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.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Sardinia Journal II: A Tree Grows in Alghero

watercolor by Hallie Cohen

Emily Dickinson once reputedly said something to the effect of,  “I know Amherst well.” It doesn’t take long to realize that three of the items that are most characteristic of Alghero are caramel, coral and octagonal shaped structures and that sunbathers like to nestle themselves into the rock formations that lie all along the shoreline—finding little plateaus of comfort in seemingly precarious spots like birds do when they find their perches. Alghero, known as "The Coral Riviera," actually had its own  Musee della Corallo. Though it appears to have been recently shuttered, if you look through its iron gates you can see tree branches in its courtyard painted red to imitate the way coral looks. A version of medieval Catalan is still the indigenous language the way Ladino is in the Tyrol. When you walk down into the town you will actually see many remnants  of the medieval era, one of them in the l7th Torre di San Giacomo (Tower of St. James) whose architecture is mirrored in the Villa Mosca or charming house, another octagonal structure that is set on a promontory above the main drag. Nature has unusual and inventive ways of accommodating itself to the rocky terrain. You may see a branch jutting straight out of rock and when you walk down into the old town you will note a solitary oasis amidst the old stone buildings. Yes a tree grows in Alghero, and one other thing, unlike many other towns in Italy, the toilets have seats.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Sardinia Journal I: Alghero

Torre Dello Sperone (photograph by Hallie Cohen)
If you want to see a carousel that’s propelled by a bicyclist who  high fives screaming children as he pedals then visit Alghero one of the two main cities of the Island of Sardinia. On the same main square, Piazza Sulis, you can also watch a puppeteer who delights onlookers with the delicately exquisite movements of her marionette and this right under one of the ancient stone towers (the Torre Dello Sperone) that populate the town and that at one point provided defenses against invading armies. There are streets named after the famed romantic poet Giacomo Leopardi and the Marxist Antonio Gramsci about whom the Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini wrote a poem, “Gramsci’s Ashes.” When you arrive at the airport there's a colorful mural of the city illustrating its battlements and a poster advertising, "endless island," which is, when you think of it, an oxymoron. During the summer Alghero is teaming with tourists who gravitate towards the art nouveau newpaper kiosk with its L’Unione Sarda” on top. Oh yes and if you’re in doubt, sardines are definitely a Sardinian speciality. There's something garish about Alghero with its late night bazaar, which sells all the cheap memorabilia you will never need and street musicians wailing forth in a folk rock style derivative of American pop stars of the 70’s and 80’s. But Alghero is a place where memories are made and  where many of the supernumeraries who populated Fellini classics like 8 ½ probably learned their tricks.