Since I’ve been here I have taken over 2000 photos, and today only added to the bunch with a trip to the ancient city of Tharros, one of the largest and most important Phoenician-Roman ruins in the world. Once an active port, a narrow road also leads to the nuraghi village of Marru Mannu, dating from 18th century B.C. Tharros, located on the peninsula di sinis, is around 45 minutes away from Bosa, located in the province of Oristano. In Oristano, life is even simpler than life in Alghero. Alghero even seemed too busy considering the bulls on the side of the road, and the townsmen wondering through town on horseback. Yes, horseback. One thing is for sure, as the graffiti on the way shouts, Sardegna is not Italy.
Today a trip back in time to the Nuraghe Palmavera and Anghelu Ruju. The Nuraghi, of which over 700 can be found on the island, are remnants of small villages which have been preserved from 1500 B.C. The name nuraghi doesn’t say anything about the people, but about the construction of the circular stone huts inhabited by them. The Nuraghe Palmavera was apparently destroyed after a major fire, and is just a decent walk, a short bike ride, and an even shorter car ride from the center of Alghero. The Anghelu Ruju is even older, a necropolis dating by from around 3300 B.C., suspected to belong to the Nuraghe as well. Climbing in the tombs, one can feel the presence of a thousand souls, and smell the history through the small inlets where the sun and lizards climb in.
A voyage to the east side of the island, today, to the famous Costa Smeralda, known for its fancy yachts and V.I.P visitors. We packed our own lunch, some dried sausage, tomatoes, and frozen water, as paninis cost 8 euro at the Prince’s Beach. The history of Smeralda is simple and recent. On an excursion, a group of financiers found the natural untouched beauty of the beach beautiful enough to invest in, and so they did. Up until the 1970’s the area was pretty deserted, or so the book I have been reading about Sardinian history tells me. The sights are indescribable, and the water is unlike any I have ever seen, but there is a lack of spirit in the air, if you ask me, which comes with places like Alghero, Bosa, or Porto Torres, areas where history is as important as the view.
Today we explored more of the northern coast, and after a thirty minute adventure lost in Sassari, we were well on our way to Castelsardo, a medieval town similar to Bosa, in which homes are built into the side of the mountains, presumably for protection from Moor invasions, to Valledoria, then finally to Isola Rossa, where we settled on a small beach with a cerulean sea.. Living here has made me quite a beach snob, I must admit. The vast beach of Valledoria, with sand split between a fresh water lake where horses stop for a small drink, and the crashing waves of the Mediterranean for surfers and small, brave children on the other side, was too much. Give me the private, azure blue sea, with water like glass in which I can see the chipped red of my toe-nail polish any day.
D.H. Lawrence once wrote something regarding the Sardinians and their eagerness to be alone. In Italy, he says, groups of people form together in the market, gossip on a bench in the park, but in Sardegna it is not odd to find a lonesome shepherd walking for miles with no one but his flock of sheep. I find myself yearning to walk alone, the other night, I felt an extreme jealousy for the stray cat I have semi-adopted. How wonderful it must be to have no one to answer to, to tour the forests until you are hungry and then purr next to the first person who will listen. This must be part of the Sardinian sickness, the resistance to be anything tranquil, to be alone, not lost, in the middle of the Mediterranean. After all, Lawrence writes, “I am no more than a signal human man wandering my lonely way across these years.”
Interested in some nut cream for your rubber dingy? Well you should be, for that means some delicious homemade amaretto gelato and a chance to ride in a small boat. The translations here are of pure wonder. I have a small tourist guide which I refer to often for the sheer charm of the grammar, “walking north we see goat feeds with sheep”, is one particular favorite construction. A dear friend from Cagliari, Sardinia’s capital, agrees. We have a good laugh over my misunderstanding of the movie title for “Snow white and the Huntsmen” which is “Bianca en la cacciatori” Isn’t cacciatore a style of cooking, I ask? It doesn’t take long for me to understand the relationship between the rustic style of onions, peppers, and tomatoes, and the translation of “huntsmen”. I like it, I tell Valentina, it has a history. Plus, I am relieved the movie isn’t “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.”
Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys are still alive in Alghero, and the young children sing along, not understanding what it means when they shimmy and bob to “I’m not that innocent”, but much differently than those young children did in America, for literally, these innocents don’t speak a lick of English. It is a wonder, all of the songs on the radio here are pretty much British pop, with the occasional italian songstress belting out words I wish I could half knowingly sing along to, and yet hardly anyone speaks fluently in English. In fact, there are five different dialects in Sardegna. Ajo, ejo, aio, ijo, all mean let’s go, but are each pronounced distinctly differently depending on the region. The waiter who serves Valentina and me is surprised to hear her speak such good Italian, and he says it in Sardo to test her, we believe. She says she is from Cagliari and he smiles, and I hold on to every other third word as they speak.
Perhaps the free internet at McDonald’s was too good to be true. The employees know what I want when I come up to the counter. Sorry, signora, they say, we don’t know what to do. I hear one girl say she doesn’t understand why I am so concerned about the internet, maybe I should go to the beach, but I don’t know enough Italian to tell her I have to put up a blog post. Mamma mia, I say, it is important. Lavorro, I say. Work. One man tries to help me, but explaining computer issues is difficult enough in English, and alas we have no shot at helping the other out. He apologizes profusely, as if it is his own fault I can’t upload a blog post. It is okay, I say, tranquile, which I have learned can be translated into “don’t worry” or, what I like to imagine, “be tranquil”. After three days of trying to post with no luck, I treat myself to a chocolate gelato near the Old Town. Certainly the McDonald’s employees were right, this is much better than surfing the web.
A few days ago, like Kenny Chesney, with nowhere to go and no where to be, I thought a walk to the medieval town of Bosa would be a fun way to spend the day. I was originally going to live in the fisherman village, which overlooks the River Temo, and have been eager to compare it to Alghero. After around 9km, crossing over granite bridges, leaving the smooth coast line of Alghero for the rocky cliffs and crashing waves, we asked a local surfer ‘dove Bosa?’. His expression said it all…40km away! A bus another day sounded much better of an option. A walk 10km back to watch the sunset.
The MTA can’t compare to the public transportation system in Sardegna. Lord knows, Sardinian’s would frown upon the T. Coach lines, panoramic views, cushioned seats, and air conditioner awaits everyone. The forty minute ride to Bosa, the town next, and by next I do mean the next and closest town to Alghero, is filled with goats, sheep, horses, and shepherds, not to mention unbelievable views. Bosa is charming, beautiful, historic, indescribable really, but mostly it was on siesta. No matter, what we really came to do was walk up over 200 steps to see la Castella Seravilla, built in 1010. The tower’s bases and walls are still intact, as well as a small chapel.
In the chapel are original paintings, discovered during reconstruction in the 1700’s, of the last supper, the theology of saints, and the Sardinian depiction of the decomposition of the body, which begins with the body fully intact, but ends, as we all will, with the salvation of the soul. It seems this belief is what truly lies at the root of Sardinian culture. There is a tourist shirt I’ve seen around, nothing special, black cotton and an imitation Nike symbol, with the words “Sardegna — Just Do It Later”. One lives by the sun. It rises early and sets late. My days are spent walking by the sea, watching the sun, and reading Eugenio Montale. If there is anything to worry about, I will worry later.
Once again, being from New York is a blessing. Everyone here loves New York — “I want to go” they say. “Okay, let’s switch”, I say. I like to pretend I don’t know what it is about my hometown that is so special, but walking down the streets of Alghero, I realize why. Nick knows how to work down the street vendors euro by euro, and I, well, I suppose it is my smile and the phrase “mi despiache, parle poco italiano” that has helped me get by. Still, Brooklyn is no Sardegna.
After seeing us unlock our rented bikes during the morning, Pina wanted to know why we were on foot walking home, and why we were coming home so early, weren’t we going to have dinner by the water? She uses her hands and points to her feet to make her question clear. I make a funny face, one which I hope shows pain and excitement, and point to my bottom. I’ve found a new respect for cyclists after yesterday — after a 21km bike ride, it hurts, I say. I rub my thumb against my fingers in hopes that the international sign for too much money translates. She holds my hand when we speak. We have no idea what the other is truly saying, but somehow we know what the other means.
Today I jumped overboard, twice. I even swam with fish while they ate penne alla pesto! If you ever find yourself in Alghero, the Andrea Jensen is an absolute must — a private yacht owned and operated by a lovely British couple, Vivienne and Geoff, which sails around the various cliffs and capes, and docks in the middle of Cappo Caccia. Aboard, I met a lovely couple from Surrey, who happened to live quite close to where I lived when I studied in London, and a truly charming couple from Ireland, who helped me write my first poem…(Pat and Eileen): “There once was a man named Pat, when he jumped he made a big splash.”
Internet is hard to come by in Sardegna, and for good reason. Why worry what the rest of the world is worrying about? Around here one frets about littering on the beach. Why, just last night there was a twenty minute news report about cigarette butts on the beach. One older gentleman proposed using empty advil containers as ash trays. Nothing extraordinary, but genius none the less.
The words I want to write are simple, as the way of life is simple. One may rise at eight, have a few too many espressos, take a simple walk down to the water, pass a catapult or ancient watch tower or two, and find the shop keepers still preparing their merchandise, and that the town is still rising. Of course, siesta is near, so one mustn’t get too used to browsing.
Life begins after dinner, really. And for good thing — I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. Alghero’s history seems to be stuck somewhere between the eleventh century, and today. The children speak English as adults shake their heads. I live in the outskirts of town, above an older couple, Pina and Giorgio, and a younger woman, perhaps a few years my senior, Gulianna. The generation gaps make no matter, there is still no WiFi, no dryer, and no air conditioner if the radio or water heater is on, but there is fresh basil, lemon trees, and lilacs galore. There is a McDonald’s, yes, which is where I am sitting now to write these few words. All there is to know is that the tomatoes are ripe, the cheese is fresh, and at night, there is always a purple sky.