Setting – Turin #SecretsofaHandbag
Today I want to talk about setting. Most of the times, the setting is vital to a story. It’s the stage where the action takes place, but it’s also part of the story in a more complex and intertwined way.
Even if I don’t openly state it anywhere in the book, the city where Secrets of a Handbag takes place is Turin.
I feel a bond with this town. Not only it’s the capital of the region I live in — Piedmont — but it’s also where I attended University for my advanced degree in Clinical, Forensic and Doping Chemistry. I never lived there, but it’s where I met two of my best friends, and I had an incredible time there. That’s why it holds a special place in my heart.
Turin is well known around the world for its cars, its industries, and its football teams. However, its reputation for being dull and grey is undeserved, because nothing could be farther from the truth.
Turin used to be a capital — of the Duchy of Savoy first, since 1563, then of the Kingdom of Sardinia and, in the end, of Italy between 1861 and 1865 — and, as such, has nothing to envy to many capitals around the world. There are many fascinating and gorgeous places and monuments, but, even if I’m going to tell you a little about them later, the places bound to my story are different, and more connected with my personal history.
The first is University of Turin Chemistry Department.
Diego, one of the main characters in Secrets of a Handbag, is a PhD student here. After he finds Elisa’s handbag on the bus, this is the first place he brings it, so it’s quite a relevant setting. It’s located in via Giuria, not far from Porta Nuova railway station.
When I was a student, I used to go to Turin by train each morning, then take the subway to the vicinity of the department and walk the last few blocks. The neighbourhood is not a fashionable one, but the place is full of life and students going back and forth between the university building on weekdays.
ne of the things I loved the most about the Department was its most ancient parts, such as its auditorium and the formal entrance hall. That’s where I discussed my dissertation and graduated, surrounded by wooden benches and history, the bored stares of family and friends and the encouraging smiles of my university mates.
The other thing I loved about the Chemistry Department was its proximity to the Parco del Valentino (Valentino Park). It’s mentioned in Secrets of a Handbag too. It’s where Diego and his friend, Tommaso go for lunch when the weather is good enough. It’s a huge — HUGE — public park along the west bank of the Po river, covering an area of 500000 square meters. Yeah, you read it right.
It’s where the Turin inhabitants go when they want to be surrounded by nature, for strolling or jogging or walking their dogs or canoeing on the river, and it’s so amazingly big that you forget you are in town.
But what about Elisa, the other main character in Secrets of a Handbag? She isn’t a chemistry student, she used to be a student of social studies and liberal arts and, as such, she belongs to a different part of town.
To tell the truth, at present, she is not attending many lessons so I won’t bother you with a description of that building. The place that really matters to her is the bookshop where she works.
Palmieri’s Bookshop is a figment of my imagination, but it could as well be real. And I know precisely where my imagination placed it. It would be at the end of via Accademia Albertina, almost on the corner with the renowned Via Po.
Via Po is the core of Turin’s centre, an elegant street, flanked by porches, shops, and traditional coffee shops. The road where the bookshop should be is a side street of Via Po, one of the many perpendicular streets that lead from Via Po towards Corso Vittorio Emanuele II.
Little side note. Turin’s streets and squares have many high-sounding names, but its inhabitants like to use nicknames and abbreviations. That’s why Corso Vittorio Emanuele II is friendly called Corso Vittorio, while Piazza Vittorio Veneto is just Piazza Vittorio (but is a different Vittorio). Corso Massimo D’Azeglio is Corso Massimo, and Via Madama Cristina is usually referred to as Via Madama. Confused? Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.
If you ever happen to go to Turin, one of the thing you are bound to notice is its extensive porches. They run along most of the central streets, white and majestic. In the evening, when the streetlights go on, the porticoes and palaces glow giving the city an air of elegance which rivals with Paris.
Strolling along Via Po in the direction of the Po river, you can reach the beautiful Piazza Vittorio Veneto, surrounded on three sides by palaces and porches and facing on the fourth side on a bridge leading to the Church of Gran Madre di Dio (Great Mother of God) — just Gran Madre for friends.
If you head in the opposite direction, Via Po opens into Piazza Castello, where the Royal Palace and Palazzo Madama are. Both are richly decorated, inside and outside.
The Royal Palace is also furnished, which makes the visit even more fascinating. Can you imagine? Retracing the steps of kings and queens among staircases and ancient tapestries, ballrooms and bedrooms?
What surprises me is that, not only most tours don’t include Turin, but Italians often don’t know it too. The positive side is, if you ever choose to visit Turin, you’ll rarely have to stand in long queues under the sun or wait for hours to get a ticket for a guided tour.
I wish you could all come here so that I can bring you sightseeing around Turin with me. I’d love to show you my favourite corners and views, but I know it’s impossible (soooo sad about this). If you want other touristic information, my husband Andrea is writing a post for his travel blog (link soon!). If you want to know more about Secrets of a Handbag’s settings, ask in the comments, and I’ll be super happy to answer.
Remember that you can read the first chapter of Secrets of a Handbag by subscribing to my newsletter. Stay tuned for more insights!