Friday, May 3, 2013

Italia Encora

Just a few more descriptions of life in this wonderful, unpredictable country:

Food (cooked and RAW!)


Grating Pecorino cheese over some "plin"
The food in the Piedmont is almost as famous as the wine.  This is the home of the Slow Food movement, a reaction to fast food that emphasizes fresh ingredients based on what is in season. 
The pasta is phenomenal!  Especially these puffy little raviolis called “plin” that are usually stuffed with rabbit meat and served with either a ragu (tomato meat sauce made with veal) or sage and butter.  And a specialty called “tajarin,” a handmade, hand-cut pasta made from eggs.  When tajarin is cooked perfectly al dente, it is the best pasta we have ever tasted!
Super fresh salad with the best oil and vinegar
Salads are always super fresh and served with only the best olive oils and vinegars.  The balsamic vinegars are out of this world.  For dessert, our favorite splurges were a lemon cake that was incredibly moist and tart (topped with lemon rind) and hazelnut cake, a very nutty cake that was just a tad dry until you added some powdered chocolate and a special sauce made from eggs, sugar, and sweet Marsala wine.  O Dio mio!

Amazingly moist and tart Lemon Cake
 Breakfast deserves a paragraph of its own: coffee/tea, juice, yogurt, fresh fruit, fresh bread, and so many sweet goodies like homemade jams and always amazing homemade cakes and apricot tarts all freshly made.  Interestingly, at our both B & Bs, the men of the house did all the baking – and the results were incredible!

The totally RAW salsiccia!
One very quirky aspect of the Piemontese diet is an obsession with raw meat.  Yes, RAW.  At first, we thought it was a language translation problem, and that they must mean rare meat, but we were wrong.  We first encountered this phenomenon in a restaurant when we were served an appetizer called carne cruda. Honest to God, this was a raw hamburger patty on a dish.  (We wish we had a picture, but we were so flummoxed, Frank didn’t even reach for his camera.)  We figured “when in Rome” and managed to eat it.  Not bad, as long as you didn’t think about what you were eating.

Later, at our Asti B & B, Frank asked about the difference between salume and salsiccia since both appeared to be sausages.  The answer was that while salume is aged, salsiccia is “bloody.”  Once again, we thought this was a translation problem and were thrilled when our hosts said they would get some salsiccia for us.  So imagine our reaction when they proudly presented us with a plate of uncooked sausage (this time we took a picture!).  Again, it didn’t taste bad – just an issue of mind over matter.  But I don’t think we would go out of way to eat any raw meats ever again!

Politics and Economic Decline

Home of the first Italian Parliament (in Turin)
We don’t usually get into political discussions in foreign places, but we became friends with Maria Luiza, the marvelous postmistress of Pettanasco, a village near Lake Orta.  She told us the situation in Italy is terrible (tear EE blah, as Maria Luiza pronounced it).  She said that Italy, the land of art and music, is turning into Tunisia.  It truly is terrible to see the sad state of the economies of so much of Western Europe.

Why Italian Road Signs Almost Drove Anne Mad

The Italians are masters at the art of fine living.  When it comes to food, wine, fashion & design etc., their talents are legendary.  But they are a bit weak when it comes to practical things.  For example, their road signs are the worst we have seen anywhere.  It’s not that signage is lacking. There are signs everywhere, sometimes a dozen signs stacked on one pole!  The problem is with logic and consistency.

In Europe, route numbers are seldom (or poorly) displayed, so you need to navigate according to the cities and towns along your route.  The only difficulty is that you need to know what larger city is in the direction that you want to go.  And the whole navigational issue becomes worse when you have traffic circles because every circle requires a decision.  With traffic circles every few miles and crazy, inconsistent road signs, Italy takes this European concept of navigation to a whole new bizarro level. 
Which way do we go???
Here is one small example:
If the road you are driving will eventually intersect with a highway going to Asti and Arona, your road may be identified in a traffic circle with a sign that says “Asti/Arona.”  Now these two cities lie in opposite directions and are hundreds of miles apart, but you want to head toward this highway that provides the option of going to either city.  So even if you have no intention of going to either Asti or Arona, this is the road sign you need to follow to continue on your road. 
As if all this isn’t bad enough, at the next traffic circle, your road sign may say only “Asti.”  Now even though you don’t want to go anywhere near Asti, you have to remember that the direction you want to go is toward the highway that will give you the option of going to Asti, so this is the sign you want to follow.  Can you see how the signage can make you lose your mind?  And there are lots more horrifying examples. The only good thing about an Italian traffic circle is that you can continue around it more than once until you sort out which direction you need to take!  Maybe next time we’ll opt for GPS.
This brings us to the end of our blog for this trip.  Despite a few issues with the roads, we had a fantastic time -- France and Italy are without question two of the most enjoyable countries on the planet!

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