Like just about everything in Italy, the state of the river is the subject of much head shaking. 
'Things' should be ... more this, less that. It's the classic talk of those who make against those who take, the shared reasoning of thsoe who who look at the valley and see a resource that could be better managed in a dozen different ways.  The conversation's too deep for me. Once in a while, 'il nostro amico qui' gets a mention, and then you remember that Arcore is just around the corner.

The river gets a 'limpidissima' mention in Petrarch, back in the thriteenhundreds, and there's a saying in Milan, ciar com'el L├ámber, it's as clear as the Lambro. Somehow though - and despite the fishermen along the banks - there's bad feeling about the quality of the water. A general sensation that scary things are trickling into it from what's left of the manufacturing trade along its banks, in the hands of Italians most enduring Urban myth, the Evil Entrepreneur. 
Here is a mill chimney, lost in thr trees. once,. dozens of people came down here to work - and soil - the river. but surely that's all been washed away, long since. The water looks fine to me, I'd happily take a swim, but under the surface -well, who knows.
Before long, we are at the Grottoes of Realdino, ready to stop for a drink.
Now here's a pretty contradiction. Everyone turns their nose up at the river water, and points at the mills for the reason why, but the water spouting from the rocks under the factories, that instead is speciale...
There are fish in the flooded miniature caves, shy carp, and busy tiddlers. At night, when it's all lit up, it must be quite a sight....
 But we have much road in front of us, no time to tarry. And ducks ahead, too...
And elderberries, and blackberries, and hawthorn, lilac, maples and plane trees. And lasagne in a working men's restaurant. And a lot of stinging nettles. I learn about Robinia. It is supposed to rain at eleven, but it has not. We have no idea of the time, and anyway, the sky has enough blue in it to make a pair of cat's pyjamas, so we will be okay. 
Rocks and ferns and rising ground. And bends in the river, whenever the path allows us to come back to it.
Eventually, after some meadows, roads, and a steep hill, we come down to an abandoned factory. Inside is like the set of a zombie film, the end of a world.
More river and woods, and then we are at a point where the path, so solid and real on the map, peters out in the face of reality.
A helpful vigile comes to our aid, once he gets over the shock of meeting walkers on his patch. There is some concrete consulting. At least, I think so. It is time to think about the road of return.
Make that the railroad of return.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Simple Lines

Terminus anxiety, what subway system doesn't bring it on. It's all very well knowing what stop you want to get off at, it's the ends of the lines that matter when you're havering like an idiot between Villejuif and Clignancourt or Upminster and Ealing Broadway at the head of an escalator in the middle of a busy crowd that knows exactly where it's going. 
Milan is more dork-friendly, because there are only three lines, and (because metro lines everywhere like to divvy up when they get out into the suburbs) only half a dozen names to remember. No confusing line names and numbers to remember, either. It's Red Green and Yellow, and the stations are color coordinated to the extreme. 
As you can see, it's reasonably obvious when you're going out of Green Line territory into the realm of the Red; light fittings, handrails, and pipework all change colour, as do the trains themselves. 
This is the red line. There's a man who plays the violin, to an orchestration coming out of his back-pack.
Italians like to think their trains are dirty; some of them are, but not the ones on the Yellow line.
It's all very open-plan.
Sitting here, thinking of the grubby Bart trains running around San Francisco, you can't help but reflect on

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

In the clouds

Mostly, it's like this.
Today, tomorrow; a predictable future, at least as far as the weekend, perhaps a little more. 
I live in the clouds.
The small certainties standing up like towers in the foreground, and the soft green routine fading into a mistier distance.

Sometimes, though, I can see further.
It won't last; the clouds will be back before dawn, and despite myself, I will forget what's inside them.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The end of the world

 It was vintage car day, up in the mountains. Bit worrying, the thought of all those elderly brake disks wobbling up and down the hairpin bends. Hopefully they update the safety features as often as they update their bumper stickers: I'm pretty sure 'Io non sono su Feisbuk' was not on the  back window when these vehicles rolled off the production line. Zuckerberg probably wan't even born. This is the valley called Chisone, and  the castle is Fenestrelle, no, nothing to do with windows, it's Finis Terra - the end of the world, or at least the ancient mountain kingdom of the Cozii, loyal allies of the Roman Empire.
There are always two sides to every edge, of course.
 Living on the edge, of the mountain, and of both French and Italian bureaucracy, is the natural condition of the people of the tiny village of the same name, in the valley on the 'French' side of the castle, a tight, inhospitable no-man's-land between Savoia and Savoie.
There is a sign in the main square / communal parking lot (only residents can get beyond the traffic barrier that closes the village off to mere motorized visitors) it's one of those finger posts, pointing to Antarctica and LA; it also reminds you that here we're only a few hundred km from Paris and Rome.
Even on this warm and busy weekend, with brightly coloured Tour-de-France types, and mad motorbikes, and no end of car-bound daytrippers like us, it feels like a world of its own, a place where you walk and stoop and climb, even before you start up to the fort, clinging to the hillside above. Like landlubbers on a sliding sea, we don't belong.
It's a place of watchful eyes and whispering. Small balconies and glazed doors doubling as living room windows stand cheek to jowl like kissing cousins.  You can just imagine small barrels and bales of dutiable goods being slyly passed from hand to silent hand, down these alleyways.
How much do you think that the physical shape of a place influences the mentality of its inhabitants, and how much does the mentality shape the building of the place?  How much does time operate on our minds? The tension was palpable as the vigile urbano went about giving tickets to every vehicle out of place in this tiny, one-street village. Even to this 2CV, parked here to publicize the vintage car event.
*ut oh, somebody didn't get a permit*

Friday, July 1, 2011

Nefertiti's Knees

Turin is a tight little brunette of a town, where they make cars. Not that you'd know that from the city center, which is all about porticoes. And the Risorgimento. But mostly porticoes, where you can comfortably consume your bicerin, and shop, and show off, all at the same time, whatever the weather.
Unlike Paris or London, Turin's river (the broad, still-mountain-fresh Po) runs beside the city center, not through it, a line dividing town and country. Plump green hills spring up on the far bank, adorned with plump white villas. The rich merchants and nobility of Turin can literally look out of their windows, and keep an eye on their investments and employees in the smart downtown shops. 

Just a provincial gem then?
No. At every turn, Turin politely reminds you in a small, elegant way, that it was a royal city a tutti gli effetti, the capital of the Kingdom of Sardinia, and then Italy's first capital, when they finally got their act together in 1861. But then Rome took took over, and sigh, things went downhill from there - for the country, not for Turin, which carried on making stuff, like, hello, cars.
 ... so totally want one!!! but pink, and with a soft top, please. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wall photos

It's one of Europe's biggest walled parks. More than 13 kilometers of wall encircle about 1700 acres of wood and meadow, not to mention the golf course, the Royal palaces, and the Grand Prix circuit. 
Walled, with gatekeepers in gatekeeper's cottages, who lock up at 8.30 at night. Promptly, and with no mercy.

Walls like trees; dappled, layered, and barked.
Wet walls around the motor circuit, soft and green, hosting races of their own.
Some of the beasts are a little more permanent.
All those miles of plain white plaster, it's hard to resist the temptation to make a statement. 
Something private, from the heart,
or a public invitation to spread the loving...
But there are two sides to every wall. graffiti on the inside has a different character.
Even the Ultras have to contend with ivy and saplings. It's pretty clear who's winning.