They Eat Horses, Don’t They?

We left Herculaneum ensuring plenty of time to get to our RyanAir flight from Rome’s secondary airport to Sardinia’s secondary airport. This time there was hardly any construction or delay on the autostrade, so we burned up some time by driving on pretty little mountain roads outside of Rome — the most incredible sight was a little hillside field with about 10 white longhorn bulls just hanging out. The 45-minute flight landed in Alghero, a town in northwestern Sardinia.

The Bed and Breakfast scene is getting to be a little too quaint I think. When we arrived at the Blue Dolphin, our infallibly-Internet-reserved B&B, we found nobody there to answer the door except a tourist from Germany, who told us in acceptable English that there wasn’t a room because the person who was there the night before had missed his flight and was staying another night. He thought that we should call Roberto, the owner. So we did that using our strange Global Riiing Leichtenstein-based cell phone, and Roberto said to call his sister, so we called her and she said she would be over in one minute (which is Italian for twenty), to direct us the 400 meters (Italian for one kilometer) from Blue Dolphin to Big Fish. She came and got us and led us through town — driving in Italy is already exciting, and following someone only makes it more so. Anyway, the Big Fish was fine. I got up at 7 AM to use the shared bathroom, and the guy next door asked me what time it was because something had happened to his watch and he was expecting a taxi. He had the best beard comment I’ve heard this trip — “you look like you’ve been in there for a long time”.

The restaurant recommended by two guidebooks was closed for restoration (Restaurants under restoration are the co-condition of carpet stores going out of business, which are also thick on the ground here), but we stumbled on another one, Al Tuguri, which had three different very nice five-course Sardinian tasting menus: “old”, vegetarian, and fish. We had the first two, and were very happy. The people at the next table were from London and they had just happened upon it as well. I suppose they were also very happy. The English won’t tell you, which is just as well.

That night was the occasion of one of the more dramatic instances of beard worship, although the flash mob that descended off the walls in the anfiteatro in Pompeii was notable too. On the way back from our serendipitous restaurant, a red car with I think four teenagers drove past and honked. We didn’t much respond on account of it takes a fair amount of concentration to put one foot before another after all that food and Cannonau. They circled the block and honked and shouted and when I looked up the guy riding shotgun had put on an artificial gray beard. Except for causality issues, this could be regarded as a remarkable cargo cult phenomenon: the young adults who drive around with artificial beards in their glove compartments in case there is anybody walking on the streets to make fun of with them.

Tuesday we drove through Sardinian back roads, stopping to look at a small site of ancient tombs dug into rock, going to Cabras and finding that its recommended restaurant was closed on Tuesdays, and at a different address than given in the Gourmet Guide which was written by a foodie and not a postal employee, and then going to Tharros, an archaeological site which was really more of an active dig than it was something that made sense to tourists. It was fun watching the workers sift dirt through a screen looking for shards. Italians have a kind of a reputation for being careless archaeologically. If it’s all you ever see, it must be hard to take seriously.

We headed to Pula, a beach town outside Cagliari at the south end of the island, where again our B&B wasn’t quite ready for us. After a long attempt by her parents, we got in touch with the owner, left our luggage, and got the key. We drove back to Cagliari for dinner at a somewhat stuffy but good restaurant, del Corsaro.

We were staying in Pula, about 35 km away, because with any luck at 6:20 AM we’d see Regulus, the brightest star in Leo, blink out for about five seconds as the asteroid Rhodope passed in front of it. As it turned out it was completely overcast, and no stars were to be seen anywhere. While Ray went out to check on the weather, the B&B’s kitties came in the room and started climbing on me.

Wednesday we drove around southern Sardinia, including Sant’ Antioco, an island with some small underground tombs which had been repurposed as workers’ houses in the 19th century and then as a museum, and a tophet, a children’s cemetery. The Bible says that the Phoenicians sacrificed their children in these places but the Bible is lying propaganda. A more modern reading, supported by inspection of the remains, is that the cemetery was for stillborn babies since most of the remains are fetal. Which reminds me, on everyone’s Life List of places to go should be the aborted fetus cemetery in the garden of Hase temple, Kamakura, Japan. I forget where I read about that but it seems like a really good thing to do with United Plus miles.

The Romans had built a causeway out to the island which ran parallel to the highway out to it today. The guidebook also pointed out a cave we could drive through — when we got there we discovered it had been closed to cars. It was still nice to walk through it and see the stalactites. I don’t know if a light in the middle had burned out or if they just had a short completely dark section for effect — after our eyes got used to the dark we could proceed OK. Then it was back to Cagliari to the national archeological museum. Approaching the museum was fun — we found a parking garage nearby, with a sign inside “Pedestrian exit to castle”. Going out that way led to a glass elevator with a great view of the city. We found our way to the museum, which was pretty great. As usual, it contained all the objects that we didn’t see at any of the other places, including most especially bronzetti, a bunch of little bronze statues that were buried in tombs. Dinner was at S’Apposentu, the nicest place we’ve eaten this trip. It had two six-course tasting menus, which we each had one of. From the soup with chunks of dried tuna roe, through the eel pasta and the sausage lasagnetta, through the beef fillet and white fish wrapped in eggplant, and ending up with the verbena ice cream in melon soup, it was amazing. And it cost less than one spends on Monday nights in Palo Alto at much more mundane places. Italy on $300 a day — it can be done.

Thursday we started at Nora, a Roman site near our B&B, which taught us about bad Italian archaeology. We noticed that the mosaic floors were all cracked along regular lines, and looking carefully, discovered that the reason they were cracked was that at some point they had been restored onto a slab of reinforced concrete. The concrete wasn’t very good and crumbled after not very many years, leaving the rusting rebar exposed and holding up the mosaics on linear ridges. The site wasn’t very well explained in English, but at least it was expensive.

From there we sped north to Su Nuraxi, an older site in much better shape. It was a nuraghi, a structure which apparently once looked similar to a medieval castle from the outside. It had a central tower, made of enormous chunks of basalt piled on each other, with four towers surrounding it. Next to the tower complex was a large village of round house bases — apparently there had been teepee-like structures on them forming roofs. The round houses were built with stones taken from the tower after the tower civilization crumbled, and they were made round as a copy of the tower. So they say. I want you all to go directly to Amazon and buy a copy of Motel of the Mysteries before you take any archaeologist seriously. The village looked like Burmese script. The guide only spoke Italian, but the guests provided enough translation into German and then to English to figure out what was happening. There were two other tourists there who live about five miles from us, spending a week in southern Sardinia on a “business trip”.

From Su Nuraxi we headed to Olbia, on the eastern coast at the north end of the Island. Ray had originally hoped to take the ferry for a day trip to Corsica to see some penile rocks called “menhirs”, but it appears to be closed for the winter. So we’re just sitting around sipping upon some strangely bitter bright orange fluid bought because the Italian tourists from the mainland at the next table are also. It’s best not to fight to be Germanic and uncivilized and in a hurry, in a civilized land. They don’t make it easy.

We’re doing laundry, we’re catching up on postcards and this trip log, and we’ll connect to the Internet to see if anything has been happening in the world in the last week or so. The only news we’ve heard was about an Air Italia strike which wouldn’t affect us — Ray assumes that would be buried at the bottom of page 37 because they happen so often. Tomorrow we return to Alghero, and then Monday it’s back to the mainland.

Last night we had a delicious horse steak, and a little fish translated as “guithead” baked in salt the same way the Chinese bake chicken. It tasted like halibut. The huge party of locals at the next table ordered every platter on the menu, including the lamb entrails platter, the Sardinian ham platter, the grilled vegetables platter, the seafood platter, and who knows how many other ones after we left. They picked at each one and an enormous amount of food was cleared from their table to be thrown away. We finished every shred of what we ordered, except the huge pile of Sardinian papadum called pane carasau, and bread we didn’t have to use to soak up sauce because there wasn’t any this time. The ristorante across the street from the hotel has donkey steak. But we probably won’t go there, because a miracle has occurred — a highly-recommended restaurant, Ristorante Gallura, that was “closed for renovation” yesterday is “open for business” tonight!