What’s common between the physicist and Spanish writer Agustin Fernandez Mallo and I? We could even have a parallel with thousands of other people who may have gone to trace a small distance and an exact spot in Torino, or Turin in English, a city in northern Italy. You may want to ask, what’s a man whispering into horse’s ears?
In March 2011, I travelled to Delhi to get my registration of architect from the Council of Architecture at India Habitat Center. This journey is remarkable and memorable as it signifies the successful transition from student to becoming a certified architect. I stayed the week at a friend’s place who, at the time, was a student of MA Political Science in the University of Delhi. I accompanied her to the university and attended a class on political philosophy. We sat on a back bench, and I took notes through the lecture so the professor wouldn’t doubt I was an outsider. The lecture was on the concept of Nietzsche’s philosophy of Übermensch on which the character of DC comics modern Superman is loosely based. It concluded with an event in his life, that altered him forever. Nietzsche had health issues since his childhood, and he moved to different cities in search of a climate conducive to his health. In Turin, on the night of 3rd January 1889, he stepped outside his apartment and walked a short distance where he witnessed the flogging of a horse at the Piazza Carlo, he ran to the horse, threw his arms up around its neck to protect it, and then collapsed to the ground. He is believed to have whispered into the horse’s ear: “Sing me a new song! The World is transformed, and all the Heavens sing for joy!”
This narrative really intrigued me, and I developed an attachment to this unknown place without having any knowledge about it. And it so happened that I had a chance to visit Turin, and the only thing I hoped to do was to walk along the path Nietzsche took and find that spot. On reaching Turin I bought a tourist map, and got into one of its cafes to figure out which direction to head. (Their coffee is really awesome!) Going around in Turin is a little difficult because I could barely connect the street names on the map with the ones on signboards. From the exit of the station, I had to take the middle street, which I did but rather returned from it half way to take its parallel street. However, a bit confused walking on a near-empty street I reached the Turin Cathedral and Royal Palace. Adjacent to it is the City Square of Palace Madama that houses a museum on whose steps at the rear end I sat wondering which way to pick. As luck would have it, I went in the direction of an arcade straight ahead when I should have taken a small lane on to the right. The arcade opened into another large plaza on the bank of the river Po, by then I knew I took the wrong path.
I had to take a train back to Milan the same day, with help from a kind gent who took the trouble to help me get on a correct bus to the station I returned, a little disappointed. But I carry with myself great memories that I am pretty sure I won’t forget! Recently, I found an article in Paris Review in which the physicist-writer recollects his journey reenacting the walk that led to Nietzsche’s breakdown in Turin. In 2011, a Hungarian movie called The Turin’s Horse was released based on this event in history depicting the repetitive daily lives of the horse-owner and his daughter.
“In Turin on 3rd January, 1889, Friedrich Nietzsche steps out of the doorway of number six, Via Carlo Alberto. Not far from him, the driver of a hansom cab is having trouble with a stubborn horse. Despite all his urging, the horse refuses to move, whereupon the driver loses his patience and takes his whip to it. Nietzsche comes up to the throng and puts an end to the brutal scene, throwing his arms around the horse’s neck, sobbing. His landlord takes him home, he lies motionless and silent for two days on a divan until he mutters the obligatory last words, ‘Mutter, ich bin dumm!’ [‘Mother, I am stupid!’ in German] and lives for another ten years, silent and demented, cared for by his mother and sisters. We do not know what happened to the horse.”