My last day in Turin and in Italy was going to be spent in a lazy way.
After the very good continental breakfasts in the Genovese hostel I was reluctant to return to the doughnut/brioche and a coffee offerings of the cafes. For someone who loves cake, I generally prefer a savoury or fruit based start to the day.
So I made a second attempt at an avocado and eggs breakfast. (The one in Bolzano having been buried in wafer thin ham and while good… not quite hitting the mark).
A Google search (other search engines are available) suggested Sweet Lab. The menu absolutely hit the spot and, catering for vegetarians and vegans, the likelihood of half a kilo of ham being dumped on top of the poached egg was minimal.
The cafe was styled with a 1940s/50s English tea shop motif, with added 1950s American pink and white striped waistcoats for the staff to wear: lots of delicate teapots and flowers everywhere. I took a seat outside at just after quarter past nine. By ten, there was a fairly lengthy queue for a table.
And the food? Amazing.
My next stop would be the Egyptian Museum shortly after midday and I strolled the arcades and porticos of the city centre. Turin is incredibly beautiful. Whereas Milan seems to have a central point of elegant covered shopping, Turin’s radiate out from the central square. Not quite as many as in Bologna but offering plenty of shade.
The city was incredibly busy in comparison with my visit here a month ago. On Friday, it was all feeling a bit too people-y and today I realised it had been because they had been in town for a six week period of Black Fridays. I wondered how that was working out because the shops were deserted today whereas yesterday it had appeared that people were shopping for armageddon – I wouldn’t go as far as saying that it looked like looting was taking place but nothing would have compelled me to enter Zara. It was like the Boxing Day sale at Next (when apparently it used to be worth queuing from 3am to get in).
Mask wearing had dropped and there were disconcerting levels of coughing and sneezing. I’m just not used to hearing this and strangely found myself thinking about scenes from World War Z. (Yes, I do have a vivid imagination).
And for goodness sake: cover your mouth and nose instead of hacking up in crowded places. It hasn’t taken people long to forget.
There were flea markets on in many of the streets (which I don’t recall seeing on my previous Saturday visit). It was mostly beautiful glassware but, of course, as a backpacker I wasn’t shopping.
I headed for the Egyptian Museum.
Why on earth would I go to a museum about Egypt in Italy? The museum in Turin is considered to be one of the best in the world outside of Cairo (which I have visited).
The story of the Museum, rather than the Egyptian artefacts although fab, is actually the most interesting aspect. That and the relationship between Italy and Egypt.
In 1563, the House of Savoy moved their seat of power from Chambery to Turin. At the time, the nobility were fairly keen on creating origin stories to justify their power. It was usual to look to religion and mythology to create epic stories for the dynasty.
The Savoy and Turin story became based on the excavation of a statue from Roman times in 1567. It was thought to be from an Egyptian temple and “proved” that Turin had a connection to Egypt. Other finds would go on to “confirm” this.
What wasn’t factored in was that the Romans had been as fascinated by Egypt as the 16th Century nobles were. Worship of Isis, the Egyptian goddess, was popular and what had been dug up in 1567 was from a Roman temple, not an actual Egyptian temple… but the seeds were sown and expeditions were sent to Egypt to learn more about the connection with Italy.
At first these expeditions were about learning but as Egypt and its histories became fashionable, the rich houses employed local agents to bring back artefacts to decorate their homes. They were not alone.
Muhammad Ali Pasha al-Mas’ud ibn Agha, also known as Muhammad Ali of Egypt became the de facto ruler of Egypt from 1805 to 1848, and is considered the founder of modern Egypt… though not actually Egyptian himself. He contracted with the Turin Museum to protect the antiquities that were rapidly being looted from the country and to implement a system of permissions for exploration.
Ali wanted to modernise Egypt and looked to Europe for inspiration – there are many research papers that consider and criticise this Europeanisation and cultural colonisation of the country… to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal, a grand opera should be commissioned: Aida.
Hold it, pub quiz afficionados… Aida ended up not being commissioned for the opening of the Suez Canal. It was actually commissioned later for the opening of the Khedivial Opera House in Cairo which later burned to thw ground in the 1970s and is now a carpark.
The opera was supposed to be firmly embedded in what archaeology was telling us about Egypt’s history rather than being focused on its myths and legends. It should be Egyptian. It was commissioned in 1868 by the Turkish Albanian leader, conceived of by a Frenchman, composed by an Italian, and produced by a Greek.
Ali was a huge fan of Giuseppe Verdi and asked him repeatedly. Verdi was reluctant. He didn’t like travel, he wasn’t interested in Egypt or its history and, having initially been invited to write a mere hymn for the opening of the Suez Canal was, frankly in my view, just being a bit pissy. Eventually, Verdi was won over by a sizeable wadge of cash.
Aida premiered on 24 December 1871, and invited dignitaries, politicians and critics were overjoyed, however, Verdi was not. Verdi had not been part of the Cairo premiere and he was furious to learn that the general public had not been allowed to attend the performance. As such, Verdi considered the performance at La Scala in Milan on 8 February 1872 to be the real premiere.
And before we all start congratulating Verdi on this egalitarian stance… remember, he didn’t like travel and he wasn’t interested in Egypt and he had actually refused to go to Cairo to oversee the production. He had joked that he was scared he might “get mummified”.
This morning saw my return journey to England and I have to say I’m surprised and relieved that this trip hasn’t been cut short by a pandemic.
The last two days in Turin have been stifling hot. There was a thunderstorm last night and I woke up to temperatures of 14°C… a bit parky compared to what I have become accustomed to.
However, the beauty of this is… instead of leaving a hot country dressed for the weather atvthe departure point of 32°C with a return to -3°C in England (yes, I’m exaggerating but you get the point)… I’m actually perfectly dressed for the end to end travel.
Sweet Lab looks lovely and your breakfast there is giving me breakfast envy. My dish of Rice Crispies seems a bit second rate now, haha.
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It was good. 😊
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I once flew back from Egypt in September. As my luggage is always over the allowance anyway, I hadn’t taken any jumpers, and arrived in Manchester dressed for 100 degree heat. This was not a good move.
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Oh I feel the shock of that!!!
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