Friday, July 3, 2009

Cycling in Piemonte

The last time I cycled in Piemonte was in 2001 when I followed the Giro d'Italia with Ciclismo Classico on a cycling tour. At that time, I was more interested in the race itself, and didn't really capture the feel of Piemonte as I did this past week during a brief hiatus from Florence.

After taking 3 trains last Saturday, I arrived in the small village of Arquata Scrivia, which is so tiny that it barely makes the map. Piemonte is a different world than Tuscany. It is less developped and still maintains much of the old world purity that has disappeared from other regions of Italy. For this I loved it.

We cycled during the days, covering territory in Piemonte, from the gentle rolling vineyards of Barolo and Barbaresco country in Alba, to the more ferocious climbs of the Appenines around Gavi. We ascended the very steep and unforgiving Passo della Bocchetta, (which is one of the climbs of the Giro dell'Appennino). It was one of the more difficult climbs that I've ever done, due in part to the oppressive heat and humidity of the day.

We passed through several solemn sites of interest that were startling reminders of the tragedies that occured there during WWII.

During the evenings, we joined his friends and neighbors outdoors at the Ballo, (a place where people traditionally meet to dance), the main gathering place for the village. There, the kids played soccer while the men played bacci ball and cards, and the women gossiped while keeping an eye on their children. It was a vivid reminder of those sweltering, hot summer nights growing up in Brooklyn, waiting for the Good Humor truck, catching fireflies, as our parents would sit out on their folding chairs keeping comfortable with lemonade and mosquito repellent.

Having met some of Claudio's childhood friends, it became clear that most native Italians, upon first meeting me, wonder with downright confusion, why an American would want to move to Italy. Many are disenchanted with everything here from the pope to the president and they can't see why someone from the American democracy would be willing to live and cope with Italy's conflicts and weaknesses. I try to explain why I am here, and all the things that have drawn me to Italy over the decades. But my feelings about Italy are perhaps too personal to explain.

We had dinner at a fattoria in Gavi one night, and on the other evenings, cooked at Claudio's home. We enjoyed some very fine wines from his wine cellar, including Barbera, Gavi di Gavi, Barolo, Barbaresco and Dolcetta.

I learned alot about Piemonte and its fine wines and typical foods, such as agnolotti and vitello tonnato and had an opportunity to explore some itineraries for future bike tour guiding.