Wow, what a wonderful city Turin is! Full of cafes, full with culture, elegant and delicious. A millefeuille of culture(s) and of history(ies), framed by the Alps and signed by the river Po’.
For moments I could not help but feel proud of my heritage from my grand mother side: illegitimate but acknowledged descendants of the Savoia Kingdom! Yes, of the King Vittorio Emanule II himself!!
But “SHHH, don’t say that too loud”, would whisper in shame my religious grandma, all red of the glamorous sin; because such royal embarrassment its not worth mentioning, for catholic sake! …And for the sake of a modest Fiat worker!
So my unrooted root has seeds in this part of the world that I rarely visit and don’t really know, but understand. The french piemontese patois dialect brings back all sorts of loving memories, (because the bad and sad ones we forget), of my grandma: Omi Rose. Tender recollection of my childhood spent eating the most delicious foods. Ingredients jumping right in from the garden below and from the mountains around. Dainty dishes straight out from my Omi Rose’ heart and from her cookbook – a precious gift inherited by her french aunt: the first woman to win the Cordon Bleu prize!
What fragrances and aromas! Lively with taste and scents that stoically survive time and death. Organic, vivid flavors that season my daily life as well as the gastronomical heritage of Turin!
Despite the usual italian midsummer rail strike in the Saharan heat, I walked from the train station of Torino Lingotto to the river. Not just any river but the longest in Italy. From there I lazed up along the Po’, past il Valentino, i Murazzi, past all the bridges. Then all the way to Piazza Castello for a creamy ice cone at the scenery square, before hopping the first bus, to meet with my professor. That in fact was the main reason I went to Turin: to visit an inspirational woman who happen to also be my american history professor during my student years at Genoa University. Valeria Gennaro Lerda is an international renown historian that has inspired many, many students and with which I had the privilege to write my thesis and to graduate with. Quite recently I also discovered that all along we had another subject that links us together: ART!
Despite my nomadic life style, through out these years, we have been keeping in touch, especially since the death of her late husband: Piero Lerda. That is when I suddenly discovered that Valeria was married to an artist! And what an artist! A philosopher, a poet: a painter.
Let me tell you this quite unique tale of a true intellectual with a proud academic curriculum embossed with a full spectrum of experiences. Television (RAI), Teaching (French language and literature), Library director (American Embassy USIS: United States Information Service), Founder of cultural organizations (Club de Jeunes in Nice), First lieutenant in the ‘Alpini’, Fine art apprentice (pupil of Vicenzo Alicandri), to mention few of his life highlights.
A piemontese man, I was saying, that has painted a hell of a storm of creations, quasi secretly, behind the art world back, behind the scene. Amazing!
Piero lived an active social life that contrasted or balanced out with a parallel private one dedicate to art. Or maybe a private passion cultivated in the solitude of long studio hours that run alongside his public social roles. Nevertheless each life informing the other, eventually colliding to explode into a myriad of paper shards, meticulously cut and pasted into colourful arrangements. Hundreds of collages blowing out of their edges, only to leave their centre empty like a hollow core with a deep message. Splinters fleeing their pages, flying away, only to be imprisoned again and to remind us that its on the periphery of life that we can still maybe imagine the remains of the illusion of freedom.
Piero’s private art practice is the result of a lifelong and restless research that has remained concealed to the most of us, only few close friends have savoured his humorous and poetic compositions.
In fact, a part from a handful of succesful early shows, Piero’s images and thoughts have climbed out reaching as far as paper and canvas but never directly confronting the art world. A conscious and controlled gist maybe to make a point? Maybe a position of protest against a superficial and unsatisfactory space?
Having said that, his prolific work has now finally been posthumously released to the public. Since Piero’s death in 2007, his wife Valeria has been on a loving and frantic mission in the name of Piero and of art. A very touching story indeed. For the past years Valeria has devoted her days and nights in long hours of organizing, cataloguing, rediscovering, interpreting Piero’s work in order to share it with a wider audience and with a public of keen viewers.
And this brings me back to the beginning of my story of why I went to Turin: To visit my professor Valeria and to see Piero Lerda’s work exhibited in a new show.
That experience I will tell in my next post….
… in the meantime this is Piero Lerda’s website: http://www.pierolerda.it/