First, I must apologize for it taking so long to get to this. Life intervened, as usual, with the last and largest interruption being eye surgery to remove cataracts. First surgery was Jan. 4, the second today. I’m writing one-eyed this evening, but that eye is working well without glasses for the first time since I was 10 years old. It’s a brand new world. But I digress.
On that Sunday morning, Dec. 5, Jonathan and I barely made it to breakfast (the only place in town where the supply of Cafe American never runs out), both of us hung over as well as totally stupefied. We knew for sure we’d be winning something at the awards when we were carefully seated on the middle aisle with one of our “tenders” parked alongside us to translate. But receiving four awards really bowled us over. Then, of course, after the awards we were hustled off to a banquet in one of those gloriously attired old mansion ballrooms (I have no idea where) and fed quarts of sati spumone, assorted pastas and untold tiny desserts. Total psychic and gastronomic overload.
After coffee we gradually came to our senses and attempted to plot out our one remaining day so we could find somewhere to buy delicacies of Italian origin to bring back to friends and family. In the middle of that, I heard someone mispronouncing my name, and discovered I had a phone call. Of course, since I knew barely anyone in Torino, my first thought was, My God, my dog has died!, because why would anyone otherwise pay international rates to call me?
But no, it was Elisabette, calling to offer a tour of the town courtesy of her and her New York-born husband, Vinnie. After a fruitless stroll through old town trying to find stores that were open on a Sunday, we called and accepted, and they took us to the mall.
Yes, it’s true. Although the entire city appears to be comprised of city blocks that hold just one building each, inset with shops and topped with apartments (photo), in fact there are a few places that are exempt.
For one, the old Fiat factory. (hoot). For another, the original bottling plant of Martini and Rossi vermouth. It’s a little known fact that Martini actually refers to the vermouth, and more than one Italian has thought they were being poisoned when they came to the U.S. and ordered a Martini, only to be fed this horrible concoction consisting of 99 parts gin and a small whiff of vermouth. Who knew?
At any rate, we first took in the bottling plant, which has been converted into the original Eatily super Italian food and wine store. The aroma of vermouth is very faint but is still detectable in some areas, particularly around the wine and cheese cellars. We shopped, bought cheese, hazelnut and chocolate confections, and spoons carved of olive wood. Our hosts purchased wine in a two-and-something-liter refillable bottle, and we went away happy -well, almost. Jonathan, who had been searching high and low for a suitable holiday gift for daughter Hannah, was still empty-handed. So we went next door to the larger mall, and saw what had become of the once world-famous factory. At its center is a monumental spiral of the kind that winds up the middle of American parking garages. Only this one was open, and another example of the much-maligned Italian engineer. Floors of stores spun off its exits. But its original purpose could still be divined. Once, finished little sports cars had sped up the ramp to the top of the building where, in an urban area where land was at a premium, test drivers put them through their paces on a high speed track constructed especially for such purposes atop the building. Amazing.
After the mall, we adjourned once again to the trattoria of which we had become so fond, and where Elisabette and Vinnie had never been, and dove into a last feast of homemade pasta, the local house wine, an antipasto of grilled eggplant and artichokes, all followed by a chocolate and pear tart. Unforgettable all. My sincere thanks to the Winter’s Bone team that sent me, and the Torino Festival folks who so generously hosted me. It was an adventure I will remember always.