Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Italy 2014: Day 19: Tuesday: May 20: Barge

Weather appears to better this morning.....at least it isn't raining.  By the time we finish breakfast and get in the car, the sun is trying to peek through the cloud cover.

We drive back to Saluzzo to visit the town under better weather conditions and also to see if there is a laundromat there.  We park in the same lot and go into the tourist office where they quickly show us where two laundromats are within two blocks.  They also direct us to the old Jewish ghetto around the corner but tell us that the synagogue can't be visited.

We can't find the exact building where the synagogue is located in the little cul-de-sac but at the entrance of the street--actually the corner of via Spielberg and via Deportati Ebrei--there is a very moving historical marker with the history of the community on one side and a comprehensive listing of the families and the details of their fates under the Nazis.


Visitors have left stones at the base of the marker in remembrance.

I found a text of the marker on the web site of the Istituto Storico della Resistenza e della Societa Contemporanea in Provincia di Cuneo which can be translated using Google Translate or the Chrome browser).

The sun is now out and we continue our walk around Saluzzo.  We stop at a store that sells wallets and briefcases so Diana can buy a replacement for the wallet that was stolen in Florence and she finds one with the help of very efficient salesperson.  (The lost wallet did have her credit cards but I checked each account numerous times each day and there were no charges other than ours...so we didn't cancel the cards.  We will get her cards replaced when we get home and she will have to get a new driver's license, medicare card, etc.)

We find the first laundromat but, since the weather is so nice, we will put off the laundry until later in the day or tomorrow.  Instead we decide to visit the 15th century Castello di Manta which is located in the next town over. It is a long uphill walk from the parking lot to the castle so I drive right up to the castle on the service road.  But it turns out the castle has many flights of stairs and no elevator and Diana decides that she would rather sit in the park in back of the castle, watch the school groups playing and read her book while I go inside.

Manta was the property of one of the Saluzzo marquisates and dates to the 12th century.  The castle is notable for its lack of crenelations and turrets (the snow covered mountain in the distance is not visible today)

and for its amazingly well preserved wall frescoes and paintings dating to the 15th century.  The noble family had many ties to the French nobility and the style and subject matter of its most famous work shows the French influence of the story of the knight errant.  The fresco in the baronial hall covers all four walls and has two distinct sections...one is a pictorial catalog of 18 heroes (9 men and 9 women) from a mixture of historical times. 

 The other side of the room is devoted to a large fresco that depicts in great detail scenes and activities of the period.  There are scenes of hunting, horsemanship, royal processions, etc. but the most striking one is a realistic depiction of the goings on when the elderly find the Fountain of Youth, jump in and begin to make love as they did in their youth.

The other main room--the Room of the Groteques--has paintings similar to those in Roman houses that were rediscovered in the 15th century and became a popular subject for artists of the day.

The audio tour is quite good..giving the historical context and explaining the development of the art and its context.  A very unusual and enjoyable visit....

We return to Saluzzo for lunch at a quirky but pleasant restaurant in the center.  Interno 2 occupies a large space on the first (our second) floor and you walk through a music club and a bar before reaching the very pleasant restaurant in the back.  We both have a plate of pasta...tajarin (not as good as yesterday) for Diana, and I have a baked pasta dish with ham and cheese that is very good.  We each have a glass of wine and split a panna cotta for dessert. 

Back in Barge, we rest for a while and then head out to another town--Pinerolo (about 20 kilometers north) to do our laundry.  On the way, we pass many more stone cutting establishments but these are bigger and seemingly more organized than the ones we saw on the road to Saluzzo.  The stone is mainly from quarries up in the hills in and around Luserna and it has been a major industry for a long time.  The Chinese immigration has mostly stopped now. 

Pinerolo is a large, prosperous looking city as we drive in pass large shopping centers and a sign pointing to an outpost of the food emporium Eataly.  The laundry is located in the historic center but we find it on our first pass and even find a parking space just around the corner.  The procedures are bit different and we struggle a bit until we realize that the machines only take 50 centissimi coins.  After that, it is smooth sailing.

The centro storico of Pinerolo is quite large and appealing although a bit dark...lots of narrow porticoed streets.  While the laundry is going, we take a short stroll and go into the Duomo

where we find very unusual figures painted on all the columns.


Even though we are parked just around the corner from the laundromat and a block from the main piazza, the one-way street pattern forces us to climb to the top of the town and wend our way back down on curving, narrow but thankfully one way streets.  The trip takes about 15 minutes by car and would have taken three if we had walked.

We stop for dinner in a neighboring town, Cavour.  I want to go to another restaurant listed in the Osterie d'Italia guide called La Vineria which is attached to a fancier restaurant, La Nicchia.  When I look at the menu posted outside, it looks a lot fancier than what I was expecting but we go in anyway.   We are shown into a very elegant dining room (we are early and we are the only people there) and given the menu.  I must have had "brain freeze" because this is clearly not the place I was expecting.  But we stay and have a very good, if somewhat more creative meal than we were looking for.  Diana has the carne battuta but gussied up with gelato di parmigiano and garlic foam followed by a refined plate of agnolotti served with asparagus.  I have a very good plate of ham from Cuneo with pickled vegetables and a risotto made with baccala prepared to resemble tripe...actually quite good.  We then shared a second--a plate of fried meats and vegetables (il piccolo fritto piemontese) which was both too much food and not that good.  The wine however was outstanding--a Barbera from the hills around Pinerolo--where we had just done the laundry.  Here is the empty bottle...


By the time we are finished, the restaurant is almost full....mostly with a group who had been doing a wine tasting in the wine cellar.  

So even though it was not what we bargained for, the meal was mostly very good.  But I still can't figure out how I missed the place I was looking for.

Back in Barge, we hope for continued good weather tomorrow when we will go to Bra, the home of the Slow Food movement.

Jim and Diana

Zurer Travel: Italian Trip Planning