There is a universal ambience to all Catholic Churches around the world. On entering it takes a few minutes to become accustomed to the darkness. Shafts of light from stained glass windows and domes, pierce the cavernous nave. The air is a constant cellar like temperature, so it is cool in summer and perhaps seemingly warm in winter.
Then there is the unique smell: much more complex than musty, although there is a distinct element of that. The principle components are the scent of burning candle wax mixed with incense, merged with dark preserved wood. The latter is akin to the smell of well worn, polished wooden furniture that one finds in antique shops. The wooden benches in the choir stalls rubbed shiny smooth and moulded into gentle dimples by the countless rubbing, over centuries, of the buttocks of thousands of choir boys. Once a month Father Clementine gives them a good oiling and rub down with a genuine chamois – the benches of course, not the choir boys’ buttocks!
So it is the presence of smell and of light and the equal absence of sound that creates this distinctive marriage of the senses.
Invariably in every church or cathedral I enter, there will be at least one person, age not relevant, not obviously a tourist, sitting in quiet contemplation. Some kneel, some possibly shedding a tear or two and I find myself wondering what upheaval in life is confronting them?
My upheavals in life however around Avigliana can be attributed to the ubiquitous Fiat! The small model that is essential to navigating the cobblestoned streets and alleys. They are, as far as I am concerned, a mechanical version of the European Wasp. If I suddenly turn a corner and visualise a medieval street scene or piazza, worthy of an iPhone picture, there hugging the central XII century fountain is a XXI century Fiat. Usually at least two and mostly three. There is an obvious “Parcheggio vietato” sign, but of course Fiats can’t read can they?
If it is a bad day, the Fiats are displaced by a large council rubbish truck. All of them have a debilitating sense of permanency – being in a siesta – as are their drivers.
I am cycling along at a reasonable pace on a main road and all seems quixotically quiet. A narrow cobblestone alley on my left leads to a gradual ascent to the “old town”, castle and church. I exit on this apparent pedestrian only thoroughfare. As God is my witness, within a few minutes, at least four Fiats, have turned into this very same narrow street rapidly coming up behind me. The one advantage is that whilst I need to dismount, a Fiat is of small enough width to allow passage between the convoy and my cycle and I, without risk of injury.
There is however a seemingly more insoluble confrontation between car and cycle. 4 Fiats from behind is a minor irritating hiccup compared to the sudden appearance on the cobblestones ahead of a late model Audi Station Wagon noisily bumping down on you and bicycle. It’s twice as wide as a Fiat and much more aggressive.
The ONLY solution is for one to dismount, knock frantically on the iron security gate of a local apartment and ask the housewife if she wouldn’t mind if you and your bike could occupy the front room for a few seconds to let a car pass?
Finally, street and traffic signs are a futile attempt by the civic fathers to promote law and order for pedestrian, cyclist and car. They are universally ignored and the ignorant are above the law! I have a sudden, fleeting sense that I am about to meet my maker, as I cycle with some momentum along a busy main road and suddenly there in front is a car parked on the side of the road, facing me! I do a quick check! Fuck ! Am I riding on the wrong side of the road? Was that keep to the left or the right? It is all too much for a senior Australian citizen.