Wednesday, March 31, 2010

to Riola Sardo

Wake me when the light changes.

I’m used to these words. Ed is a napper and when the urge to sleep strikes, he can satisfy it with a twenty second doze and move on. But the requests are coming fast and furious and so I offer to take the wheel. No, I’m fine. He assures me. And so we continue.

Riola Sardo – the village where we’re staying is some 100 kilometers northwest from Cagliari – about halfway up the island of Sardinia. It hasn’t the sights and that makes it really perfect: it's quiet, unbothered by outside influence, and well positioned for exploration: from the quartz sand coastline a short drive west, to the craggy mountains in the east and the inbetween hills, marshes and lakes – the region pretty much has all that Sardinia can be proud of, and in addition, it has the world’s best little b&b – La Lucrezia.

I’m eager to start the trip north, but willing to give Cagliari at least the morning. Especially since we need a brisk walk. Ed has just eaten the biggest breakfast I have ever seen him eat, and the man is capable of eating monstrously big breakfasts.

We’ll long remember this as one of the top morning meals ever. Ed asks why I don’t photograph it. Visually, I tell him, it’s almost ordinary. Eggs, tomatoes, prosciutto, smoked salmon, cheeses, cakes, pastries, fruits, and two juices that we could not stop refilling – a blood red orange and a grape, the grape slightly fizzy from just before a wine fermentation. All uniquely, honestly fresh.

And so we walk – with our packs and my little carryon, we hike up hills and down into the heart of old Cagliari, loving the beautiful sun, smiling at the coat covered Sardinians who regard today’s weather as reason to maybe shed the earmuffs. (In contrast, I – whom am always colder than anyone in Madison, am now down to a short sleeved t-shirt.) It’s near seventy and breezy. And everything is in bloom. Against a backdrop of already color-loaded houses.




Cagliari is Sardinia’s largest city (population: about half a million) and it is the port, the mouth to the world outside. And a place for the ubiquitous fishing boats, nets and lobster traps.


We sit for a while by the water’s edge and talk boats – a topic that my traveling companion never tires of, even as he finally has come to understand that I will never go with him on the last big sailing trip of his life – his dream, but unfortunately, not mine. (I’ve never seen anyone get seasick on a ferry crossing! – he looks at me with amazement and pity as we cross the choppy waters To Isola Mujeres in Mexico this January.)

We take the bus to the airport where we pick up our unfortunately not so tiny car. We’re sorry, we’re all out of the tiny ones! Ah well, a little Renault. Small enough. As we hit the road, Ed puts in a request that I  not stir up trouble by reminding him, the driver, of dangers – present and imagined. I want him to drive and so I make the requisite (mostly kept) promises. I don’t want to be behind the wheel. I concentrate so hard on the road that I fail to notice scenery. And there’s much to notice.


Eventually, as we leave the main road, we lose our googled trail. We pick random turns and hope for the best.

Getting lost here is a good thing.

Because it puts us on a rural side road that makes its way past olive groves, knee-deep in daisies and yellow drops of prettiness.



The sky is momentarily gray, but I am certain that I will never in my life stand again in a grove this beautiful. The flowers are tickling my ankles, the scent is of chamomile and spring.


And further down this same rural route there is the vineyard where Salvatore (in a winter coat!) is tying clipped vine stems to the lines.



Salvatore stops when he sees me. A female visitor. How rare. Such a nice excuse for a conversation. He ambles down to greet me as I stand to the side watching. You want to see my vines? Oh, most certainly! Let me explain to you what I am doing.

He explains everything – from where he does the cut and how he guides the stem along the line, to the history of the invasions that transformed Sardinia over the centuries. His Italian is heavily accented (or mine is getting rusty; probably a combination of the two) and I lose threads of stories easily, as he works, talks and then finally pauses to ask more about where I’m from and what I’m doing here.


But you weren’t born in America, were you? How does he know this? No, Poland. I tell him. Ah, he has a cousin who married a Pole. Lovely family. They now live in Germany. A variation of the old southern Italian story, only now Europe centered.

He clips stems for me to take back to where ever I am staying. Young stems with spring bursting from them. Sardinia – I love it here! -- he looks to the skies ad grins broadly. We shake hands and I head toward the car.

I envy his complete loyalty to a place.

I nudge Ed awake and we drive on toward Rialo.

But again, we are distracted. Artichokes. Gorgeous and tall, purple around the base.



And beans. Are they beans? What kind of beans?



And finally we are in Riola – home for the next five days. As David, the owner of La Lucrezia explains to us the offerings of the region (over a glass of local wine), I look at the garden and the trailing wisteria and I wonder what it must be like to live here all year long.



No, not the winter, I was told in an earlier correspondence with him. It’s cold and dreary here then. (The house has been in his family for many generations and only recently did he convert it to a place for paying guests.)

Dreary winter? Oh, but look at this at the end of March!


Ed and I stroll through the village, taking in all the typical scenes of southern Italy. Because as distinct as it is, Sardinia also feels a lot like Italy.


We poke into a local pasticieria. A mother is buying little cream puffs for her son's birthday celebration.


I select a half dozen for us too. Delicately flavored with mascarpone cream, with orange, with chocolate. Exquisite.


We only have a few hours left of bright daylight. The coast. We should acknowledge the sea that has kept Sardinia so much apart from the continent in ways that have more to do with economics and culture than anything else.

Less than twenty kilometers west is the small village of San Giovanni. You can leave your car there and walk out to the crumbling tower, past archeological ruins, all the way the end to the peninsula that juts out between the calm waters of the Bay of Sardinia and the wind driven surf of the Mediterranean.



It’s a fragrant, beautiful walk.




At the end, I admit to being very very hungry. The sun has set and we drive back to a village half way back to Riola. The restaurants don’t open until 8:30 and so we park the car in a most obvious way just outside the door and wait. Ed dozes, I watch the full moon chase down the final wisp of a cloud and take control of the night skies.

Wake up, they’re opening I nudge Ed.

I order a salad and ravioli with seafood and a shrimp sauce, Ed chooses the spaghetti with mushroom and crayfish.  


And which of the fish would you like? The waitress rolls a table of today’s catch for us to inspect.

Ah. You must continue with another main course. I'm fine with that, though I point to the smallest fish on the tray. The waitress smiles. Good local choice. We’ll prepare it with olive oil, wine and olives, alright?

So alright.


So very alright.