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Jonathan Boardman

01 May 2015

ISTOCK

When in Turin. . .

TURIN (Torino, in Italian) was the first seat of government of Unified Italy, and, in spite of the fact that it handed on the honours first to Florence, and then to Rome, it still feels like a capital city.

I took pleasure in its handsome, spacious squares, and broad thoroughfares lined with arcades as I strolled round the town before my church meetings.

Eating in an excellent restaurant (the Antica Porta di Savona, in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II), asking directions, and observing passers-by, I was unable to identify behaviour betraying the character attributed by other Italians to the city's inhabitants: Torinesi, falsi e cortesi - "Ceremonious liars". The shop fronts, cafés, and street furniture are curiously old-fashioned, recalling Britain in the Fifties, and so might be referred to as evidence for the first part of the description.

But perhaps it is simply their isolation, almost circled by mountains, and historically linked most strongly with the Haute Savoie and the Côte d'Azur, that has led Peninsular Italians to distrust the Piedmontese.

Certainly, their 19th-century reputation as the "Prussians" of Italy, a race of efficient warriors, without whom the Risorgimento would never have got going, let alone succeeded, might have led to their inspiring fear among the stereotypical, easygoing, dolce-vita-loving Southerners.

My most extended conversation with locals occurred while attending the opera at the Teatro Regio. I was seated next to two well-dressed women of a certain age, who expressed enthusiastic approval of the singing, costumes, and scenery for Bellini's I Puritani, "The Puritans". I must admit, although enchanted by the expert display of coloratura, I was personally at a loss to understand the Gothic-horror approach to the English Civil War.

Noisily proffered sweets from my neighbours softened the blow. "Do you have opera in England?" one of them asked, during an especially florid passage. Attempting to observe the convention of not talking during the performance, I murmured an affirmative, and nodded.

She continued: "We have a subscription, but we don't like everything they do. Can you imagine? In The Turk in Italy they drove a Vespa on stage, and the 'Turk' himself looked like my butcher."

The other one joined in: "I went to a show in New York, at the Metropolitan Opera, and do you know - they were singing in Italian!"

Unable to freight further murmuring with any response to these expressions of outrage, I limited myself to bowing slightly, and raising my eyebrows. Maybe it was beginning to rub off - falso e cortese. 


Rose-tinted glasses

MY IMMEDIATE predecessor as Chaplain of All Saints', Rome, Canon Geoffrey Evans, died recently. I often reflect when people comment on the romance of my title "Archdeacon of Italy and Malta" that Canon Geoffrey had held an even more suggestive office as "Archdeacon of the Aegean".

The recent linking of Italy and Malta in news reports of the tragic deaths of thousands of refugees in their attempt to cross the narrow seas between North Africa and the European islands has rather brought my title down to earth.

As I have reported occasionally here before, our Italian chaplaincies include many people who originally entered Italy illegally, with stories of migration of biblical proportions. The diocese in Europe's 2014 Bishops' Advent appeal was dedicated to a relief project on the island of Lampedusa, and has recently delivered, in a most timely fashion, nearly €30,000.

Truth to tell, it's not only a life of pasta, chianti, and opera lirica over here. My guess would be that Canon Geoffrey's Aegean ministry also had its encounters with hard-nosed reality. 


Episcopal benchmark

AT A recent dinner to mark the centenary of the refounding of Bolton School, I sat next to a fellow-former Captain of School, David Glassman.

After a productive business career, David now acts as a coach and mentor to those who aspire to the same. As Jew and Christian, we fell to talking about the entry of women into our respective clerum, and breaking through glass ceilings in general, whether stained or not.

David repeated the question whether it was necessary for Anglican women bishops to be married to other clergy. I liked the neatness of his aphorism: "We'll know we've got equality when the incompetent women arrive. Roll on incompetence."


All sewn up

BACK from Bolton to Turin and/or Venice. While I ran from the vaporetto to catch a train for Turin, I felt my trousers split. O Santo Cielo!

On tour with only one pair of pants, I needed a sarta, a seamstress. Remember I said Turin was old-fashioned? I found one directly opposite my hotel, although I'm sure they are located in every street.

She tutted a bit about my taking off the trousers and requiring instant repair (a curtained cubicle for fittings saving our worst blushes), but refrained from false courtesy - even double stitching the seam and doing it for nothing. Grazie mille. 

The Ven. Jonathan Boardman is the Archdeacon of Italy and Malta, and Chaplain of All Saints', Rome.

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