TURIN: Mummies, Movies, and Murderers

I was up later than I had hoped to be, but it was not my fault. The man in the apartment next to me had the loudest snores I have ever heard. I don’t know how he didn’t choke on his own tongue as he inhaled air with the force of a Dyson vacuum. It was unreal. How is he alive? The sound rattled the glass in the door of my balcony. My eyes were wide open, I was exceptionally agitated, and it was warm. The nights in Italy were hot, and the city is made of stone and concrete that takes ages to cool. So, the fan blew warm air down upon my dewy body. (Air conditioning isn’t much of a thing in most apartments. The neighbor across the courtyard has it, and I routinely glared at them behind their sealed balcony door.) I was damp and my ears were assaulted. So, it took ages to finally pass out.

When I woke, I was agitated, so I freshened up, brewed a liter of espresso — well, not quite a liter, but surely close — and sat on the balcony. I took a chair out there and positioned myself specifically to glare at the man who had kept me up all damn night. It was rewarding. He knows what he did. He’s also very small to be making sounds like a wounded whale. I felt better after conveying my message to him, so I watched Bill Clinton’s DNC speech, made my one and only monetary contribution to the presidential election, and danced down the stairs to the streets of Turin.

It was going to be a fabulous day because I was looking fabulous and I was going back to a fabulous place: the Museo Egizio. Nothing thrills me more than passing hours amongst millennia-old artifacts. The only thing more is probably looking for Harry Styles on Beverly Boulevard in LA. That’s a real treat, reader, that you should try sometime. It’ll work someday. The next time I’m in LA, I’m going to lurk in Cafe Habana for days. I’ll find him. (I’m not crazy. I didn’t just use Google Earth to find his house…)

The Egyptian museum (that’s what Museo Egizio means) was literally three minutes away, so I was there in no time, and I already loved it a hundred times more than I had when I visited last year. It had just reopened then, so everybody within a hundred miles or more…cough, me, cough…was there, jostling for views of mummies and ostracon. Now, the pace is slower and the crowds have diminished and I was turnt for an afternoon of fun!

I was, unfortunately, exhausted nearly at once, but I didn’t let this get me down. I don’t understand why this happened. I was feeling fine, but as soon as I got inside, I needed a nap. I blame the snoring man. I blame him for everything. He probably gave me multiple sclerosis somehow. So I sat down for ages, rested myself, and then hopped up to go and see everything.

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Not much had changed from last year’s visit, but either I missed it or it’s new, but there is now a magnificent hall of open storage. This is something that more and more museums are doing, and it’s brilliant. Instead of keeping all their excess in backrooms and forgotten in storage, they just pile it up and show it off. There aren’t many labels, few identifying notes, nothing much at all. It’s just an overwhelming stockpile of artifacts, and I was LIVING for the pile of wooden arms and headrests and ushabti figurines. I squealed at the canopic jar lids and received a plethora of odd looks. But, readers, I was in heaven. This is the kind of thing that thrills me to my very core.

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Ancient Egyptian “pillows”

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“MENTUHOTEP!” I shrieked, translating the cartouche fragment.

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*swooning*

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canopic jar lids

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arms on arms on arms

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hundreds of ushabti figurines

I sauntered through exhibits, flawlessly read cartouches, took pictures of too much, gaped at statues, drooled over mummies, got misty-eyed at sarcophagi, and had the time of my life. And then I found something decidedly new and magnificent. A CAFÉ! I’m a ho for nibbles, so I scurried in for a piece of raspberry cake and coffee. That made me feel so much better.

I was at the museum most of the day, so I’m going to just showcase images instead of droning on about the minutiae of Egyptian archaeology. You’re welcome.

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“check out these titties”

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As you’ll learn in my upcoming blog posts, I LOVE CROCODILES.

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“UMMM?” –this crocodile, probably

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gorgeous sarcophagus

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exterior of the Museo Egizio

I bought a delicious salad at this natural food chain called EXKi, which I think is in New York now, and then several slices of focaccia and wine. It was a fabulous dinner. But I was still peckish, so I slipped out for popcorn and demonstrated my one line in flawless Italian, “Un sacco con solo olio e sale.” They always respond in Italian, and I say, “¯\_(ツ)_/¯.”

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As I returned to my apartment the thunder began to roll again, so I skipped a little faster in my chelsea boots. A young man stopped me on the way and we had a strange conversation that I still don’t understand.

Him: “You know YouTube?”

Me: “Yeah.”

Him: “I’m on YouTube!”

Me: “Mk.”

Him: “I rap.”

Me: “Mk.”

Him: *silence*

Me: *suspicious glare*

Him: “WOW.”

He smiled a bunch but wouldn’t say anything more, and then I walked away. I’m not sure if he wanted something or just my body or both. I was glad to be back in my apartment though, because I needed to catch up on my beloved Botched and gorge myself on popcorn.

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***

I decided to visit another museum the next day, and I will just say upfront, that this was such a good idea. I should go a museum every damn day of my life. I don’t even care what the subject matter is. I just love a good museum, and did I ever find one.

Once I was all dressed up and gorged myself on what might be the most amazing salad I’ve ever made, I took off in a different direction. My interests and feet have always led me northwards, but today I went in the opposite direction, down past the train station. It didn’t take too long before I was muttering to myself, “Okay sweet child, stay alive.” It was a poorer part of town, and while I have no qualms about going anywhere, I quickly know when a spot is shady.

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Not that kind of shade. The kind of shade that makes you wonder if you’re about to get jacked for your bling.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to stay around that part of town for long. Why are train stations always so creepy in Europe? In America, too, actually. Are there train stations that are well-maintained and not sinister? I’m trying hard to think of one. The Nice train station is okay, but the area is meh. The one in Ventimiglia has actual human excrement on the floor. Union Station in Chicago can be wild. The one in Brighton is all right, actually. I guess my theory is wrong, but you can’t deny that there is something weird about train stations and depots. They attract an odd variety of eccentrics. And you can’t deny that they tend to crop up in areas that are a bit low class. I suppose that’s because the rich people don’t want to have a train hurtling through their backyards at all hours of the day. That probably makes the rent of these apartments lower. I didn’t mean to develop a socio-economic theory in the middle of this post. Let’s carry on.

It was easy to find the Museum of Criminal Anthropology, which is housed in a local university. This small, but fantastically macabre museum, is dedicated to the life work of Cesare Lombroso. He believed that certain physical features made a person a killer or a thief. Say their skull was shaped a certain way or their fingers splayed out to a certain width. To Lombroso, these were indicators of a predilection to MURDER. Of course, this is a bunch of nonsense. Back in Lombroso’s time, though, this was a serious scientific pursuit and many incredibly important people paid him visit. The artifacts that he collected during his research are what constitute the museum.

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“You have a, how do you say? The head of a killer!” a woman chuckled at me at the little bookstore where tickets to the museum are sold. I grimaced warily at this odd greeting and entered the museum.

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Immediately, I was gobsmacked. The first room is dark, has a terrifying bust of a Neanderthal, and opens up onto the first main room. Skulls and death masks are everywhere. There isn’t a visible surface that isn’t dedicated to the weird and horrible. I was creeped out and in heaven. To a writer, which is what I mainly consider myself, something so strange was a great jolt to my inspiration. I have been wanting to write a book about Turin since I fell in love with it last year. Haskell and Eudora might need to take a trip. HAVE YOU BOUGHT MY REASONABLY PRICED NOVELLA ON AMAZON, YET? Please do.

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“Look here,” a woman I hadn’t seen earlier said, and touched my elbow, guiding me to a cabinet stuffed to bursting with human skulls. This was the beginning of a lovely stilted conversation that we had in Italian, English, German, and French. When you’re in Europe, that’s how a lot of chats go when you don’t grasp the native language fully. It works well enough, and we talked about the city and this strange place we were in. She works at the museum and finds it deeply creepy, but for some reason, is charmed by the weirdness of the place. She doesn’t recommend being alone in there at night, though. I loved all four and a half feet of her.

I continued on, literally overwhelmed by the waxen death masks of murderers, rapists, and thieves. They were ghastly in death, and I can only imagine how horrifying these criminals would have been in life.

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On the opposite side of this display was a huge assemblage of the tools the serial killers and murderers used to execute their victims. An extraordinary number of them had filed metal crucifixes down into thin blades. How awful! How atmospheric! There were masks and ropes and scarves and all sorts of accoutrements of murder. I was fascinated by the variety and dark genius that prompts a person to create a weapon of death out of seemingly ordinary items.

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Another fun display was about Lombroso’s belief that tattoos were a clear indicator of a disturbed individual. There was a display that allowed you to flip through his drawings of corpses that had been tattooed. One man had been covered in them. Even his penis was tattooed. That had to be uncomfortable. Maybe he really was disturbed. I don’t think the hieroglyphs on my forearm makes me any more likely to kill somebody, though. And I really don’t think I’ll tattoo my junk.

The next gallery was the one that truly disturbed me the most. It was dedicated to the arts and crafts of people locked up in prison. They would mold strange creatures, sexual fantasies, and demonic looking figurines out of clay. They’d use hair and bits of cloth to make art. Some of them were clearly gifted, and had they chosen a different route in life, I have no doubt they would have created masterpieces that we would see in museums around the world. Instead, they rotted in an Italian prison.

The one thing that really creeped me out the most in this museum of strange and nightmarish items was a water jug. There was an entire wall of them. The convicts would scrape out drawings in the enameled jars. Some were amusing, some were covered in gorgeous handwriting. But one was childish in execution and deeply disturbing. It shows a man with needlelike fingers, Medusa-esque hair, and a skull-like face hanging from the window of his cell. The face, while awful, is clearly thrilled to be dead. Under him is a box that he probably imagined jumping off of to hang that reads “PACE” which means “peace” in Italian. I don’t know how long I stared at that image. It still gives me chills thinking of it. I have a blurry picture. I didn’t wait around to take a clearer one.

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Of all the things I’ve seen and done in my life, this horrifies me the most. I have walked through dangerous ghettos, slumbered in a house where an axe murderer slaughtered an entire family, strolled nonchalantly through a haunted school, napped in cemeteries, ridden on commercial flights through the Middle East, spent ages alone in the dark streets of big cities, and survived Hackney. But that water jug…it scares me.

As you leave, you see the actual wooden gallows of old Turin that many of these criminals surely swung from. What an odd place. I bought the guidebook. You should go if you’re ever in my favorite Italian city.

For dinner, I walked way out of my way for a sandwich. I can’t recall what prompted me to do this, but I’m glad I did. The sandwich was excellent, the proprietress was wonderfully friendly, and she clued me into something that I knew instinctively: Turin is the Devil’s City.

She told me all about demons that creep through the streets at night, how the forces of good and evil are doing perpetual battle here, how the gates of hell are in Turin, how the Devil himself tries to take the place over, and the sites of gruesome and strange things. I was absolutely enchanted. And while I don’t believe in an underworld full of demons and Satan, I do believe in evil. And though I’m madly in love Turin, there is a strong, dark undercurrent here. It permeates everything. And I had to find out more.

***

But first, I had another museum to visit. It wasn’t high on my list of things to do, even though it’s one of the top rated experiences on TripAdvisor. Did you know I’m hella influential on there? I’m like in the top 3% of reviewers in Iowa. I don’t know how that happened. I guess I’m just really helpful. I mean, I probably should have my own travel show. I’d watch that. We don’t have as many of those as we used to. Growing up, I was obsessed with Samantha Brown and Rick Steves and their ilk. Now all we have is grumpy white guys eating nasty shit in places few of us will ever go. I want a return to sumptuous travel programming. I want nice hotels, fabulous restaurants, and classic sites. That’d be my show. Get it for me, reader, if you have connections to the business.

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Anyway, I was in no hurry to get to the Mole Antonelliana or the museum of cinema that was located inside. Looking back on my disinterest now, I can’t understand it. I love movies and the history of cinema and everything old Hollywood, but I very wrongly assumed that this place was dedicated solely to Italian film. I don’t do Fellini. I’ll just get that out right now. I don’t get it and I have no interest in changing my opinion at the moment. Maybe in the future, but not now.

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So, instead of darting off to the Mole the second it opened, I headed down the street to get some fries Amsterdam Chips (a personal favorite). They drizzled this Algerian sauce over the top of the crispy, double-fried fries, and I WAS IN HEAVEN. They even had a cannabis flavored one. I didn’t buy that. I was suspicious. I don’t hate that smell, but I’m not sure what that would taste like on my fries. Next time I’ll give it a go. Fully stuffed on fries, I headed out.

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The Mole is an icon of Turin. When you see a picture of the city, you inevitably see the spire of the Mole reaching high above everything else. Originally, it was constructed to be a synagogue, but the Jewish community sold it to the city before it was consecrated. Now it houses an elevator that whizzes you to the very top and the National Museum of Cinema. I was unimpressed at first.

I bought my ticket for both the exhibit and the elevator and patiently got in line. It moved slowly, and I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t put more than a dozen people on each lift. Finally, I managed to get a spot…and then it happened. I was enchanted. The elevator shot up smoothly and the interior of the Mole was visible. It was massive, monstrous, dark, filled with movie memorabilia and absurd things I had no knowledge of. I could see each wall, the floor, everything inside of the completely glass elevator. It was incredible, and it kept going up and up and up towards a small square of light. I thought we’d stop, but it went right through and the doors opened up and we were allowed to walk around the very tip of the building. The view was astonishing.

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I stayed up there for ages before heading back down, completely understanding why only a few people can go at a time. It’s magical.

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Back on the ground, I began my journey through the museum. It was monstrous, creepy, solitary. I’ve never been anywhere like it. The entire place is so dark that you aren’t fully sure how big of a space you’re in. There were examples of early cameras, photography, and the tools early entertainers used to divert audiences. I was finally able to see a camera obscura, and then to my utter delight, there was a magic lantern. I couldn’t believe my luck.

Magic lanterns are one of the first “movies.” What they really are is a series of projections in a darkened tent where the operator would quickly switch out glass plates in front of a beam of light to terrify and enchant the audience depending on the show. The one at the Mole was dedicated to demons, the rather famous Phantasmagoria. I’ve always thought that the people of the past were fairly ridiculous for finding this experience unsettling, but reader…I couldn’t stay for the entire thing. I had chills running up and down my spine as horrible etchings of demons popped up on the screen with simplistic, but creepy music with terrible groans and moans. It feels ridiculous to admit, but I couldn’t do it!

Here’s an example. It doesn’t compare to seeing it in person:

Utterly creeped, I carried on to the next room that was filled with these machines that spun when you pushed a button. A little scene would come to life.

#Turin is a strange city. It has a dark pulse. I adore it. #Italy #travel

A post shared by Benjamin Phillips (@bdphillips) on

I was immediately taken mentally to the Enfield Poltergeist, so I chuckled, “Nope, nope, nope!” and scurried out into the main part of the museum.

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Because it was intended to be a religious structure at first, there are a series of rooms that were meant to be chapels. Now, they are chapels dedicated to various types of movie. It was utterly bizarre. I felt like I had tripped on acid. I’ve never done that before, so I’m really not sure, but it was the strangest thing. There were rooms that were filled with flashing television screens, rows of toilets for no real reason, a sinister refrigerator, a cartoon come to life, a 1930s lounge, and my favorite which was dedicated to classic monster movies.

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There were casts of Frankenstein and the Phantom of the Opera. Fabulously, under the glass floor was the coffin Bela Lugosi used in his performances as Dracula in the stage production.

Up a winding series of stairs were posters from Cuban movies, which really motivated me to get to Cuba soon before it’s been too gentrified.

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I walked and wandered and poked my nose in every corner.

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I reclined in huge seats and watched old movies. The sun poured through the windows. The music imbued the museum with a sense of mystery.

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This place, too, was filled with that strange darkness that I identify Turin by. And then it was time to go.

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I grabbed espresso at the cafe, paid too much money for ibuprofen, and went on a stroll of the town after dark. After feeling like shit, the past three days had been fabulous. I was inspired. And I was excited. Tomorrow, I’d explore the myths and sites of the Devil’s City.

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