Saturday, April 03, 2010

all things Sardinian, continued

The men chanted and the women repeated a prayer. Traffic stopped. The procession wound it’s way up the narrow streets of Cuglieri.


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It’s Good Friday and the air is, for once, crisp and clear. The landscape is defined. Harshly beautiful.

David (the proprietor of La Lucrezia) tells us – head out to one of the hill towns that does a full Good Friday service. It’s quite touching, actually.

It’s a morning service and as usual, we have a late start.

Driving out of our village I notice that the older women are in longer dark skirts. Dark shawls cover their heads and shoulders. Is it just today? Or is it every day?


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Cugliari is north of where we are, but just barely. Maybe twenty kilometers. It's a lovely village, spilling out in a ribbon halfway up the mountain. The Basilica dominates; we think we’ll have no trouble finding it.


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We park the car at the outskirts and make our way up, reaching the church just at the final stages of the ceremony. Christ has been taken down, the cross is being raised again. Most of the congregation files behind a small procession of white robed men, but a few stay behind. The older generation. Men sitting on one side of the church. A few women on the other.


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And still another group of white robed men -- mostly boys, actually -- leaves the Basilica.


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I join Ed outside and we spend a while sitting on the stone wall looking down at the sweeping reach of the valley below. How many people leave this place for work? How many return?


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We walk back to find the car, but it’s not easy. Finding a dominating church is kid’s play. Finding a side road near the perimeter where you parked in a hurry is a challenge. As we walk up one street and down another, people are curious and friendly. A woman stands with her hands clasped, peering after the departing postal scooter...


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I ask her if I can take a photo and she is surprised. Pleased. Rewarding me with the finest smile.


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We do locate our car and we look for signs of the road heading north. But before we even exit Cuglieri, we’re stopped by a police officer. There is a commotion ahead.

Amazing how luck plays into our viewing of the procession. Because right in front of us, we see the men (in the distinct robes of the village churches) carrying the cross, the Virgin Mary, and finally, the body of Christ. Chanting, moaning really, in somber, nearly atonal strains.


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The sound of their voices, the wave of prayer from the followers and the onlookers (there aren’t many; it appears to be a contained event; not all Sardinians are devout, not all devout are present for this, and we are in a very small town) – it all moves in somber stealth as the cars now wait behind us until the procession makes a sharp turn away from the main road and we can move forward again.


The road is curvy and as usual, I whine about the speed of our little Renault. Ed pulls over. I drive. Peace is restored.


We head up further north to Bosa. We’re now some 40 kilometers outside our village, but the scenery is completely different. Rugged. Dramatic.

Bosa itself is at the mouth of Sardinia’s only navigable river. Perched at the base of two mountains, it looks squeezed (you'll see this in a later photo from up high). Its medieval heart rises up to the castle. Its riverside houses look colorful. Simple, but well tended.


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We leave the car and walk through the narrow streets. The sun is so gorgeous now that you cannot help but grow lazy with it. It’s early afternoon and we pause at a small piazza where cafĂ© tables spill out toward the fountain. It’s unusual to see this: unlike other Mediterranean people, Sardinians do not appear to have the habit of meeting outdoors over an espresso. We’ve not seen many cafes in the towns and villages of this island.

We order a shared lunch: a bowl of pasta with spicy tomato sauce. With a glass of local white wine. Absolutely sublime.


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Needing a walk, we head up the winding narrow streets toward the castle.


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It’s closed for lunch (of course), but we don’t mind. We just want to walk. Picking a road that appears to scale the mountain, we start the climb up. The scenery is predictably stunning.


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Eventually the road ends. The summit is still a little bit away, but we cannot find a way to it and so we turn back.

It’s late afternoon and we cannot let this day end yet. The sky is too sparkling, too demanding of our attention. We drive along the rugged coast, looking for a place to leave the car and walk along the cliffs that line the waters edge. We cannot find a path. Sheep, yes, we see sheep. And donkeys. Wild looking donkeys. But no place where we can safely walk.

The area is remote, but there is one roadside pizzeria where some men are moving about. We pause to ask about places to admire the scenery. We’re closed, but you can come to our terraces and look around. Always the warm welcome. Always.

Looking north...


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Looking south...


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South, yes, time to retrace our steps.

Our dinner pick is quite at the opposite, southern side of our village and so we head back along the curvy roads until we reach the region’s capital – Oristano. With a population of about 50,000, it feels quite urban and worlds away from the hill villages we’ve just explored. We find out dining spot on a small, intimate almost, pedestrian street.


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We know to moderate our ordering. I ask for the plate of mixed appetizers, followed by pasta with local shrimp and mushrooms.


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The food is delicious: salami, prosciutto – all Sardinian favorites. Pickled mushrooms, fried artichokes and eggplant. Outstanding. And slices of meat swimming in olive oil. I ask the proprietor – What meat? Oh, our very own donkey meat! -- She tells me, beaming. Ah.

The tiramisu is rich, satisfying. The day ends with a short drive back and a philosophical discussion that has no purpose, no answers, no finality. But that’s fitting, I think, for a Good Friday in Sardinia. With the taste of olive oil and a memory of the rugged cliffs and mountains.