Friday, April 02, 2010

all things Sardinian

Don’t ever mention food to me again. Ever. Not in any shape or form. Especially octopus. Please, avoid spelling out the virtues of octopus, in olive oil, in tomato sauce -- no, I don't want to hear it.

Even as the day started with a lovely breakfast of croissants, cakes and sandwiches and cups of yogurt and fresh fruits. And a cappuccino. And another – the second taken, as usual in the sunlit garden.

I talk to Paolo and David and later, David’s partner, Clara about our last days here. Because it’s Easter, they offer suggestions on how best to experience this holiday in Sardinia.

Much of the talk is about where to eat what. I tell them that we want simple foods (easy: Sardinian cooking is fresh and not fussy), eaten in joyous settings, with a preference for non-meat options. Normally in our travels I don’t need this qualifier, but in Sardinia, places often specialize. It will be all seafood or all meats. And if it’s all meats, they mean meats. The kind that you encounter in the fields and forests. The kind that pull at Ed’s heartstrings.

For reasons that remain unclear to me or him (as he really hasn’t thought much about it, it’s all rather intuitive), chickens and turkeys are okay on a platter, but rabbits and wild boar are not. And he’ll tell you that an octopus is way too charming to eat, but that he’s fine with mussels and okay with shrimp. How could one possibly explain any of this to anyone except to say – basically, let’s stay away from meats. That part about octopus I leave out because really, how likely is it that the menu will be all octopus. I mean, not very likely at all.

The plan for the afternoon and evening is to drive down to Cabras (some ten minutes away) to the store with Sardinian products, and then to swing by the coast, finally returning back to Cabras for a very simple seafood dinner. We are assured that there will be some limited choices, just in case we hit something that falls into a protected by the heartstring category.

The drive to the shop is known to us – we’re finally getting familiar with the twisting options in and out our village.

As usual, Ed offers to stop if I want a photo. And as usual, I cannot resist the olive grove. This one is a favorite of mine as it deftly conjoins olives and vines.


Oh, fine, the one across the road as well. With the every joyful flowers.


As Ed finds a spot that allows him to pull over (the road is narrow, with bands of grass at the side), I want to say “watch the ditch” but I choose my instructions carefully now, because the replayed conversation is getting slightly old. Ed tells me later that had I said it, it wouldn’t have mattered as he now tunes out sentences that begin with words like “watch” or “careful.”

This time, his wheel misses the small mud bridge and winds up in the ditch, so we hang almost suspended in a way that I cannot now properly describe.

There is a chance that the front wheel can catch solid ground out of the ditch. In the alternative, the car could miss it and slide further into the steep gutter.

You drive, I push. He tells me. As always, he is frustratingly calm. As if in the normal course of any day, we push cars out of tough spots and hope that they don’t roll into ditches.

I can’t. I’ll miss the spot and then feel terrible.
That’s silly. You wont miss. Drive.

But I know I’m likely to gun the motor with such force that it’ll send us flying to God knows where.

Okay, you push.

I do, with all my body strength. And we are saved. The car does me a favor and grabs the grass, then the road, and I hop in and we continue. Two occasional traveling companions, as mismatched as they come, as congenial as ever.

We reach the store with only a half dozen wrong turns. And let me explain – it’s not really a store, it’s a warehouse where Sardinian products are displayed and where buyers make commercial purchases, but you and I can shop there as well. Moreover, they have a few tables set out. If you want to eat a Sardinian lunch, they’ll prepare one for you.

We’re not extremely hungry yet, but we think it would be fun to nibble on something local.

The tables are all occupied by area workmen – from construction to police to mechanic – out on a protracted lunch break. And it becomes clear that once you sit down, you are committing to a meal.

The store manager is also the waiter and he explains the meat choices. They seem so abundant that I run for the protection of vegetarianism. I figure we’re on light ground here.

I am wrong.



They’re delicious platters: artichoke (we see them growing everywhere here – lovely full fields of green heads rising tall above the leafy mounds), eggplant, lentils, followed by beautiful bowls of pasta with asparagus.


And a delicious red wine that I wish I could pour into some small container and have at my side always, just for the comfort and the memory.

Ed says we should think twice about also eating dinner, but I tell him that for once I am holding a reservation, as the dinner place is small. I reassure him that we have before us still a nice long walk along the coast.

I purchase the fruity Sardinian olive oil and a bottle of local wine and hope that I am correct in my calculations as to what Ryan Air will tolerate from my little send-through suitcase.

We head north, with only a few minor pauses along the way.



Our walk is along a path that winds its way around another peninsula – the perimeter of which is roughly a dozen kilometers. The scenery is beautiful and the fields of flowers now, in full spring, take your breath away.







Early on, we pass an older couple in a moment of joyous embrace...


...and then we are alone, sharing the walk with a few lizards, gulls, and for a brief while, a pair of mismatched dogs, also out and about for the sheer pleasure of being finally at the cusp of summer.

And now again we encounter a small group of people. They're working away at shucking sea urchins.


I watch for a minute and I wonder if these will make a Sunday appearance at someone’s Easter lunch.

At the end of the peninsula, there is a crumbling tower and a lighthouse and again you are reminded that Sardinia was forever defending herself from the outside world, even as it now so much depends on an influx of us, the outsiders to sustain economic progress in these complicated times.


As we round out the loop, returning now along the beautiful northwestern shore... another tower, another splendid view... another field of flowers...





...I notice that the sun is again playing games over the sea. Glancing inland, I see that the mountain where we hiked yesterday is hidden behind clouds. The coastal skies are less gray, but there are definitely clouds moving in.

Within minutes, it starts to rain. A relentless cold rain that falls, then stop,s then falls again. By the time we reach the car, we’re mostly wet. We have no choice but to return home (where, nota bene, it has not rained) and dry off before setting out for our evening meal.

Clara is at La Lucrezia, along with her dog, Lora (which is completely amusing as my daughters’ second names are variations of those). She offers a typical Sardinian mixed predinner drink – a light combination of wine and soda (it’s called a bicicletta – it’s very common here)


And we talk about learning languages (she teaches Italian to immigrants from Morocco). She asks how is it that I come to speak Italian. That, more than anything, makes me appear so un-American. (Indeed, at the artisanal foods store, I got the usual question – where are you from? Maybe Germany?) I explain that as a young adult, I fell in love with Italy. France came later – the second and stable love, as it were. But Italy was my youthful fling. And so I tried to speak her language, learning it briefly in a class, then embracing it more completely through songs, movies and repeated travels here.

Clara of course, like everyone in Europe, knows more English than she will admit knowing and speaks it if pressed to do so. But like so many here, in Sardinia, she is delighted when the visitor stumbles along on the familiar ground of her home language.

At 8:30, we set out for our meal at Mare d'Inverno. We’ve been warmed. It’s very casual. They serve what they like. It’s seafood. There may be some choice. It’s cheap.

And hard to find. We were given detailed directions and still it’s well after 9 when we pull in.

The cheerful waitress does offer choices.
Mixed appetizers? - she asks.
For the next course, spaghetti with clams or with octopus?
Maybe one of each?
Okay, one of each.
Then fish: grilled with herbs or pan fried?
Grilled with herbs.


Except that with the first course, we already feel overwhelmed. Vegetables, yes, there are those, Zucchini, tomatoes, onions, beans. And there are shrimp. And crab legs. And a plateful of mussels. And a heaping platter of octopus.


We try to eat it all, knowing that any one plate would normally constitute an ample dinner for us. People around us are eating it all and so we do not want to appear wimpy. We dig in. The burden of cleaning the octopus plate is, of course, mine and I almost succeed. But by the end, I have had enough octopus to last me a while.

Except now of course comes the pasta course. Mine has octopus and a light tomato sauce. And it is magnificent!


So that I dig in appreciatively, even as I know that I am rapidly reaching my limit as to what I can possibly consume in the next two weeks or so.

And of course, by the end of this course, we are ready to crawl under the covers and never come out again.

Except there is the grilled fish.


By the end, I feel I have the entire ocean’s offerings in my stomach. The jug of wine merely helps create a buoyant atmosphere for all that is within me. I am ready to collapse.

A wonderful meal. Even if I may join the club of those who regard octopus as too charming to eat. Ever. Or at least not for a few days.