The Classical Bandits of Sardinia

They live in Orgosolo, they say. But in the same breath they maintain that vendettas and violence have long vanished from the inland villages of Sardinia.

In the spring of 2015, around this time, a girl friend and I took a flight into Alghero. To land upon the island that sits in the middle of the Tyrrhenian Sea, surrounded by the Balearic islands, the Italian peninsula and Corsica, and yet is a world unto its own. A rugged land where the air is ripe with possibilities. Here there are no high-street chains for clothing and coffee stores, no concrete jungles to feel lost in, and certainly none of the big city lights. Pre-historic Nuraghi which are cylindrical stone towers dating back to the 1500 BC — preceding the Etruscan civilisation — show up instead upon miles and miles of green countryside framed by the limestone and bluish-green mountains of the Supramonte.

English novelist DH Lawrence described it as “belonging to nowhere, never having belonged to anywhere”. In this ancient part of the country, Barbagia, where the people lead rustic lives and shepherds make their living from tending to livestock in the wild interiors, the concept fits in with the precision and smoothness of say slipping your hands into the softest sheepskin gloves, that bandits should double up as heroes for the people in the villages. That the Codice Barbaricino, which is the Code of Barbagia, should be the mark of a life well lived, with honour. For, the right and the duty to preserve honour is everything here.

From Enza, who was in charge of shepherding us around the island, I heard about Graziano Mesina, a regular Robinhood kind of a figure in this part of the world. Mesina had decided to drop his former profession in favour of the tour-guide business. A bandit turned tour guide, heavens!

The next few words that issued from my mouth alarmed Enza and she decided that enough was enough. She would not have a pesky person broach difficult subjects. She said: “The people of Orgosolo eye all newcomers with askance. They do not talk about such matters at all. You see, they are protected by the bandits, and they in turn, protect them from curious eyes.” That screwed tight the lid upon the curiosity that welled up in this journalist old heart of mine. It takes a lifetime to wean yourself away from the only profession you have known all your adult life. And I was just starting to learn to keep my nose out of other people’s business.

In that village wrapped up in stories of bandits and vendettas — a local poet was shot in public as lately as 2007 as part of a vendetta — we sat in a large hall for a shepherd’s lunch. It was a rustic affair and one that was long–drawn, for whatever you do, do not under-estimate the appetite of the Italians. On rustic wooden boards, we were presented with fluffy rounds of pane, which is bread. We tore into the bread, pairing it with creamy ricotta cheese, pink slices of ham and pungent porcheddu (suckling pig roasted upon a spit). And sips of grappa, potent enough to make the nerves tingle and warm the insides with searing intensity.

I thought that was enough, till more appeared. Rosemary-flavoured sheep’s meat cooked with potatoes and pecorino cheese paired with pane carasau that was but a simple parchment of bread. Followed by refills of the local red wine. Our senses sufficiently doused in wine and grappa, we were treated to pretty desserts. They were fit for fairies to nibble on.

Suddenly the shepherds, four of them proceeded to a corner, huddling together with their backs to us. I was wondering about this strange sight when they broke into a song. The air rang with the resounding bass in their voices. The canto a tenore, a traditional shepherds’ song. The group of Germans behind us got up and danced in a while. The grappa and wine had done their job alright.

Now Orgosolo has more going for it than just its fame as home to the outlaws. Its hilly cobbled lanes are lined with old, dilapidated houses in pastel hues, their facades painted with political and Cubist-style frescoes. In the ‘70s, a Sienese school teacher and his students had sparked off a trend of painting political murals in remembrance of the Italian Resistance and Liberation from Nazism and Fascism. Now you can see these murales, telling stories in diverse styles. And if you have the time, why they will have a conversation with you.

Thus was I introduced to Sardinia. Through this small village that was once occupied by the Carthaginians, the Romans, the Byzantines and the Spanish. The village that has hospitality carved into its anti-authoritarian veins, where the bandits are shy despite their notoriety, where the men huddle together to sing songs that have been sung through the ages and where blood feuds are a cultural backdrop because this is where the people live and die, my darling, by an ancient code of honour.

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The road that winds past the Supramonte
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Villages in Barbagia
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Welcome to Orgosolo. I imagine he is a bandit.
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The shepherd’s lunch took place in a barn
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Shepherds with their suckling pig 
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Where they carve up the pig
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Enza pours us grappa
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Makes me faint with greed
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Pane Carasau
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Bread with ricotta, ham and porcheddu
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Pastissus. Thin delicate pastries, glazed with sugar, and filled with almonds
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Canto a tenore 
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Orgosolo on the map of Sardinia. The words above urge you to love the island for what it is, an oasis of natural beauty. 
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Streets of Orgosolo

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Cross-eyed with thinking? We women do think too much.
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Rural women go about the business of life

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Aunt Elisabetta, the sibyl of Orgosolo
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Vittorio De Seta, the director of ‘Banditi a Orgosolo’

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Bums. That’s my darling Enza.
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‘If the most difficult kids are lost, the school is no longer a school. It is a hospital that takes care of the healthy and rejects the sick.’ Lorenzo Milani, an Italian Roman Catholic priest and educator of children who nobody wanted to educate. 

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Cubism. Accident at work.
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On the left are scenes depicting Gaza and massacres visited upon by the Palestinians by the Israeli army. The right-hand side mural states, ‘We are all illegal aliens’, acknowledging the desperation of people who arrive in Italy, stuffed into boats, in the vain hope of escaping poverty.
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‘Felice il popolo che non ha bisogna di eroi’ — ‘Happy are the people who do not need heroes’.

‘What Do I Think About Art’

In between rushing to stores, gobbling up pizzas and giant cookies, while setting up our new apartment to the tune of endless cups of Lady Grey tea, I came upon this cutesy tag courtesy Angela. Interesting and innovative. An art tag! But I had to do it asap before I lost steam and let it slip to the bottom of the pile. Thank you Angela, I had fun going about this tag.

Here I introduce you to the “What Do I Think About Art” tag.

Rules:

  • Copy the piece of art given to you by the nominator into the post and these rules
  • Analyse the piece of art given to you and what it means to you (you can be as abstract as you like)
  • Nominate five people to analyse another piece of art of your choice

The lead photo is the one that I was tagged to analyse by Angela.

It is an example of going green on a whole different level, eh. You see the cityscape in the backdrop – ’tis the picture of barrenness, a leaf or two sticking out here and there. Maybe more than a leaf, but hey, I am permitted a smidgen of exaggeration surely by dint of the fact that if art allows us to stretch our imagination we can let it seep into into our words too.

Okay, so we all need green. More so in the cities.

How do we go about it? We grow a green bush on our head. That is the best way of getting your own personal bit of green on this planet where world leaders with exceptional vision denounce the concept of global warming as a weapon for hoodwinking the masses.

Right, so our man is a self-sufficient personality. But watch out for that brush in his hand. Could it be that there might be an itchy witchy feeling creeping up on him and that all is not as well as Mister Smug (just look at his expression) might claim to all and sundry?

“The streets are empty and here’s my chance to go berserk,” he sniggers as he sneaks the brush into his green pate. He is about to have a real good go at it just like a scratchy sheep makes a go of it against a fence or a highland cow rubs its massive horns against dry stone walls. You get the picture, I suppose. I shall let it rest there.

I would love to hear your take on the piece too.

Deconstructing art takes me back to the beginning of my feature reporting days when I used to be bundled off to art exhibitions to interview artists. Artists are the kind of professionals I never felt uncomfortable around. It was easy to feel gauche around fashion designers, hoity-toity actors and egoistic sport stars, but with artists, no way. It seemed to me, during those long conversations, that they were suspended in the cloudy realms of their heads from where they need time to wade out at ease. So yes, I could take my time.

Art is also supposed to be individual. You can imagine my delight that there was no censure. That I could sit there and come up with bizarre interpretations. Thus you have the logic behind my view of Angela’s street art piece.

Below is my piece for you. I clicked it in Jersey City downtown the other day. Would you care to analyse it? If yes, you can do a post on it, or just leave your interpretation in the comments section. Going beyond the stated number, I nominate you all. Humour me?

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Pints, Trains, Snores and Friday Nights

Friday nights and drinking are an art that has been perfected by the London working crowd. You will notice this that all workers are done and dusted with work by almost as early as 3pm. The process starts around midday when they gather in clusters outside office, smokes and cups of coffee in their hand, nattering away. That is what Fridays should look like – the prospect of the weekend starting off, armed with cups of coffee and all-important conversations that hinge upon … you take your pick of what they should go like. Go wild.

A Friday evening decides the tone of the night. Will you be relegated to the guest bed or the couch? For your own bed shall be out of limits. Let there be no doubt about that.

That is If you make it back home by morning.

Take my husband’s colleague. He boarded a train from London after a substantial evening of pints to get back to his home in the suburbs. Sleep took over. The worthy man woke up and found himself in the seaside town of Brighton. What a frightful mess you would think. You would also think he would have been alert to the possibilities of what lay after. Think again. He nodded off. Yes once more.

Life is a series of dramatic incidents on any particular Friday evening that starts with an innocent drink. When our friend woke up a second time, he found himself in Brighton, fell asleep, woke up and found himself in Brighton all over again. A vicious cycle alright but brought to a halt the third time when his wife turned up at the station. The aftermath would not have been pretty.

Then there is the husband. After an evening of drinks post work on a Friday, he called to say he would be home after a couple of drinks. Two drinks being the operative words here. Our friends, part of the merry party, called to assure me that he was hauling his behind out of the pub soon. Contrary to what it sounds like, I Do Not sit with a cudgel at home.

That was 8pm. This was 11pm. Barring an evening of books and Netflix, a twinge of conscience made me put through a call. It turned out that Adi had just then got onto a train.

Midnight came and went. Radio silence. Several frantic calls. Now booze, sleep and trains make for best friends forever. Adi, it turned out, had been on a train to Gatwick. No prizes for guessing, but he had slept off in between. Now, Gatwick is an hour away from Euston, the station from which Adi catches the train back home to Northampton. By the time he had reached London again, the last train for Northampton had left the station. Voila.

The story did not end there. This talented husband of mine declared that why he would sleep the last few hours of the morning at the station. Alarm bells started ringing in my head. I was picturing him, a drunk man in a suit by the side of the road, snoring away with his mouth open, not unlike a hobo.

Oh not a scene to be endured even though my thoughts for this pesky creature were not too kind at the moment. After a session of extreme nagging (it is a tiring job, isn’t it?), he tottered over to a taxi and spent a not-too-moderate sum to get back home.

The clock struck 4 when my warrior reached home.

Sympathy had run dry and the guest bed was the perfect repository for all drunken snores.

Lest you are in London on a night out, this time with the errant partner/friend, do give these spots a look-in.

Shoreditch

In ultra-hip Shoreditch, which some poor sod ranted about as being too hip (as if!), the East Enders welcome Friday with a bang. Boho-chic fashion, hipster beards and a chilled-out vibe reigns supreme. The mind boggles to think that the place is supposed to have got its name from some mistress of a 13th century king of England who lay dead in a ditch here. And Shoreditch came to be – her name was Jane Shore. What a pathetic insert into the happy evening we are contemplating, I admit, but then in London it is easy to think that the bench you are sitting on belonged to some earl who sat on it as he played the violin, releasing mournful strains by the minute.

The streets of Shoreditch are awash with colour and you can spend your time watching movies on rooftop cinemas or shop away and scout street art in its various alleys with a tripod and trusty DSLR in your hand. Better still, you can catch a drink in one of its gastropubs and do some pub-hopping. Be a busy bee in short.

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The Owl & Pussycat

Now you would be forgiven for wondering, ‘Why are people spilling over onto the streets? Did the pub throw them out for bad behaviour and they therefore stand around like punished schoolboys and girls. Only with glasses in their hand?’ No these fine men and women just like to stand and drink, okay? It is a London end-of-the-week ritual. This 18th century pub here is a fine place to sit and nosh away, if you get any space on one of its fashionable Chesterfields. If not, just take yourself to the beer garden at its back for my sake and join the many who stand around dreaming away or eavesdrop on others who pontificate about changes in life with a glass of wine in their hands.

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Dirty Burger

The name does the job. A small joint but when you are down a few pints you know what burgers can do. So I shall just quietly step away from the burger. Go on. Make it sloppy.

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Boxpark

A converted shipping container that is filled with options for when you want to eat and drink alongside ‘cos why should you do one thing when you can multi-task. Chomp and guzzle.

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BBB

That stands for Beach Blanket Babylon. Why on earth would they think of beach and Babylon together? My imagination is at a loss. Also because I did not end up inside. But if you do, let me know?

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Dirty Bones

Some more dirty stuff. Here you can truly get working with your hands. Now stop overworking that ripe imagination and wait for the bowl of spicy chicken wings to make its way to your table. Magic.

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Indigo

You could look in here and try the gol gappas. Water-filled balls that is. Translations sometimes can put a smile on your face. The spiciness and tanginess of them can act as the perfect antidote to an evening of Bacchanalian pleasures.

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Euston Tap

Lastly, I have to slip in this wonderful little institution outside Euston station. Now Euston is the gateway to London for some who arrive by train from various parts of the country. The location of Euston Tap is strategic. No time is too early or late for a pint. You can choose to slowly get sloshed before taking your train or you can arrive at Euston and get started at this craft beer pub. The only thing is you have got to remember – and this is vital – is to get on the train to make it back home, okay?

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Euston Tap. Where life looks rosy with a drink in each hand.