When this trip was in planning, I told my Italian teacher, “We’re going to Italy, to Turin and the Piedmont.” I expected applause; what I got was dismay. “Torino? Ma Torino non è Italia,” she said.
I understood her. My Italian teacher is a proud Roman and if she were a Florentine, Sicilian, Venetian, Napolitan or whatever she would have had the same reaction. Italy is a country of regions. Each is distinct and rich in local customs, cuisine, and language. Yes, even language because every region has at least one dialect.
“Of course Torino is Italia,” I said. “Isn’t it the birthplace of the modern Italian nation.? Wasn’t it Cavour, Piedmont’s politically cunning prime minister, and others who were the catalysts for the unification, the resorgimento, of Italy in 1861? Wasn’t Turin Italy’s first capital?”
She conceded, “Yes, you’re right. It is true. But, you know…” She trailed off as she shrugged her shoulders.
So why Torino? Because we want to know every part of Italy. We’ve been to to Venice, Milan, Florence, and Rome. Now, it’s Turin’s turn. We want to visit its many cafes, eat its delicious chocolates, drink its amazing wines, and visit its many artisan studios where tailors sew exquisitely fitted shirts, furniture makers carve elegant pieces for the home, and leather workers craft the finest bags. We even want to see its industry, and for a few days at least, to visit the famous Langhe region of Barolo wine. We want to mingle with its people to get to know a little about them and their way of life. Most of all we want to do all these things on our summer vacation without the accompanying hoards of tourists even though we are tourists ourselves.
Torino. Day One.
Our room at the Grand Hotel Sitea is what we asked for: A quiet room with a matrimonial bed and shower. This is a nice surprise; on other trips to Italy what we asked for and what we got had little relationship with each other. Our room is also much more. It’s enormous by European standards and cool even though its on the top floor under the eaves. It is so quiet that only the gentle whir of the well-behaved air conditioner breaks the silence. The ample bed has the softest white sheets and the lightest comforter. The bathroom has a big mirror, plenty of natural light, and an excellent shower that’s big enough so I can wash my hair without hitting my elbows on the tile walls around me. And, although not cheap, it’s less expensive than what we have paid in any other Italian city. It’s a lovely room and after the long journey from San Francisco, is most welcoming.
It’s also Sunday. Shops are closed. The streets are empty. But, we’re hungry and eager to try out some Piedmontese cuisine. At the front desk, the young man on duty enthusiastically recommends Kipling. Kipling? Not exactly what we had in mind, but he says that the food is good and besides it’s just a short walk. “You’ll like it,” he insists. We think that it may be the only place open.
Kipling is close by at the edge of a large stone plaza. It’s hot. Even though it’s almost 9PM, its still in the 90s. We take a table outside. Only one other table is occupied by a couple who are drinking after dinner espresso. I’m a bit apprehensive as I look at the menu. The food is Italian and besides the offering of a couple of exotic before dinner long drinks I’m not sure why the name Kipling. We order. Everything is fresh and good, but unremarkable except for the crisp and mineral-spiked Chardonnay by Jermann from the Frulia-Venezia region and a fresh cheese that could have been a Robiola di Roccaverano or a Tuma ‘d Trausel served with a trickle of honey and a small bunch of tart red currents. Our stomachs are pleasantly satisfied but with our heads in a jet-lag fog we are only too glad that our bed is just a short walk away.