Although I tend to refer to my stay in Italy as my ‘holiday’ (‘year abroad’ is way too scary), it may surprise you that I am actually here to work as an English language assistant. As part of my (very brief) training to equip me with the basic skills to do this, the language assistants from across Italy were summoned to a two day conference in Turin. If you’re au fait with your Italian geography (which I thought I was until confusion over which side of Italy Rome was on had me panicking that my connection flight was taking me straight back to Calabria), you’ll know that Turin is in the north west of Italy. And that Calabria is in the deep, deep South. Hence why I had to take two planes to get there, and why I decided to do that two days before the conference, thinking that for all the effort and expense I might as well throw in a mosey round Italy’s estranged capital at the same time.
My outbound flight was with Vueling, an airline that completely redefines the budget experience for the worse: Despite being an internal flight IN ITALY, everything – safety briefings, flight announcements, the little writing saying ‘life vest under your seat’ on the stowaway tables – was in Spanish. Surprisingly, the plane, which made a noise disarmingly like that of a shredder with a serious paper jam for the entire journey, arrived in one piece (late of course) at Rome airport, leaving me to dash through the terminal in a desperate bid to make my connection. Luckily I’m a born power walker.
It did feel odd though, being in Rome, a city that I have always wanted to visit, with the single goal of getting out of there again as quickly as possible. But then I had my sights set on Turin! City of power! City of industry! City of really, really, ridiculously massive buildings. So much baroque. As cities go, the centre of Turin is by no means large – you can pretty much walk it – but what it’s lacking in breadth it makes up for in height. It certainly feels grand and, if I’m honest, when I first arrived on Saturday night, a little intimidating. Still, as I went in search of all that the city had to offer, I found it increasingly inviting, to the point where I was pretty sad to say goodbye this morning. From its distinctive Mole Antonelliana (‘for a time the world’s tallest brick building’ – very impressive but frustratingly difficult to take a good photo of), to its superb Piazza San Carlo (‘Turin’s drawing room’!), to the famed Museo Egizio (where despite my best efforts I became one of those people that takes hundreds of photos of museum exhibits that never get looked at again), the city has plenty to excite and delight the eager tourist.
And then, of course, there’s the Holy Shroud. Although I had never heard of it until I planned this trip, I have since come to accept that it’s a pretty big deal. The Duomo in Turin houses a length of linen that mysteriously bears the imprint of a crucified man, that is now a well-entrenched holy relic. Although my DK guide (surely the most trusted source around) highlights the fact that a carbon dating test has completely ruled out the possibility of this being THE Shroud, the leaflet in the Duomo offers many persuasive arguments to the contrary. Whether you’re religious or not, though, the shroud IS impressive. I found myself somewhat mesmerised by the sad, solemn face gazing down before me. Even if the one on display is only a replica. Whose head is about five times the size of that of a normal human. Nevertheless, I could probably have watched it all afternoon, but was spared any difficulties that might have arisen from this as for just 80 cents I was able to purchase my own tiny textile copy.
It was with the Lord quite literally by my side, then, that I headed to the conference on Monday. I’ve got to admit, it was a relief to speak English. Don’t get me wrong, I would be really disappointed if I only made English friends while I’m here, but at the same time Italian is tiring. It’s impossible to have a casual conversation extending beyond ‘come stai?’, due to the level of concentration on my part that the whole exercise requires. So, for those two days, I indulged myself. Sadly, the event itself was a bit of a disappointment. The co-ordinator for the British council in Italy has recently left the organisation, taking with her, it seems, every scrap of useful information on starting a new life there. ‘Ask the french’ was the genuine response to most of our questions about the extremely complicated banking situation we were all trying to work through. That said, I did pick up some useful teaching tips and met some great people to go out for a birra with, and that’s got to be worth a flight.
Tomorrow is my first day in school and, I imagine, when all the hard work really begins. But, as an extremely cheery Spanish assistant from previous years pointed out to us, you just have to go in assuming that everything will go well. So that’s exactly what I’m going to do, and if I arrive on time, and don’t fall flat on my face in front of the students on the first day, then I’m gona call that a roaring success.