Above: The spire of the Mole Antonelliana--once a Jewish synagogue, now the National Museum of Cinema--peeks out over one of Turin's grand piazzas. The Mole is the tallest (and most surreal) museum in the world.
Dear sweet-toothed Satanic Socialists,
Last month, after my trip to Barcelona for 080 Fashion, I jumped on a pond-hopper and headed over to Turin to visit my friend Barbara. Elegant Turin, the capital of the northern province of Piedmont, is like a heady mix of Paris, Vienna and Rome--without Rome's chaotic traffic and parade of tourists. Besides being the former home of Fiat and the eternal home of Christ's alleged shroud, Turin is also the witchcraft capital of Italy: it's part of the black magic triangle shared by London and San Francisco, and the white triangle with Prague and Lyon, France. Nostradamus, history's most famous seer, lived here in 1556 and Dom Bosco, the mystic who, in 1883, prophesied the building of Brasilia, was from Turin. Legend has it that beneath the city is a vast network of tunnels and catacombs that Turin's witches, past and present, use for their secret activities.
Above: Two views from Barbara's apartment--wonderful ochre-colored 18th-century houses line the street. Barbara lives in a neighborhood that is populated by both aristocratic families and young left-wing activists. I'm not sure how well they all get along or what percentage of them are witches. (For the record, Barbara is basically in the left-wing camp....one of those modern Marxists whose bookshelf is crammed with books by both Candace Bushnell and Fidel Castro).
I love the elevator shaft in Barbara's building.
Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts or.....an exquisite 18th-century cafe with gorgeous Venetian chandeliers, fresco-painted ceilings, perfect coffee and artisanal desserts? Which do you prefer? (Then again, Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts are probably not owned by the Mafia).
Barbara and I outside Al Souri where we met her friends for apertivos and vino.
Me and Francesco
Apertivo e vino time at Al Souri
Later, we had an excellent dinner at Trattoria Ala, a traditional Tuscan trattoria. Among the many things I ate (including a plethora of apertivo platters which whizzed around the table with dizzying frequency) was this heaping plate of homemade tortellini al ragu. For dessert I had something that I can only describe as chocolate flan which I still dream about every night. It was an orgasm on a plate.
Dinner at Trattoria Ala. The woman in grey is my friend Elena. She was also one of the publicists on the 2004 trip to the Alps and brought up the story about how I was freaking out about the avalanche alert in a valley near Alagna. (It was HIGH that day!)
Antonello and Franceso
I was very amused by Antonello's many raucous anecdotes.
Above: Let Them Eat Shit. Haute-bourgeoise eatery, Ristorante del Cambio
Funny story (for those who missed the discussion on my FaceBook page): While we were having our traditional dinner at this very homey trattoria, a revolution-of-sorts was raging on the other side of town at a very swank, very expensive restaurant called Ristorante del Cambio, which has been open since 1757. On my first trip to Turin in 2004--a press trip to visit the nearby Italian Alps--Barbara, in her role as publicist, took me to dinner there. The meal was a whirlwind of top-tier champagne, foie gras, caviar, fritto misto which included several deep-fried, vital cow and antelope organs, and desserts the size of Marie Antoinette's bouffant. (I get nostalgic thinking about how I acquired my first case of gout there--because you know I adore the diseases of the upper classes).
One of the unique details about the restaurant is its view of Turin's City Hall across the street (which you can see in the photo above). There is one seat in the restaurant--the "seat of power"--which affords the best view of the government building. During the 19th century, several of Turin's mayors would sit here during their term, whiling the day away with wine, fricasseed calf brains and idle conversation. If there was some kind of emergency, like a witch who needed to be burned at the stake or a peasant revolt, one of the mayor's pages would stick his head out the window and beckon the mayor back to his more official office. (On the night I dined there, the woman who was the head of the Winter Olympics committee was in the seat of power--of course).
So, on the recent night we were all having our cozy dinner at unpretentious Trattoria Ala, a group of masked anarchists burst into del Cambio during peak dinner time, armed with huge baskets. While screaming anti-rich slogans, the anarchists began flinging shit and bloody animal guts at the well-heeled diners. Yes, you read that right: Shit. And bloody animal organs. One can only imagine the chaos that must have ensued.
The next morning, Barbara's friends and I were poring over the front-page article in one of Turin's papers (which must go to press rather late, because the article was very thorough) and that's when I realized how anti-elitist Barbara's friends are. (Because, I realized, Turin's hip, left-leaning 30-somethings wouldn't normally be caught dead at el Cambio. And in this economic climate, it's just considered extremely gauche to dine there). As we read the article out loud one of Barbara's friends, who works in the restaurant industry, was laughing hysterically and mimicking the imagined reactions of the rich, Chanel-clad women who must have been dripping in (horse? human?) manure as tables laden with chateaubriand and status bags were overturned in the chaos. I joined in by rattling off a list of shit-stained designer outfits that were surely now being schlepped over to dry cleaners all over the city by hapless servants. The anarchist attack would have been a great scene in a film by Luis Bunuel--or John Waters.
Apparently Dante is now being revisited as a nazi? What will those wacky Italian anarchists think of next?
Al Bicerin is one of the most famous places in Turin as it has been serving up a delicious potion of chocolate and caffeine known as the Bicerin since 1763. Barbara dragged me out of bed early one morning so we could meet her father here over a round of Bicerins (I also had a sinfully decadent chocolate-and-hazelnut torte smothered in warm chocolate sauce, so you can imagine the chocolate rush I was on...worth getting dragged out of bed for). At the dawn of the 19th century, the building and interior were renovated and everything inside the cafe--the counter, the marble-topped tables, the wood paneling--are all intact and present in the space today.
Barbara's father is a brilliant professor and luckily I was all hopped up on chocolate and caffeine because he subjected me to a battery of questions about Obama, Clint Eastwood (Italian intellectuals think Eastwood is a closet leftist. Ditto for Bruce Springsteen), my work as a gonzo journalist (he rattled off a list of all the important works of gonzo, from Hunter S. Thompson to Tom Wolfe), and the oeuvre of Antonioni.
Behold, a quartet of Bicerins. The recipe to this irresistible concoction has been carefully guarded for centuries. It's a hot mix of espresso, chocolate (the exact nature of the chocolate is part of the carefully guarded secret) and fresh cream which are all layered, and not mixed, in a tall glass (even though "bicerin" technically means "small glass") . If I could, I would bathe in it daily. Legend has it that the drink was invented at Al Bicerin but detractors claim it surfaced earlier, in 1704, at Caffe Fioro, which still stands on the Via Po. (I believe I had my first Bicerin there in 2004 because Al Bicerin was closed on the day of my visit).
After our meeting with Barbara's dad, Barbara's boyfriend, Francesco, picked us up and we all rode over to a rooftop barbeque. Here you can see how close the Italian Alps are to Turin.
Me on the roof enjoying my first cup of Piedmontese red wine--the first of many. We all had to write our names on the plastic cups with a magic marker to avoid confusion (easy to become confused when you're drinking red wine in the Italian afternoon sun!) and I wrote "GAY WOODY ALLEN" on mine. That was the nickname Barbara gave me when we went on the press trip to the Italian Alps in 2004 because she thinks I'm neurotic. A ski trip had been planned and we all went to a ski shop to select our skis--except for me. I nervously wandered around the shop muttering to myself, "I don't want to die like Sonny Bono" and Barbara was like, "Glenn, are you okay? You look very pale!"
Then we rode to the tippy-top of Monte Rosa, the tallest mountain in the Italian Alps, and I must have looked scared because everyone was laughing at me. Later at the ski lodge atop the mountain, where I was extremely light-headed from the altitude, I had a cup of warm red wine and you can just imagine. Barbara and the rest of the PR team placed me in a coffin and slid me down the mountain. Inexplicably, I woke up several hours later, wearing nothing but a small Frette towel, in the steam room at the Blue Sauna Club.
A view of the Mole from the rooftop barbeque.
A mini-scandal broke out during the BBQ when everyone began realizing that there was an Iranian and an American at the party. Time for a peace summit! The Iranian woman, Bita, was dragged over to me and suddenly we were surrounded by cameras, including a TV camera (I think someone was making a Godard-esque documentary about the BBQ). We embraced in full view of the cameras to show that there were no hard feelings between our countries (someone should send the footage to Obama so he can see that I'm doing my part for diplomacy). I opined that I thought it was arrogant of the US to tell Iran that they weren't allowed to have a nuclear bomb, but Bita said she thinks her president is just too crazy to get his hands on something like that. The debate didn't go much further due to language barriers. (Will someone please buy me the Rosetta Stone for Italian? I can't afford it).
Barbara and Elisa
The food served at the BBQ was super-yummy: barbequed spare ribs and sausages, bruschetta (nothing like a fresh tomato grown in Italy), grilled eggplant and luscious tiramisu. For some reason, both Barbara and I both forgot to take pictures of the food. I guess we were too busy eating it!
On my third day in Turin I wandered around the city to enjoy the lovely weather and admire the city's beautiful facades. But it wasn't just a day of idle flaneur-ing....I was on a mission: To visit Turin's "dark heart," the focal point of the city's black magic energy.
Turin's so-called "dark heart" is located here, in the Piazza Statuto. At the end of the square is this rather bizarre monument.
The monument, which features a dark angel hovering over men trying to climb to the top, is a memorial to the workers who died building the Frejus Train Tunnel, a tunnel that linked Italy to France by rail. But many denizens of Turin believe the monument also represents something else....something more sinister.
The five-pointed star, a pentagram, on the angel's head is considered a clue that the angel is actually Lucifer himself. A rather beautiful Lucifer, I might add.
The Piazza Statuto has a dark past. The Roman and Medieval-era gallows were located just a few yards beyond the square and the ground beneath the monument is a millenniums-old necropolis. The Romans adhered to the Egyptian philosophy that the west, where the sun sets, is the most appropriate place to bury the dead. Many residents of Turin maintain that a sewer manhole cover near the monument (which I think I found, but there were a few) is actually the entrance to the Gates of Hell. Considering all the evil energy that is said to exist here, there were many Turin residents relaxing during their lunch hour on park benches in the piazza. I rested there for a few minutes and didn't feel uneasy--but then again, I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Lucifer.
However, if I had known, I would have visited the "light heart" or positive energy spot of Turin to balance things out. During a night drive, Barbara's boyfriend, Francesco, pointed the spot out to me: a gate entrance in the Piazza Castello, where the Shroud of Turin is publicly displayed. It's said that if one stands between the stone walls of the entrance, they receive a jolt of positive white magic energy. I wonder if the kick is as strong as the one I got from drinking a Bicerin...
My next stop was the Piazza CLN (Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale). This was actually my third time visiting this piazza, but on previous visits, it was always under partial construction. The piazza is famous for the two fountains and statues (whose feet point at each other) that represent Turin's two rivers: the Po and the Dora. The male statue (above) is Po.
And here is Dora. If you're a fan of Dario Argento's 1975 giallo film "Profondo Rosso" ("Deep Red"), you'll recognize the piazza as one of the film's more distinctive locations. (The entire film was shot in Turin). This is the piazza where David Hemmings' character witnesses the murder of a Swedish psychic in an apartment overlooking the square, to the left of the Po statue. A few yards back from that spot is where Argento erected a '40s America-style diner/bar based on the Edward Hopper painting "Nighthawks." Because Argento used this location as one of his most famous sets, Piazza CLN is often referred to as the "Piazza Profondo Rosso" by Turin residents.
A day without running into Perseus holding Medusa's head is like a day without sunshine....
These gnarly trees had a bit of a witchy vibe.
So on my last night in Turin, Barbara announced that we would be having dinner at a "clubhouse" where she and her friends went on most Monday nights. I can't remember what she said exactly that made me respond (jokingly): "Haha, sounds like a COMMUNIST clubhouse to me!" and "Will we be having dinner with the anarchists who stormed del Cambio the other night?" Barbara was all like, "No, no, no! It's not at all communist! It's just a laid-back place that we all like to go to." I believed her until we arrived at said clubhouse and contrary evidence immediately began rearing its red head....
Exhibit A: I think this speaks for itself, yeah?
Exhibit B: Agitprop poster with a quote from Karl Marx
Exhibit C: Painting depicting Marxist-Leninist rebels engaged in battle
Exhibit D (my favorite example): Even the wine was Communist! Check out the Workers Unite! style logo on the label. Needless to say, this wine was terrible. (We switched to something more palatable). I can't remember what I had--I think it was a northern-style pasta dish, some thin slices of deliberately fatty pork on slices of toasted bread and a big salad--but the food was quite good.
When I spotted this photo on the wall, I exclaimed, "I'm a big Elvis Presley fan!" and everyone stopped, stared at me, and then laughed for several long minutes. No, this is not Elvis--it's someone named Fabrizio De Andre, a singer, songwriter and revered intellectual (and a Communist, no doubt). A recent exhibition in Genova, where the singer was from, celebrated his life and work.
And OF COURSE Satan herself made an appearance at the Communist Clubhouse....Ronald Reagan and Jesse Helms must have been spinning in their graves that night!
On the drive home. Francesco took me to see this metal sculpture which was designed by my favorite architect of all time, Oscar Niemeyer . However, I'm not finding any information about it on the web. Does anyone know more about this piece? Behind the sculpture, one can see the old Roman walls and gate of the city.
I was really spooked out when I walked over to get a picture of the Roman walls. I heard strange noises coming from the other side of the gate and, fearing that I would be the next victim of a Satanic sacrifice, I high-tailed it back to Francesco's car.
Our final stop was a very sinister-looking apartment building that is adorned with dozens of dragon statuary and other wicked details like bronze salamander door handles. Sorry my photos aren't better, my flash was not doing a good job of capturing the dragon details. I totally want to live in this building!
I hope you enjoyed my bloggy tour of Turin--there is really so much more to see but I had to leave on the 4th day for Seoul. (Barbara was a fantastic host, btw!) Thanks for reading!