John Seabrook explores a newly vibrant city ready to show off its discreet charms" name="description">
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Turin's Olympic Moment

The template for Turin's transformation should be the former Fiat factory, an 800,000-square-foot masterpiece of Modernism built in the 1920's by Giacomo Trucco that has been repurposed by Renzo Piano. It is located in the Lingotto section of the city, where the media village will be during the Olympics. The structure now holds two Le Meridien hotels, the Pina­coteca Giovannie Marella Agnelli (displaying masterpieces from the Agnelli collection, including works by Matisse, Modigliani, and Manet), an upscale mall, offices, a vast convention center (where the Slow Food Festival takes place every other year), and, on the ground floor, a botanical garden. Piano left the exterior of the factory intact: its industrial grid of giant windows, themselves gridded into smaller panes, seems a modern extension of the Savoy rulers' plan for the city center. The old test track is still on the roof: Michael Caine drove a Mini Cooper around it in the original version of The Italian Job. (Le Meridien guests can now jog on it.)

Of course, Athens famously built a new subway system and stadium for the 2004 Summer Olympics, spending $10 billion on the Games, and in the end many Greeks came to believe the cost wasn't worth it. But the Winter Olympics are much less expensive, and for the most part take place within smaller spaces, many of which the city did not have to specially build. The figure-skating venue will be the 1961 Eero Saarinen–esque exhibition center. The Palasport Olimpico, an ice-hockey arena, will be housed in a multiuse structure. Turin's old Municipal Stadium, erected in 1933 under Mussolini, will be the site of the opening and closing ceremonies. True to the city's work ethic, everything is ahead of schedule.

The deputy president of Turin's Olympic organizing committee, Evelina Christillin, says that the only serious obstacle in planning these Olympics was a lack of sponsorship money from Italian companies. The reason, Christillin says, is that "there is too much soccer in Italy. It is impossible to get people interested in supporting other sports." The country's economic problems are another reason; Italian companies don't have much money to throw around. In November, only 500,000 tickets to Olympic events had been sold, and the organizing committee was still looking for 100 million euros to close its budget gaps.

At the time I discovered Turin, I had been living in Rome for a year and was getting tired of the Romans' fondness for eating the same eight or so dishes over and over again. In Turin, the approach to eating is exactly the opposite. Every meal is different, even at the same restaurant. Among the great local dishes are bagna cauda, raw vegetables served with a hot dipping sauce of olive oil, garlic, and anchovies; the local favorite, bollito misto, mixed boiled meats; fantastically tender gnocchi with duck ragout; and risotto al Barolo, made with the great local wine. Whoever said that Italian cooking was really just warming up good ingredients wasn't thinking of Turin. The best meal I had was at Barrique, a formal restaurant with striped wall coverings of taupe and cream. There I ate a terrine made of almost raw veal and chopped vegetables with an egg sauce, followed by sautéed shrimp served with a small round croquette of whitefish stuffed with broccoli, and then an unbelievably tasty rabbit—plump and with perfectly crisp skin.

Yet the food I retain the most vivid impression of came not from one of the city's gastronomic temples, but rather from a white plastic bucket. The bucket was stashed inside Roberto Pierro's kitchen at Tre Galli, a casual, sunlit place where the waitresses are beautiful and you often see politicians and journalists eating lunch. Inside the bucket, wrapped in damp bits of paper towel, was Pierro's supply of white truffles, a bounty of the Piedmont region. Roberto brought the bucket to the table, picked out a fat truffle, weighed it on his pocket scale, shaved slices onto undressed pasta with his truffle shaver, and then weighed the truffle again to determine how much to charge. These truffles are the rarest, most wonderful delicacy, and once you've got the scent in your nose it stays with you all the time you're in Turin.

On my last afternoon, I went to Al Bicerin, the café where Count Cavour and Giu- seppe Mazzini whispered their schemes to unite Italy. The café's eponymous drink has three layers: coffee on the bottom, dark chocolate above it, and sweet, frothy milk on top. You don't stir it, because the taste is in the layers. I would say the same thing about Turin. It's a city of separate parts, but it has more flavor that way. You move from the superficial pleasures of its surface to the darker, more complex layer below, until finally you strike the fuel that sends you back through the misty streets, to work.


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