Friday it was more of the same, except that nothing is ever more of the same in this far-away place. More walking, more exploring, and getting caught unprepared for restaurant closings. This time we ended up at a little hole-in-the-wall Kabob place, where Jonathan ate a whole baked fish and I dove into a thing called Moussaka but unlike any I’d had. The lamb for it was roasted on a spit set into the wall, and the cook used an odd little electric slicer to shave off thin slices perfectly cooked, and put them atop the mush of stewed tomatoes and eggplant that made up the base as well as the sauce for the lamb. It was, as they say, slap your grandmother good (meaning, I suppose, that you’d slap your grandmother if she tried to take some). It was that good, and I loved my grandmother – well, one of them, at any rate. The other had a mean streak and it was best to stay out of her way. But I digress.
What made us miss lunch was a trip to the festival office, which we probably should have done earlier had we not been so delightfully disoriented. Truth is, it took us that long to find it. Once there, though, we met Elisabette Bassignana, who had arranged our travel itineraries for us. A slim, 60-ish woman whose English was impeccable and who helped us weave our way through the twists and turns of Italian train schedules. For we had decided to go to Alba.
The reasons for this were numerous, starting with the difficulty of determining actual distances from the maps in various guidebooks. We, or at least I, had originally set our sights on an area of the eastern Italian Riviera called Cinque (pronounced Chin-quay) Terra. It’s been designated as a national park because of its unique character, and is a little string of five villages on the coast which has no access by road. You can get there on the train, or by walking from the nearest train station. But you can’t drive there. The villages are old, well–kept, and have become a sort of get-away for the rich and/or eccentric. I thought we’d fit right in.
But when we suggested this trip for the next day (Saturday) it threw the entire festival headquarters into a panic, because the round trip would take eight hours, not counting stopping for lunch. And we’d be late for the awards show. After a hasty whispered conference, a woman we hadn’t met before came over and sat down on her heels before us, and said, sotto voice, “This is classified information, and you cannot breathe a word of this, but you absolutely cannot miss the awards show. You cannot.”
Well, at that point, we knew we’d won something. But we didn’t know what. And to ask would have been rude. So we said, well, what about Alba?
Now we’d already been eyeing Alba, so It wasn’t exactly a shot in the dark. Alba, about 30 miles south-by-southeast of Torino, is in the heart of Italy’s most famous wine country. It’s also the only place on earth where the white truffle grows. And the season, while well past the peak, wasn’t over yet. As good a second choice as we could find. Of course, we could have veered a little farther east to the town of Asti, which is, of course the first name in Asti Spumonte, and is its legendary home. However, eons ago, when the towns of Alba and Asti were kingdoms instead of towns, they regularly went to war. And Asti won almost every time. So we went with the underdog. And it was a splendid choice. Next time: the towers and truffles of Alba.