Thursday, February 3, 2011

TURIN; Day Three with the Diva

My adorable diva, Christine Goerke, who is killing them at the Teatro Reggio Torino, with an opulently sung and vividly acted Kundry in Wagner's final opera, PARSIFAL.  I have travelled widely to hear her perform in San Francisco, Seattle, at Tanglewood, Covent Garden in London, the Maggio Musicale in Florence, Santa Fe and of course, the Metropolitan Opera.  In my not-so-humble opinion, Christine is one of the most significant dramatic sopranos of her generation.  Her Wagner and Strauss heroines will take her all over the world. I'm happy to follow and be swept away by her gorgeous voice, riveting dramatic presence, and charmingly goofy sense of humor. 

When I bought my house in Portland, I ordered things from many national retailers with websites and the first thing I noticed was that with each purchase, came this needy survey, asking me if I was happy with the service, the items I purchased and the prompt delivery of such items, among other things.  This struck me as annoying.  If I was unhappy with a purchase, I would certainly let them know, but to beg for a compliment seemed the height of corporate PR hubris. Don't they realize that if a customer is truly unhappy, they will make their unhappiness known to them. Why do they need to take our money, but also be praised for giving us the service we pay for.  Seems very dumb to me.  All that "we're here to serve you," nonsense is pure hooey.   Today in my e-mail arrived a survey from Delta Airlines, apologizing to me for the "inconveniences" I suffered as a result of their incompetency.  Would I mind answering a few questions as to my satisfaction, or lack thereof, with the service I had received?  NOT AT ALL.  They asked me the airport where the problem started, was I satisfied or unsatisfied with the gate manager there, etc. Best of all there was a box for me to add any "extra" comments that might clarify matters for them in the future.  To say that I retrofitted them with a new corporate asshole in appropriately florid Gregory-style, is to put it mildly or bluntly, take your pick.  I challenged them to get the missing piece of luggage to me at my hotel before I returned to the states, and suggested they fire their ferociously mean gate manager, who verbally abused staff, which I thought was the reason my luggage got detained in the first place.  I also promised to follow up with more "suggestions" on how they might make me whole in the future.  I MEAN, REALLY!!!!

Two Pugliese farmers showing off their impressively large cabbages! (I'm not going there!)

Today, Christine Goerke, my hugely gifted soprano friend, and the reason I'm in Turin, took pity on me and on the day of a performance, insisted on taking me clothes shopping.  We found a few sweaters, some underwear and socks at Rinascente, a trendy department store here.  She then decided to walk me over to see the city's largest open-air market, and it was a revelation.  Rome may have the Campo dei Fiori; Florence, the Mercato Centrale; Barcelona the Bouqueria; and Nice, a spectacular open-air market, but none of them boast such a comprehensive and large a market that is both open-air, and in a series of buildings all spread out over a two or three block area.  I bought white socks and some t-shirts, a kilo of these adorable tiny oranges, and a jar of chestnut honey from the local vendors.  There were fruit and vegetable stands, cheese vendors, purveyors of salumeria, fish mongers, meat sellers (macelleria), bakers, stalls selling artisanal pastas, fresh and dried, dry goods sellers of kitchen, linen and various household products, and clothing, shoes and other leather goods, furniture, second hand fur coats, and all manner of of goods.  It was as colorful as it was vast, and we enjoyed an hour or walking up and down aisles, in and out of buildings.  I happily snapped photos, including two humorous vendors of enormous cabbages.  I shot one photo of the two men picked up one huge specimen and posed holding this green beast while they smiled for the pazzo American taking all these photos!

A fine selection of olives.

Rabbits and chickens and squabs, oh my! 

Parma ham (prosciutto), and salamis and wedges of Parmesano-Reggiano.  Such indulgence!

Miles and miles of verdure!

Pasta Fresca! 

The diva looking for oranges.

Pork--the other white meat!

From the local forno--breads, pizza, rolls, focaccia

We stopped at a favorite bakery of Christine's where we ate tiny circles of just fried mini-doughnuts sprinkled with sugar.  They were just made and still warm and each one was two bites. Heavenly. I bought  a small, flat, oval loaf of olive bread that was indescribably tender (and ideal for breakfast as I write this).  I brought the rest of it back to my room to snack on with the oranges.  Christine had to be at the theater by 4:00 PM to get into make-up and costumes and warm up in preparation for this Wagnerian marathon which lasts five hours (Wagner's operas are as windy as a Eugene O'Neill plays).  So we opted for an early lunch at a local place she was fond of and enjoyed a delicious plate of pasta (agnolotti for her; penne pomodoro for me; very thin slices of roast pork for both of us with side of cavalofiori (green cauliflower).  Like many Italian restaurants that are family run, there is a tendency to overcook vegetables and this was no exception. Still this three-course gem was 8.50 euros each. And I had a little half-jug of red wine. 

We never have winter markets like this in Portland or New York

Anchovies and jarred tuna packed in olive oil.

The variety of freshness of vegetables and fruits available to Italians is amazing.

So many cheeses, so little time!

Christine dropped me off at my corner, and I returned to the hotel for an eagerly anticipated nap. It was a kind of self-indulgent afternoon.  Before the nap, I walked around the neighborhood a bit more.  I needed a nail clipper, and started to look for a suitcase that seems obvious I will need.  I stopped at the corner coffee bar and had a "shakerato," a wonderful cool glass of espresso mixed with a little simple syrup (cooked water and sugar), then poured over ice and shaken until foamy and light and poured into a stem glass.  This elegant drink came with four tiny butter cookies, and I sat there reading my book until my yawning sent me back to the hotel for that self-promised nap.  

Two hours later, I woke up, and got dressed and as out the door to search for dinner.  Without my guidebooks and research done before leaving Portland, I had to now rely on instinct for dinner.  Tonight the search made for a long walk.  I had seen a tiny little trattoria about four blocks from the hotel and decided that where I would go.  But it was closed--apparently it only serves coffee and lunch.  Moving on, I found an attractive spot a few blocks away and after reading the menu, walked in.  The hostess was a bit tart, saying she could seat me, but I had to be gone in 45 minutes or suggesting that I come back an hour later because they were all booked.  There was something condescending in her manner, and I declined.  I walked over towards the opera house, and nothing appealed.  Doubling back, I ended up back in my piazza!  It was now 9:00 PM, and I was beginning to regret passing on that previous 9:00 offer.  In finally found a tiny spot in a side-street and sat down.  Another overly brightly lit space (Italians don't seem to be romantic about atmosphere in their restaurants--they are truly able to see the food on their plates--even in very contemporary settings.  The menu was fairly broad, with many pastas and main courses to choose.  I took a carafe of the house red wine and nibbled on some grissini while I figured out my dinner:  agnolotti with a meat sauce to start, and then a grilled paillard of chicken with rocket and lemon, and a green salad.  The meat-filled pasta was an indulgence sauced with a meat ragu, Parmesan and black pepper.  Then the chicken. Chicken always tastes superior in Europe to me.  The thinly pounded and grilled chicken breast is a modest main course. It came covered with fresh rocket (baby arugula) and needed only a fresh squeeze of lemon juice and black pepper to bring out its simple flavors. I decided to eat the salad on the same plate as my chicken, and the combination of slightly bitter escarole, more arugula, and raddichio with oil and vinegar was enhanced by the lemon and chicken jus left on my plate.  Okay, the pasta was rich, but I had been good in my choice of the chicken and salad.  I should have left well enough alone, but my waitress suggested panna cotta for dessert.  My resistence crumbled.  A minute later, she set before me a mound of panna cotta covered with a caramel sauce much like creme caramel--an unusual flourish to this essentially simple dessert.  I make panna cotta all the time at home, but this was something very special. Of course the cream they use is superior to the pasteurized thin dairy we get at home.  This panna cotta had a dense richness that was pleasant and not at all heavy.  Cooked cream indeed. The four course meal with wine and tip came to 30 euros.  

Again, I woke up at 5:30 and could not fall back to sleep.  Up 20 minutes later I was at the computer downloading photographs for this installment, eating oranges and olive bread.  It's now 7:30 and I'm off in search of some coffee.  I plan on a visit to the Egyptian museum today.  I'm told this is the largest collection of Egyptology outside of Cairo.  Ironic to be looking at this stuff today when Egypt is in such turmoil.  Christine is planning a dinner adventure for this evening.  Haven't heard back from Delta yet. No surprise there!

I would like to come back and see this charming piazza lit up at night with all these lights!


  1. I want to eat all of their ham.

  2. Sounds wonderful! And now you have your luggage to make it even better! Ciao!

  3. Oh jealousy. One of my favorite cities in the world, especially when it's cold. If you can, go to the museum with all the Egyptian artifacts. Amazing. I think I hear told that it was the 2nd largest collection outside Cairo.