The gleam of snow on dark peaks fills the window for long minutes, then disappears beneath a carpet of greens.
As the aeroplane turns on its wingtip, grids of brown appear, stacked close to the lush curves of the Po River.
We land gently.
“Ladies and Gentlemen – welcome to Turin!”
The Po, the Piazza, the Parmigiana, and the ‘Fetta di Polenta’
It is mid-June, and I am here thanks to Lucia Hannau and her invitation to take part in the 5th edition of Turin Epicurian Capital (Turinepi for short):
“…a 3 day event with bloggers, culinary professionals, authors, journalists and designers. Every day there is a talk show about food, its meaning and importance in our lives.”
My accommodation during the event will be free in exchange for posts, articles and tweets. I explain that I do not promote anything I don’t like. Still no problem. Who can resist? I pop with foolish pride, and accept.
Luckily for me fellow Turinepi guest, the food writer Jan Egan, is packed with local knowledge and on the same flight. She updates me as we edge through rush hour on the bus from the airport to the central train station – Porta Nuova.
My first night, ahead of the conference, is in a bed and breakfast. I take a taxi to the front door. It is huge, locked, and one of several on the wide, clean street. I am surrounded by emptiness in an area that feels more Paris or Copenhagen than Italy.
I choose a button from the parade of names down the side of the door and I press it. There is a distant buzz … then silence.
I try again, ears straining for a tinny something…anything. At first there is nothing, then a man’s voice crackles over the intercom.
“Sono Georgie …”
“Ah, sì ..”
A rush of instructions in soft Italian follows, and then the door clicks open. In front of me is a courtyard.
“Porta a sinistra …”
This smaller door is also locked. I approach and it opens.
Inside is “l’acensore…”, a small, grilled lift identical to one I used in an old palazzo in Napoli.
I rattle upwards, “…al terzo piano …“, and step out on the third floor as instructed.
Again emptiness, apart from a voice which calls down from above. I peer around the corner to see my host at the top of a flight of narrow stairs. He comes down to help with my suitcase, and escorts me upwards
The small, top floor apartment is modern and comfortable, and the air-conditioning is on. Instructions are delivered in more swift Italian. I cling to the news that breakfast will arrive at 8.30, and that to help it do so I should not lock the door from the inside. Then my hand is shaken warmly, and again I am welcomed to Turin.
The heavy door clunks shut and I am alone with the keys.
By the time I rattle down to street level again the worst of the heat is gone. I set off in search of the Po, choosing the direction of the tree-lined intersection ahead.
The walk is easy, with little traffic and only occasional pedestrians. Aroundin Via Degli Artisti a few cafes are open, some with their tables arranged on covered decking at the pavement sides.
I walk on and reach the river, close to where a stone bridge strides towards the pillared front of the Church of the Gran Madre di Dio.
The Po itself is several metres below where I stand, and has rowers scattered beneath its arches.
Further along, where the water is quieter, students soak up the cool.
I walk upstream, then cross back to the huge Piazza Vittorio Veneto were waiters deliver aperitivi by the trayful.
I choose the shaded side of the piazza and walk its full length in search of a place to eat.
The table I find belongs to Coox, a vegan restaurant, and is at the far end of the square. A quick search on the internet tells me that the mayor of Turin is ‘vegetarian-friendly’ and keen to take the city with her. I imagine she is pleased with Coox as the service is excellent, the price reasonable and the parmigiana, rich in flavour and surprisingly light, is delicious.
By the time I leave the sun has gone from the square. Vespas park in clumps, conversations gather around the tables, and the heat lightens under the half-moon.
It is getting dark. Keen to refind my new home I cut back in the direction I think I came from.
I pass a piece of large, thought-crammed street art, and then bump into the surprise of a deliberate slice through the top floors of an otherwise ordinary building.
According to the plaque the building, normal from one angle and extraordinary from another, is by one of Turin’s most famous architects. Seen from this angle it looks like it should topple over at any second, but it has stood for well over a century, and survived the bombs of the Second World War.
I walk on through the hot night and then discover the trophy of all finds, a small, gleaming gelateria.
I check the menu, rehearse my Italian, and enter. It’s quiet when I go in…then suddenly it’s not. An eager line rushes me into stracciatella (perfect) and coco (disappointingly not chocolate).
Taste buds in recovery I wander with my melting gelato past the now busy pavement cafes. There is life in patches, but the area as a whole feels quiet and safe.
The only worry comes when I arrive back at my front door, and insert the key with gelato sticky fingers, but cannot turn it. I try again and again…and finally the cogs click into place. I reach my bed with relief.
Tomorrow is the start of Turinepi.
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2018