Excuse me? Or, ah, mi scusi?
Just when I start to think I am getting a handle on history, I visit Turin. And then, poof, I’m totally confused again!
And, I consider myself a pretty smart, fairly well-educated cookie. I mean, for crying out loud, I teach art history at the college level. But I am no match for Italy!
Today, despite the 93 degree Fahrenheit temperature, I was determined to visit the Palazzo Reale. And. I did it! And, I am surprised you didn’t hear my head explode from wherever you are, because it actually did explode. I kept having the feeling that I was in a very sophisticated version of some unspecified Mexican capitol, or in the heart of mythic Spain, or somewhere other than Italy. But, I was in Torino. I am a much wiser person this evening than I was when I woke up this morning. Let me share some this newfound knowledge and how I literally stumbled upon it.
So, as I was saying, I planned to visit the Palazzo Reale di Torino today. I got to the courtyard of the complex about noonish. I like to stay in my beautiful apartment on Corso Vittorio Emanuele II for the morning hours because it is so comfortable, temperature wise. It is a lovely apartment and very nicely furnished. It is always comfortable, speaking of true physical comfort. Except for the temperature part because, if you hadn’t heard, we’re havin’ a heat wave, a tropical (?) heatwave. I always thought I knew what hot meant, but now I honestly do. It is about like what you would think the surface of Mercury is, if you mistakenly assumed, like me, that Mercury is the hottest planet in the solar system. It turns out that Venus is hotter than Mercury, and if you stop to think about it, it makes sense. Venus, symbol of love, passion, and female principles, etc. But, I digress.
So, enjoying the serenity and cool comfort of my apartment in the a.m., I headed out en piede for il palazzo about noonish. I got to the courtyard and I gotta say, I was thinking, what’s the big whoop. It was nice enough, but I’ve seen a lot nicer in a lot of other places.
After almost fainting from the heat on the walk there, I found a shady place to sit for a while before exploring any of the surrounding buildings. I was in no rush because they honestly didn’t look that imposing. I wasn’t even absolutely sure I was in the right place. After playing around with my pictures on my iphone, I decided to get on with my day.
Eventually I meandered into a shady arcade, chosen particularly because it was in the shade as opposed to its sunny counterpart. I was almost immediatley met by a major stone stairway and, even in my heat induced madness, I knew I was somewhere. Big time.
A word to the wise here: as is well-known among visitors to Italy, there aren’t always signs announcing that you are in the vicinity of the place you are looking for, be it the Turin Cathedral or anything else. I have literally seen more signs for MacDonald’s here than anything else and that is a sad statement about the current state of worldwide affairs, no? At least there are no Starbucks here, yet.
So, there was no signage announcing to me that I had arrived at the Palazzo Reale and no signs saying “get your ticket here.” Later, after I didn’t need them, I noticed nuanced signage, but when you are a really hot, almost fainting, tourist, you need things to be a little more attention grabbing than nuanced. Moral of my story, I missed the ticket office. But what I lack in nuance, I make up for in spirit and pluck.
There were no custodians minding the stairway and, since yesterday I purchased a year long pass to all the musei in Piedmont, I felt entitled to climb the stairway. I figured it led to someplace I’d want to see.
I got to the first landing and had to hang on to the bannister so I could admire the frescoed ceiling and the walls all around. There was some major gold-leaf and first-rate painting going on here. And, that was just the beginning.
The top landing was drop-dead gorgeous. I started following the red carpet that led from antechamber to antechamber to antechamber. My jaw was on the floor. I could not help but think that this building made the Palazzo Medici in Florence look like an outbuilding. I’m a fairly jaded tourist and I was definitely suffering from heat exhaustion. But the Palazzo Reale revived me. It is good to know I can still count on my aesthetic sensibilities even when I am more or less delirious from heat and fatigue.
I was about to wander into the next room when I encountered my first custodian, who politely asked me for my ticket. I tried to explain about the pass that I bought yesterday, but my Italian is rarely reliable. I imagine I sound a lot like a drunk toddler to whomever I am speaking at any given moment.
The lovely Italian woman surmised, no doubt from my accent, that on a good day I speak English. You may think I am kidding, but the other day a salesclerk in a grocery store was trying to find a common language with me and she asked me in perfect English, after trying Italian, French and Spanish, did I speak English. And we were rushing because it was hot, we were sweaty, and there was a line of customers behind me waiting for this transaction to move along. So, she nicely asked if I spoke English and I honestly answered “a little.” But, in case you ever wondered, English is my native language. On a really good day.
Back to the Palazzo Reale, by the time this intriguing tete a tete about tickets and passes had transpired, I had whipped out my laminated Piedmont year long pass to show the nice lady. She looked at it knowingly and then told me in English that it was fine, she would let me enter the ongoing palazzo (she probably realized that I would faint or worse right there in front of her if she sent me back down the major stone staircase to go to the ticket office for a piece of paper), but that when I left il Palazzo I should go to the ticket office and get a ticket with my year long pass so their metrics wouldn’t be messed up. I fastened onto the words “it’s va bene this time,” she nicely said, then she added, “but in the future you want to get a ticket before you enter a museum.” Which is truly hilarious in all languages because I have spent my lifetime working in art museums. But at that particular moment, I have absolutely no doubt that had she sent me down those massive stairs, I was going to go back al mia casa, and skip any and all Torino palazzi, I don’t care how much gold leaf there might be.
God bless good-natured museum custodians. Fortunately, I can read more Italian than I can speak when I am suffering from heat stoke and I was in the royal bedchamber (which wasn’t that far from one of the antechambers, just sayin’) and even though it is currently missing its royal bed, I knew I was in the presence of somebody royaler than any royal alive today. It made me think of Marie Antoinette’s bedroom at Versailles, which in comparison is a bunkhouse. Again, I’m just sayin’.
So, ticketless, I followed on the path of the red carpet and what I witnessed made me a believer in the House of Savoy, even if I didn’t know a damn thing about it. I knew I could find out.
And then in the midst of my aesthetically pleasing stupor, I remembered what Roberta had said. Roberta is the gorgeous Italian woman who owns and operates the Italian language school at which I (I hope she doesn’t cringe when she hears that I blame, er, credit her for my Italian language ability) studied Italian in Seattle last winter. I know, that’s a lot to follow but stay with me, please. The language Roberta and Lia provide at the Seattle school is fantastic, but I struggle, through no fault of their’s, to retain my second language.
But, back to the story: Roberta is from Torino originally and she told me that I owed it to myself to experience Torino, for it is beautiful, she says, and relatively unknown among the world-traveling set. At least among Americans. Most Americans know Rome, Florence and Venice like most Europeans who visit the United States know New York City and California.
It was because of that very conversazione I had with Roberta a few months back that I find myself in Torino now. It’s kind of a long story which I will spare you. But in the middle of il Palazzo Reale I completely understood what Roberta meant. Grazie mille, Roberta e Lia. You were most definitely right! Torino rocks. And there are almost no tourists here.
Like il palazzo itself, this post has grown rather unwieldy in any measurement, so I’ll post part due later. I bet you are on pins and needles. Let’s just say that even the armory of the palace was amazing. And that’s a sentence I never would have believed I would ever write. Wait until I tell you about the Galleria Sabaude e il museo archeologica. A new language may have to be invented to accurately describe the total experience.
In conclusion, let us consult Wikipedia on sabaude, mi scusi, Savoy.
“The County and Duchy of Savoy incorporated Turin and other territories in Piedmont, a region in northwestern Italy that borders Savoy, which were also possessions of the House of Savoy. The capital of the Duchy remained at the traditional Savoyard capital of Chambéry until 1563, when it was moved to Turin.”
Ah, no wonder Turin has a royal palace. Stay tuned.
And, per favore, please excuse the unbelievably inadequate snapshots of a palace that I could not possibly do justice to photographically, even if I had come prepared with my good camera, which I didn’t.