Great grandma`s memories of Turin

nonna today
Nonnabis (97) – the great grandma of my son

This is not a fairy tale about princesses, mannequins, witches and football players. It´s  simply stories from the adventurous life of an elderly woman living in Turin. If you want to learn more about the story of Turin, then this is well worth the read.

One evening after work, I visited as usual the apartment of “Nonnabis“. She is the 97 years old great-grandmother to my son! She was as I expected both pleased and surprised, since the phone was not working (or she couldn`t hear it?) and she didn´t know I was coming. But she was immediately ready for the interview!

Actually, Mariuccia which she is originally called, was very happy about the task! There is little she likes better than talking about the good old days. I decided to give her free reins…

It ended up with her pulling off the most glamorous and romantic memories. What else can we expect from a true Italian lady?


Some photos from the past…

I did expect some more stories about her animals. Me and nonnabis are good friends, and she is one of the biggest animal lovers I know. She often tells me the stories about her father´s mule or her mothers chickens. While the mule pulled the wagon, it stopped automatically outside every bar in town. Who knows the owner`s habits better than their four legged friend? But today she prefered to talk about love and fashion…

Once upon a time Turin was known for its female tailors. They were a large and important group in the city called “Sarte di Torino”.

These industrious ladies got materials for their outfits from an association entitled “La camera del lavoro”, a kind of an employment office. In return, they made clothes that led to publicity for the association. Once a year, the tailors made a fashion show in via Po, which lies in the middle of Turin. It was to show off their self-produced wardrobe and generate more publicity about their work.

Nonnabis remember very well the one and only year she participated in it. The mother and her fiancee followed her to the happening, since there were no trains that could take her back home after the show. She lived on a farm just outside Turin, close to the railway which bounded  the two towns Rivoli and Turin together. Today it may be noted that the train has been taken away, and the new underground is only going halfway!

The public transport system was actually better before than today.

There were several reasons why this day was so memorable for Mariuccia. All the tailors went of course to the hairdresser in via Roma (Turin’s finest shopping street), just as it should be for beautiful Italian ladies. But she also remembered that the director of the labor office, Trinelli, repeatedly said that she should have lost weight. The pressure to be thin was already present at that time in the fashion world!

In the midst of the demonstration, she had in despite of that been asked to flutter a bit with the skirts she was wearing under a big coat. When everyone clapped, her fiancee got so jealous and out of rage that he went straight home without her!

At the end of the show she was unfortunate to stumble and fell down the stairs of the catwalk. There went a roar through the audience, but she was luckily not getting hurt! I can imagine that both she and her mother giggled a lot in the taxi on the way home.

All this happened in the interwar period, when fascism was at its strongest, and Turin was still the fashion city before Milan.

It was at that time that the dictator Benito Mussolini gave a speech on piazza Castello (the square of the Castle) just before he went to his famous attack on France. Mariuccia well remember his speech, not so much because of the political issues, but because of a new jealousy drama!

To be able to see the dictator better, she got offered by a young man to hoist herself up by holding on to his shoulder. At that moment her fiancee arrived… When he saw that she held his hand on the unknown mans shoulder, he was not slow to turn on his heel and go away – once again! Mariuccia`s fiancee was an important man, he was in fact an officer in the Army during World War 2 and had a lot of temper.

The reason why her fiancee was so jealous, was perhaps because Mariuccia had so many admirers. Close by where she grew up, was in fact the most popular dance hall in the area. She and her sisters frequented the place when they were young, and they actually met many handsome men.

One of those who supposedly was interested in our lady, was none other than a professional soccer player from Turin soccer club.

If he was one of those who perished in the terrible plane crash at the Church of Superga afterwards, or whether he was hit and killed by a car, we don`t know for sure. It´s not easy to remember everything for a 97-year-old woman.

Før facismens tid var det kongelig styresett i landet, og selvfølgelig har Mariuccia også opplevd et møte med de kongelige på nært hold! Som elev i barneskolen fikk hun æren av å gi blomster til prinsesse Maria Josè av Belgia da hun besøkte skolen hennes. Dette var før hun ble kronet til landets siste dronning, noe som er med på å understreke hvor lenge Mariuccia faktisk har levd!

Before the period of Facism the country was under royal governance. Of course Mariuccia also experienced an encounter with the royalty up close!

As a student in elementary school, she got the honor of giving flowers to Princess Maria Josè of Belgium when she visited her school. This was before she was crowned as the country’s last queen, which helps us to understand better how long Mariuccia has actually lived!

The school this concerns lay in the middle of “Villaggio Leumann“, a historically known cotton factory in Collegno.

The owner Napoleone Leumann was a historical figure because he built an entire village for his workers. He wanted that all the families should have a separate home in private ownership. He hoped in this way to create a greater job satisfaction and increase productivity in the factory. These houses can still be visited today. I’ve even lived close by for 2 years, on the property of Mariuccia`s old farm. It’s just such a shame that the  successors of these families don`t keep them in a good condition.

It wasn`t only heydays at Mariuccia´s elementary school. She remembers well the teacher that mistreated the students as much as possible.

Also Mariuccia was unfortunately a victim of her abuse. In addition to being the witch of the school, the teacher was also a true facist. When the period of the Fascism ended, her previously abused pupils took revenge and they cut off all her hair in the middle of the schoolyard. This was the usual punishment for female fascists at that time.

Det er lite som har preget hennes liv sterkere enn 2. verdenskrig som kom litt senere. Hun har flere ganger fortalt om at hennes yngste barn ble født mens bombene falt like ved. Men denne kvelden foretrakk hun altså å snakke om hyggeligere ting!

There is little that has marked her life stronger than the Second World War that arrived a little later.

She has repeatedly told that her youngest child was born while the bombs fell nearby. But this evening she preferred to talk about nicer things!

You may wonder how it went with Mariuccia and her boyfriend? Sure, they got married eventually, but her life didn´t get as sparkling as it was before. She had nicely to quit her job as a tailor and stay at home with their two children. At that time it was common for men to meet at the bar after work, where they smoked, played cards and drank wine, while the women did their domestic duties.

As early as 50 years old she became a widow, and after that she has enjoyed a good pension and a greater freedom. She has understandably never got married again, and few have had such a good and long life as her. Every summer she used to live by the sea in Liguria.

Today she misses the times when she had lunch with her friends at Turin’s finest bar, called “Barattino” in piazza Castello. She also misses her friends who regularly came together for playing cards. Today, almost all of them have passed away, and it is not easy to be the one who survives everybody!

What has changed the most in Turin according to Mariuccia, is precisely that there’s been too few fashion shows lately!

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