The snow has melted in Torino. With sunshine and warmer weather it seemed almost like Spring yesterday. It was Valentine’s Day and there were throngs of people taking advantage of artistic events on view throughout the city.

I have been struck low with a cold, so my participation was quite by chance and somewhat less than enthusiastic. It was a walk I was after. Despite the disappearance of the snow, il inverno is not over yet. If you were to walk down Corso Re Umberto and look off to the right, your attention would be seized by an image of white-covered mountains that look right there on a clear day.

I don’t know what possessed me to ask our banker where to go cross-country skiing, but it was on my mind and he seemed as good a candidate as any. It takes awhile to do most things in Italy, and bank accounts are only marginally less trouble than getting married.  Much to my surprise, the young banker was an enthusiast. “Cogne,” he said. He even threw in the name of the hotel where he stayed when he went there.

Self-propelled skiers are the poor relatives of the gravity sports crowd, so we were quite impressed with the fifty kilometers of groomed trails in the area.  Downhill resorts often provide some sop to cross-country skiers, but ten kilometers seems to be the limit.

Cogne was on the northern edge of a huge park called Gran Paradiso, near the French border.  With the assistance of a travel agent, I booked a room at the hotel (thanks to a last-minute cancellation) and an economy car for the trip up into the mountains.  We could rent skis right at the hotel, so we didn’t have to bother with a rack.  It was the driving that worried me. If I had known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have been just worried,  I would have been terrified.

I must admit, things began badly. To confirm the rental, I checked the number on the rental slip I’d been given by the agent. It was not a local number, so I looked up the car rental place on the internet and called that number.

Someone said “fire brigade” in Italian and English and hung up. I tried again. Same response. The third time, a man answered and said “fuoco?” Hung up. The car rental place was a good half hour walk from where we live. I was either calling an incorrect number or they were having a fire at the rental place and someone was good enough to answer the phone while they were trying to put it out.

There was only one way to find out. This did not put me in the best of moods, I’m afraid. I did not want to drive back to the flat through the maze of one-way roads in our neighborhood, so we would still have to lug our suitcase to the car rental place.

Needless to say, there was no sign of flames. I didn’t even mention my phone call or my misapprehension. I just handed over my International license and my credit card.  After some discussion as to whether or not we would need catene (chains), it was decided we’d better have them just in case.  We were heading into the Alps, after all, and it could very well snow.

The agent suggested that we avoid driving through the city by heading south five or six kilometers, then picking up the Tagenziale, which circles the city. We were actually heading north, to Valle D’Aoasta. We were heading for Mont Blanc.