February 7, 2006


While the athletes of the world will soon descend upon this city for the Olympics, it is amazing to think of who once walked these streets.  Nostradamus apparently left a piece of his “code” on the Stone of Turin, symbols that apparently unlock secret texts of prophecies, and in 1556 scrawled “NOSTRADAMUS STAYED HERE” over a doorway in Torino.  Black masses are rumored to take place underground, with believers insisting that Torino, home of the famed shroud, is also the center of the magical universe, with the gates of hell beneath the many sidewalk cafes.

It is perhaps a happier thought that Erasmus graduated from the university of this city, as did many others of note.  One night while walking around, trying to get my bearings, I came across Via Gramsci, and with a little prodding, discovered that Antonio Gramsci attended university in Torino in 1911 on scholarship, several years before he was arrested because of his opposition to Mussolini.  At his trial, Mussolini said of Gramsci, “We have to prevent that this mind continue thinking.”  Gramsci’s writings, which he produced in prison, have been amongst the most influential on my own work, and it was quite amazing to find myself on a street named for him.  Another graduate of the university was Primo Levi, who was born in Torino in 1919.  Levi enrolled in the university in 1937, but a year later the Fascist government created a series of laws that prevented Jewish students from pursuing higher education.  In spite of the new “racial laws,” as they were known, Levi graduated with a degree in chemistry in 1941.  Sent to a concentration camp in 1944, he gained freedom in 1945 and returned to Italy to write Survival in Auschwitz. 

While not native, Mozart enjoyed visiting Torino quite frequently, and Friedrich Nietzsche, who famously loved Italy, often came to Torino to write, and experienced some of his early bouts with madness in the city.  The only madness I hope to experience is that which the Games bring, and it’s not long now.  And as the athletes arrive, I hope they take some time to walk the streets that Erasmus and Gramsci and Levi did – they’ll be in good company.

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