(More than…) Two Years in Torino

"Le cose belle sono lente." –Pane e Tulipani

Month: April, 2014



There is an particular couple in my building who have been very friendly to me. Both speak fluent German–the wife is a translator and the husband is a professor of German literature–but neither speaks a lot of English. So this is one situation in which I get a lot of Italian practice! We’ve had coffee and dinner together, taken walks, and recently we’ve started a language exchange.* They’ve even been to one of Sarie’s concerts.  Given that my neighborhood is a bit reserved, I appreciate all the efforts they’ve made to be hospitable, especially towards someone who can’t always come up with the right words in Italian.

Twice now they’ve taken me on a walk in the park above the tiny town of Cavoretto, on the Collina (hill) just across the Po. Though it’s not a mountain like one of the Alps, it’s high enough to have a good view of the Alps.  My Benvenuto! photo at the top of the page was taken from the Collina.

So far as I can tell, Cavoretto consists of a couple of small piazzas, a few streets with a school and a couple of churches, and the park, which is almost as big as the town.  Its streets are so narrow and steep that it’s hard to get a good idea of the layout of the whole town, but that’s part of its charm. There are unusual details at every angle.

Since I was with my friends, I didn’t stop to take that many photos, nor do the ones I took quite capture the serendipitous quality of an Italian hill town in all three dimensions, but hopefully these photos at least get something of the idea across. I always think these towns would be a great place to play hide-and-seek, and in fact Sarie has done just that, in Barga, with some friends!

And lastly, please pardon my recent obsession with the Instagram bokeh button.  I’m sure I’ll get over it eventually.

Below: 1) The town parish church, which sits with its adjacent buildings in its own piazza 2) One of many household gates along the city streets 3) Capers. Yes, capers come from a tiny bush that grows wild on city walls–who knew? 4) Street approaching the parish church in 1. above. 5) Another tiny church, dedicated to S. Rocco. 5) An old wall which has had a modern gate added to it–tastefully, I might add.

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*Note to my family, who may be confused: This is the second family with whom I’ve been doing language exchange. The other one lives across the alleyway and we got to know one another because their enthusiastic 11-year-old daughter kept waving to us from the kitchen window.


The Little World of Don Camillo


Today I was eating lunch by myself and somehow got started watching Don Camillo excerpts on You Tube. I have just finished watching the entire DVD series of Don Camillo films, based on the books by Giovannino Guareschi. They are among my favorite films ever.

The plots are mostly based on the relationship of “frien-emies” Don Camillo, the local priest, and Giuseppe Bottazzi (nicknamed Peppone), the Communist mayor of the town of Brescello in Emilia Romagna during the years after WWII. It helps to know that after Fascism, a lot of Italians had had enough of not only Il Duce, but also the monarchy and priests. Thus they saw Communism as the new hope. I don’t know enough Italian history to comment on all this in detail, but in this series old-fashioned Italian sense of community and decency triumph over politics and revenge.

Why do I like Don Camillo? It’s hard to put it into words. To some American Christians the series might seem insurmountably foreign, even irreverent. Don Camillo is no saint. Like a small boy on the playground, his temper and sense of justice get him into almost daily fisticuffs (but he usually repents). A middle-aged-sounding Jesus talks to him, reprimands him, and at times jokes with him from a large wooden crucifix at the altar of the town church. At one point, Don Camillo loses his temper over a soccer game while talking to Jesus and kicks his hat straight into the confessional. “Goal!” shouts Jesus gleefully.

It might help Americans to see the series as the Italian version of Mayberry (or perhaps as the British think of Herriot’s All Creatures). It has a lot of the same appeal to Italians that Andy Griffith does to Americans. Despite serious ideological differences and even threats of violence, community and brotherly love (however imperfect) emerge as even stronger forces. Don Camillo, despite his cassock, is a man’s man, a former partisan who fought beside Peppone during the War (the real-life Don Camillo survived a concentration camp). He is brave, funny and even lovable under his pugnacious exterior. And finally, the series is very well made, with comedy and more serious elements blended seamlessly and un-self-consciously, often in the same scene.

The clip above, probably one of the more serious scenes of the entire series, is a good example of this blending of humor with courage, and of brotherhood overcoming partisanship.  I also posted it because it seemed appropriate for Good Friday, the river to be blessed is our own Po, and because it’s one of the few YouTube clips I could find with English subtitles.

Buon film!



I walk by the church in the photo above most Sunday mornings, and sometimes I happen to walk by at just the right time to hear the bells ring. They go on for quite a while and fill several blocks with their sound.

Our parish church has a carillon instead. It got about a halftone off sometime last year and ever since the jaunty little three-note tune has sounded comi-tragic. There’s actually an expression in Italian, “Stonato come una campana.” It means, “As out of tune as a church bell.”

Church bells make me inexplicably happy. And lest I start to sound as obsessed as Sarie already knows I am, the Don Camillo theme is also based on church bells.


Sarie and I have been to Cremona twice during the past month.  If you know stringed instruments, you may easily guess why we went: Cremona is the epicenter of violin-making.  The Stradivari, Guarneri and Amati families were legendary Cremonese luthiers whose best surviving instruments are now held in trust for the world’s top soloists. But there are still plenty of good well-preserved, reconstructed and newly-crafted stringed instruments available for anyone who wants a good violin. I recently counted 64 luthiers in a the city.

We were to Cremona to try out Baroque violins. By definition, any modern violin from the 18th C. was once a Baroque violin, but almost all of them have had modifications to enhance their range and sound output, including a longer fingerboard, more slender neck and bridge, and metal strings.  The violin we bought this week had been updated, but the luthier restored it back to Baroque fittings in everything but the neck, which didn’t affect the sound. As a historically-accurate performer of Renaissance through Classical music, this violin will be Sarie’s primary professional instrument.  It will also require two bows, a Baroque and a Classical one, to play music from this wide a period. Sarie and Alberto (who plays Baroque oboe and other wind instruments) are now performing in professional historically accurate ensembles, so she badly needed the instrument.

Meanwhile, I simply enjoy hearing the music and visiting the various Italian towns.  Sarie and I joke that “Cream-ona,” with its frequent use of pastel yellow stucco, lives up to its name. I also associate this city on a plain near the Po with bicycles, ice cream, and in the winter, fog. Here are a few photos, happily all from sunny days.

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