The first ten seconds of this are important for this post. It’ll make sense much later.
The lady in the sandwich shop really intrigued me when she mentioned that Turin was the Devil’s City. She had spoken of demons prowling the streets by night, and since it was well after dark when I was heading back to my part of town, I readily admit to prancing through the arcades much quicker than my usual lope. I mean, I don’t really think anybody in Turin is a literal demon, one of Satan’s minions, but there’s something undeniably creepy hearing somebody who firmly believes in it. And, who am I to say that demons aren’t real? I haven’t ever seen one. I mean I did see Perez Hilton once. And Michelle Bachmann did elbow me. But those two aren’t quite the leathery skinned beasts of the underworld that the word demon conjures up in your imagination.
Safely ensconced in my apartment, I hurried to the Internet to discover more about this mythology. A painter who was profoundly intrigued by this city named Giorgio de Chirico said it best. Here’s a painting he did of the city:
He called Turin “the most profound, most enigmatic, most disquieting city, not only of Europe, but of the world.” That is the most perfect description. Turin has a dark pulse. It’s weird. And the weird thing about the weirdness is that you don’t really notice it at first, it’s an undertone of peculiarities that inspires a cozy sense of malaise. That’s a contradiction in terms, but still, it’s true.
I found more information than I knew what to do with. There’s even a walking tour of the city that hits all the high points of EVIL in Turin. Sadly though, the tour seems to have been disbanded in 2005. I was able to recreate the itinerary from some reviews and other bits of information, and then I was prepared to explore.
The day I decided to seek out good and evil and the eternal struggle between the two was phenomenal. I had a bit of a bipolar week in Turin. Some days I felt fabulous and other days I wanted to stay in bed and let the world come crashing down. (That’ll be ironic when you’ve finished reading this post.) Some days I looked amazing and other days I looked like one of the demons that prowls the streets of the city. I’m guessing, now that I can look back on my experiences, that the apartment building was located on some kind of paranormal vortex, and it’s not at all my fault that I looked like shit. I like that excuse better than the more rational, multiple sclerosis based ones. But, anyway, on the day I set out on my quest, I was looking fantastic and my hair was really agreeing with me. So I felt blessed.
My first stop was a church called the Gran Madre. It’s on the other side of the Po, so I had a bit of a walk, but it was a delightful journey. The weather was right, the people were charming, the sites were incomparable, and the focaccia was fresh. Truly, there are few places that I enjoy mindlessly strolling more than Turin. Every avenue is a masterpiece of architecture. It didn’t take too long to get to the Gran Madre, but it was unfortunately shuttered for the day. This never happens in France, so I’m always surprised when you can’t go inside and sit and think for a spell. Churches are one of my sanctuaries in Paris. You can always rest in the dark, cool interiors and contemplate the Universe or where you want to go for dinner.
This closure didn’t totally derail my plans, though, since the inside of the church wasn’t the point of my trip. The center of my interest at the Gran Madre was a statue on top of the steps.
A woman sits, holding a book and a chalice, gazing peacefully forever at the city. Rumor and legend has it that this is the epicenter for the forces of good in Turin. This is because this stone woman knows where to find the Holy Grail. I mean, probably not, but it’s a good story. Allegedly the Holy Grail is in some museum in Spain. But the scholarship behind the discovery wasn’t that impressive, and I’m still not that convinced that this relic is even a real thing. I’m not really much of a religious historian. That never deeply intrigued me the way other parts of history have. I just liked the story of the Isrealites in Egypt because it was in Egypt, and I’m a ho for anything even remotely Egyptian.
I sat by the statue for a good long time contemplating on the powers of good. I tried to pinpoint where the Holy Grail was, as you do, but then I got a story idea, and my mind quickly derailed. Haskell and Eudora and Rosamond are most certainly going to Turin. There is a satanic serial killer to stop before he can derail the Olympics. That’ll make sense in the future, dear reader. Or maybe I’ll move that story line back into the 1950s. Oh, I like that already. Yes, 1950s Turin, which wouldn’t be all that different from now, really. Sun drenched piazzas, post WWII depression, the Po, mysterious cemeteries. I’m giddy now. I need to finish the novel I’m editing so I can do this one!
I took to the streets and followed the statue’s line of sight towards the Piazza Castello where the powers of good and evil converge and do eternal battle. But I stopped in one of the many bars first. Now, if you haven’t ever been to Italy, you probably think this means I stopped for a gin and tonic, but no, reader, I am not an alcoholic. I stopped for espresso. In Italy, bars are these magical places that make magically good espresso for the ridiculously small price of one euro. It’s fabulous. And I guzzled two before heading back down the road.
In the Piazza Castello, there are statues of two horses rearing up to fight each other. Between their raised hooves, evil and good converge, and the balance of the Universe hangs eternally in the balance. I didn’t sense anything particularly wicked or blessed here, neither did the crowds who were busy with selfie sticks. But then, Jesus spoke to me. He reminded me that I was starving, so I slipped down a side street and devoured a piece of focaccia in a little restaurant that my nose had sniffed out. It was a blessed piece.
Next on my itinerary before giving myself utterly up to demons was the Chapel of the Holy Shroud. You probably know the basic history of the Shroud of Turin, but then again, I have discovered that the things I know are more obscure than what I perceive to be general knowledge. So, the Shroud is a piece of cloth that was allegedly wrapped around the body of Jesus when he was taken off the cross. Somehow, and there are a dozen theories we aren’t going to get into, an image of him was embedded into the fabric, and you can see the body of a crucified man when the fabric is shown at a high resolution. It didn’t always need such assistance to be visible, but time has faded the image.
Nowadays, the Shroud is held in airtight storage so that it will be preserved for all times and is a highly significant religious relic. You don’t get to see it when you go to the Chapel, but you can kneel down before the spot where it is stored and do devotions and pray and whatever else you’re compelled to do on that spot.
So, I spent a few moments there, pondering. I don’t believe in the Shroud, reader, nor do I believe that Jesus was a sexy white guy like all the art shows. Important cinematic interlude:
I could have done so much worse than this. Consider yourself lucky.
I don’t doubt that Jesus existed in one form or the other, but we humans have a tendency to exaggerate. I mean, just think about those dumb clowns that are terrifying the kids right now. There might have been one. And there might have been two. But I have trouble rationalizing a united army of demonic clowns running rampant across the nation. And somebody surely saw something, but in their heightened emotional state, they surely amped up the details. I think this is likely what happened with Jesus. He was probably a nice guy with great hair who had a nice nonviolent, anti-Roman message. The people took to it. And he’s legendary because he died. We do the same thing still with celebrities. Amy Winehouse and Michael Jackson are icons now because they’re dead. We didn’t care so much about them when they were with us. I’m off on a ramble. Sorry.
I was off to the last stop of my tour, the Piazza Statuto, which is the foe of the forces at the Gran Madre; this is the source of EVIL in Turin. Allegedly, beneath a manhole (and isn’t that a charming thought) is the entrance to the gates of Hell and through which all the demons of the night come crawling out of. I was intrigued archaeologically. There was probably some kind of mass burial here after a plague or some epidemic or violence, and the people referred to the miserable spot as Hell and through the years the meaning was shuffled. Or, it could be the actual gates of Hell and I was in for a surprise.
I was surprised by the wide, beautiful streets that I had never walked down before. There is still so much of Turin I’ve yet to see. I haven’t any doubt that I will be back again a dozen times. Something about Turin just clicks with me. I’d love to go back and learn more Italian and then order focaccia and coffee with fewer hand gestures. And even if I never speak another word of that strange language, I’ll return; it’s one of those places I feel at home. You know them. I drill them into your head whenever I can: Paris, LA, Turin, and Luxor.
Deciding that I should sate my sweet tooth before accidentally stumbling into Hell, I stopped by a bakery, which is something that I didn’t see much of in Turin. I bought this magnificent creation. I can’t begin to tell you what it was called. It was a tube of flaky pastry, slathered in powdered sugar, and stuffed to bursting with milk chocolate cream. It was a mess. My face and hands were covered in chocolate, but it was so worth it. And not too far from the shop was the Piazza Statuto. Couldn’t be all that evil if it had such wonderful pastries nearby, could it? Or is that because the chocolate was SINFULLY GOOD? Get it?
I stood and stared at the monument in the middle of the piazza, stuffing my face with chocolate, and I can understand why people are a bit shaken by it. Especially in the fading sunglight. The figures depicted are suffering, clearly, and the angel above them is languidly flying away, the physical embodiment, of “Bye, Bitch!” They’re left to suffer on the rocks, punished eternally. These were my musings as I was smearing my cheeks with chocolate. It didn’t feel all that evil. You can’t pinpoint Turin’s strange dark current. It’s more of an overwhelming feeling that runs over the entire city rather than this one spot.
I was rather tired after hoofing it all over the city, so I gave the city’s Metro a try. Compared to Paris and London and all those big cities, it was charmingly simple, only one route. I was amused and quickly back in my area of the city and FINALLY found stamps. I had a couple letters to send home, and you’d think you’d simply pop over to the post office to get a couple stamps. Well, like a lot of Italian things, it’s not that simple nor obvious. Post offices don’t even sell stamps, I’m told. You can pay your bills and you can pick up your mail, but you don’t really send your mail away. I still don’t understand, but I finally figured out that you have to go to the little tobacco shops on every corner and pray that they have some stamps. Most don’t. I found one that had international stamps after three tries, gasped at the price, and giddily hurried into Turin’s finest hotel to send them off. This is one of my greatest pro tip, readers. If you’re comfortable with the language, or reasonably sure that the staff will understand you, hotels will do literally anything for you. They oftentimes assume you’re a guest and will sell you stamps, deliver your mail, and give you directions or recommendations. I used the concierge in the W. Washington Hotel next to the White House several times without being asked my room number last year. Likewise, the staff at the Grand Hotel Sitea are darlings, and my letters were soon winging their way across the Atlantic.
This penultimate day in Turin was jam-packed, reader, and I did more than I did in three days on that day in late July, but the drama of my day had not yet begun. I was to be transported and terrified. Gird your loins.
One of my favorite pastimes in a new city is to seek out revival movie houses. There are people all over the world like me who are yearning to see Joan Crawford up on the silver screen, not some superhero sequel. I don’t hold myself superior like some of these cinematic snobs, I just relish that era of history, and would almost always rather see an old movie than a new one. There’s a glamor that Hollywood has now forgotten about. If I ever get a job in Tinseltown like world-renowned psychic, Sylvia Browne, told me to, I would try to restore the gilding of the past. Movies don’t all have to be real or comic books. They can be sensationally beautiful. I’ll get off my soapbox.
Down the Via Carlo Alberto, there is tiny theatre, the Cinema Centrale, which is the very definition of a hole in the wall. They were doing a run of movies staring Gene Tierney. Isn’t that wonderfully specific for a tiny little Italian city? (Now that I’ve done some research, perhaps this is because of Gene’s romance with Prince Aly Khan, who was born in Turin?) I was utterly charmed, so of course I decided to go see The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.
I’ve seen it a number of times in the past, and I’ve always enjoyed the story of a woman falling in love with the brusque ghost of a seaman, and I wanted nothing more than to sit in an audience with other black and white movie lovers.
It was as beautiful as I remembered it being, and there was something enchanting about that little theatre, with only seven seats to a row, laughing with the Italians who were reading the subtitles. The movie has such a sweet love story, Hollywood had better never redo it, and if they do, heaven knows they will miss the subtleties of the plot.
As I left the theatre, I was utterly content. Walking down the street under the dim string lights from the dozen cafes, listening to the guitar strumming of a street entertainer, and soaking up the laughs and chatter of native Italians, I felt quite like I was in a movie myself. It was one of those beautiful Woody Allen films about Europe. (I know he’s awful, but I love his movies, reader. Midnight in Paris makes me weep regularly with blissful tears.) I was in a heavenly mood, so I stopped by LIDL for a midnight snack, and hummed with pleasure as I ascended the stairs to my apartment.
Ravioli was boiled, the balcony doors were thrown open to the warm breeze, Eartha Kitt music played quietly, I was sipping on beautifully cheap rosé, and all my cares and worries were nothing but figments of my imagination. I stuffed myself silly on pasta, and the wine was nearly gone, but I was still quite giddy and high on life.
Then it happened.
All of a sudden and with no warning, I felt my chair shift beneath me. I felt my body unwillingly tilt backwards.
“OH GOD, SATAN HAS COME FOR ME!” I hissed to nobody.
I quickly rationalized that I had simply had too much wine. (A ridiculous idea.) So, I looked at the glass and was shocked to see the precious, pink liquid sloshing violently out of the glass. It wasn’t the Prince of Darkness, after all. Something was afoot.
Dogs started barking like wild, all the neighbors were shouting to each other from their balconies. I didn’t understand a word and they didn’t understand that I didn’t understand a word, so I just shrugged like an Italian. I finally heard one of them utter a word that sent pure dread through my body, it pierced my soul, “Terrorista?”
No, no, no, no, I thought, hurrying back to my wine and my laptop to scroll manically through the news. I could NOT be in the middle of a terrorist attack. Not again. Not in Turin! Not here. Not on this perfectly beautifully night.
The news wasn’t telling me anything, so I scrolled through Facebook and discovered that you can read anybody’s posts that are tagged in a certain location, so I got on the Turin tag, and was incomprehensibly relieved when news of a 4.5-magnitude earthquake started to spread.
I had been in an earthquake.
There were no terrorists.
I thanked all the gods I could name, and then set to worrying. I had never been in an earthquake before, and it’s a lot scarier than I ever thought it would be. Not the event itself, because all that really happened was losing an ounce of wine and my desk shifting. It was the threat of the event. That’s always the scariest idea. What if it happened again? What if it was worse? What if I was sleeping as that heavy, stone building came crashing down on top of me? Well, I’d be dead. And I have no problem dying. Really I don’t. It’s just that I have no interest in it whatsoever. I have so many things I want to do, so many sites I long to see. I don’t want to be dead. I want to live forever. If we ever find a way to become immortal, I’ll be running to whatever clinic can promise me everlasting life. I have no desire right now to go to the next plane. I want to study shards of pottery in Tell el-Amarna. I want to hack my way through the Amazon. I want to cruise across the Atlantic in a first class suite. I want to do a million things I’ve never thought about. I don’t want to die. And the earthquake got me thinking far too much about my mortality. But I finally found sleep.
Now, this post has already run long, but my last day in Turin wasn’t the most noteworthy, so we shall finish up before setting off on an adventure.
The earthquake was the talk of the town the next day, but people didn’t seem as concerned as me about repeats. (This is horrifying now that we all know about the devastating earthquake that killed so many in Italy shortly after I left the nation. Disasters seem to follow me.)
I was in a peculiar mood. I was terrified and exhilarated. My time in Turin was quickly coming to a close, and the next day I was off to Africa. I would be back in Egypt, the country that has obsessed me since I could form obsessions. I was going to be living my dreams, but there was still so much to think about. Terrorism, disease, miscommunication, bad luck, oversleeping, hunger. My worries, which I normally am great about ignoring, were at the forefront of my thoughts. It was driving me crazy.
I walked and I walked all over the city. I traced my favorite steps with melancholy. I knew just how much I was going to miss this city. But, yet, I was itching for an adventure. I had been yearning for so long to return to Egypt, and now that it was only hours away from being my reality, adrenaline coursed through me.
The Museo Egizio was suddenly in front of me, so I stepped into the gift shop and bought myself a little ankh amulet. This is the ancient Egyptian word and symbol for life, so I thought it was quite fitting. I slipped it around the necklace I wear every day that contains ashes of the dead I love and miss, and felt quite suddenly at peace. My nerves were there, but they were diminished. Now I was just excited.
I watched Joanna Lumley’s Nile, and I stupidly started sobbing when I watched her excitement as she took a boat into Alexandria and said, “We are now officially in the Nile!” Her eyes light up and she’s giddy. And I’m giddy now thinking about it and stupidly crying. Egypt affects me powerfully, reader. I can’t tell you why it means so much to me. I can’t explain it. I don’t know. I wish I did. Watch it with me:
I was ready to go, and I felt goosebumps cover my flesh when she said what is perhaps the most profound line I’ve ever heard. It truly changed my life and made me less afraid of the unknown. I have my fears, too, reader. I’m not always noble and charging into danger. Joanna said, “It’s all right once you’ve just got over it, you know? Quite a lot of like is like that. Just get over it and just do it. There we are. Lovely.”
I couldn’t sleep. Tomorrow I’d be in Egypt.