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This blog has been on hiatus for some time now, not because of a lack of things to write about, rather the opposite.  Yours truly has been afflicted with the American disease.  I’ve been too busy running around to pin down my thoughts with electrons.  Our last days before the onset of summer included a road trip to Asheville to see Biltmore, the largest private home in America, a brief visit to Washington DC for a law conference, a flight to Turin, Italy, and an excursion for a couple days into the Alps.

Upon our return to North America, we embarked on another trip from Durham to the Nantahala River in Western North Carolina for a few days of canoe instruction at the famous center located in the heart of the Appalachians.  Unfortunately, I had picked up a bad cold by this point, and we were not able to complete the course.  When we got back to Durham, it was time to pack up and head to Canada.  Our house in Nova Scotia was calling.

The trip to Turin came completely out of the blue.  Faithful readers will remember that we spent nearly four months in Italy last year.  This return visit was triggered by a gathering of academics who have taught (or who will teach) at a multi-university institution in London devoted to trans-border legal studies.  The University of Turin is one of the participants, and they were good enough to host the gathering.

I couldn’t resist tagging along with my wife in order to renew my acquaintance with Torino in late Spring.  The old adage about language and physical exercise is absolutely true.  If you don’t use it, you lose track of it.  I had not kept up my Italian despite the purchase of a CD program to do exactly that.  When I visited my wonderful teachers at “Italiano Porticando,” my brain and tongue felt jet lagged.  Fortunately, they are generous in their encouragement to anyone who makes at attempt to speak the language.

One of them asked me if I had seen La Sindone and I had to admit that I had not yet done so.  In deference to their wishes that I make up for my spiritual edification, I hoofed it to the ticketing agency set up nearby.  It was 3 o’clock in the afternoon the next to last day of the exhibition.  The Shroud is undoubtedly the most famous object in Turin and it has been on display only 18 times in 500 years.  My timing could not have been better for Shroud viewing.

According the the Catholic Church records, 2.1 million visitors joined the queue for a long wait and brief viewing of the relic.  My plane from Frankfurt had been filled with American tourists, which seemed unusual for Turin this early in the season.  It was a fine day, so the long shuffle that finally led to a brief communion with the cloth was tedious but not uncomfortable.

Our next-to-last station of the cross was a room adjacent to the church of the holy relic that housed a video projector, revealing the latent images fixed in a thin layer that clearly showed what all the fuss is about– a negative image of a head that seemed to be wearing a crown of thorns.  Much has been written about the Shroud by believers, skeptics and scientists, and I will not attempt to condense or reproduce the arguments.  Suffice it to say the controversy about the cloth will be around for some time.

What has me hooked on Italy is the graceful language and the fabulous food.  If you are confined to tourist restaurants, it is possible to get a mediocre meal in Italy, and I am sorry to say that we actually did eat one dinner that was less than stellar.  On the other hand, a little bit of nosing around can uncover some wonderful cuisine.

The standout on this trip was a lunch we enjoyed at four-star resort with a slow food cooking school and a “wine bank” in the countryside south of Turin.  Our host from the University of Turin chose this wonderful place to cap a day of touring the Barola wine country.  We had a simple, vegetarian meal made up of two dishes, pasta and risotto which was absolutely fabulous.

On our last day in Turin, we rented a car and headed south toward the southern Alps.  Our destination was a bed and breakfast in a tiny hilltop village near Mondovi– Villa Favolosa.  Our hosts hail from the Piedmont region of Italy, but live and work in Chicago during the winter.  The home has been in the family for four hundred years.  We arrived on Monday, the one day of the week when the restaurants are closed, so I was able to get a cooking lesson from our hosts i and a personal lesson in Italian at the same time.

After an excellent breakfast, we headed out by car, venturing into the town of Cuneo on market day, and as far as the historic Staffarda Abbey near the town of Saluzzo.  The next day we chose exercise instead, heading into a National Park in the mountains bordering France, an area called Valle Pesio.  It is home to a major monastery and some steep and spectacular trails.

Yet another part of Italy that has branded itself in my mind.  I hope we’ll have another excuse to return soon. There is much to explore, too little time.  Ciao for now.  I have some catching up to do.  Check back for additional pictures.

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My apologies to any faithful readers, who may have come to expect new chapters of this blog with a certain amount of regularity over the last couple years.  The holidays and travel have made that difficult of late.  

The flat we found for phase two of our Italian adventure is very near my wife’s school.  It is considerably larger than our garret apartment with the balconies.  Unfortunately, we have lost our wonderful view of the Alps and I am no longer seeing the vendors of food and wine I got to know at the market near our old place.

The new place offers a number of conveniences, however, like a real eat-in kitchen with a dishwasher, a bathroom with a real bathtub and a bed we can sleep on. It is near Statione Porta Nuova, the main train station in the city, in a neighborhood called San Salvario.  We can walk to Parco Valentino, the city’s main playground along the Po.

We overlook Sexy Shop, not the most inspiring of neighbors, but we are only a block from the city’s principal synagogue (in a Moroccan style) and two blocks from the protestant Waldesian church.  A Catholic church is never more than a block away, so  if we should need spiritual succor, we’ll have no trouble getting it immediately. I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to the feng shui of this flat, but I doubt many Italians worry about such things.

I am engaged now in a three-week Italian class at a wonderful, small language school called Italiano Porticando. Every morning I make an espresso, eat my ceriali, and head off on foot toward the Quadrilatereo Romano, the oldest part of the city.

Astonishingly, three out of six students are Australians. There is a father/daughter pair who have combined the language learning part of the holiday with a couple weeks of skiing, and a young environmental consultant whose father immigrated to Adelaide from Calabria in southern Italy.  Unfortunately for Ben, English was the only language spoken at home.  

There is a young woman from Japan who is mad about soccer and a girl from Brazil who has family here. Together, we manage to mangle the language beyond belief. It is great fun.  Our teacher compares us to babies, insisting that one day we will be able to converse comfortably like adults.  It is hard to believe at this stage.

Two or three afternoons a week, a teacher named Laura leads a “passegiata” to a neighborhood or cultural institution. She encourages us to ask questions, in Italian, of course.  Last  Thursday we set off for Palazza Reale, the principal Savoy family residence until 1865. The austerity of the exterior is belied by extravagance inside.  Keeping up with French royalty was de rigeur.

We were herded through the elaborately decorated series of chambers by a lady who must have been a former nun. She seemed to be weighed down by her duties, since there were no other museum aides.  She was charged with  guarding the royal furnishings and keeping us in line.

She seemed immensely frustrated when someone stepped off the carpet or lagged behind. It was a cold, damp day, and I’m sure she would have been much happier curled up by the stove with a dog, a good book (perhaps the good book), and an espresso.

There is much more to come.  Stay tuned. Ciao for now.

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