The Devil’s Saddle and the Alligator

Often when one considers Sardinia one thinks of it as a playboy’s playground.

Former PM Silvio Berlusconi is famous for the lavish entertainments (notorious “bunga bunga” parties) he hosted (guests included Tony and Cherie Blair) in his sumptuous Villa Certosa on the Costa Smerlada far north of the island near Arzachena.

This coast’s cachet among the rich and famous has continually increased.

Royals, Hollywood stars, Russian oligarchs and supermodels spend leisure time and fortunes in guarded seclusion.

Though She Who Must Be Obeyed and I did not spend a lot of time on the beaches during our eight day week in Sardinia, the beaches of Poetto, Punta is Arutas on the west coast near Oristano and Cala Gonone on the east coast near Dorgali, left strong impressions upon us.

“Cagliari’s fabulous Poetto Beach is one of the longest stretches of sand in Italy.

Extending 6 km beyond the green Promontorio di Sant’Elia, it is an integral part of city life, particularly in summer when much of the city’s youth decamps here to sunbathe by day and party by night.

The long, sandy strip is lined with fun fairs, restaurants, bars and discos, many of which are stabilmenti balneari (private beach clubs).

In summer Poetto Beach is lined with bars, snack joints and restaurants, known to locals as chioschi (kiosks).

Things get really busy here between November and March (mollusc season) when shacks serving sea urchins and mussels are set up by fishermen along the beach road.

You are charged according to the number of shells left on your table.” (Lonely Planet Sardinia)

What we found along the beach road were market stalls selling fruit and vegetables which you could buy from the luxury of your climate-controlled or open-topped car.

On all three beaches we visited, a sadder sight comes into view.

Young African men patrol the beaches during daylight hours, vainly attempting to sell various sundry items to annoyed sunbathers.

The Africans are their own market stalls, carrying their products directly on their person.

We saw hatsellers wearing atop their heads columns of headgear towering towards the cloudless sky, handbags over shoulders, towels wrapped about their bodies.

Despite temperatures in the high 30s / 80s-90s, despite the lack of eager customers, I never once saw a frown or grimace upon their faces.

They were often laughing, singing and smiling.

Was this the future they envisioned when they came to Europe to start a new life?

The southern end of Poetto Beach is the most popular, with its picturesque Marina Piccola, yacht club and outdoor cinema.

Looming over the Marina, the craggy Promontorio di Sant’Ella is known to everyone as the Sella dei Diavola (the Devil’s Saddle).

According to local legend, the headland was the scene of an epic battle between Satan and the Archangel Michael.

In the course of the struggle Satan was thrown off his horse and his saddle fell into the sea where it eventually petrified to become the headland.

It is the kind of tale Massimo Carlotto would enjoy.

Massimo Carlotto, born 1957, was at the centre of one of the most controversial legal cases in Italian history.

In 1976, 25-year-old student Margherita Magello was found dead in his home, killed by 59 stab wounds.

Carlotto, 19-year-old student and activist of Lotta Coninua (a far left political organisation), accidentally discovered Magello bleeding and dying and instead of notifying the police, he fled, frightened.

Carlotto was arrested and charged with homocide.

He has always claimed his innocence.

In the first trial, he was acquitted for lack of evidence by the Criminal Court of Padua.

In his second trial, he was sentenced to 18 years of prison by the Higher Court in Venice.

The sentence was confirmed by the Supreme Court.

Carlotte fled again, first to France and then to Mexico.

After three years on the run, Carlotta was captured by Mexican police and sent back to Italy.

A large popular movement, led by petitions signed by Italy’s famous, led to a retrial where Carlotte had to be acquitted under the new penal code that said a person could not be tried twice for the same crime.

In 1993 Italian President Oscar Scalfaro granted Carlotto a full pardon.

Carlotto began to write, especially explicit, noir genre, hardboiled crime thrillers, beginning with The Fugitive (Il fuggiasco) , a fictionalised autobiography about his time on the run.

Carlotto’s most famous character is the Alligator, alias Marco Buratti, an original private detective.

The Alligator is loosely modelled on Carlotta himself.

They both drive a Skoda, because many people say it is the least-stopped car in Italy.

Buratti’s nickname comes from their favourite cocktail, the Alligator (seven parts Calvados to three parts Drambuie, crushed ice and a slice of apple), invented by a barman in Caffe Librarium Nostrum in Cagliari where Carlotto now lives.

The cocktail can be found in bars in Rome, Milan and Naples.

It is said that nobody can drink more than four.

Carlotta’s novels have been translated in France, the UK, Germany, Spain, Greece, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and the US.

There is nothing like a dark crime story in one hand and an Alligator in the other hand on a bright sunlit beach to make your vacation complete.

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