Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Advice to travelers

Welcome me home. Yes, after a fine honeymoon, with no groom, and after a couple of rough days of travel, I am home, home again. Without plans for big trips for a while. Whew.

But before I leave topics Italian completely, let me offer you one piece of advice.

If you want to visit an Olympic host city, do so after the games, not before.

Torino, capital of the Italian Piemonte region, will host the 20th Olympic Winter Games in February 2006. The city is psyched: there are special Olympic Stores all over the place, not to mention the ubiquitous rings and stylized torch in front of the Porta Nuova train station.

But unless you are more interested in seeing construction sites than touristic sites, you might rather not be part of the lead-up frenzy.

Touristic. That is one of those words we don't really use in English. In fact, per my dictionary, the adjectival form of "tourist" is "tourist." (It can be an adverb too--how efficient.) But because Italians can talk about "siti touristici," then their pamphlet translations use this new specially adjectivized form of the word. So presto, now it is an English word, and I kind of like it.

If you have traveled in Europe recently, then you have seen the new way of handling sites under restoration. Used to be there would just be plain old scaffolding over the thing being fixed. But is a Tyvec-wrapped scaffold any substitute for the actual facade of the cathedral in Orvieto? And if you have traveled thousands of miles to see the thing, is the greater cultural enrichment of Europe really what you are thinking of as you stand there in the square, your camera lowered?

So now those scaffolds are hidden in boxes, covered with some kind of sign material, often including a photo of the thing that is in restauro. For instance, this beautiful bridge across the Po has bronze statues at its four corners, allegories of Piety, Valor, Art and Industry. Now there is an allegory of Restoration--complete with its generous donors, each of whom gets space on the box for a logo. See? This way you get to see the statue even while it is being worked on--see it in that Age of Mechanical Reproduction kind of way. What might Walter B. say has happened to the statue's aura?

I am all in favor of new underground parking decks to replace the use of Turin's magnificent baroque piazzas as parking lots, but trust me that having an espresso in one of the city's famous cafes is not the same with a different view.

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