Monday, April 05, 2010

Easter in Sardinia

I wake up to the sound of corn popping. No, that can’t be right. I listen. Rain, gusts of rain hitting the tiles of the roof. Then silence. Followed by a muted clap of thunder and then silence again.

That’s a surprise. My periodic checks of didn’t reveal rain for the day. But then, my periodic checks have been for Sardinia, Italy. As if that were a town or a zip code! Sardinia is large enough that what happens in point A may be completely unrelated to what takes place in point B. When I asked David, the hotel proprietor what’s the Sardinian language like, he tells me that there are actually four that developed. With regional variations.

When I first imagined a trip to Sardinia, I thought we’d at least do one major excursion outside our central region. It turns out that there was enough to see and do in the province where we were that we didn’t have to drive much. (Which, considering our different tastes in styles of driving, is a good thing.) And when I think of returning, I think of coming back to Rialo, the village where we are now.

I’ve grown attached to it.

By the time we’re up and about the rain has stopped. The air feels clammy and the skies are gray.

At breakfast, we see the traditional Easter tarts: with ricotta cheese and raisins – we had them last night at the bakery!


After breakfast, I hear a boom again. And then rapidly another. No, that’s not thunder. I walk out toward the main road. I look down the road (as does she...)


The Easter procession to church has begun.


The villagers follow behind. But unlike the older generation – most are in smart jeans. Tight-fitting, trendy jeans. Sardinia has jumped on the wagon of modernity here. Even as it is displayed at the most traditional of ceremonies.

We haven’t much time left. Enough for a quick walk and a meal. I had asked David about an appropriate Easter lunch. It’s a challenge, as I want something traditionally Sardinian. A place where I an likely to see people from the island.

He tells me: I’ve made you a reservation at the Agriturismo in the next village. [Agriturismos are rural places where you can stay simply and eat whatever the hosts prepare for the main meal; you can also participate in farm work if you're so inclined; there are many, many agriturismos in Italy, as there are in France – though they’re called chambers d’hotes there, and I'm not sure the French imagine you'd want to do anything but eat and sleep during your stays.) They do a fantastic Easter meal. And I told them Ed doesn’t eat meat and that you have to leave by 3 because of your flight.

Never in all my travels have I come across someone so completely keyed into the needs of his guests as David is. La Lucrezia is beautiful enough, but add to it David’s concern for the wellbeing of visitors and you have an absolute jewel of a place. At Sardinian prices. (People who remain in Sardinia don’t expect to make great money here – David tells me earlier. You want to find wealth, you go to the mainland. Here, people stay because they love the island, their friends and family. No one expects to grow rich. There is no real industry. Income differences between islanders are small.)

David has seen us get lost so often (did I tell you about the time we, unknowingly, drove through the pedestrian streets of the provincial capital of Ortisano? Winding up on the main square on the sidewalk? No? Well, it happened...) that he takes great care to sketch out the directions for L’Orto, our Easter lunch place.

We finish packing and are out of the village of Rialo by noon. One more walk along the coast – I tell Ed. We have about an hour. Let’s look at the quartz beaches.

On any day these beaches – just ten kilometers due west – would appear eerie. The white pebbles look almost like salt crystals. (In fact I asked Ed to sample one just to be sure they aren’t salt.) As if someone had taken shaker and sprinkled it generously across the land.


But today, on this warm but gray day, they present a landscape that is starkly different from all we’ve seen thus far.

The pebbles are hard to walk on (perhaps easier for kicking a ball around, especially if you don’t mind falling on the graveled surface)...


We quickly retreat to the path. And push beyond the time we should allow for this walk. I don’t want to be late for our meal and so we hurry back to the car.

Except I can’t find the directions to the Agriturismo. I can’t even remember the name.I feel like the dotty old person who needs to have things written on the palm of her hand -- like reminders on where I may have left the car.

A quick search does not magically produce the needed sheet of paper. We have no choice but to head back to our village and sheepishly ask for a repeat of the instructions. Knowing, too, that we will now almost certainly be late for the meal.

With ears burning, we walk into the dining room of L’Orto. The proprietor, Francesca greets us so warmly that I am able to put aside the deep embarrassment of being the most difficult guests in the room (the ones who come late, leave early and wont eat the baby lamb or the baked pig).

There are maybe fifty diners, seated at half a dozen tables (and then there is our little table for two). Families. Generations of them.


Francesca and her staff are bringing out plates of food and we quickly catch up. Plate after plate of the freshests, most exquisitely honest food.

Crayfish, artichokes, salami (for me!), pickled onion, eggplant, peppers...


Oh, and octopus! (I have recovered.)


The second course has the Sardinian pasta, fregula (slightly larger than couscous) with loads of artichokes, as well as a platter of spaghetti with mussels and clams.



And finally, a fish course – grilled, deliciously fresh. One fish for each (Just one to share! -- Ed asks. One each -- Francesca tells him. I'm the boss here.)


We end with local sheep's milk cheese -- hard, salty, delicious!


...oranges and of course the Easter tarts.


Francesca is a wonder woman. We are completely happy.

The drive to the Cagliari airport is, well, fast. But it’s easy. David told us the roads would be empty (like during Super Bowl in the States, except the Sardinian Super Bowl is unfolding around tables) and he was right. I’ve had the wine so I leave the driving to Ed.

We make it in fifteen minutes before they close the gate.

We’re in Milan now. The evening is wet and cold. Our b&b (Villa Magnolia) is chosen for its prettiness and price. To get both in Milan you have to go far from the center. We get off the bus from the airport, make our way to the subway, get off and look around for the correct city bus. Finally. The rain is gentle, but cold. The number 47 pulls up, we get on. Only to learn we’re heading in the wrong direction. We get off, wait for the one on the other side of the street and wearily make our way to a warm room.