TURIN, ITALY – Italy is sensory. It’s a feast for the eyes to take in the ancient architecture in proximity to modern Vespas (Italian motorcycles) buzzing around as a variety of people eat and stroll and talk and eat.
It’s a mass of humanity who range from rag-wrapped Gypsys begging for coins to high-fashioned Italian women, heads held high, necks swathed in scarves and feet balanced upon high-heeled boots that never waver on even the most pitted cobbled street. Equally well-dressed Italian men saunter by with pencil-straight slacks that show a hint of designer socks that go perfectly with tailored jackets and the ubiquitous neck scarves. Italian toddlers navigate downward journeys on stone church steps without tumbling. Weathered older Italian women walk arm and arm, or sit on benches and talk.
And the smells! How I wish I could somehow share those with you, especially here at the Salone del Gusto part of the Terra Madre conference, where there are literally thousands of foods and spices and truffles and potatoes and wines and olive oils and coffees and teas on display. Many are for sale, but most samples are not free, and cost anywhere from 1 to 3 euros. (About $1.30 equals 1 euro.)
And the cheeses! Those aromas range from soft, pale and subtle to hard, ambered and so nose-stingingly sharp and pungent that they have an almost lockerish-roomish scent that causes some people to wrinkle their noses and glance furtively to locate the source of the unfortunate human condition that caused that smell.
Here in Turin (Torino), the home of the 2006 Winter Olympics, this place exudes regional pride about everything from everything from its manufacture of Fiats to claims of being the birthplace of the first hard chocolate, and even grissini, long skinny bread sticks that are perfect with wine.
But this trip has been less about seeing Italy and more about the Terra Madre Slow Food conference that includes the Salone del Gusto for the conference’s first time, which introduced hundreds of food vendors from every corner of the world. And the public is here, too, thousands upon thousands of people here to learn about, buy and eat the food.
I’ve sat in on many interesting workshops, such as yesterday’s that featured a blitz of young Slow Food speakers from the UK who talked about solutions to food waste and ways to bring together foodies and ways to connect farmers with consumers and even a young man who handed out small jars of sour dough starter named “Cleo” to people with the goal of having that one baby startergrow and spread throughout the world. (I have a jar of Cleo, and I just hope he behaves himself in my suitcase between now and my arrival home.)
As an added treat, son Joe, here with his wife Marie as Slow Food members from the Czech Republic, made a short video for you. It combines the more auditory side of this wonderful Italian trip. The scenes begin in Venice with children feeding pigeons in San Marco Square, and moves onto our gondola ride, where we shared the waterways with residents, like the man in the boat. (You can’t see it but he had a puppy in his lap. Oh boy, do Italians love their dogs! Unlike Rome, where cats are everywhere, in Venice and Turin dogs rule.)
Following the video clip from Venice, you’ll see inside one of Salone del Gusto’s many “street” markets, where a young man with a hand-crank organ produces music much like that an old player-piano. Also at Salon del Gusto, a group of people from an Italian brewery sing a song, which Joe, Marie and I referred to fondly as the “supa dupa” song.
At another booth at Salone del Gusto, a high-energy Italian woman taught speed-pasta-making to a bunch of people who madly attempted to follow her rapid, lyrical instructions to roll, and keep rolling, and turn the dough and keep rolling and rolling and rolling.
One of Joe’s last videos shows a man playing music on wine bottles, an advertisement for a recycled glass company, and later, outside the conference a few miles away, children in a park playing while a Christian group sings near the place where I had one of the best pizzas I’ve ever tasted.
I’m off for another day in Turin, trying to stay focused and not get caught up in the fact my flight’s been canceled because of the East Coast storm. You enjoy the video, and I’ll enjoy another day in Italy.
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.