The Italian Job
Turin feels like an unloved city. Talk of Italy, and the answer is always Rome, maybe Milan. Turin? What has it got? Well, it's got a Shroud (though that is rarely available for viewing), and sunshine, and …. well. Tumbleweed.
Most summers, I find a city I haven't been to before, and take it off the list. Last year, Brussels. The year before, Rome. This year, Turin. On the face of it, Turin doesn't have much – and aside from the regular tourist attractions, it's like many cities, a place where people live and breathe and work and don't do much else. There's two places of interest we visit, alongside a large chunk of walking in sunshine, pizza, and so forth. IN fact, is there anything but pizza I eat in the time I am there? I am quite fond of lasagne. Like many Italian cities, it closes for a default siesta around 2pm to 3pm, so there's a dearth of decent eateries for the casual visitor. I don't want to come all the way to Italy to eat a Subway sandwich.
On the flight over, there's a sense that you can fool yourself that you aren't travelling that fast at all. I gaze down at the sea, the huge ships the size of owns that plow through as miniscule dots below me, and a bullet of sheer orange shoots at incalculable speed below me. An EasyJet flight at several hundred miles an hour. It passes through my sight – from horizon to horizon – within ten seconds. In my ears, I listen to U2's obscure “Passengers” album, and particularly the poundingly weird “Slug”. We pass over the Alps, or, more accurately, the tips of huge mountains covered by enormous clouds.
Turin itself doesn't have much, as such. It's a relaxed town, and there's a sense that maybe the British have got it slightly wrong, because they're all so bloody chilled out. England is a hotbed of stressed fury by comparison. I am on holiday. Maybe the two factors equal themselves out. We walk through endless streets, piazzas and squares, and the bountiful churches that seem to sit with great frequency in every part of Italy. We wander through the city. Never far from something. Dominating the city is the Mole Antonelliana,, the huge monument to cinema that was once intended as a Jewish Synagouge : a 400 foot dome topped with a 150 foot spire, an enormous monument.
There's only one way to the top, a single glass sided lift barely the size of a toilet cubicle, held up by a single cable and counterweight. The Dome is the size of St Pauls. At the top, 400 feet or so, the city, encircled by mountains, stretches out to the distance. In the heart of the Dome, the Turin National Museum Of Cinema : here, a linear, multifloor exploration of the art of the projection of light and illusion. Some of the earliest artifacts of cinema are here, to some of the most iconic.
Up some stairs, casually sits a fibreglass shark, used as a Bruce from Jaws. The Metropolis clock sits in the ceiling. A huge plastic idol from an ancient 30's adventure. In a small plexiglass case, two Aliens, a facehugger,and an egg sit. I've seen all of these things so many times since I was child ; I knew they were real. But seeing them with my own eyes, being inches from moulded rubber that lived in childhood nightmares.. seen here, they are clearly fabric, moulds, and a man in a suit. On the screen... so utterly alien, so different. Hi Definition – and reality is very high-definition – is very unforgiving.
Down a side corridor, sits one of the original Darth Vader masks, one from Star Wars, another seen in The Empire Strikes Back. They're oddly asymmetrical, which I'd never noticed. As if somehow, Darth Vader had the same mask for thirty years, which is like me having the same glasses as I did in 1997.
Further down the same corridor, there's an actual goddamn Robocop. Marilyn Monroe's bras, and then, I – actually – gasp. Because there is Stripe. The actual genuine goddamn Gremlin. THE Gremlin. Oh. And just round the corner, Christopher Reeve's Superman cape. Which is like, no biggie.
There's plenty more. But once you've seen a facehugger, Supermans cape, Stripe The Gremlin, Robocop, Darth Vader, and the rest, well, what are you gonna do? Everything else's a letdown. Well, aside from seeing U2's first European show in half a decade.
Which is splendid.
The next day it is again, a case of 'hitting the road' and walking across the town to Turin Automobile Museum. Ultimately, it's a collection of cars, which are something I've never felt that huge spiritual rush for, and whilst most of Turin doubled for Rome in The Italian Job, cars are cars, and not exceptional. Though, the sight of a miniaturised Popemobile made me laugh.
Then there's U2 again. It's a very different show, with several songs changed through, and a more cohesive delivery rid of first night nerves. The next day, comes the endurance test. We're on the 7.39am TGC Trans Europe Express running from Turin to Paris. It's too early. This seemed a great idea three quarters of a year ago. Mountains and rivers slip by. Turin fades to Oulx. Oulx to Bardoneccha. Bardoneccha to Modane. Modane to St-Jean-De-Maurianne to Chambry to Lyon.
Walls of rock a mile high surrounded me. It's beautiful and bizarre. In the distance, we connect to Paris, to leave. I see the Eiffel Tower as a tiny dot 20 miles away. It's a long way to home, but not very far at all.