Jerusalem lost between Europe and Africa

He was 36, travelling with his wife Frieda (aka Queen Bee), making a brief excursion from Sicily to the interior of Sardinia, a week’s journey.

It was January 1921.

I am 50.

She Who Must Be Obeyed, though younger, has an Age Which Must Not Be Numbered or Mentioned.

We made a brief excursion from Switzerland to the interior of Sardinia, a week’s journey.

It was July-August 2015.

David Herbert Richards Lawrence, better known as D.H. Lawrence, wrote Sea and Sardinia, a travel book, which despite the brevity of their visit, distills an essence of the island and its people which is still recognisable today.

“Cagliari: a naked town rising steep, steep, golden-looking, piled naked to the sky from the plain at the head of the formless hollow bay.

It is strange and rather wonderful, not a bit like Italy.

The city piles up lofty and almost miniature and makes me think of Jerusalem: without trees, without cover, rising rather bare and proud, remote as if back in history, like a town in a monkish, illuminated missal.

One wonders how it got there….

It is a steep and lonely city, treeless, as in some old illumination.

Yet withal rather jewel-like: like a sudden rose-cut amber jewel naked at the depth of the vast indenture….

And that is Cagliari.

It has that curious look, as if it could be seen, but not entered.

It is like some vision, some memory, something that has passed away.

Impossible that one can actually walk in that city: set foot there and eat and laugh there….

Lost between Europe and Africa and belonging to nowhere.

Belonging to nowhere, never having belonged to anywhere…

As if it had never really had a fate.

No fate.

Left outside of time and history.”

What I saw –

(after sleepy train ride through green fields of Swiss sheep, and amusing Basel Airport Tinguely sculpture, and long lines at security, and massage chairs from Heaven, and angel’s view aloft of Mont Blanc, teddy bears and tattoos, coffee in a bag and lemon/lime water in a bottle and a “true taste of the Med” as conceived by EasyJet of rosemary crackers, red peppers, feta cheese, Halkidiku green olives and a glass of wine, and, once again, contemplation of why a beautiful stewardess is considered a better servant than an ugly one, and a low descent over water reminiscient of the watery scare drop of Osaka Airport’s approach, and Germans clapping upon landing congratulating the pilot for a remarkable performance all in a day’s work)

– Caligiari: sun-bleached walls covered by sunburnt roof tops, odd leafless sky-scratching palm trees, dangerous cacti, dry ground, humid cloudless skies, eyes send message to throat to drink lots of fluids, smile upon face feeling exotic aromas of undiscovered place.

“Strange, stony Cagliari.

We climbed up streets like corkscrew stairways…

Halfway up there is a strange place called the Bastions, a large, level space like a drill ground with trees, curiously suspended over the town, and sending off a long shoot like a wide viaduct, across above the corkscrew streets that come climbing up.

Above this Bastion place the town still rises steeply to the Cathedral and the Fort.

What is so curious is that this terrace or Bastion is so large, like some big recreation ground, that it is almost dreary, and one cannot understand its being suspended in midair.

Down below is the little circle of the harbour.

To the left, a low, malarial-looking sea plain, with tufts of palm trees and Arab-looking houses.

From this runs out the long spit of land towards that black-and-white watch-fort, the white road trailing forth.

On the right, most curiously, a long strange spit of sand runs in a causeway far across the shallows of the bay, with the open sea on one hand, and vast, end-of-the-world lagoons on the other.

There are peaky, dark mountains beyond this – just as across the vast bay are gloomy hills.

It is a strange, strange landscape: as if here the world left off.

The bay is vast in itself, and all these curious things happening at its head: this curious, craggy-studded town, like a great stud of house-covered rock jutting out of the bay flats.

Around it on one side the weary, Arab-looking palm-desolated malarial plain, and on the other side great salt lagoons, dead beyond the sandbar….

Land and sea both seem to give out, exhausted, at the bay head: the world’s end.

And into this world’s end starts up Cagliari….”

The city is in the south of Sardinia, overlooking the centre of the Golfo degli Angeli (the Bay of Angels).

Cagliari is spread over ten limestone hills a little more than 100 metres (330 feet) above the long plains of Campidano.

The fortified town rises over the harbour, the birthplace of the city, as well as over the Sella del Diavolo (the Saddle of the Devil).

The modern city inserts itself between hills and ocean over Poetto Beach and the lagoons and ponds of Santa Gilla and Molentargius.

Purple irises grow on the limestone hills while numerous subtropical plants with stunning red flowers, date palm trees, Canary Island palms, Mexican fan palms, pines and evergreens, maquis and juniper, oak and olive.

Ponds of pink flamingoes and other water waders.

Higher up in the mountains Sardinian deer play and wild boars forrage.

Water is scarce, but life continues nonetheless.

The effect of warm Mediterranean sunlight on the white limestone city makes Cagliari a “white Jerusalem”.

And evening descends gently, uninhibitedly like a lover’s whisper in the dark, and stars come out to shine upon hungry restauranteurs and carefree night-clubbers.

“The spirit of the place is a strange thing.”


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