Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Sardinia Journal VII: Atlantis


watercolor of Nuraghe from the inside by Hallie Cohen
Plato said there were l0,000 towers in Atlantis and there are at least l0,000 Nuraghes ancient structures, dating from approximately1500 BC—whose provenance and actual process of construction is a mystery. One argument would have it that Sardinia was in fact the lost civilization of Atlantis, which became buried by water when the Mediterranean rose. In any case Sardinia had many occupants including the Phoenicians, the Romans and the Spanish until becoming part of Italy in 1861 under Victor Emmanuel II. Interestingly though a version of Catalan is spoken in Alghero, the indigenous Sardinian language which has survived generations of occupation is a tongue that is remarkably close to Latin. One thing is certain, of all the parts of Italy, Sardinia is the one which shows the least mixture of cultures when you look at the varying complexions of native Sardinians. For instance in Sicily you may see dark swarthy skinned southerners along with blond and blue eyed Nordic types while despite the waves of conquest the average Sardinian’s DNA seems to have remained fairly homogenous and free of evidence of intermarriage with the invader. Thus if it is true that Sardinia was once Atlantis then the average Sardinian is a true ancestor of  the Atlantans, and not the kind you find in Georgia or even the Sardinian version of neurotic, neuraghic. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Sardinia Journal VI: Tuerredda Beach




photograph of Sardinian coast by Hallie Cohen
Sardinians seek quaint alcoves, little oases of sand that are a respite along the rocky shores of the island.  Often these beaches take some doing in accessing. One, Tuerredda Beach, is not far from the town of Pula on the southwest coast, a classic summer resort with town square and band playing into the night, that’s about thirty five minutes from Cagliari—the largest city on the island. To arrive at Tuerredda you have to negotiate perilous winding roads with set backs that overlook breathtaking vistas, such as a narrow peninsula running out in the sea, really an oversized jetty, at the end of which is one of the islands many round shaped Spanish towers. The sun is brilliantly reflected across the crystal clear waters and once the climbing and descending is all over and you realize you’re arrived sound in body and mind the pay off seems even more worth it due to the perils you’ve withstood. The beach  which is itself modest in size is packed on a Saturday afternoon in August and as you walk onto the sand  you pass merchants who sell colorful beach cloths with mandalas and other shapes whose provenance might actually be China for all you know. Globalism raises its convenient and ugly head even in far off places, coveted by tourists from England, France, Germany and America who are seeking to get away from it all. As you buy your gelato after a swim, you hear that Beach Boys “Don’t Worry Baby,” emanating from a radio behind the counter followed by the banter of a Sardinian radio announcer. You go in for one last swim, revisiting the childhood oceanic feeling of not wanting to come out.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Sardinia Journal V: Mont 'e Prama






watercolor of ancient Sardinian statue by Hallie Cohen
Cabras is a village on the Western coast of Sardinia which dates from the seventh century AD. One of the more creative accommodations is Aquae Sinis, an “Albergo Diffuso,” meaning that unlike a normal hotel, its rooms are spread out across a campus of 17th century structures. But in the late afternoon during siesta, when the streets are deserted, the town has the look of a de Chirico painting, characterized as it is by wide open classic spaces that create a haunting feeling of emptiness. The old and the new exist in a stately counterpoint in Cabras. The landscape is dotted with ancient Spanish towers counterbalanced with huge modern granary silos, that look like airport control towers. If you go to the Il Museo Civico di Cabras you can see the results of one of the most important excavations in modern archeological history and something that rivals Stonehenge in its significance—a necropolis from the 9th century BC discovered in the Mont ‘e Prama area outside of town.  Over 5000 fragments which had once been part of 30 enormous statues of archers, warriors and boxers, known as "the Giants of Mont 'e Prama," were discovered above graves in which crouched figures were buried. And when it comes to desecration it turns out the Islamic State is just the new boy on the block. All of these figures show evidence of having been plundered by an invading army, probably Phoenicians. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. ISIS definitely did a job on Palmyra and at the Mont 'e Prama site, archeologists are demonstrating how history repeats itself.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Sardinia Journal IV: Shepherding


Photograph of Sardinian Ricotta Dessert by Hallie Cohen

If you want to meet a shepherd who also likes Edward Hopper because of his light, you will have to journey to Sardinia. At one point the Mediterranean was a smaller, though not less turbulent world, and the tradition of shepherding comes from ancient Palestine, amongst other places. The Adoration of the Shepherds of course derives from the Nativity. Talking about art and shepherding Giotto was a shepherd. Shepherds not only herd goats and sheep, but some like Salvatore Porcu, the shepherd from Bosa with the interest in Hopper, turn their spiritual leanings into the art of making cheese. For instance Pecorino is made from sheep’s milk. The process of making such cheeses is an ancient skill.  Ricotta means twice cooked. Antonio Gramsci the Marxist philosopher who was born on Sardinia would probably have admired shepherd’s work since it’s one in which the worker experiences little of the alienation that results from division of labor and economy of scale, two principal tenets of capitalism that Marx indicted in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of l844. Come to Sardinia if you want a brief respite from the industrial revolution and the world of processed cheese.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Sardinia Journal III: The Life Force


the results of Sardinian tweeting (photograph by Hallie Cohen)


A sponsored article in The Guardian, "Does Sardinia hold the secret of a long life?"asks and goes on to point out that "According to records, the small Italian island of Sardinia has the highest percentage of people to live 100 years or beyond." The article tries to figure out reasons and concludes that it may be a glass a day of the local wine that's responsible for the longevity, but certainly it isn't the names of towns on the Western coast, tongue twisters like Magomadas and Tresnuraghes that add to life expectancy. Another thing that may account for Sardinian longevity may be the esprit of the populace. Sardinia is naturally still a part of Italy, but it exudes the kind of pride in place that you find amongst the Basques, though Sardinian "nationalism" appears to be harnessed to a more peaceful end. For instance, take the wine that's produced from Malvasian grapes and for which Sardinians are justly proud; its uniqueness is the result of the mistral and the salt sea, which prevents the kind of fungus that results from humid conditions in other places. Sardinian tourism is growing, but Sardinia itself is still far enough from the madding crowd to preserve its own integrity and the pleasures the island has to offer are enhanced by the ethos of moderation. It's not that the culture is lacking in its own aspiration. Rather the ambition is inward turning in such a way that cultivates a peaceful form of pride, a self-love that's manifested in the pleasure the inhabitants take in their way of life. The chorus of birds tweeting outside the church in Tresnuraghes gives Handel's Hallelujuh Chorus a run for the money, which may be another testament to the Shavian life force that seems to underlie the Sardinian sensibility. However, watch out if you are interested in the kind of tweets that come from the internet, hooking up to which can be a chancy prospect on this wind swept island.