I could almost trace the place it was when Alexandre Dumas (the father), Nietzsche and Giacomo Puccini sipped a Bicerin there. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to walk in looking like another Chinese tourist unable to speak Italian and just shout out “Bicerin” (a coffee, cream, chocolate drink invented in this cafe and something you’re told you must drink before leaving Turin) but I did and I felt sorry for the historical cafe for doing it.
Who knew that red velvet bench seats, marble tables, little wooden chairs, and a mirrored and wooden wall paneling would not photograph well together. A materially rich environment was suddenly made cheap by its image. I had the whole place to myself for a good 15 minutes just sipping on a Bicerin, perfect conditions for some iPhone photography. I tried again and again but nothing, not even a cropped, Instagram filter could make it look interesting. The shadow was too illusive. (the photographs you see below required a second visit from another trip except for the first image)
As I sat there, I watched the other tourists stumbling in and one was a real Chinese tourist, a man with his family, a wife and a child I never got to see. He did something similar to me. He said the word “Bicerin” and then held up three fingers and then pointed outside. However a few moments later, he realized that the real experience of the cafe was inside and so he sat down and waited for his drink. His wife never joined him. I imagined it went something like this. She having never seen the inside wanted to stay out in the good weather or simply didn’t care for historical experiences and he felt differently.
Once his drink arrived, he slowly sipped his Bicerin while looking at his phone and I did the same. For awhile, it was just the two of us and a local Italian lady defiantly ignoring us as she read the newspaper, had an espresso and chatted with the proprietress.
Then a waitress went to the Chinese man and said that his wife had already paid for his drink. He didn’t seem alarmed by this in the beginning but then once he got up and found his wife was no longer there, the speed of his movements changed.
I also left around the same time and saw him later across the street, looking erratically around him, frantically texting, and speed walking to a place he didn’t know.
I kept reading that Turin was the Baroque city which was causing concern. Having defined myself as not liking Rococo a long time ago, I wondered what is Baroque and wasn’t there also Barocco? A few seconds later, I got it all straight with the help of Google and learned Rococo was simply late Baroque (French) and Barroco the Italian word for Baroque. Therefore, Baroque seemed to hold some promise of pleasure. In my pursuit, I found what appeared to be the quintessential essay on the topic by one of my favorite art historians, Erwin Panofsky called “What is Baroque?” For a long time, he used it as his go-to lecture, one of those things you have memorized and rattled off at any speaking engagement.
One phrase he used (in parentheses no less) stuck with me from the essay and I used it to inform how I could tell a Baroque church from a Renaissance one. Statues or columns that looked “painfully incarcerated” in their little alcoves were Renaissance and any statue that looked as though he was in a state of ecstasy having broke free (along with elements of the the outdoors such as sunbeams or clouds) was Baroque. I had a ball classifying things into the Baroque or Renaissance, thinking to myself ‘darling, you look incarcerated.’ Sadly, when I returned home I realized the Basilica di Santa Maria Ausiliatrice close to my guesthouse was not Renaissance but Neoclassical.