After an Italian “Thanksgiving” dinner of spaghetti with clam sauce, salad with tomatoes and cheese, my wife and I read our respective newspapers and went to bed early. I had a long, involved dream about trying to fix up a house that we owned but had rented out while we were living overseas. The neighborhood had gone to hell and i wasn’t at all sure that it was worthwhile putting more money into the place. I expect a lot of people in the U.S. are having that sort of dream these days.

When I woke up, my first reaction that thick fog had rolled in. When I looked again I realized heavy, wet snow was falling, the kind that calls for an umbrella. This time it was reaching the ground without melting. It was on the sidewalks and streets, decorating long rows of parked cards and even clinging to the ones in motion. It was almost like a caricature of winter, not the real thing.

I had spent the previous afternoon in the company of cars. Despite the ubiquity of public transportation in this city, automobiles are everywhere. Turin is the home of the Italian automotive industry. The last letter of the word Fiat stands for Torino.

First came the Vespa, which gave italians mobility with a bit of style, then came their version of the Model T Ford, the Fiat 500. They have never looked back. On a per capita basis, Italians rank number one in the world in car ownership, ahead of Australians and Americans. Many don’t use seat belts, few use child restraints, and some drivers seem to regard the red light as negotiable. Is it a “rosso pieno” (full red) or is it simply there to slow you down on your way to a dinner party?

They see the red light as a suggestion rather than an order. Pedestrians and cyclists are at the bottom of the pecking order and had better not behave as if they had any illusory rights, like entering a cross-walk when cars are coming. The street is the modern equivalent of the Coliseum, and the gladiator with the best weapon is going to win.

Most of the cars here are small and fuel efficient, but I did come across a sparkling Hummer parked near the Supermercato. In Italy, that is a statement. I’m so rich I don’t even care what it costs to keep this monster on the road.

I had planned to pay a visit to the National Automobile Museum, and would gladly have shared with you a tedious tour of the place and a history of the evolution of Fiat, but it was closed for renovation. The next best thing was a show on Italian Dream Cars since 1950.

The dream cars are just that. Most of them are on-offs, which means they never made it into production. Many would go faster than you could drive on any road in Italy and take you there in style. Some are small and cute and look like they could give Smart cars a run for their money.

Despite what you may think, dream cars can make money. Ferrari produces only a small number of cars a year, but the parent company, Fiat, does very well, thank you. Nearly a quarter of their profits come from Ferrari. Of course, the prancing horse is into everything now, from clothes to Lego sets.

It is pure form, “la bella figura” that captures the heart of Italian consumers. And they know how to make things beautiful. From cars to clothes to chocolate and ice cream. Until i came here I had never seen beautiful ice cream before. Take it from me, it tastes as good as it looks.

Click on any picture running alongside this post and it should take you to Flickr. Then go to Red Flier’s photostream. There are more photos from the car show.

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