The Last Castle

There is an old story, a rumor really, that spread during the 1980s that was meant to discourage promiscuity / slutty behaviour by young ladies.

A young American lady on her last night in Rome decided, in a state of increased intoxication, to allow herself to be seduced by a pair of handsome Italian men, twin brothers, for a night of unforgettable passion and titillation.

After a good time was had by the trio, the brothers graciously drove the young lady to the airport.

Before leaving her at the boarding gate, (Remember those days?) they gave her an envelope and told her not to open it until she was on board the plane.

As the plane’s engines were warming up, she unsealed the envelope to read the message inside:

“Welcome to the wonderful world of AIDS.”

No one ever relates what happened next in the story.

I was reminded of this story when visiting Sanluri with my wife Ute, aka She Who Must Be Obeyed, on our vacation in Sardinia.

One of the biggest towns in the Medio Campidano province, Sanluri is said to be a bustling agricultural centre, but when She and I visited the town of 8,000, it seemed the place had been abandoned.

No one was on the streets.

Cars were parked along both sides of the main street but none moved whilst we were there.

The squat, brooding Castle of Sanluri is situated on Sardinia’s main arterial road – the Carlo Felice – halfway between Cagliari and Oristano (at 30 miles distance from each).

It is the only fully-furnished, habitable medieval Sardinian castle of the eighty-eight castles built on the island.

It was lived in by kings and queens, been silent witness to bitter royal power struggles, ill-kept truces, enervating excesses, rebellions and tragic ends.

It has stored hand weapons, firearms and nuclear armaments, including medieval swords, blunderbusts, Italian Army rifles and airborne torpedoes – a truly eclectic collection of assorted military paraphernalia.

Outside in the garden is a medieval catapult.

Its fabulous collection of wax miniatures is the largest and one of the finest in Europe.

It holds a unique collection of correspondence between a general and a poet, along with a small precious collection of Napoleonic family mementoes, the Italian tricolor which fluttered over Trieste on 3 November 1918, the original Italian Declaration of Victory signed by General Diaz, and mementoes of Italian colonial campaigns.

One event brings the above-mentioned story to mind.

Eleonora of Arborea, the great defender of Sardinian independence, died in 1404. (See Eleanor of Arborea.)

On 30 June 1409, the Infante of Aragon, King Martin I, “the Younger”, of Sicily, landed in Sardinia at the head of an army of 8,000 foot soldiers and 3,000 cavalrymen.

The independent Giudicato (Royal Judgeship) of Arborea was led by Giudice (Judge-King) William III of Narbonne, Viscount of Narbonia.

The Sardinian army of 15,000 infantry and 3,000 horsemen was composed mostly of mercenaries, including the renowned Genoese crossbowmen and other units from France and northern Italy.

There are few details about the Battle of Sanluri.

Martin’s forces, though less numerous, were better trained and managed to divide William’s army into two parts which were then destroyed separately.

The engagement ended at S’Occidroxia (Slaughter Hill) with 5,000 Sardinians slain and 4,000 taken prisoner.

William, deprived of his Standard during the inglorious retreat, took refuge in the neighbouring Castle of Monreal at San Gavino.

The 500 soldiers of the Sanluri garrison who had managed to escape with William to Monreal were slaughtered there.

Inside the fortified village of Sanluri itself much of the population was exterminated by Martin’s conquering troops.

The victorious Martin, though married to Blanche of Navarre, decided to celebrate his victory through a conquest of another kind, the amorous attentions of the Bella of Sanluri.

From 30 June to the wedding of his natural son Frederick to Violante De Perdes on 9 July, Martin spent much of his time carousing with the Bella.

Smitten by malaria and weakened by the Bella’s amorous lethal attention, Martin was transported to Cagliari on 12 July.

Despite the services of four physicians, Martin died there on 25 July.

He is buried in Cagliari Cathedral.

History does not record if the Bella survived, but one woman succeeded at felling a man that 18,000 soldiers could not.

Of the many weapons used in warfare, sex remains one of the most powerful.

Eleanor of Arborea

“Sardinian women are amusing, so brisk and defiant.

They have straight backs, like little walls and decided, well-drawn eyebrows.

They are amusingly on the alert.

Like sharp, brisk birds they dart along the streets.

You feel they would fetch you a bang over the head as leave as look at you.

Tenderness, thank heaven, does not seem to be a Sardinian quality.

Here, men don’t idealize women, by the look of things.

Here they don’t make these great leering eyes, the inevitable yours-to-command look of mainland Italian males.

When the men look at these women, then it is “Mind yourself, my lady.”

These women have to look out for themselves, keep their own backbone stiff and their knuckles hard.

Man is going to be male Lord IF he can.

Woman isn’t going to give him too much of his own way, either.

The Sardinian isn’t looking for the “noble woman nobly planned”.

No, thank you.

He wants that young madam over there, young stiff-necked generation that she is.

In these women there is something shy and defiant and un-get-able.

The defiant, splendid split between the sexes, each absolutely determined to defend his/her side from assault.

So the meeting has a certain, wild, salty savor, each the deadly unknown to the other.

And at the same time, each his/her own native pride and courage, taking the dangerous leap and scrambling back.”

D.H. Lawrence, Sea and Sardinia

“Elenore, gee I think you’re swell
And you really do me well
You’re my pride and joy, et cetera”
The Turtles, “Elenore” (1968)

When this song was released I wonder if Sardinia took it to its heart, for almost every town has a street named after Eleanor of Arborea, buildings bear her name and statues commemorate her “likeness”.

Eleanor of Arborea (Sardinian: Elianora de Bas; Catalan: Elionor d’Arborea or Elionor de Molins de Rei; 6 June 1347 – 23 September 1404) was the iuyghissa (“female judge” or Queen in Sardinian language) of Arborea from 1383 to her death.

She was one of the last, most powerful and significant Sardinian judges, as well as the island’s most renowned heroine.

Eleanor is a fascinating figure in many respects.

First of all, she was an independent, strong-willed and ambitious, woman.

She never submitted to anyone: not to her brother, not to her husband, not to the Doge of Genoa, not even to the king of Aragon.

In Sardinia women were traditionally considered less submitted to men than it was common in Europe.

Secondly, Eleanor was a champion of Sardinian independence:

She fought to reassert the island’s right to be ruled by local people.

Eleanor was the princess-judge (“giudichessa”) of Arborea, the most important region of 14th century Sardinia.

The island of Sardinia, though scarcely populated, due to its position in the middle of the Mediterranean was coveted as a prize by the main naval powers of the time: Genoa, Pisa and Barcelona in the Crown of Aragon.

At the beginning of the second millennium Sardinia was organized in four small states, called “giudicati”.

The Italian maritime republic of Pisa succeeded in taking over most of the island, with the exception of the “giudicato” of Arborea, in the west.

The Catalans from Barcelona and from the Kingdom of Aragon, in Spain, were also interested in the island.

In 1297 they obtained Sardinia from the Pope as a feudal possession.

This only meant they had a “right to conquer” it.

With the help of Arborea, the Catalans succeeded in expelling the Pisans, yet their relationship remained ambiguous:

While Arborea considered itself an ally of the Catalans, the king of Aragon regarded it as a vassal state.

Marianus IV, father of Eleanor, was a successful ruler.

He was raised at the royal court in Barcelona.

He then proved himself by developing a small territory outside Arborea, granted to him by the king of Aragon.

He kept an elegant and cosmopolitan court, and was beloved by his subjects.

Marianus married a Catalan lady and had three children.

The oldest, Ugone (Hugh) III, brother of Eleanor, succeeded him in 1376.

He was quite different from his father.

His manners were rough and his court almost “rustic”.

In March 1383 he was killed in a local uprising and confusion ensued:

Arborea risked being broken down or taken over by the Catalans.

Eleanor was born around 1340.

During her childhood, she was raised with a natural tendency towards war and weapons.

The first documents about her, from 1382, show her married and with one child.

She probably spent her early years with her parents between Catalonia and Arborea.

In 1382 she asked the Doge (duke) of Genoa for permission to reside in the city.

Genoa gladly accepted Eleanor, the already well-known rich daughter of Marianus of Arborea.

In the same period Eleanor, through a delegate, betrothed her son Frederic to the daughter of the Doge.

The wedding, however, never took place.

When Ugone was brutally killed in 1383, Eleanor rushed to Arborea, taking the situation into her own hands.

Eleanor inherited from her father the ability to be loved by her subjects.

She took care of legislative and administrative issues.

She kept Arborea strong, organized and well ruled.

Eleanor defeated the rebels and became regent to her infant son Frederick, who as the next male heir became the official monarch of Arborea.

Eleanor fought bravely to keep her land independent.

Again, the situation was ambiguous:

Eleanor acted as if Arborea was independent, while the Catalans still regarded it as a vassal state.

The Catalan council took note that her son Frederick had been confirmed by the people of Sardinia as future prince (“giudice”)..

The “Giudichessa” and her husband valiantly expanded the territory of Arborea, repelling adversaries.

For the next four years Arborea was at war with the Crown of Aragon, which claimed the island.

It lost much of its Sardinian possessions to Eleanor.

By fighting against local aristocrats, Catalans, cities striving for independence and all kinds of opponents, she won back in three months most of the territory, counting on the loyalty of her subjects.

Arborea obtained almost all of the island during this war.

Frederick died during this war and was succeeded by her younger son Marianus IV.

Eleanor proved a successful ruler and signed a treaty with the Catalans in 1388.

The most important heritage of Eleanor is clearly the “Carta de Logu”: a written body of legislation, combining customs and tradition.

The famous “Carta de Logu” was promulgated between 1392 and 1395, and came into force in April 1395.

The “Carta de Logu” was an extraordinary piece of legislation.

The laws reflected the advanced level of civilization in Sardinia, an island fighting for independence and for its traditions.

It allowed justice to be dispensed uniformly throughout the entire island.

It was considered to be far in advance of the laws of other countries, the penalty for most crimes being a fine and the property rights of women being preserved.

It was adopted by subsequent rulers and remained valid for over four centuries.

It regulated several matters of economic, civil and criminal nature.

In some areas, such as the rules protecting women, it appears pretty modern for that time.

Copies of it were available in every city or village, allowing control from the population and a uniform enforcement of the law.

It remained in use for over four centuries, almost until the Unification of Italy.

Eleanor was particularly interested in ornithology.

As a friend of birds, she was the first to legislate protection to the falcon.

There is an “Eleanor falcon”: a homage paid to the Giudichessa by a 19th-century ornithologist.

Little is known about Eleanor afterwards.

In Sardinia she certainly lived in Oristano and traveled around.

A few years after Eleanor’s death, the Catalans, that later became part of a united Spain, took over Sardinia and erased the “giudicato” of Arborea.

The Spanish, however, did not abolish the “Carta de Logu”, which remained valid until 1827.

After her death, the “Sardinian “kings” resided hundreds or thousands of miles away.

The myth of Eleanor stayed alive with her “Carta de Logu”, although little else was remembered about her.

When in the 19th century regional pride was revived, she became again a champion of Sardinian independence and a symbol for Sardinia.

All the images “portraying” Eleanor are false likenesses created in modern times.

There is even a Roman sculpture “transformed” into Eleanor, holding her laws in one hand.

A bas-relief was recently found, possibly portraying her with her father, her brother and her husband.

Eleanor was a fair and capable princess, fighting enemies and wisely ruling her subjects, who loved her.

She became the symbol of Sardinian independence, and she is fully entitled to be called a Queen.

Under the skin

Oh, narrow, dark and humid streets rising like crevices to an unforgiving sky.

I long for a Cathedral, a fine old pagan stone fortress, just for its refreshing cold atmosphere.

I would even settle for a baroque, homely, altar in a corner hole in the wall, just to squat in the corner and enjoy the delicious fridge-like interior.

Sunset does not bring relief, either in Sardinia or back home in Switzerland.

One feels like an abandoned snowball atop a sunlit bluff of rock.

Everyone and everything is smelly, dark, dank and sweaty.

No one scrambles.

No one exerts more than one has to.

We are trapped in our miserable bodies and bathed in misery.

Even nocturnal activities of an intimate nature seem far too strenous an effort to even contemplate.

I wade through the river of humidity and think wistfully of those with much harder conditions than mine: Starbucks barristas without A/C, salt miners, McDonald’s employees, construction workers, farmhands.

Sitting at my computer, I am shirtless, sweaty rivers drench my desk.

It’s almost too hot to write, to think.

Temperature extremes always make one consider one’s body because of the discomfort.

One notices the outward effects of temperature but what would it be like if we could see the effects on the insides of our bodies at will without machines?

Would we witness any remarkable internal differences?

Perhaps you may have heard of Gunter von Hagens the anatomist or his plastination process for preserving biological tissue specimens?

Or maybe Body Worlds, the travelling exhibition of preserved human bodies and body parts, which has been ongoing since 1995?

(You may remember this from the James Bond film, Casino Royale.)

Before Van Hagens was Sardinian anatomist Francesco Antonio Boi and his legacy, the Mostra di Cere Anatomiche di Clement Susini dell’Universita di Cagliari (the Museum of Clemente Susini Wax Anatomical Models at the University of Cagliari).

The Museum displays 23 somewhat gruesome wax models of anatomical sections made in the early 19th century by Florentine modeller Clemente Susini and purchased and brought to Cagliari by Francesco Boi.

Items include cutaways of a head and neck, showing the intricate network of nerves and blood vessels linking the brain and facial organs, and one of a pregnant woman displaying the foetus within the womb.

Boi’s justification for his wax collection was:
– parts of the human body cannot be preserved for long periods
– parts cannot be entirely demonstrated from a single point of view
– parts are hardly visible and some require the use of a microscope

Boi’s collection is more akin to Madame Tussaud than Van Hagen in that these are wax models and not actual human bodies.

As well, much like a Gray’s Anatomy book, we do not see whole bodies but rather cross sections.

Van Hagen shows whole bodies plasinated in lifelike poses and dissected to show various structures and systems of the human anatomy.

His purpose is the education of laymen about the human body, leading to better health awareness.

Boi’s purpose is also educational.

My wife, a doctor, of course, loves this kind of exhibit, but I find this sort of thing…unsettling.

Granted, education is a fine and wonderful thing, but are there limits as to what we should know and who should know it?

Religious groups, including representatives of the Catholic Church, devout Muslims and Jewish rabbis, have objected to the display of human remains, stating that it is inconsistent with reverence towards the human body.

It is hard to view a human body as a beautiful temple when viewed from the interior.

Bones, muscles and nerves are somewhat more holy when covered by flesh.

Does one really need to see a liver or a spleen?

Does this kind of thing lead us to awestruck wonder at the intricate and fragile workings of our beings or is it a brutal reminder of both our equality as humans as well as our mortality?

I see the manifestation of this never-ending heatwave upon my skin.

I am not so sure I really want to see my heart beat or my brain sweat…

Why we walk backwards

Female deities with inscrutable smiles, the Stele di Nora (a stone tablet showing in Phoenician characters the first recorded occurrence of the name “Sardinia”), and spindly, highly stylish, innovative and quirky bronze statuettes of varying sizes are just some of the things possible for viewing at Cagliari’s Museo Archeologico.

This is Sardinia’s premier archaeological museum displaying artifacts that span millenia of ancient history.

Sardinia’s most important prehistoric, Phoenician, Carthaginian and Roman finds are gathered here, including jewellery, coins, busts and statues of gods and muses and funerary items from the sites of Nora, Tharros and Sant’Antico.

I was most impressed with their mission statement:

“Why we walk backwards

We start from the end, from today to the time of discovery.


Because telling the story is not an easy challenge.

There are many things we should know, but we don’t.

That exposes us to a serious danger.

Whether we are aware or not, whether we want it or not, we must know that anything coming to us from the past, anything that attracted our interest and attention will become a part of our world because of that interest and attention.

That will increase and at the same time modify its meaning.

Then it may happen – it frequently does – that, interrogating the past, we hear only our own voice.”

And written on another wall…

“The word “text” comes from the Latin “textus” (fabric), a product of weaving, the criss-crossing and tying of threads.

It isn’t a generic and chaotic set of elements, but a set of elements organically connected to compose a cloth.

That is what we mean when we say that a territory can be intepreted as text.”

And, in a nutshell, that is my dream…

To create a tapestry of words that attracts interest and attention that becomes part of the world, a textual territory of the mind and spirit.

It is a good dream indeed.

Criminals or heroes?

Three events in our eight-day Sardinian adventure prompt today’s theme:

– In San Vito, we meet an Englishwoman who shares with us her despair about having her car broken into while she was on a beach and had stuff stolen from her.

Our B & B operator, Cristano Porcu, assures us that this kind of thing “never happens in San Vito”.

(The most common forms of banditry today in Sardinian crime is assault on transport vehicles, ATM destruction and drug trafficking.)

– Outside Olienda, Ute accidentally cuts off the path of a BMW driver.

He reacts…unfavorably.

He drives around us, deliberately plants his car in our path and storms out of his car prepared to beat the stuffing out of us.

We respond with quick apologies and a quicker getaway.

(In 1773, with regard to the fury of revenge, German traveler Joseph Fuos wrote:

“If a Sardinian vowed to another deadly hatred, there is no way to escape the fulfillment of this curse, than to go out of the country or to slay the opponent….

A Sardinian followed his enemy to Naples where he had taken refuge.

The Sardinian appeared to reconcile with his enemy, led him to a tavern and then a brothel, then stabbed his enemy in the act…

A Sardinian’s thirst for revenge goes to the most extreme limits that a man can go.

It is not uncommon for a Sardinian to be not content with simply killing his enemy, but he also abuses the body with bites, cuts and dismemberment…How different is the way of thinking of men!

If I say to a Sardinian in my homeland a murderer must die, without hope or grace, at the hands of justice, he makes the sign of the cross and says that I was born to a cruel people.

But if this same Sardinian killed half a dozen men because of miserable disputes and sworn death to another half dozen, he will not find anything cruel.”)

– We visit Orgosolo.

Orgosolo’s famous murales, political paintings, can be found on walls all over town.

Since 1969, they have reflected different aspects of Sardinia’s political struggles but also deal with international issues.

Vittorio De Seta’s 1961 movie Banditi a Orgosolo focuses on the past way of life in central Sardinia and the phenomenon of banditry in the region.

Michele, a shepherd of Orgosolo, unfairly charged with rustling and murder, is forced to take to the hills.

In his flight into the inaccessible areas of Barbagia, whether there is neither water nor pastures, he loses every sheep in his flock.

One night, desperate because he is full of debts and with impending trials up ahead, he goes into the sheepfold of another shepherd and, at gunpoint, steals every sheep.

Michele has become a bandit.

At one time, Orgosolo was known as the “village of murderers” due to its high crime rate.

Bandits of the surrounding mountains used the church door to post notices of death sentence passed on their enemies.

The figure of the bandit is seen not as a criminal, but as a hero and a liberator.

After all, they call themselves “fighters”.

The wrongs which bandits revenge are considered a defense against bullying and ill-treatments revenge is considered justice if not a duty.

Here is the figure of the people’s bandit-hero.

Congressman Francesco Serra wrote:

“Even today, the legendary Sardinian bandit, perhaps more fabulous than true, attracts, with a mixture of romantic strength, brutal revenge and a set of chivalric generosity, the naïve minds of the people.

There is a halo of sympathy, naïve but tenacious, that surrounds the head of him who, alone and weak, is believed to be not fighting against the rights of society, but rather makes a claim against the violence and bullying of government and authority.

He knows how to use cunning against force, draws fierce and exemplary vengeance upon whomever he opposes, but protects and defends those who like him are weak against those who hold wealth and power.”

In a nutshell, the bandit was the poor man who rebelled against the rich.

Does romantic banditry exist in reality or is it only a creation of writers and poets?

1900: Nuoro Crown Prosecutor Marcialis in his inaugural speech:

“Bandits – these hyenas always thirsty for human blood, these monsters, whose memory should be cancelled…”

4 November 1891: Bandit Ciccio De Rosas of Usini kills, on the same day, two men (Dr. Giuseppe Melis / Antonio Secchi) and two women (Maria Sotgia / Clotilde Coco), one of whom is pregnant.

1899: Orune bandits Giovanni Moni and Giuseppe Goddi, kill a Benetutti farmer in the presence of his wife and child.

They disembowel his body, quarter it and detach his head, which they lay on a dry stone wall, with blood dripping from the farmer’s curled mustache.

July 1899: Captain Petella, to create a vacuum around the fugitives, organizes the most grandiose police operation in the history of Italy.

He arrests 500 people in a single night in the district of Nuoro-Ozieri.

By month’s end 682 people are charged with 237 offences.

In Morgogliai, between Oliena and Orgosolo, 50 carabinieri and an entire battalion of infantry engage in a heated battle against the gangs of Serra Sanna, Pau and Lovicu.

All the bandits are killed.

The Battle of Morgogliai and the killing of so many bandits feeds the illusion of the end to banditry, but only the most dangerous gangs had been eliminated.

The roots of the phenomenon are not even touched.

After a brief lull, more bandits draw new blood and give rise to more periodic outbreaks of crime.

7 January 1925: 10-year-old Wanda Serra, the daughter of the mayor of Aidomaggiore, is kidnapped and a ransom of 40,000 pounds is demanded by the bandits Don Spanu and Peppa Ziulu.

The child is later found dead.

1928: Samuele Stochino, the famous bandit of Arzana, kills with a shot at point-blank range 10-year-old girl Assunta Nieddu.

6 July 1933: Bandits Congiu of Bottidda, Chironi of Nuoro and the Pintore brothers kidnap the mayor of Bono Pietro Molotzu, his wife, their 7-year-old daughter Maria, teacher Pietrina Marongiu and notary Ena.

All were freed except Maria, for which a ransom of 250,000 lire in silver coins is demanded.

The girl’s skeleton is found after more than a year.

3 January 1937: In Benetutti, bandit Giovanni Pala of Orune smashes with an ax the skull of 17-year-old Andrea Bellina as she sleeps.

1952: On the road to Ozieri, a robbery takes place that can be considered the most sensational of the century.

On the very day of the celebration of the anniversary of the carabinieri, a dozen gunmen stop and rob 240 people, block three couriers and more than ten cars for two hours and flee with the loot.

A few months later, outside Nuoro, Roman merchant Patalucci is killed for not stopping when ordered to by bandits.

1966 – 1968: 33 kidnappings for ransom are carried out – exactly 11 every year, the highest number ever in the history of Sardinian banditry and never achieved in any country in the world.

New Year’s Eve 1966: In Ollolai, bandit Antonio Casula and his associates massacre the 60-something spouses Podda and their 11-year-old grandson Michele.

August 1972: The Massacre of Lanusei – 6 bandits enter the house of Dr. Vincenzo Loddo.

His wife, the first to notice their entry, gets scared and starts to scream.

The bandits lose their heads and start shooting.

The doctor, his wife, his brother, a nephew and one of the bandits are killed.

15 January 1992: In Pantogia, little Farouk Kassam, son of hotel owner French-born Egyptian Fateh Kassam, is kidnapped.

The kidnappers carry the baby in the Supramonte, moving from one place to another, always keeping Farouk hidden in caves carved into reinforced stone walls and covered with earth.

To convince his parents to pay his ransom, the bandits cut off a piece of Farouk’s ear.

The story of little Farouk moves all Italy.

May 1995: Vanna Licheri is kidnapped in Abbasanta.

After four months of captivity, he falls ill and dies.

17 June 1997: Industrial entrepreneur Giuseppe Soffiantini is kidnapped in Manerbio in Brescia on the Italian mainland.

He is locked up in various hideouts in Calvana and the Prato mountains in inhumane conditions for 237 days.

It is one of the longest kidnappings in Italy.

He is released after a ransom of 5 billion lire.

Bandits will even kidnap children and kill without pity those who resist kidnapping.

Bandits commit crimes solely for profit.

Bandit perpetrators of the kidnappings choose their victims not only among landowners, but as well amongst industrialists, merchants, wealthy men and small businessmen.

Bandits commit their crimes with inconceivable ruthlessness.

Criminals or heroes?

You decide.

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.

VIPs of Cagliari

Roman Emperor Diocletian didn’t like Christians very much, so when Saturninus refused to offer sacrifices to the god Jupiter Caligari Governor Barbarus had him beheaded in 304.

A Paleo-Christian basilica marks his burial place.

Bishop of Cagliari Lucifer Calaritanus, aka Lucifero da Cagliari, was well-known for his passionate opposition to Arianism, (a nontrinitarian belief that asserts that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, but is entirely distinct from and subordinate to the God the Father).

At the Council of Milan (354), he annoyed the Emperor Constantius II, a supporter of Arian theology, so much that he had Lucifer confined in the Imperial Palace for three days before exiling him first to Syria, then Palestine and finally Egypt.

After the death of Constantius and the accession of Emperor Julian “the Apostate”, Lucifer was allowed to return from exile in 361, but he would not be reconciled to former Arians, so the Church excommunicated him.

He returned to Cagliari and died there in 370.

Ofonius Tigellinus of Cagliari(10 – 69) was a prefect of the Roman Praetorian Guard, the Emperor’s Secret Service, who fancied himself, like his BFF Emperor Nero, to be quite the singer and musician.

In 39, he was banished from Rome for committing adultery with Nero’s mother Agrippina the Younger as well as her sister Julia Livilla.

He was recalled to Rome by Emperor Claudius in 41.

Having inherited a fortune, he bought land and devoted himself to breeding racehorses.

In this manner he gained the favour of Nero, whom he aided in his vices and cruelties.

In 62 he was promoted to the prefecture of the Praetorian Guards.

In 64 he made himself notorious for the orgies arranged by him in the Basin of Agrippa and was the primary suspect of incendiarism in connection with the Great Fire of Rome, which, after having subsided, broke out afresh in his Aemilian gardens.

In 67 Tigellinus accompanied Nero on his musical tour of Greece.

When the Emperor’s downfall seemed imminent, Tigellinus deserted Nero.

Under Nero’s successor Galba, he was obliged to give up his command, but managed to save his life by lavishing presents upon Titus Vinius, the favourite of Galba, and his daughter.

Otho, upon his accession to Emperor in January 69, was determined to remove one so universally detested by the people.

While in the baths at Sinuessa, Tigellinus received the news that he must die, and, having vainly endeavoured to gain a respite, cut his own throat with a razor.

Tigellinus appears as a villain in the 1928 opera Nero i Acte, the play and film The Sign of the Cross, in Quo Vadis, and in the six-hour mini-series Anno Domini, the play The Road to Damascus, the novel The Kingdom of the Wicked, and in John Hersey’s 1972 novel portraying Rome as a police state, The Conspiracy.

Some say it was really Tigellianus’s idea to burn Rome, or at the very least he gave Nero the idea of blaming the Fire on Christians.

Claudius Claudianus of Caligari, aka Claudian, (370 – 404) was a Latin poet.

(Think of him of as a mix of Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly and Jon Stewart (of the Comedy Channel’s Daily Show) of his day.)

The man had a way with words.

Need to praise someone?

Get Claudian.

Want to discredit your rivals?

Get Claudian.

He was well-rewarded for his efforts.

He was made the Empire’s Poet, the Senate honoured him with a statue in the Forum in 400 and a rich wife was found for him.

Giulio Angioni (born 1939) is a professor at the University of Cagliari and the author of over 20 books of fiction and a dozen volumes of essays on anthropology.

(Think of him as the Noam Chomski of Caligari.)

He views human life in a dimension of maximum amplitude of time and space.

He believes that doing, saying and feeling are interrelated aspects of the human condition, which is characterised by our culture.

He criticises the superiority of speech as a solely human feature and aesthetics being considered separate from the rest of life.

Sergio Atzeni (1952 – 1995) was a Sardinian writer and resident of Cagliari so all of his works are set in Sardinia.

He used a very original language that fused elegant literary Italian with the street slang used by the working class in Cagliari, reproducing the immediacy of speech.

His works are known for “magic realism”, where fantastic elements appear in realistic settings.

(Sounds like TV…)

Nanni Loy, born Giovanni Loi, (1925 – 1995), of Cagliari, was a film, theatre and TV director, famous for introducing in Italy the candid camera with his show Specchio segreto(secret mirror).

His 1962 film The Four Days of Naples was nominated for two Academy Awards.

He specialised in comedy films but he also shot film dealing with social themes.

Amedeo Nazzari of Cagliari, born Salvatore Amedeo Buffa, (1907 – 1979) was an actor, one of the leading figures of Italian classic cinema, a Sardinian Errol Flynn.

Although he moved to Rome, he always retained his native accent.

He entered a contest organised by Twentieth Century Fox to find an Italian actor to fill the boots of the recently deceased screen star Rudolph Valentino.

He was rejected in screen test after screen test by Italian professionals who found him too tall, too thin, too gloomy, but after three films, his breakthrough came with the 1938 film Luciano Serra, Pilot, where he played a WW1 veteran who returns to fight for Italy during the Abyssinian War.

Suddenly Nazzarini was transformed into a matinee idol, the most bankable star of Italian cinema.

Following the film, Nazzari was invited to join the Fascist Party by Benito Mussolini, but declined saying:

“Thank you, Duce! I would prefer not to concern myself with politics, occupied as I am with more pressing artistic commitments.”

(I wish more of today’s Hollywood stars felt the same.)

Finally, there is Pier Angeli (1932 – 1971), born Anna Maria Pierangeli in Cagliari, a TV and Hollywood film actress.

She won a Golden Globe Award for her starring role in the 1951 film Teresa, when she was compared favourably with Greta Garbo.

She had romantic relationships with Kirk Douglas and James Dean, starred with Lana Turner, Paul Newman, Danny Kaye and Richard Attenborough.

She was engaged to Kirk Douglas, broke it off.

Romance with James Dean…broke it off to marry singer/actor Vic Damone.

Divorce followed by very public custody battle for their son.

Married composer Armando Trovaioli.

Second son.

In 1971, she was cast to be in The Godfather, but at the age of 39, she was found dead in her Beverly Hills home of an accidental barbiturate overdose.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Even if you come from Cagliari.

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.”

Travelling with the enemy

It has often been said that the two true tests of a relationship are:
1) Your ability to assemble IKEA furniture together
2) Your ability to travel together

In regards to the first test, She Who Must Be Obeyed and I have failed that test.

She is impatient with my stumbling efforts, convinced She knows best and ultimately She takes over and finishes the assembly herself.

So, we tried travelling to Sardinia together, eight days of 24 hours together.

Surprisingly, no murder or suicide!

(As yet!)

Day One, 27 July 2015:

Up at 0530.

A mistake.

She is NOT a morning person.

Clearly, opposites attract.

The reason grumpy people are grumpy in the morning is because of perky people, for perky people are not content with just being perky themselves, we have an almost religious zeal to spread this perkiness around, which one should NEVER do with a grumpy person.

I calmly and methodically organise myself.

She runs about like a panicked chicken ensuring all is planned, both with us and with all that we leave behind.

We check the stove and oven for the 14th time to ensure they are off.

We somehow still make our train to Kreuzlingen as well as our train to Zürich.

At the Zürich Hauptbahnhof, She suddenly gets the urge to buy a tea and a croissant, despite the TGV train to Basel (with its own restaurant car) leaving in only a few minutes time.

Train is packed, so I walk along the platform to locate an emptier wagon.

She returns to the platform and doesn’t immediately see me (which is surprising because I am a 6’5″ / 194 cm tall balding man in an old crofter’s cap and a bright red Roots rucksack).

She sees me finally and curses myself and my ancestry many generations removed.

Rule One: You are always wrong. Accept this.

We are husband and wife (or is that peasant and Queen?) so a shared bed is par for the course.

She sleeps like a mummified pharoah with all the blankets wrapped about her.

I am left with a pitiful tiny corner of a blanket.

Rule Two: Sleep separately, or bring your own separate sheets.

She drives fast and dangerous.

Speed limits are for losers.

I pray that God is merciful to me a wretched sinner as I am about to enter Paradise.

Rule Three: The driver is always right.

Each moment we waste searching for the millionth time for her wallet is time well spent.

Each moment spent waiting upon me is time a-wastin’.

Rule Four: Time’s value is measured differently by different people.

She uses my body as a footrest or pillow.

I am deemed too heavy for such an infraction.

Rule Five: Men are useful tools, but never let the tools set the tone.

She is one moment, Dr. Kerr, the next Ms. Hyde.

She calls me too emotional and sensitive.

Rule Six: Women are allowed emotional swings, men…not so much.

And that was just Day One…

I no longer wonder why one finds so many husbands alone in pubs or why men don`t live as long as women…

It’s because we choose to.

Great expectations?

Well. in an hour and an half’s time, a mini-adventure begins…

Off to Sardinia with She Who Must Be Obeyed…

What to expect? What to expect?

Mediterranean. Hot hot hot weather.

A Canadian in Sardinia = a penguin in Hell?

A land of sardines?

A land of sardonic laughter?

A land of danger?

In the 1970s kidnapping of foreigners had amounted to a cottage industry, a culture of kidnapping.

Almost anyone with a little money snatched and held in a peasant hut in the mountains by semi-literate demanding impossible millions from desperate families.

Romans couldn’t control the mountain-dwelling Sardinians, called them Barbagians – barbarians.

Italians no better luck.

Stone walls everywhere.

The cackling of an incomprehensible dialect.

The Swiss must love that aspect of Sardinia!

Solid rock, wrinkled stone, tussocky grass, big sky full of smoky clouds.

Tough land for a tough people of iron will.

Italian fashions?

American cultural invasion?

The Church?

Functional dogs only?

A place D.H. Lawrence loved.

(And he knew all about love, did this literary priest of love.)

Eight days…too short a span of time…but we two are prisoners of limited time and limited budget.

A guesthouse, a hotel and a working farm.

Airport to airport, rental car.

Endless monologue expected from She.

Will it be the best of times?

The worst of times?

Hate to fly.

I always recall old sailors’ advice that if the captain of a ship looked like he was fit to be hung as a criminal, then his destiny (and that of his passengers) was not to drown at sea.

Doesn’t reassure me, as pilots all have unjustifiable swagger and unmatchable children’s faces, despite being bus drivers of the air.

Local-type flight…stewardess eye candy or “dear, where did I put my sleeping mask?”

Should I be envied? Pitied?

Let the games begin.