As the weather has improved, I’ve been able to get a better sense of Bagnolo and its surroundings. It’s in the lee of the mountains, with clear mountain air. In the valley there are rice fields and vineyards and plantations of kiwi trees. As in all parts of Italy, but particularly northern Italy, the countryside has been devastated by lack of planning laws, so that one has to get a sense of an older Italy and of small-scale farming communities on the hillside. The snow is melting on the Alps, but there is always the sense of the mountains in the background. The local industry is quarrying and there are small stone cutting yards everywhere, employing Chinese as cheap labour. It’s not surprising that Piedmont is the home of Slow Food as everywhere there are signs of local food production – the specialist cheese shops, the food markets in every town, the bread still warm from the oven. As the Italian economy has collapsed, they have gone back to work on the land.
Tonight we had a tour of Consolata’s garden, a magical survival of four hundred years of d’Isola planting, supposedly the model for the garden in Italo Calvino’s Il Barone Rampante. We wandered along the old beech avenues past overgrown parterres to the house with its wall paintings of knights and a frescoed underground chapel.
I’ve always liked Turin: a city of grand baroque churches, gloomy nineteenth-century arcades and overpriced cafés. It’s a hard working city, full of men in well cut tweed sits, where Nietzsche wrote five books in the space of a year (see Lesley Chamberlain, Nietzsche in Turin). Here are some of the things we saw and enjoyed on a day pottering round the centre.
The brickwork of the Palazzo Carignano:
The last time I visited the Egyptian Museum about ten years ago it was magnificently dusty and uncared for, redolent of the early days of Egyptomania when Bernardino Drovetti was able to loot large numbers of antiquities whilst serving as Napoleon’s consul and then flog them to the King of Savoy. Since then it has been in restauro, overseen by Saverio Isola. We had a wonderful tour with a curator who was passionately knowledgeable. He showed us early mummies:
The decorated chests which contained human remains:
We’ve all been reading – and enjoying – the letters of Hugh Trevor-Roper, which I bought when they came out, but haven’t had time to read hitherto. I was brought up to regard Trevor-Roper as lazy, never producing any historical work of deep significance after his early biography of Archbishop Laud and his book on The Last Days of Hitler which he wrote on instructions as an operative for MI5 (although I remember admiring The Rise of Christian Europe which I read as an undergraduate). Yet ever since his death in 2003, works have been pouring out from his estate, including the two volumes of letters so far published and the possibility of up to ten more. They reveal him as magnificently well connected, worldly and waspish.
We drove up the hill behind the house to visit the impossibly remote Cistercian monastery designed by Aimaro d’Isola in the late 1980s. We’re beginning to recognise the hallmarks of his style: good use of materials; an exaggerated adherence to the vernacular; a mixture of Aldo Rossi and Ted Cullinan.
One looks out of the side of the church to the hillside beyond:
In the afternoon, we went on a pilgrimage to Lingotto, the palace of the automobile in the southern suburbs of Turin, begun in 1916 and opened in 1923. After pizza in a Turkish café, we discovered the great car ramp:
On the roof is the car track:
Built to rival Detroit, it’s not surprising that it was so admired by Le Corbusier and Jim Stirling.
We spent the morning at Stupinigi, one of the grand hunting lodges of the Kings of Savoy designed by Filippo Juvarra in the vicinity of Turin. Since it doesn’t have disabled access, we were condemned to explore the outside:
I woke early to find the rain had cleared, the sun was shining, and the church bells were ringing in all the local villages:
I had a freezing cold swim and went for a brisk walk up to a field where there are boxes of brightly coloured beehives overlooking the mountains:
Today we celebrated the season of our sixtieth birthdays with a banquet in the Castle:
This was the menu card: