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This blog has been on hiatus for some time now, not because of a lack of things to write about, rather the opposite.  Yours truly has been afflicted with the American disease.  I’ve been too busy running around to pin down my thoughts with electrons.  Our last days before the onset of summer included a road trip to Asheville to see Biltmore, the largest private home in America, a brief visit to Washington DC for a law conference, a flight to Turin, Italy, and an excursion for a couple days into the Alps.

Upon our return to North America, we embarked on another trip from Durham to the Nantahala River in Western North Carolina for a few days of canoe instruction at the famous center located in the heart of the Appalachians.  Unfortunately, I had picked up a bad cold by this point, and we were not able to complete the course.  When we got back to Durham, it was time to pack up and head to Canada.  Our house in Nova Scotia was calling.

The trip to Turin came completely out of the blue.  Faithful readers will remember that we spent nearly four months in Italy last year.  This return visit was triggered by a gathering of academics who have taught (or who will teach) at a multi-university institution in London devoted to trans-border legal studies.  The University of Turin is one of the participants, and they were good enough to host the gathering.

I couldn’t resist tagging along with my wife in order to renew my acquaintance with Torino in late Spring.  The old adage about language and physical exercise is absolutely true.  If you don’t use it, you lose track of it.  I had not kept up my Italian despite the purchase of a CD program to do exactly that.  When I visited my wonderful teachers at “Italiano Porticando,” my brain and tongue felt jet lagged.  Fortunately, they are generous in their encouragement to anyone who makes at attempt to speak the language.

One of them asked me if I had seen La Sindone and I had to admit that I had not yet done so.  In deference to their wishes that I make up for my spiritual edification, I hoofed it to the ticketing agency set up nearby.  It was 3 o’clock in the afternoon the next to last day of the exhibition.  The Shroud is undoubtedly the most famous object in Turin and it has been on display only 18 times in 500 years.  My timing could not have been better for Shroud viewing.

According the the Catholic Church records, 2.1 million visitors joined the queue for a long wait and brief viewing of the relic.  My plane from Frankfurt had been filled with American tourists, which seemed unusual for Turin this early in the season.  It was a fine day, so the long shuffle that finally led to a brief communion with the cloth was tedious but not uncomfortable.

Our next-to-last station of the cross was a room adjacent to the church of the holy relic that housed a video projector, revealing the latent images fixed in a thin layer that clearly showed what all the fuss is about– a negative image of a head that seemed to be wearing a crown of thorns.  Much has been written about the Shroud by believers, skeptics and scientists, and I will not attempt to condense or reproduce the arguments.  Suffice it to say the controversy about the cloth will be around for some time.

What has me hooked on Italy is the graceful language and the fabulous food.  If you are confined to tourist restaurants, it is possible to get a mediocre meal in Italy, and I am sorry to say that we actually did eat one dinner that was less than stellar.  On the other hand, a little bit of nosing around can uncover some wonderful cuisine.

The standout on this trip was a lunch we enjoyed at four-star resort with a slow food cooking school and a “wine bank” in the countryside south of Turin.  Our host from the University of Turin chose this wonderful place to cap a day of touring the Barola wine country.  We had a simple, vegetarian meal made up of two dishes, pasta and risotto which was absolutely fabulous.

On our last day in Turin, we rented a car and headed south toward the southern Alps.  Our destination was a bed and breakfast in a tiny hilltop village near Mondovi– Villa Favolosa.  Our hosts hail from the Piedmont region of Italy, but live and work in Chicago during the winter.  The home has been in the family for four hundred years.  We arrived on Monday, the one day of the week when the restaurants are closed, so I was able to get a cooking lesson from our hosts i and a personal lesson in Italian at the same time.

After an excellent breakfast, we headed out by car, venturing into the town of Cuneo on market day, and as far as the historic Staffarda Abbey near the town of Saluzzo.  The next day we chose exercise instead, heading into a National Park in the mountains bordering France, an area called Valle Pesio.  It is home to a major monastery and some steep and spectacular trails.

Yet another part of Italy that has branded itself in my mind.  I hope we’ll have another excuse to return soon. There is much to explore, too little time.  Ciao for now.  I have some catching up to do.  Check back for additional pictures.


For a nation that exported a steady stream of emigrants to North America and Australia well into the middle of this century, things have taken a drastic turn in the other direction.  The fertility rate, the number of children an Italian woman is likely to have in her lifetime, has dropped to 1.2.  That is hardly going to replenish a diminishing population.

The child I see in Turin is going to have the dedicated attention of two parents, two sets of grandparents along with the inevitable aunts and uncles on both sides.  In terms of attention, at least, this child is going to have it made.

He will probably go to school and grow up an only child, born into a very different world than the one of his gregarious grandparents.  He’ll live at home into his early thirties, save his money for a car, then an apartment or a house.  His marriage will be a big relief to everyone, of course.  Before long the inevitable question will arise, when will there be another bambino?

More than likely, his working life will fall into one of three categories:  statali, dipendenti or autonomi.  In other words, he’ll end up working for the state  (in one capacity or another); as an employee of a factory, company or corporation; or as an independent businessman or shopkeeper.

Bear with me while I float a curious conceit your way.  It came to me in the middle of a restless night. If we were to populate Dante’s Divine Comedy with the working population of this county, they might end up distributed something like this– the statali would be in Paradiso, the dipendenti in the Inferno. You can work out the rest.

Even a lowly cook in a state-run nursery school works just five mornings a week.  He gets off all school holidays, gets days off for union meetings, blood tests etc. He can get a low-interest mortgage from his employer, cheap holidays in hotels and camps, unbelievable paternity and maternity rights, and the kicker is, he can keep his job for life.  He is unfirable.

The dipendento will have his taxes are deducted at source, like the state employee, but he will probably be making less.  He will have rigid hours, limited opportunities for moonlighting, and difficulty justifying sick leave without actually being sick. He won’t have the lavish benefits or the job security of the statale.

The autonomo resides in Purgatory, of course.  His situation may change drastically, depending on the health of the economy.  His taxes are not deducted at source, so he may end up getting rich and paying no tax at all, triggering the resentment of his neighbours.  However, he may also find himself bankrupt through no fault of his own.

Fortunately, despite what seems to be the innate conservatism of Italians, there is a considerable amount of social mobility built into the system.  Fathers and sons can easily find themselves in different categories and workers can slip out of one group and into another.

Curiously, I have a well-regarded English novelist to thank for the subject matter of this post.  His name is Tim Parks, and he has written two charming memoirs about his life in an Italian village over the last 20 years– “Italian Neighbours” and “An Italian Education.”  He will never be truly Italian, of course, but his children will.

He is my Virgil and he deserves credit for his perceptive books and graceful way with words.  And thanks to my Italalian teacher, Caterina, who spoke in class about the long adolesence of young Italian men and reminded me of the Divine Comedy, one of the few great books I have actually read.  It must have been a long time ago, back when I was in college.  Years before I knew anything about Torino or dreamed of learning Italian.


Readers in the snow belt of North America may have a hard time picturing the hot, dry summers of Australia, but summer is nearly upon us.  Well, it would be if we were actually there.  On October 29, my wife and I boarded a flight to Singapore, then another to Munich.  Our final destination was the sub Alpine city of Turin, Italy.  It will soon be winter here if global warming doesn’t interfere.  We must be crazy, right?

This adventure began, as most of them do, with a serendipitous meeting several months back.  A colleague of my wife suggested that she look into teaching a course at a brand new, private university that was being set up in Turin. The teaching would fit into the semester break at Melbourne.  The downside is that,  in addition to teaching a new course, my wife will be consumed with marking papers and exams for the next three weeks.

For me, it is a wonderful opportunity to learn a little Italian, a language I actually studied for one semester at University some forty years ago simply because I loved the sound of it. When you arrive in a new city it seems like the parameters of your world are very small.  You hardly know anyone and there are a limited number of things that occupy your time.  Sleeping, eating, and looking for affordable accommodation.

This city may be cheap compared to Rome or Paris, but it is certainly expensive compared to Melbourne, especially now that the Australian dollar has taken a beating.  One euro is roughly equivalent to two Australian dollars.  And everything costs at least what it would in Australia, only in euros.

November 1 was All Saints Day, which is an official holiday in this part of the world. Entire families were out walking the streets and most of the stores were closed.  Our hotel is not far from Via Roma, which has every luxury shop I have heard of and quite a few I haven’t.  The Italians really have nailed that market. It never occurred to me how many of those brand names were Italian until we took a stroll down Via Roma.

Both sides of the street are covered with porticoes protecting the wide sidewalks below.  It is a wonderful avenue for strolling, a semi-enclosed Fifth Avenue. At one time, Via Roma led to its namesake (as all roads do), but a grand train station was plunked in the way 150 years ago.  If you were going to Rome by car you would have to take a slight detour.  By train, of course, it is very convenient.

Turin is home to most of the factories that produce Fiats.  It is an industrial city as well as the administrative center of the region of Piedmont.  It is Italy’s fourth largest city, with a population that hovers around a million inhabitants. Renowned for its Baroque and Art Nouveau architecture, its museum of cinema, and its chocolates, Turin indulges its artists like a patron saint.  In Piazza San Carlo. a moving photographic exhibit based on Buddhist texts caught my eye.  Our stroll took us down to the Piazza Castello, then over to the spectacular Mole Antonelliana.

Originally intended as a synagogue, this stunning building quickly became more expensive than its clients felt they could afford.  It was eventually taken over by the town council.  Begun in 1863, the structure was  completed in 1889.  Until a high wind broke off 47 meters (154 feet) of the spire in 1953, it was Europe’s highest brick building.  More on this later, after I have been inside and seen the Museo del Cinema, a unique, vertical museum.

The Mole is a short walk from the Po, the liquid highway that brought the Romans to this site.  Our stroll led us, inevitably, to the charming park along its bank, the Parco del Valentino.  Stay tuned.  There is much, much more to come.

Ciao for now.

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