Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Chapter 202: Reflections from Sardinia #CircusEverywhere

Sardinia took me by surprise. A sailing holiday there with my husband's sister and her friends had been booked long in advance, and as the way events turned out, with my husband leaving his job and plans to sail round the world, the timing seemed all the more fortuitous.

But in the space of one morning and a freak accident that left my ring finger broken, dislocated and with the ligaments torn, I had gone from feeling invincible and proud, to utterly vulnerable. It was a downward spiral. One hand out of action, my balance was worse, I began to trip more, always catching myself just, but even so, terrified of incurring more damage. Not going on the boat though was not an option. 

I grabbed a tome from my circus shelf for company. A talisman, if you will. Nell Stroud's "Josser", the story of her early adventures and way into circus, all the more fascinating because we know now of the success of her own circus, Giffords. I was hoping to read on the Easyjet flight over, but I ended up sitting next to a gentleman from the Lebanon who delighted seeing my children and was soon showing my pictures of his own children and grandchildren. Casual and trendy, he looked barely older than me, which was entirely possible given he was barely twenty when he married. One of the air stewardesses addressed him in his mother tongue as she served his coffee. I picked out the word "habibi" - a word that features heavily in my funked up Arabesque CD. He turned to me. "She knows my language. She said Thanks, darling. That's what habibi means you know, darling. In the Lebanon we use it far too much, we use it for anyone really, and it has lost all meaning. It's sad, really." 

We landed in Northern Sardinia. That was the first surprise. I thought we were going to the South. The next was that we were not going directly to the marina, but having a couple of nights first in an AirBnB in the hills. It wasn't the easiest place to find. We almost overshot the turning next to a disused mine. The russet dust, arid tracks and glaring mountains made me think of Arizona, prospectors and Spaghetti Westerns. There were a few filmed in Sardinia actually. 
We were welcomed to our AirBnB by a crazy black lab puppy called Argo, a lizard basking on a rock, a tortoise politely refusing a lettuce leaf, and a braying clown of a donkey. My family and other animals. Gerald Durrell eat your heart out. Circus everywhere! That evening our hostess, Marilena, directed us to a local village for supper. Convinced we were in the middle of nowhere, I was somewhat disappointed to discover a picture postcard perfect village decorated with Ralph Lauren tourists. Still, I embraced the romantic, candlelit supper en famille and soaked up the sheer joy of being on holiday together. 

Afterwards we wandered through the square where a latter day troubadour strumming his guitar was finishing up and a red square carpet framed with yellow was being set out, a hoop on a perch, for tumbling through, lay alongside. The circus! Can we stay and watch? Come on! At least for the time it takes to eat a gelato...?! My youngest plonked herself down with all the other children. A young man was setting up the props, while his partner pulled on black and white stripey tights and started to whiten her face with paint. I was struck by the thought that this is how La Strada (see recent post - click here) would have turned out if Gelsomina had indeed run away with The Fool, Il Matto. The music went on forever. The audience grew restless. The performers had a young son, overtired, who clung on to his mama, and was not letting her go. My youngest jumped up, and ran over, crouching down next to him, trying to cheer him up (good for her!), but to no avail. The announcement then came that, effectively, the show could not go on tonight due to a technical hitch. I really felt for them all. 

The following day we went to see a fascinating exhibition on the Naufraghe, the Bronze Age inhabitants of Sardinia (1600-1100 BC), who built over ten thousand round turret structures all over the island. So interested, in fact, the curator came over at the end and asked me to record a video for the museum. My nine year old loved the fact that their women priests had equal standing with the men, and the virtual reality experience began with an androgynous mystical figure outside time and space, that had a serpent weaving round their ankle. A healer, I thought, the image echoing the Hypocratic symbol of the Rod of Asclepius. Or Hercules. A veritable snake charmer. Again, circus everywhere.

On the boat, a 39 foot catamaran called "Glory Days", I finally read Josser cover to cover. I loved the literary quotes Nell used to begin each chapter, and her elegiac insight into a community and the way of life that is on the brink. Here is a woman that knows and loves her horses deeply, who through hard graft and commitment built up her dreams. It was an inspiring and entertaining read, and I enjoyed that aha! moment as Tweedy the Clown made a brief appearance. Nell's writing brought to life the legacy of Philip Astley and the equestrian heritage in traditional circus that I probably wouldn't have given a second thought to had it not been Astley's 250th anniversary next year.

"Un giorno senza sorriso è un giorno perso"
Charlie Chaplin at CharlieBar, Isola Madalena
The rest of the holiday was a revelation of hidden coves, secret beaches and learning curves. Open hatches, lethal gangplanks to challenge the most hardy of equilibrists (I saw three people come a cropper) and tilting teerboard decks on bouncy seas were liabilities waiting to happen. Ironically it was the mundane tasks  - bringing in the laundry, doing the washing up, opening a can of olives - that caught me off guard and were a real pain. I discovered though, to my joy, that if I took off my splint and kept my arm raised in a royal salute, I could still swim and snorkel, and the sea is a great healer. Snakes not included. 

Laughter is also the best medicine, as we discovered the importance of time onshore to keep our sense of perspective and humour. It was providential then to find ourselves on the island of Madalena, taking refuge in the Chaplin-inspired Charlie Bar. I will never forget the wonderful moment when my son's mocktail turned up and we discovered "The Curious Dolphin" lived up to its name. A simple pleasure that really had the wow giggle factor. È vero: A day without laughter is a day wasted. That's all folks!   

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