February 1, 2006


Don’t bring snowboots, everyone said.  It only snows in the mountains, not in the city.  It’s fairly mild, although raw and chilly, but you definitely don’t need boots.

So I didn’t pack boots.  Sneakers.  Shoes.  Some nice heels in case I got a night out on the town.  The day I arrived was cold, with a thick haze doing its best to blot out the sun.  And then it snowed.  And snowed.  And snowed.  And snowed.  The mountains, home of many Olympic venues, welcomed more snow to what has been a particularly dry winter.  The city tried to close down, shocked at the most snow it’s received in years.  Decades, even.  While it continually melted away, making for sopping wet streets and sidewalks, it continued to come down for two days, blanketing some areas of the region with feet, rather than inches, of the white stuff. 

Not that you could see much of it.  Torino is famous for its fog – a thick winter layer that prevents you from seeing the Alps or the sun, and seems to make everything a black and white film that unfolds in real time.  But apparently the fog is a good thing:  it makes the Langhe Hills, just south of the city, a prime environment for growing Nebbiolo grapes, and it is where both Barolo and Barbaresco, the “king” and the “little brother” of wine, respectively, are located.  In fact, the grapes are actually named for the fog, as the word comes from nebbia, which means fog in the old Piedmontese dialect.

At the Ristorante Del Cambio, which I was lucky enough to visit last Saturday night for my one fine meal before the Games begin, I had a chance to see what kind of use these grapes are put to.  The restaurant, which first opened in 1757 and is nicknamed “Old Lady,” is stunning – considered one of the best in Torino.  We entered into a room of chandeliers and ornate carpeting, decorated with an oil painting of Count Camillo Benson di Cavour, who declared war against Austria to create Italian autonomy in 1859.  Cavour, according to legend, actually declared Italian independence and then went straight to the restaurant:  “Today we have made history; now it’s time to dine.”  We were greeted cordially, offered a seat in the lobby for an aperitif, and then we were taken into the dining room, which is as extravagant as any I’ve ever seen:  plush red velvet booths, gilded mirrored walls, grand silken draperies.  And what they put on our plates over the course of the three hours – cocottina alla crema di tartuffo,
agnolotti (the brown ravioli that is the signature dish of the Piedmonte region), brasato della vena al vino Barolo (beef braised in Barolo wine with polenta) – were works of art.  But nothing was more beautiful than the piece of chocolate cake, a special recipe so local that there isn’t a word for it in Torino, that the waiter placed before me without asking if I wanted it. 
Smart waiter.

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