"Turin: A Memory" #WritefortheDanteSocietyBC!
Thank you Renato Zane for the moving recollection about your city, Torino, back in the 1970s!
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About the author, Renato Zane:
Renato Zane is a leadership consultant and podcast host. He works with business clients interested in performance coaching. Previously, he was a journalist, newsroom director and general manager at Rogers Sports and Media. His career at OMNI Television and Citytv spanned 32-years in three provinces. He holds a B.A. degree in English Literature from the University of Toronto. Renato was born in Torino.
Check Renato's full story here below & in the attached document!
"Turin: A Memory" (Torino: Un ricordo)
by Renato Zane
The 1970s in Italy were known as the "Years of Lead," because of a series of shootings and assassinations related to left-wing militant groups. But despite that climate of uncertainty and fear, the 70s were for me a time of exploration and personal growth. I was a visitor there in the summers of my youth, rediscovering the city of my birth, Torino, and I have fond memories of that period.
I was in my early teens and everything held interest for me. The city was a wonderous stage. Torino was, and still is, a place of wide avenues, pedestrian areas, and piazzas. Early in its history, the Romans enlarged an existing settlement, transforming it into a walled town. It sits on the banks of the Po River that flows down from the nearby Alps, and its location on the fluvial plain offers majestic views of the mountains.
Our family visited my grandfather in the summer. He lived on Largo Luca della Robbia, in the western part of the city, a street of apartment buildings and small businesses that faced onto a small triangular park, with benches and a children's play area. My grandfather was in his late sixties, a widower, and he shared a home with his sister. The house backed onto a small tool-and-die factory that rented the space from him. My early memories of that place were of my brothers and me playing in the dusty courtyard that also served as the driveway for the factory. The machines ran pretty much all day, but neither the workers nor the daily deliveries ever stopped us from a good soccer game with a soft beach ball.
The best way to get downtown was on the Number 6 tram that started its run from in front of a shoe store around the corner. The shoe boxes were open and displayed on the steps around the front door. The smell of new leather wafted around the transit stop. My brothers and I would usually travel with my parents or with my grandfather. My nonno was an elegant dresser who never went anywhere without his Borsalino fedora or a jacket, no matter how warm the weather. He was a dignified man and we all admired him.
The streetcar would roll down Corso Francia to the center of town. Each trip opened up new experiences for me, as I had grown up outside of the country and wasn't used to the way of life there. Most mornings we'd stop at the market, where under the tent-like canopies, we'd catch up on the neighborhood news, surrounded by the smells of fresh produce and the sounds of vendors shouting the specials of the day. My grandfather would tell us stories about many of the people we'd meet there. We listened to all of them.
And so, the currents of life in Torino would flow through these trips. The proud locals, Piemontesi, would grumble about the influx of laborers from other parts of Italy, drawn to the city by the many manufacturing jobs generated by the automotive giant FIAT. The migrant families, many from Calabria and Sicily, would bring their own traditions and lifestyle to Torino, and the locals didn't always like it. The city had, for a short period in the 1860s, been the capital of Italy, and the Piemontesi clung to a certain collective sense of decorum. They grumbled about the number of people who shared apartments in poverty. One story that made the rounds was that some families filled their bathtubs with soil to grow vegetables in them. Whether true or not, this left an impression on me, as it laid bare the divisions between people from different regions.
Torino's downtown, in contrast to some of those large housing developments, is still a place of stately promenades. Fancy storefronts are set back from the street under some of the longest porticoed pedestrian areas in the world. Sundays brought everyone together in long passeggiate and chats along Via Roma, with stops at the elegant cafes, like the historic Al Bicerin. The avenues that lead downtown are lined with majestic trees. Riding the trams, I relished the unique odour of charred leaves, burned when the trolley poles from the streetcars sparked on the wires near the tree branches. In the autumn, the air was also scented with the aroma of roasted chestnuts from street vendors.
But the 1970s in Italy, as we said earlier, were turbulent years. The Red Brigades, a left-wing terrorist group, was conducting a bloody campaign to topple the government and force the country to abandon its membership in NATO. Terrorists kidnapped wealthy industrialists for ransom money. Several prominent officials, including Prime Minister Aldo Moro, were killed. Banks and jewelry stores were common targets for robberies. As a result, many of these public buildings were turned into fortresses, with bullet-proof windows and guards standing watch with automatic weapons in hand. I was fascinated by police activity on the roads, with officers driving fast through traffic in their Alfa Romeos, sirens wailing. It was somewhat disconcerting as a young teenager to see all of this, but also somewhat thrilling.
Despite this tension, the summer brought the most pleasant experiences for me. And while the city was fascinating, it was my grandfather's life and neighborhood that brought it into focus for me. The time with him was special. He was a retired foreman who had worked at a custom body shop, overseeing the transformation of standard production cars into ambulances, hearses and other special-purpose vehicles. He enjoyed our visits greatly, and would sit at his worn, wooden table in the kitchen, holding on to his glass mug filled with his favorite red Barbera wine; a pose that on that large table sometimes late in the evening made him look like a shipwrecked sailor who had developed a fond attachment to the lifesaver that kept him above the waves. He would look at us over his rosy cheeks and talk about everything.
He was a rotund man with an impish sense of humor and was a joy to be around. At the age of 67, he once joined my brothers and me, suit and all, in a maniacal sprint along more than sixty meters of sidewalk to see who'd make it home first. He was astoundingly fast and I can confirm he did not come last. Our run could have killed him that day; but he had a source of inner strength that came from somewhere deep and mysterious.
In the mornings, I'd accompany him to buy milk, eggs and a newspaper at the dairy on the corner. I still remember the shop owner vividly; a tall, bald man in his sixties with a dramatic horseshoe-shaped indentation in his forehead that was said to have been caused by a mule kicking him when he was young.
Just a few doors down from the dairy, people would go in and out of the local bar. Most nights after dinner, my brothers and I would accompany my grandfather for a stroll and he would buy us gelato and then stay and chat with the barista and area residents over a caffe' corretto, coffee bolstered with a shot of cognac or grappa. While he talked, hat on the counter, we'd compete at the pinball machine. Those were magical summer nights. The entire neighborhood seemed to step outside after 9 PM, as adults and children alike descended on the little neighbourhood park. People walked their dogs, children played and couples sat on the benches and talked and talked; sometimes until after midnight. A watermelon concession, set up on one end of the parkette, lit up with fluorescent lights, offered lawn chairs and attracted customers until the early hours of the morning.
I remember sitting at the window of my grandfather's house watching the girls come and go, stealing furtive glances at them and they at me in a kind of unspoken game. I had a particular crush on a tall girl with short black hair, who used to walk up and down in a short dress, always in the company of friends, joking and laughing. She was a bit awkward, too. Flat-footed, she walked with a slight limp because for some reason one leg was shorter than the other, but that never seemed to bother her. We had an unspoken connection going, and she warmed my young heart. And I regularly felt my stomach drop, when at a certain hour, she straddled the back of a green Kawasaki sport motorcycle, wrapped her arms around the waist of a twenty-something guy, and then powered away to somewhere or something far more exciting than our little park.
My Torino is tied to that neighborhood and that period of my life. As I grew older, I learned and appreciated other aspects of the city and its people. Over time, I changed and the city changed; but in my mind the memories of that corner of Torino, at that particular time, won't.
A few links:
Torino’s cafés: http://slowitaly.yourguidetoitaly.com/2012/02/best-historic-cafes-of-turin/
A couple’s travel perspective: https://offbeatescapades.com/is-turin-worth-visiting-italy-hidden-gem/
Seeing Torino by vintage tram: http://www.dearitaly.com/piemonte/torino-citta/visitare-torino-in-tram/