I had been on slumber’s edge for a long time patiently counting the rhythm of a waltz 1+ 2+ 3+ over and over, hoping the repetition would lull me to sleep. My poor brain was confused; it’s clock said two in the afternoon, but the one in the room said 11PM. The more I tried, the more sleep resisted. Finally at 1 o’clock, I got up and padded about the room quietly knocking into its unfamiliar objects, pulling aside the curtain I watched the darkness punctuated by a single lamp shining from the other side of the courtyard. Also five flights up like me, the shaded light sat behind deep green floor length curtains. There was no movement, no sound, no other insomniac like me. Watching the light made me sleepy, so I drank a glass of water and went back to bed as though for the first time. I don’t remember falling asleep, but when I awoke my husband had already showered and dressed. He called me; then nudged me. I couldn’t wake up. I wanted to sleep for a million years. Finally, I gave into his coaxing. In the shower I turned the water colder and let it run across my face. Finally awake, an urgent need for a cappuccino came upon me.
At breakfast in the hotel courtyard, a small grassy plot with umbrellas and a few tables, I noticed a small mottled-shelled reptile waddling towards us. “Look a turtle!”
“That’s not the only one,” replied my husband. “Look over there.” In a corner two more were basking in the sunlight.
Our cappuccini arrived and for the moment we forgot about the turtles until I felt something brush the side of my leg. Looking down I saw a larger dark turtle pass underneath my chair. I started counting: Two in the corner, the one with the mottled-shell, the big dark one that had just passed by. Are there more? I looked around. Sure enough another one was coming out of the bushes and heading towards the same corner already occupied by the sun-bathers. Beginning to feel a little too crowded in by turtles, we decided it was time to see the city. Heads back, we quickly drained the froth from our coffee cups and headed out into the streets of Torino.
Torino is small city by international standards. A bit bigger than San Francisco, California, it is home to some of Italy’s most important companies including its largest, the FIAT Group – Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino- as well as automotive component and car design companies, banks, insurance companies, and agroindustrial businesses such as Lavazza in coffee, Cinzano and Martini and Rossi in the sparkling wine and spirits sector, and Ferrero, Caffarel, and Peyrano in confectionary. It’s also a city of artisans. There are shops selling handmade chocolates, lingerie, and shirts.
People and bicycles streamed past us down the pedestrian-only streets, criss-crossed the enormous stone paved plazas, and crowded the covered arcades. Small electric buses, Fiat 500s and other tiny cars, and larger and grander Audies and Mercedes were either bumper-to-bumper or traveling at high speed. There didn’t seem to be any in between. Since on street parking is nonexistent I wondered where all those cars were parked when not in use. The answer came quickly, announcing itself along the perimeters of the plazas–large white Ps centered on bright blue signs. No wonder there are no large trees shading any of the the squares. The underground spaces beneath the plazas have been turned into i parcheggii (parking garages) all over the city.
From people’s dress this Monday morning, it was clear that offices were open. But all was quiet around the store fronts. I glanced at a sign in the window of a clothing boutique. “Closed Sunday. Open Monday 3:30PM to 8PM. Tuesday through Friday 9AM to 8PM. Saturday 9AM to 6PM.” Similar notices were posted in shops all over town. Museums were also closed as they are every Monday. These closings were a gift–a license to do absolutely nothing. Cafes were open and doing a brisk business; hurried coffee drinkers lined the bar and the tables were busy too. What better way to observe the people than from a cafe. We found one easily and sat at a table with a good view of the street action for our second cappuccini. By their dress and demeanor, the people on the street told us that business, not tourism, makes this city go.
At one table a business meeting was underway; two women and three men sipped coffee while discussing who knows what. This scene would repeat itself all around town. Why not? The cafes are beautiful with carved wood bars, giant chandeliers, and walls of mirrors reflecting well stocked shelves; outside are tables shaded by large sun umbrellas. The service is routinely good, at the bar quick and table-side leisurely; and every where the espresso is delicious as are the cold drinks made from coffee, chocolate, or fruit.
At another table, an older woman, ignoring her little white dog who had just peed under the table, was holding court. A younger woman dressed in a navy blue sheath and flats joined her. They smoked, talked, and gestured with their hands. Then two young women stopped by. Their look is universal teenager: Long and wavy hair loose around their faces, one in black leggings white cami, and flowing sweater; the other in rolled-up jeans and sneakers. They didn’t bother to sit down but the conversation was lively and went on and one. When they left, the two other women carried on; soon a man joined them. He sat down, engaged in conversation briefly, then got up and left. The man came and went a few more times.. Perhaps he works close by? Or has another group of friends at another cafe and must divide his time between the two? I don’t know. Finally another woman approached the table, greeting the little dog and then launching into conversation with the two seated women. By the look of the shopping bag on her arm, she had being doing errands. Then, just when she seemed ready to leave, some thought must have caught her attention. She had to make a point and the conversation continued. Finally she left and so did we.
Street fashion is conservative but smart. The look is crisp and the fit is perfect in spite of late June temperatures in the 90s and high humidity. The most popular dress for women is a classic cotton sateen or linen blend sheath with cap sleeves or sleeveless, a round or v-neck, and comfortable length just above the knee. Navy blue, black, cream, and red are favorite colors. Long but not overly ornate necklaces of gold, stone, and plastic; classic watches; and tiny drop earrings provide points of interest. Hair is shoulder length or bobbed. Some younger women wear elegant french twists. Shoes are classic pumps, strappy heeled sandals, or ballerina flats. Big, soft, and streamlined leather shoulder bags and totes in beige, brown, cream, and navy predominate with an ample sprinkling of Louis Vuitton bags, especially the Bellevue GM city bag and the classic monogram canvas Neverfull PM bag. Even those women who aren’t spending their days in the office dress in form fitting sheaths to just above the knee, to-the-ankle linen slacks with a jersey and sleeveless, three-quarter length linen tunic, or wide-legged black pants, cork-bottom wedges, and sleeveless tops. One particularly pretty mocha colored top with wooden buckles attaching two-inch wide shoulder straps to the bodice caught my attention.
Many men are dressed immaculately in pressed navy blue suits with crisp pale blue dress shirts and conservative small-print navy ties. Their effortless stride as they go to their next appointment belies the heat and humidity that makes me feel like I can do no better than slow motion. Others dress more casually in bright yellow or neon orange chinos, dark polo shirts, and summer-weight blazers. These take their time; they admire the window displays and stop to chat with friends.
Overall, the Italians love clothes that fit the body and yet move. No wonder they are masters at uniforms. Never did I see a policewoman’s hips wedged into trousers cut for a man, or a waiter’s shirt not tucked in, although I did notice on one young waiter where his white shirt had been expertly mended to be hardly noticeable except for people with lots of time on her hands like me. At the hotel, the women staff wore navy blue pencil skirts with crisp white blouses and jackets that fit smartly to the waist and then fell softly in a shirt flounce; the men wore blue suits with white shirts and blue gray ties. But, the most amazing uniforms were those of the flight attendants on Air Dolomiti, a regional carrier of Lufthansa, that flew us between Frankfurt and Torino. No navy blue here! Check them out for yourself by selecting ‘New uniforms’ on the left hand menu.
As we walked throughout the city center, I realized that it had been a long time since I’d seen so much public smoking. The streets and cafes were full of nonchalant smokers. But smoking is not allowed everywhere. Often I saw office workers, usually men who had dashed out of their offices without bothering to put on their jackets, huddled clandestinely in doorways puffing away anxiously least they receive a reprimand or miss something important inside. With the continuing rise in temperature, the street traffic had thinned out. People had taken refuge inside or in the shade. We , too, were ready to rest our feet and drink something cool.
On a corner we found what we thought was a small cafe but looking in the window we saw that it was a chocolate shop. Against the backdrop of its gray, orange and purple colors, three cases of rich chocolates delectables greeted us at Guido Gobino.
We exchanged the knowing look of chocolate lovers. We must have something here! A large group of business people were seated outside under the umbrellas; they had staked out the best territory by pushing several tables together, but we found a small table at the edge of the shade and sat down. We waited, but no one came to wait on us until just as Antun got up to go inside, a young man appeared bearing two menus. Everything was chocolate, coffee, and hazelnut. We decided to share a cold chocolate and coffee drink, but when it emerged from the shop on a tray carried by the same young man, we realized our error. Barely the size of a thimble, it would never do for two. The waiter smiled but was not surprised when we asked for another. The little drink was simply heaven on earth. I could have had another if it weren’t for the suspicion that heavy cream was the binding agent. Our drinks were so delicious we bought a selection of chocolates as a gift for friends we would be visiting in Switzerland in two days time. Of course, the gift was well received and each chocolate savored with delight.
All original content copyright 2010 Mary E. Slocum