From Rome (and Turin) with love

ROME _  Everything you’ve heard is true. This is one of the most beautiful cities in one of the most beautiful countries in the world.  I was here by happenstance. I had been invited on a study tour of Turin, Italy, which is often called “the Detroit of Italy,” and asked my hosts to book my flight three days in advance and into Rome. I told them I’d meet them in Turin.

I arrived late because of flight delays, but it was actually perfect timing because after dropping off my bags at the Hotel Forty-Seven, I walked to the Coliseum. At night, it is even more majestic than during the day. And that I could just walk up and rub my hands against walls built thousands of years ago gave me pause.

The Coliseum bathed in evening light.

There was more that I found equally exciting. I soon discovered that almost EVERY block in Rome had been preserved. I stumbled into majestic treasures on nearly every street.  I new there would be places I had to see – the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain et. al. – what I really wanted to do was discover everything I didn’t even know I wanted to see.

For three days, I wandered and ate and wandered and shopped and wandered and flirted and wandered and took photographs. One mission remained unaccomplished. No matter how many restaurants I tried, I could not find one where the chef made spaghetti puttanesca, my favorite. I had seafood and pork and pastas with spicy tomatoes. But alas, my requests for puttanesca were met with mild amusement.  Not until I returned home did I look up puttanesca to find that “spaghetti alla puttanesca, the  spicy, tangy, somewhat salty Italian pasta dish that I crave has special meaning. It is known as “whore’s spaghetti.”

Annarita Cuomo, a writer for Il Golfo, a newspaper serving the Italian islands of Ischia and Procida, says that puttanesca was invented in the 1950s by Sandro Petti, co-owner of Rancio Fellone, a famous Ischian restaurant.  As the story goes, Petti needed to cook for a hungry friends sitting at one of his tables late one night. Low on ingredients, he tried to send them elsewhere. They told him to make any kind of garbage, or “Facci una puttanata qualsiasi. Petti took some four leftover tomatoes, two olives and some capers and made a sauce.

His garbage became famous. But fifty years later, it made me somewhat infamous. Puttanesca is a southern Italian dish, created in the mid 1960s. I was in central Italy, headed to northern Italy. The meaning of puttanata is “something worthless. “ Its derivation is from the Italian for whore.

So I spent three days looking for whore’s spaghetti. No wonder some waiters looked at me funny.

When in Rome, and you crave it, ignore the craving until you get home. If you want to make it, sauté chopped garlic, diced onions and anchovies in olive oil. As it cooks, add chopped chili peppers, olives, capers, diced tomatoes and oregano, salt and black pepper to taste. Simmer for 10 to 20 minutes, then pour over spaghetti cooked al dente.

Every night that I was in Rome, I ended my evening at Trevi Fountain, a focal point of Rome and one of its most popular tourist attractions. The fountain, which is 85 feet high and 65 feet wide, is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome and one of the most famous fountains in the world. The fountain is at the junction of three ancient roads and marks the terminal point for the ancient aqueduct that supplied water to Rome. The Roman custom of building a fountain at the endpoint of any aqueduct that brought water to Rome was revived in the 15th century.

After three days, I was off to Turin, or Torino, as its residents call it. Called the Detroit of Italy, it was the birthplace of Fiat and fell apart when its auto industry did. But Turin rebounded in a way that is amazing, so a delegation of Detroit leaders went to study why.  For more read my reports at

One thing that was obvious, at least in the city center, was the united pride of its residents. They take care of their buildings the way residents of Roma take care of their ruins. Turin was as beautiful, but a smaller, quaint city nestled in the shadow of the Alps and between two rivers. It is a beautiful mix of majestic plazas, former castles and palaces and standing memories of its founding as a Roman military camp. Still standing as a a welcome to Palazo Madama are one of the gates that protected the camp.

Located in piazza Cesare Augusto, Porta Palatina is the most famous “souvenir” left from the city of Augusta Taurinorum, founded by the Romans in 28 B.C. The Porta Palatina dates to the first century A.D. and is one of the few remaining entrance gates to a now buried Roman encampment.  Porta Palatina is actually one of the best conserved Roman gates in the world. Turin has two others, including Palazzo Madama near our hotel. Rumor has it that Charlamagne camped in Turin in 773 after his victory over the Longobards. Today copies of the statues of Caesar and Augustus stand in front of the Porta Palatina. Below is my photo of the gate at Palazzo Madama.

Like other lucky cities, Turin was granted an Olympic Games – the winter ones of 2006. Now all that was built for those athletics still stands, some unused, some reborn as office buildings.

Oh, one other thing: Besides being known as the home of the Shroud of Turin, the football teams Juventus and the headquarters of Fiat, Lancia and Alfa Romeo, Turin is also well-known for its chocolate, an amazing sweet known as Gianduiotto. Every year, Turin holds its annual CioccolaTÒ, a two-week chocolate festival. Yes, it’s that good.

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