~x marks the spot~

April 18th, 2008


Three of my favorite parts of this journey were found when righteously lost, and I’m feeling that is something worth noting. It is also ironic as the adventure included a visit to Alfonso’s cousin Antonio, who designs software for Fiat, most particularly GPS, or Global Positioning Systems.


We began by driving to Torino–Turin–by way of mistake Numero Uno, Simplon Pass. Passo del Sempione is tucked in the Lepontine Alps between Switzerland and Italy, connecting Brig in the canton of Valais with Domodossola in Piedmont. It is enchanted and surreal, and far off our charted plans (navigator–me–a little wrapped up in organizing her book; driver–Ali–simply being a leadfooted ever-forward man).


We wound our way through the narrow pass where the towering mountains are dark—nearly black—with long golden moss hair. Ancient stone houses with thick slate roofs crawled out of the landscape as though they had built themselves. It was like nothing I have ever seen, eerie and electric with some kind of forest magic. None of this was caught by my drive-by camera, sorry to say…


A mist hovered all around and in parts the snow covered ground blended with the air–also somehow filled with snow (though not snowing)–giving the feeling of walking on another planet altogether. We were speechless except to say “we are coming back here!”

A while later we landed in Turin–capital of the Piemonte region–which is flanked by the Alps and the Langhe hills (where all good things come from). The famous white truffles of Alba herald from this area, as well as the Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, and Barbera grape wines such as Barolo and Barbaresco (some of my favorites).


It is run through with rivers–the Po, the Dora, the Stura and Sangone—and dotted with piazzas and palazzos: Piazza San Carlo, Piazza Bodoni, Palazzo Carignano, Piazza Castello, Piazza Carlo Alberto…


There are eighteen km of gallerias—airy arched arcades—which was fortunate because we had rain for a good part of our visit. The most lovely of these walkways is Galleria Subalpina, which links the latter two piazzas, and was a favorite of Nietzsche.


Poor Freddie has gotten a bum rap thanks to those nihilists, fascists, or worse, Ayn Rand lovers, who have adopted pieces of his thoughts and called it the total. He loved Turin. Forget the Übermench, what of the idea of reality as an endless Becoming, Werden?

He wrote, Turin is the capital of discovery, the first place in which I am possible.
The light, the calm, the Alps, the walking, the gelato!


While living in Turin in 1889—he famously embraced and wept upon a horse he witnessed being beaten—in an act of pity seemingly at odds with his own philosophy, and purportedly his last lucid moment before succumbing to syphilitic madness (tra la la).

He also said, All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking. That’s what we did.

First we visited the Museo Egizio, one of the world’s finest collections of Egyptian artifacts, established by King Carlo Felice in 1824 and still displayed in a charming jumble with little to no contextual information.


One is free to wander into the reassembled tomb of Kha (of Deir el Medina, 3500 BC), and marvel at the way the Italian Archaelogical Mission appears to have simply excavated the entire bank of the Nile between 1903 and 1920 and brought it all home with them.

The mummies were entombed like Russian stacking dolls, one case inside the next.

There is a doll house model of a tomb from 1903, pyramid-shaped beveled glass vitrenes with cat paw feet, and lots and lots of mummies–of tiny people, alligators, cats, you name it. Italian school children scurried about, just freaking out with how cool everything was. Mummified cats! Scarabs with lady heads! Real! Egyptian! Tombs! Winkie postcards of the Great Sphinx of Giza! Okay, that last bit was me, but the kids liked it too.


I was most moved by the thoughtfulness of the elaborate preparation for the dead, the way everything was included for your journey to the next world: bowls of nuts, writing tools, kohl make-up, human hair wigs, tiny sandals, even bread. I saw bread baked in BC.

The greatest riddle of the Sphinx is that no one knows what her riddle is, exactly.

We skipped the Shroud of Turin. I do love a good mystery–especially one that causes epic levels of speculation and wishful thinking–but who wants to see a picture of a piece of linen purported to have wrapped post-crucifixion Jesus?

My favorite theory is that the shroud is the first example of photography, showing the portrait of its purported maker, Leonardo da Vinci. He whipped it up with the aid of a magic lantern or camera obscura and light-sensitive silver compounds applied to the cloth. Why not?

We had a lunch of fresh fish and local white wine Arneis Di Roero in the fin de siècle atmosphere of Baratti & Milano.

Instead we explored the wonder-cabinet of early cinema, the Mole Antonelliana and Museum of Cinema. The Mole—originally a synagogue imagined by obsessive dreamer Alessandro Antonelli and completed (by his son) in 1889–is the tallest building in Turin, and the world’s tallest building of brick, at 167 meters.


A crazy wonderful elevator shoots through the center of the building, through the dome roof and beyond to a panoramic view of the city.


The bottom floor houses the best collection of early film detritus I’ve ever seen, in an exhibit called The Archeology of Cinema. It is a mind-blowing assembly of stereoviews, zoetropes, kinoscopes, optical boxes, magic lanterns–over six thousand items collected by Maria Adriana Prolo and the English brothers John and William Barnes, all of it well-lit and much of it hands-on. Plus demonstrations of optical illusions and examples of the first films. Molto Bene!


We returned to a dinner of tuna-tomato pasta made by Antonio, and anti-pasta of buffalo mozzarella, and cured tomatoes and sausage made by his mom. We brought a 2003 Barolo from famous local Vinni Rabezzana wine shop, opened in 1876, who say of their own wine—Grignolino d’Asti—“this wine finds in this calcareous land its perfect habitat.” Fabulouso! (Fabulouso is the name of Antonio’s bathroom cleaner.)


Then we took a rainy drive into the hills that rise in the south-east of the city near the right bank of the Po. We were looking for a frightening statue of a giant angel, or so I understood Antonio, whose English is far better than my Italian, but still. Ali joked that the angel haunted Antonio’s dreams, and Antonio said, earnestly, You think you are joking, but…


We drove up, down, and around the curves of the hills, until Antonio said “Ah! We are close!” and I looked up to see a white triangle sign with a red boarder and nothing but an X inside. I said–to no one in particular–“X marks the spot.”

We continued to drive up, up, up, the rain hitting the windows wildly, and eventually we came upon another sign, same shape and colors, this one bearing only an !

We drove even higher, around the Colle della Maddalena (the highest hill in Turin), the streets narrowing to amazing curves, and then the final sign: the same triangle, the same red and white, and this time, completely blank.

An existential moment.


And then! There she was, Faro della Vittoria (Beacon of Victory) 18 meters high and shrouded in mist. She stands at the peak of Parco della Rimembranza, where 10,000 trees were planted in honor of the Torinese victims of World War I.

There was also a bar blaring disco into the spooky, heavenly night–according to Antonio, a haunt of old fags–which somehow seemed appropriate. Or perhaps I should say, my personal heaven would no doubt be populated with ancient queens and scary angels.

the locks are inscribed with the names of the lovers who leave them, throwing the keys into the night.

Buona Sera!

4 Responses to “~x marks the spot~”

  1. Terry says:

    what a great little piece of story-telling

  2. Habib says:

    There’s something about that church in the valley surrounded by snow that reminds me of the photo, you might remember, of the couple in the desert waving to you from the middle of nowhere. Sometimes the middle of nowhere is exactly where you want to be.
    I love the locks. Someone should tell those starry-eyed romantics about the cool locks you can find on eBay. Speaking of which, that would be the perfect spot to leave your calling card.
    XO D

  3. Noria says:

    x + ! + [ ] = angel?

  4. […] The story goes that the German-born physicist Albert Einstein worked out his theory of relativity while employed as a clerk at the Berne patent office. We visited this Medieval town–the capital of Switzerland–this weekend with Alfonso’s cousin Antonio (of terrifying Angel fame) and his girlfriend Mimi. […]

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