Fellini’s Hat, Vermouth’s Hometown, Fatty Coxcomb: Travel
We fell in love with Turin at a glove shop.
We were following a walking tour in Eugenia Bell’s excellent “Civilized Traveller’s Guide to Turin” when we spied Moda del Guanto. The glove store’s old-fashioned cases of drawers stacked high behind counters drew us in.
It’s hard to find men’s leather gloves in good colors. When the sisters who own the shop pulled out a chartreuse pair with orange fourchettes, we started to tremble.
Soon they’d unloaded every drawer. Their designs were fresh; their work was perfection; their pride was clear; but what really charmed us was their sweetness.
Italians will tell you that Turin (or Torino), the capital of Piedmont in the far northwest and the home of Fiat SpA (F), is a cold city, gray and industrial. When we were there it was sunny and warm, and so was everyone we met.
At the sleekly futuristic Baricole -- Turinese for “eyeglasses” -- I went through approximately 10,000 innovative frames before finding the perfect pair. The salespeople behaved as though they were delighted.
I was only sorry my face didn’t go with the pair whose temples were embossed with the city skyline, recognizable at once from the towering form of the Mole Antonelliana.
The Mole, Turin’s weirdest building, was begun as a synagogue in 1863, then given to the city. Today it houses the splendid Museo Nazionale del Cinema.
The first part covers the medium’s pre-history -- shadow puppets, magic lanterns and other such devices. Everything’s interactive, so it feels more like being in an arcade than like having an educational experience.
The second part is a riot of posters, memorabilia (Fellini’s hat and scarf) and scores of clips. You can recline next to strangers on a rather decadent round sofa and watch love scenes projected overhead. Or, from a sea of chaise longues in the cavernous main hall, each fitted with its own speakers, you can lose yourself in the dreamy images on two movie-palace-size screens.
Turin is, in fact, a city of museums. The much-loved Museo Egizio has so many statues of the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet that it sometimes feels like a zoo.
Currently the masterpieces of the Galleria Sabauda are being moved into a new setting in the Royal Palace, so only the greatest hits are on view. What a stroke of luck: no hunting around corners for van Eyck’s “St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata” or Gentileschi’s “Annunciation.”
Turin, where vermouth was invented in 1786, is also a city of cafes. The Caffe San Carlo (opened in 1842) and the Caffe Torino (opened in 1903) are like two elaborately overdressed streetwalkers competing for clients on the enormous Piazza San Carlo: They may be aging and expensive, but they still know how to deliver the goods.
There’s a finer view from the tables in front of Pepino (better known for its ice cream), on the Piazza Carignano. They face the winged and undulating Palazzo Carignano, the city’s most beautiful building.
It’s made of a material not often associated with Baroque grandeur: red brick. In the back part, the Museo Nazionale del Risorgimento Italiano looks onto the Piazza Carlo Alberto. Nietzsche wrote “Ecce Homo” across the street -- as a plaque attests -- and then went mad. Illuminated at night, it’s even more beautiful than the Piazza Carignano.
But nothing is more beautiful than the food.
A taxi drove us out to the deceptively modest-looking Osteria Antiche Sere (“Ancient Evenings”), where we plunged into an orgy of veal.
It started with a plate of lusciously raw meat (a local staple), followed by juicy veal agnolotti (ravioli, basically) and then a dish of veal “brasato” -- braised in Barolo, the region’s great red wine, to a consistency that rendered teeth unnecessary.
The endearing Santa Polenta (try to guess the specialty), also a good choice for the toothless, is even more casual, with paper plates and plastic flatware. You order at the counter and wait in a dining room adorned with unmatched chairs and homey knickknacks to be summoned back.
There’s nothing casual about the polenta. We asked about the unusual spices and learned that the flavor comes from an heirloom variety of corn grown outside Alba, an hour away. Our accompaniments, salt cod and marinated vegetables, couldn’t have tasted better on silver spoons.
At the Taverna dell’Oca (the “Goose’s Tavern”) we sat outside, across from a pretty little park presided over by a goddess in a stop-in-the-name-of-love pose.
Our inexpensive lunch -- tuna carpaccio, tajarin (the region’s ubiquitous thin egg noodles) with asparagus, and perch with a light lemon-orange sauce -- was so good that we came back to try the restaurant’s special goose dinner.
It began with a plate of poultry in pork drag: goose prosciutto, goose salami and so on. Then came a risotto made with foie gras and pears that was sweeter and even more delicious than it sounds, followed by chewy slices of goose breast (I’ve never had goose that melts in your mouth) scented with porcini mushrooms and black truffles.
It was there that we finally tried the traditional Piedmontese dish known as La Finanziera. (According to one theory, it was named for the financiers who used to order it at the Ristorante del Cambio, on the Piazza Carignano, where it has been on the menu for 200 years.)
It has three principal ingredients: fresh mushrooms, veal innards and -- if I haven’t lost you already -- coxcombs. I’d never (knowingly) eaten coxcombs and was taken aback by their spiky little contours (though after they’re peeled and cooked they’re white, not red).
They turned out to be meltingly fatty and delicate, and the dish, scented with carrots and braised in Barolo, was the single most delectable thing we ate in Turin.
Information: To order Eugenia Bell’s Turin guide, click here.
Moda del Guanto, Via Santa Teresa 19; tel. +39-011-540-596; http://www.modadelguanto.com.
Baricole, Via Maria Vittoria 15; tel. +39-011-836-234; http://www.baricole.it.
Museo Nazionale del Cinema, Mole Antonelliana, Via Montebello 20; tel. +39-11-8138-560 or -561; http://www.museocinema.it.
Museo Egizio, Via Accademia delle Scienze 6; tel. +39-011-561-7776; http://www.museoegizio.it.
Galleria Sabauda, Via Accademia delle Scienze 5; tel. +39-011-547440; http://www.artito.arti.beniculturali.it.
Caffe San Carlo, Piazza San Carlo 156; tel. +39-011-532-586; http://caffesancarlo.it.
Caffe Torino, Piazza San Carlo 204, Torino; tel. +39-011-545-118; http://www.caffe-torino.it.
Pepino, Piazza Carignano 8; tel. +39-011-542-009; http://www.gelatipepino.it.
Palazzo Carignano, Via Accademia delle Scienze 5 ;tel. +39-011-564-1733; http://www.artito.arti.beniculturali.it/palazzo_carignano.html.
Museo Nazionale del Risorgimento Italiano, Via Accademia delle Scienze 5; tel. +39-011-562-1147; http://museorisorgimentotorino.it.
Osteria Antiche Sere, Via Cenischia 9; tel. +39-011-385-4347.
Santa Polenta, Via Barbaroux 33; tel. +39-011-561-2226.
Taverna dell’Oca, Via dei Mille 24; tel. +39-011-837-547; http://www.tavernadelloca.it.
Muse highlights include Greg Evans on television.
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