Wednesday, October 16, 2013


 After breakfast, we're off for the tour of the town.
 Nice frescos
There's a wedding on this afternoon, and the musicians are here practicing already, so the visit of the church is "rushed" and somehow does not include everything our guide wants to tell us about it. Personally, I'm happy to cut that part of the tour "short". The full version must take the entire day! Surely there are many other things to see in Saluzzo, that do not have to do with the Church.
 I should have a cloister at my house.
With cows on the capitals! Definitely.
The monastery attached to the church is now a hotel, and the coffee shop has tables along the south cloister gallery. Nice place for a cup of coffee.
We do move on from the church, to spend the rest of the morning at the city museum. This used to be a private residence. They have quite a fantastic door.
And a great view of the town.
One last view, and it's time for lunch.
Big, big Rotary lunch, really loud with all 34 of us in one room, three courses and all. It's interesting that once again the French and Italians have pretty much spontaneously segregated into their respective language groups. Will have to learn some italian for the next trip.

Yeah, I know, I'm not actually telling you much. I didn't write any more because we went home just after lunch, and since then it's been non-stop at work.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

To Saluzzo

In the morning, Piazza Torino. It's not very clear which of the bus stops is the right one, and the local drivers hanging about have different ideas on the subject. I pick my favorite and hope it's right, because there's no way I'm running across the intersection with this heavy pack. If I miss it, I've got half an hour to mosey over to the right spot and wait for the next one.
Turns out I picked a winner, and off we go, down from Cuneo's hill and back over the plain. With the low clouds, there's no way to see the surrounding mountains at all, and the close foothills are just shadows. Then finally we approach a town stacked up against a hillside - Saluzzo!
Now, to get to the hotel go straight (though stay right), past the marketplace in full Saturday morning swing, then straight up. There are some little lefts and rights, but the bus driver seems to have mentioned them just for absolute completeness: the zigzags are matters of a few feet either way. Must be from here. It's almost surprising he didn't warn me of that dogpile, but I see it in time.

I'm meeting up with my Rotary friends in an hour, which is just time for a quick turn around town. I think there's a guided tour of Saluzzo later.

 Does that say noon? Time to head back to the hotel and catch my ride to the village where we're all meeting for lunch.
Our lunching spot is at the foot of a hill with a great castle on top. Would love to go see it, but it's not on the schedule. Dang. If I'd thought for a minute we'd be right here then not get any closer, I would have hiked up there instead of spending so much time milling around waiting for the critical mass of Rotarians to be reached so that lunch could be served. Merisia would have gone with me, I'm sure.

Finally we are all together, and on the road with our guide. The first visit is not the castle on the hill, which I am assured is a kitchy reconstruction, but to the monk's shelter across the road. All the land around here used to belong to various monastic orders, and when they sent their guys out to work the orchards (in this case apples), there was a place for them to take shelter and worship.
After that, the Monastery. I forget which one, what order, and even if it's the one the orchard shelter belonged to (surely). What I get for not taking notes. But I refused to take notes. Our guide was great. She knew Everything. She knew everything, and she wanted to share it All, which is great at first, but then gets quite long in two languages and really really long when you realize that she's not going to skip one detail. (well, she did skip a lot of them in French, but the Italian explanation was interminable). 
detail from the fresco in the upper right of the previous photo

Monastery cloister, with hidden cats
After this visit, there was supposed to be another stop, but it's getting late, and people want to relax before the grand dinner. Most of the French participants set out at 6 or 7 am, and would like a shower, and to press their clothes. 
We get back to the hotel at 6:30, and those of us who want to shop for local stuff have just half an hour before the shops close. Six of us want to shop, but it's like herding cats to actually get going. There will be no going alone, of course, so we advance at the pace of the slowest and make it to the local supermarket with just time to pore over olive oils and wines and cookies and make our purchases before last bell.

Monday, October 14, 2013


Train to Cuneo, depart Torino Porto Nuova at 9:25. Torino Lingotto, Carmagnola, Cavallermaggiore, Savigliano, Fossano, Centallo, all these included. It's 91 km to Cuneo according to the road signs around town. One hour eleven minutes by rail.
Sign on the quay: "Do not go beyond the yellow line", and there's a bumpy yellow warning strip all along the edge so you don't fall onto the tracks. All very well and safety-concious. But there's also a bumpy yellow line at the top of the stairs. Um, it's rather useful to cross that line if you want to leave the quay. Coming up the stairs, you haven't seen the sign yet, so up you go. But then you're trapped. These are the things I consider while waiting on trains.
The train car is nothing special. Not very new, not very clean. But then I see another train at Savigliano and realize I'm lucky. The other train full of passengers is so covered in dirt and graffiti that the windows along one side are completely covered. If the inside is anything like the outside...
Torino to Cuneo is flat and dull, crossing the Po river plain. The morning is overcast, the grime on the windows contributing to make the landscape seem sad and grey. Days like that you think 'at least it isn't raining', though I don't want to say it and tempt fate. I did leave my anti-rain device at home. There must be mountains out there somewhere.

Stepping out of the station at Cuneo, the bus for Saluzzo is just pulling up. Answers that question for meeting up with my friends tomorrow. The schedule has such a bus coming around several times a day, though I'm unable to decipher whether this will be true on Saturday. There only seems to be the one schedule.
I find a hotel just off the main square and drop off my backpack, but I'll have to come back after noon to take possession of the room. Would have been nice to use the bathroom, but I'll live.
It's market day in Cuneo - time to explore the local goods.

When my friends the Gervasonis come through here on their way back from Rome, they always pick up some of the local specialty chocolates, and I had wondered if it would be difficult to find the right shop. I thought perhaps they knew some little place tucked back in a corner that you really have to know about to find. No worries there - Cuneesi are not a one-shop thing, but a town-wide competition to make these traditional cakes, and the more modern chocolate-clad kind.
All around the main square you can find them, and any sweet shop and bakery worthy of the name carries some. Small shops might only do three or four flavors, but the big ones offer two dozen.
An assorted pound of the chocolate kind, please. That's for taking home. I add a snack of just one of the non-chocolate covered kind, as a snack. oooh, that's good. Must get the royal assortment of those too!

I spend the day walking around the historical part of town. There's one main street with a deep arcade on either side. Many of the buildings are shrouded in scaffolding, but the façades you can see are a treat. Some are just done in simple colored plaster. Others have intricate stonework, and still others frescoes, either old or new.
I love the colors in Italy and southern France. The light, the flowers, the towns. Sometimes the black-clad people are quite a contrast to their houses and cities, as sleek and stylish and modern as can be, while around them they preserve the colorful brick and frescoed stucco style from centuries ago.

Ah, here's a regular supermarket. I'd like some quality balsamic vinegar and some local aperitifs to take home. I could find these things in the outrageously priced tourist boutiques, but really, the supermarket will do. The hard thing is not letting my eyes get too big for my luggage. I have to lug it all to the bus stop in the morning, and from the bus to my hotel in Saluzzo.
Indeed, the stuff does add up. A book in Turin for the folks, another in Cuneo for myself, a trio of liqueurs. All those chocolates, Sardinian marmelade... I can barely lift my backpack.

Friday, October 11, 2013

End of Turin

There aren't ticket machines at the tram stops, though there was one on the last tram I was on. But the next tram I get on is a really old model (seriously old!), and it has no such machine - there's only the one to stamp your ticket. But where the heck do you get a ticket?
Then again, what are the odds of meeting ticket checkers twice in one hour?
I know, I know. A previous event has no impact on the future probability of another event. Losing the lottery actually has no effect on the next round of lottery-playing. Anyway, if ticket guys are in the area, perhaps that increases my chance of meeting one...
Safely at my stop, I duck into the train station to check out trains to Cuneo. Nothing on the board. Either all the Cuneo trains go to the other station, or it's a stop on the way to somewhere else.
I don't stop to enquire, though; the need for a large glass of water, a shower, and a nap is just too great.

Back to base at 4:30. Seven and a half hours of walking around. Yep, I need a break. This is such a comfortable bed. At six I go for a stroll along a different section of the Po. The joggers and dog-walkers and rowers are out in force. There are men rowing alone, very fast, very serious. There are teams practicing. There are kids learning, and one 4-man boat of teenagers just can NOT coordinate all those long oars. The odd kayaker makes a stir. Everybody advances backwards on the water. There are not too many collisions.
People are out. Everybody is out. Italians live on their balconies much more than the French do, and they all seem to come out and get some air in the evening between work or school and dinner. It's lively. It's nice.

Tonight I have a more serious meal. Tablecloths. Local specialities. Unfamiliar with what things are called, I order the Piedmont salad, and the roast rabbit with crunchy vegetables. The 'salad' is shredded carrots and cabbage with chicken bits, drenched in vast quantities of mayonnaise-like substance. Not having that again. The rabbit is very tasty, though alas the vegetables are thoroughly cooked. The wine is nice, but altogether I was much more pleased by lunch.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


This just in: notice that my paper has been successfully submitted to the Journal of Biomedical Informatics.
Not that I wrote it. My colleague F wrote it; I'm just a co-author.

I'm a coauthor who has not been allowed to get too close to this manuscript, because F knows only too well that if he lets me see it, I will disagree with half of what it says, and even the other half still needs to say what it says differently. And if he gives me the manuscript for revision, it will be a long time in revision.

Yeah, I know. I'm slow getting his papers back to him. My official excuse is that this paper is item #63 on my priority list. Which is not a lie! But I admit: it's the writing. The text is disorganized. The language is approximative and vague, full of annoying circumlocutions and jargon. Little difference is made between key points and interesting but inconsequential details. If I say to streamline, he leaves in the details and cuts the essentials. Althogether, it's incomprehensible.

This particular paper was submitted a few months ago to a nice computing journal, without my having read it. Last week it came back with the commentary 
- incomprehensible algorithm
- poorly written text
- not adapted to their journal
It was never even sent for review, but rejected directly by the editor.

We agreed to address these concerns before submitting elsewhere, but F was adamant about not wasting a lot of time revising. Now it has been resubmitted, in record time, and I have still not seen it. So the quickness goal was achieved. But what is the value of that, if the new editor just sends it right to the dustbin?

And now back to your regularly scheduled tour of Italy...

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Monday, October 7, 2013

Turin 2

Gotta have dogs!

Gran Madre de Dio church, so imposing from the outside, is tiny, really. You step inside, and there you are just a few rows from the altar. I like it. Nice and intimate once you're inside. Formal, still - you're not buddies with the Madonna -but it doesn't have that way of making you feel insignificant that so many grand churches have. And it isn't freezing cold, either.
Up the hill that overlooks Torino from the east is the Villa della Regina. The Queen's house. Visiting this grand mansion (why is this one not a palazzo? It's certainly palacial), with its elaborate out-buildings and fountains, is free, and free of crowds today. Interesting outbuildings - they don't have any rooms, just open-air spaces for the collection of monumental statuary, with terraces for lunching with visiting countesses or dancing in the evening to a string quartet, while servants circulate with champagne.

After the Villa I walk down the river Po. Downstream of the Via Po bridge, the graffiti isn't as interesting, but the far bank is much greener, and the heron I spotted from the bridge decides me. It would be a very nice walk if everything didn't stink of piss and stagnant water.

Somebody wrote out pi, for blocks and blocks, until they ran out of wall.

On the way back toward the Via Po, in search of a light lunch before hopping a tram to see where it goes, I notice two things. One is that someone has written out pi stretching out several blocks, a few hundred digits. The other is that my shoulder bag is about to have a disaster. The stitching connecting the shoulder strap is starting to give way on one end. That kind of thing only accelerates, as the weight of the bag shifts to a single stitch, then to the next one. There are handbags a-plenty in Italy - I only hope to come across the right one before the strap gives way entirely.
Land of fashion, you might say; easily done. But I'm difficult with bags. I like a wide strap to wear across my body, in order to avoid back pain when hauling oversized loads. Today that means camera + long lens + book + water + miscellaneous purse stuff. Other days it might mean book + groceries, or book + a pile of M2 reports. This pack-animal style of mine is, of course, not at all fashionable.
So we'll see.
Grazing for lunch starts off with a chunk of thick foccacia with olives and bits of sausage, then farther down the street a plate of pasta with pesto. I can never resist pesto - I passed the sidewalk cafe with this on the menu and started thinking yes, next pesto I see I'll stop. Two blocks and half a dozen eateries later, no pesto in evidence, so I turned around. And a glass of white wine with that. You never know what you'll get at some cheap semi-fast cafe, but the wine and the pasta are wonderful.

Walking on after lunch, I'm quite close to the museum with the Turin Shroud. I'm not normally a fan of religious relics, but I followed some of the scientific analyses they did on it, trying to authenticate it. There's really no way to know who was wrapped in the shroud, but it would be interesting to see it myself.
If it's on display.
If I can find the place.
Oh yes, here it is. Closed until 3.
Let's see where the tram goes.
The first tram I come to, I'm on it. It's going somewhere called Vittorio, which turns out to be not very interesting at all. Just big apartment blocks and small shops. I wanted to see some of regular, people who live here, Turin, and here it is. On the other hand, I did spy a stop I've got to make. Would never ever have seen it otherwise.
On the way back up the line, I realize that the tickets I bought in the metro are not for the busses or trams. The tram is surprisingly expensive, too. Not that I can't afford 2.50, but that's really a lot for any city I've been to, unless you're going way way out to th suburbs. Oh, and look, there's a guy working his way down the car, checking tickets. Great. No way to get past him and buy one now.
My stop really is the next one. The ticket checker makes his way slowly toward me, and as we pull up to my stop he's talking to the woman next to me. I excuse myself to get past them, and step out. No problem.
What intrigued me was this abandoned factory sort of building, though I think now it was never any sort of factory. There are giant pillars holding up a high, translucent roof, and then farther on but not under the roof, a series of parallel walls holding up nothing. Under the roof there are stairways, and a catwalk the whole lenght. It's odd, and it's covered with bright, glorious graffiti. Indeed, it seems to be an invitation to graffiti. Under the covered part there's a small skate park, and some basketball hoops, then a place for kids to play. Along the walls are paths for strolling, and between those, flowerbeds.

It's all open and inviting and colorful, and seems to have something to do with the Olympic Games recently held here. Glad I stopped by.

Sunday, October 6, 2013


Suddenly, the announcements are in Italian, as if all the passengers changed nationality with the wave of a magic baguette. Bardonecchia arrives at the end of a long, very long tunnel. Our introduction to Italy is subterranean, and dark. One moment to the next we're in the sun, in a new country.
It's rather like France. There are wooden chalets all up the mountainside, the train yard full of weedy rails and piles of extra ties. The river is still alongside us, only flowing the other way. A new river, then. A twin.
Can't see anything of Oulx-Cesana-Claviere-Sestriere. On my side a wall of trees, on the other the passengers have pulled all the shades down against the sun.
Down the Alps we go. Past Chiomont, without stopping although it's a much bigger town than the discreet Oulx. Down past the ski station exits, down through the vineyards laid out like striped green towels on a vertical beach. Down to Torino.
Why say Turin? All the signs say Torino. 

It's not a big city; just one metro line. That's convenient for not getting lost, but if only there were a map somewhere...n...n...nope. They do list the stops the metro makes, but while the little map I printed to find my hotel has helpful "M"s for the metro, it doesn't name the stops.
A map with no names, a list of names with no map.
I have a vague idea the stop I want is Porto Nouvo, so I just get on a train going that way. 
My first experience with Torinos is a good one. I show my map to a random passenger, and he says yes, Porto Nuovo. In fact, he's going just there. When we exit the train, I'm off for whatever exit; I'll find my way once I'm above ground. But my nice man sticks with me, showing me which of the many exits it's better to take, and then points me down the right street. No getting lost with the guy. How wonderfully kind.

Out and about in Torino the streets are full of people and the shops full of fashion. Around us rise ornate brick and plaster buildings made of history and converted to our current needs. Palazzos abound. Every one has a plaque outside and its photo in a guide book. Some are quite pretty. Some are just imposing or uselessly complicated.
I like the way the children playing keep away from nanny are dwarfed by the heavy porticos. And the dogs. Miniscule dogs in Gucci, pony-sized dogs, prized and pampered dogs all around. I've heard they're more common than children, being less time-consuming and bothersome.

For about two hours I walk around, snapping photos, and it's just on my way back to base, around seven, when I remember that yes, I did bring the memory card. It's in its adapter for the computer, which I was so proud to think of yesterday. Right there in my bag, just not in the camera. I remind myself of Mister Pilgrim, always taking his heavy camera backpacking, then shooting all his film with the lens cap on.
I'll just remember all those scenes, and the evening light on the ochre facades, in my head.

Mmmm, they are not shy with the garlic here.
Eight is a bit early for dinner in these parts. I don't mind eating alone, but I don't like to be the only one in the whole restaurant, so I ended up in this place you'd really go for a quick lunch. Nothing elaborate, but not far from fast food. There is a specials menu, and I have quite a nice meal.
Canoli or sfoglia for dessert? Or gelato? Oh, the pastry I will eat tomorrow. Pasticceria on every block. You can't get far before another delicacy is offered. I must test them all.
Morning note to self: Do graze from cafe to pasticceria. Do not bother with the breakfast buffet at the hotel.