Welcome to our first stop on the Gita Italiana 2010! Today we’re hanging out in Alghero, Sardinia with my friend Keren Bensoussan of The Road Less Travelled.
Finding Treasures in Alghero
After having travelled all over Italy, I was finally called to Sardinia, Italy’s island famous for its emerald sea.
I was offered work so I accepted, but not after seriously questioning how long I could survive on an island. I am a city girl after all, but the airport was only 15 minutes away, and that sealed the deal.
My first days in Alghero were wonderful. It was like being in paradise. Tall trees fanned the streets with their delicate green leaves; the quiet sea glistened with sunshine diamonds in mountainous horizons, and I could walk through Alghero’s “central park” at ease, safe in a mother Alghero’s arms. I felt young, innocent, even slightly vulnerable, which made me wonder, “what is going on here?”
A week later I ran into my landlord.
“Ciao, Keren! Come va la prima settimana in Alghero?”
(“Hi Keren! How is your first week in Alghero going?”)
I told her that everything was fine but that something was different and I couldn’t put my finger on it.
“Ah, sì, tutti dicono che Alghero è speciale.”
(“Ah, yes, everybody says that Alghero is special.”)
She said this with a glint in her eye.
“… well … what is it?” I asked her.
“Non c’è criminalità,” she answered.
(“There’s no crime.”)
Certainly petty crime exists, but there is no “hard” crime like murder.
There’s no mafia either (there have been kidnappers, but only if you’re really rich. The rest of us can relax.)
I stood there sort of speechless, reflecting on what she said and I suddenly understood: When people feel safe, they are kinder towards one another. Which basically means that you don’t need to be on the defensive, and you don’t have to worry about being “straniero” (foreign) because they welcome foreigners with open arms.
Just as Sardinia is known for its sea, warm weather and cool breezes,
Sardinians are known for their generosity, sincerity and simplicity.
When my teaching contract ended my students took me out for pizza and bought me gifts. It was a lot of pizza and a lot of gifts so I asked, “why?” They told me that it was a tradition that began in the past when it was a great honor to have visitors arriving on the island. Sardinians will open their home to you, treat you like family and embrace you without expecting anything in return. It’s simply their way.
Sardinia is also the oldest land in Italy. In fact, I don’t really feel like I live in Italy here because they have their own language (Sardo) and their own history. “Il continente” (the mainland) is more like Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” while Sardinia is humbler and simpler. When you get here all you really have to do is relax and be yourself.
But like “il continente,” Sardinia differs from place to place. I have visited many towns and cities, all very interesting, but have found that Alghero, “the gem of Sardinia” is truly special. Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s a port town that has greeted many tourists has something to do with it. It is more open-minded. Perhaps it’s the fact that it has a strong Catalan influence that gives it an exotic edge. Or perhaps it’s the strong Sardinian values that are instilled in a population that has had to survive on a separate piece of land- pulling together and developing trust and honesty amongst themselves so they could thrive and live in peace with each other.
A Sardinian friend told me that in his village, in the past, doors didn’t have locks on them. When someone arrived, they entered and were welcomed just the same.
I have woken up in some Italian cities with the sound of church bells banging in my ears (bing, bang, bong go the church bells at 7am) but here in Alghero, it’s a lullaby, sweet and gentle, like the people. Just another thing I love about Alghero.
This sweet simplicity extends also in the culinary department. There is less sugar in the desserts. The pasta special is “spaghetti ai ricci” (spaghetti with sea urchin). I never liked sea urchin’s overwhelming flavor until I tried this dish. I personally love the fresh sardines from local markets and although it sounds like sardines may have something to do with Sardinia, it doesn’t. And of course there is the Mirto, the local liquor made of berry leaves which is delicately sweet and strong but not in excess. Everything seems to be done with balance- perfect for a seeker of “la via di mezzo.”
When my contract ended I left Alghero but decided to return. A sweet Sardo convinced me to open a Yoga B&B with him and I agreed.
Grazie mille Keren!
Be sure to come back tomorrow when we’re headed to the Aeolian Islands from Calabria!