A day spent among the dead

It sounds macabre, but it wasn’t really. We started our day in the Museo Egizio, the most important collection of Egyptian treasures outside of Cairo. (And since it seems unlikely we will be able to visit Cairo anytime soon, we took advantage of this opportunity.)

The collection is quite spectacular, though curated in what one might call the “Italian style.” This means that – if you have had the good fortune to be born Italian – you will have an intuitive sense of direction when navigating the dynasties. Otherwise, it’s easy to get very confused.

But no matter. While the Met in New York has a very good Egyptian collection, we saw wonders today that were new to us and quite spectacular. The 19th century Egyptologists working from Turin made some amazing discoveries and were in the right places at the right times when items became available on the “antiquities market.” Again, no matter. While they don’t belong here, these treasures have been carefully tended and are in no danger of plunder.

The mummies must wake up every day and wonder how on earth they got to a display case in Italy when they absolutely paid for perpetual care in their lovely tomb in Egypt. But at least many of them got to take their grave goods with them. An incredible look at this always-intriguing culture.

So the morning was spent among treasures over four thousand years old, many miles away from where they were created.

After lunch we spent some time just walking around Turin, which is a vibrant city that could never be described as a tourist trap. Caffè Fiorio was a favorite hangout of Herman Melville and Mark Twain, who was enamored of the lovely arcades of Turin.

Our afternoon was spent at the Museo della Sindone, dedicated to the documentation of the Holy Shroud. While no photographs were allowed in the exhibit space, the photographic negatives and physical details of the shroud were analyzed and detailed. The one sticking point is the carbon dating of the cloth itself, to around 1260. But they are still studying the chemistry, so stay tuned. Have to say, the whole thing is quite eerie and moving.

We were able to see the church attached to the museum, where a replica of the cloth has the place of honor. This church is maintained by the society who has been protecting the shroud since the 1500’s. Quite beautiful.

Don’s Food Corner

Instead of searching out a recommended restaurant, today’s goal was to eat in some really pretty place.  We found it in one of the several gallerias throughout this very attractive (and affluent-seeming) city.

We went simple today.  Jo started with a composed salad of olives, potatoes, shaved vegetables on top of a medley of lettuces.  I just had a simple little salad of greens.  Everything seemed fresh, although they were a little heavy with the fresh dill.

I moved onto ricotta/spinach filled ravioli in a pesto sauce.  I know I’m taking the quality of this ever-present dish for granted.  As I’ve come to expect, the ravioli was homemade and the pesto was excellent.  The place where we had lunch was actually a kind of deli, selling all kinds of fresh and prepared Italian foods.  Since Turin is the home of the first Eataly store, I’m certain that the concept has spawned imitators around the city.  Mini Eataly-type operations are all over.  Or, maybe, the creators of Eataly copied what was already part of the food culture of Turin and turned it into a commercial business.  Whatever, it is pretty neat.

Jo had a carrot soup for her second course.  The soup was velvety smooth with a mound of a type of ricotta-style cheese, although very creamy like a cream cheese texture, that was mixed with snipped chives.  Drops of balsamic vinegar dotted the outer center of the soup.  All excellent.

But the real fun experience of the day was stopping in cafe that specializes in serving chocolate beverages (and chocolates themselves).  Operating in the same location since 1763 and once the hangout of past Italian luminaries, the cafe, named al Bicerin, had a specialty beverage that combined chocolate, coffee and heavy cream, which  I tried.  It is served in a tall glass and the chocolate, coffee and cream are layered, with the chocolate on the bottom, the coffee in the middle, topped with the cream. The chocolate and coffee were hot; the cream cold. The idea, our server explained, was not to stir everything together but rather to sip the hot liquids on the bottom through the cold cream on top.  It worked. Each sip was the perfect temperature.  After the cream was all gone, all that was left was very thick, very heavy chocolate on the bottom that had to be eaten with a spoon.  I think there was enough caffeine in that drink to keep me up for about a week.

Jo had chocolate with whipped cream on top.  The whipped cream was unusually heavy and thick as was the chocolate underneath.  She stirred her beverage without any  complaints from the servers.  We had a platter of regional cookies to go with it.  Later, we did some damage in the confectionery section the cafe so that we could sample some of the local delicacies like chocolate with hazelnuts.  Turin was the home of the first chocolate cafe and where the first chocolate candy was first produced.  Our chocolate-filled afternoon was really like a research project.  At least, that’s what we’re telling ourselves.

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