One of the perks of a professor’s life is the opportunity to chat up people and to give talks in interesting places. Despite the fact that my wife spent three and a half months teaching at the International University of Torino, the Director was good enough to ask her back when he discovered that she was going to be on the same continent for an extended period. The date that seemed to work the best for the talk happened to be my birthday. I was hoping that we might spend another memorable afternoon at Combal Zero, the restaurant that made my day on the same occasion just three years ago, when I was 64. Check out the post.

It was a fine idea, but it was not to be. The restaurant is on the outskirts of the city, and the best time to go is during the day, for a very leisurely lunch, in fact. But talks always entail preparation, and the delivery of my wife’s speech had been scheduled for six to seven PM on January 31. Our flight back to Hamburg was booked for the following morning.

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We didn’t know it at time, but the onset of winter weather had just preceded us in Turin. It was cold and white, but most of the residents of the city had been wondering for a couple of months where winter had gone. As we waited for our luggage to appear, ski sack after ski sack came down the carousel. Finally, our bag arrived and we headed in to the center of the familiar city.

Our host had arranged accommodation at the Hotel Victoria, which has much to recommend it. It is on a cul-de-sac, for one thing, and it is very close to the center of Turin. In addition to the lovely decor and the excellent breakfast spread, they have a sybaritic spa influenced by the Egyptian Museum, which is just around the corner.

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By the time we checked in, unpacked and checked our email, it seemed like ages since our miserable lunch at the Frankfurt airport.  Seven o’clock is very early for eating in Italy, but we headed out into the snow and slush to a restaurant that had been recommended by the concierge.  We were the first ones there.  My wife had been suffering from a pinched nerve since our arrival in Hamburg, and as soon as she sat down to order, everything seem to come to a head. She felt absolutely wretched and could not eat!  Not being able to eat in Italy is as close as you can come to an emergency without actually having a stroke or a heart attack.

If you show up at the emergency ward of a hospital, you will be admitted immediately.  To be sure that this was not something life-threatening, we did just that.  Unfortunately, it was a Sunday, so the waiting room was jammed full of people in various states of distress or despair.  Losing one’s appetite is not actually considered life-threatening, even in Italy.  So we had to wait and wait.

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An Italian colleague from the C.T.L.S. program in London had invited us over for lunch, but when he heard of the dire situation, he insisted on meeting us at the “Ospedale” and taking on the role of interpreter. In my book, spending Sunday morning in an emergency ward of a hospital on behalf of a colleague is enough to merit guaranteed entrance in Paradiso.

All is well that ends with an Italian meal. But a home cooked meal that begins with risotto and ends with a spectacular, delicious tiramasu is worth the price of visit to any hospital.  And this particular meal seemed to require four different kinds of wine, not to mention a bottle of Barolo for cooking the main course.  That kind of repast is worth braving the torments of the Inferno and Purgatorio to boot.

I simply had to abandon my recent conversion to vegetarianism for the afternoon, but it was a small price to pay for the wonderful cooking and the hospitality of Roberto and Maria Elena, as well as the opportunity to meet Giacomo, the new addition to the family.

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We managed to fit in several more meals before our departure, including an ad hoc “dinner” at a cafe immediately after my wife’s talk. It was good to be in a place that I know, where we have some friends, and where I could speak some of the language and understand more.

We have come back to a different city. The Alster has frozen over, and the lake that was full of boats not so very long ago is a huge expanse of white snow. A high pressure has come in, bringing sunshine and cold, clear air.  It is beautiful.

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