Sardinia's coasts safe for now

I'm glad that on my last post for 2009 I can write good news. Recently I have written a post about the risk of seeing the small beach where I grew up destroyed by the building of a huge wind power plant. We have learnt that the project has been stopped, I'm not sure whether we need to thank politicians' wisdom or the stubborness of the inhabitants, determined not to let this overcome by bad governance.

Whatever the reason is, local as well as national politicians were pushed to find a solution in order to stop the ruthless installment of wind turbines all along Sardinian western and southern coasts.

Instead of providing clean energy, this complex of wind power plants would only have caused further pollution and a dangerous impact on the environment on an untouched bay in the island's west coast.

Apart from the negative environmental impact that such construction would have had on the small, pristine bays they were aimed at, it turned out to be a cloudy issue.

The Anti-Mafia Parliament Commission is in fact investigating on the possibility of money laundering and mafia involvement. When I first heard of this wind power plants, it didn't seem quite right: the company's social capital was way too small to be able to carry out such project to the end, so the prospect seemed to be like the many wind turbines present in the island: developing companies have clained the public funds aimed at clean energy projects and then fled once they got the money, leaving still turbines that don't have other function but polluting and spoiling the landscape.

Italian Parliament is (in)famously mafia-run, so I admit I'm pleasantly surprised at the news that an investigation has been launched. For now S'Archittu and the whole Sinis peninsula are safe. Hopefully natives will continue to enjoy their land for long.

GiBì & DoppiaW: Italian creativity to boost social empathy

A contagious star, the star of peace

It was one of those afternoons devoted to writing and with no planned outings. When I got tired of staring at my computer screen, I went for a refreshing stroll.

I was dawdling about my little town with my camera, as usual, looking for nothing in particular. Christmas time, possible season decorations to capture. Although the simple festive ornament in Ghilarza is prerogative of the sole main street, I was drawn away from the town centre by a quirky green sign leading toward Piazza Torre Aragonese, named after a big Aragonese tower that dominates the little square.

On my left, just behind the tower, something caught my attention: the entrance to a comics. It took me a minute to understand I had ended up at an interactive exhibition for children.

Kids were meant to go during their morning classes, so in the afternoon the venue was empty and I had all curators around me willing to explain the meaning of their art.

Yes, because Gibì & DoppiaW need at least an introduction. Their author, Walter Kostner, was born in Ortisei, picturesque town surrounded by the overwhelming landscape of the Dolomites. Since 1978, he has been travelling all around the globe to meet children belonging to any ethnicity, religion and culture, with the goal to boost their creativity.

Facing problems together makes them less demanding

"Because the main problem of our times is that we've lost togetherness!" Told me Duccio, one of the curators.

Tell me about it.

Technology is a great thing, but modern society is driving people to live increasingly alone, less needy of each other and therefore less keen to establish relationships.

Paradoxically, now that I live in London, I feel weird when I come back home and I see what's like the life in small villages. Locals barely close their frontdoors, always wave at each other, when they shop if they don't have the change they'll pay some time later on, they know they'll find their car if they forget it open, and so on and so forth.

Of course in cities like London this is not possible (please don't leave your frontdoor open!), but socializing is generally more difficult, unless you're drunk.

So, Walter Kostner and his young team hit the road and work on boosting creative thinking through these comics strips that suggest an easier way to face reality.

A new religion?

The goal of this travelling exhibition, titled "Tesori Tra Noi" (Treasures among us) is to introduce an innovative learning method that gives paramount importance to personal creativity in order to reinvent the way people interact with each other.

The strips themselves, although aimed at children, are by not means easy and require a guide, who normally wears a colourful bow tie. I don't watch TV, so I've particularly appreciated the strip titled "A new religion", that implicitly suggests to go out and enjoy real life experiences.

A team of experts in the learning and artistic fields journeys throughout Europe to meet as many people as they can, in the hope to help children to relate and establish new ways of communication. I truly wish them the best of the achievements.

All strips are courtesy of interactive exhibition "Tesori Tra Noi".

Travelling with kids, a family affair

I've been reading articles and blog posts with any sort of advices and tricks about travelling with kids. The amount of literature produced on the topic led me to think this was a major adventure, and I started wondering how on earth my grandmother managed to do what she did more than fifty years ago.

Today most travelling happens by plane, and most airports and airlines provide facilities for babies, kids and parents, so I asked my grandmother to tell me her story: how did she bring in 1957, at the young age of 26, six children, of the age range between six years old and eight months, from Sedilo, a godforsaken village in Sardinia, to Lorraine, France?

"Easy! We got ready and we left!"

I'm not sure whether my grandmother was reckless or brave, but the fact is that she actually left her hometown, alone (my grandfather was already in France looking for job and accommodation), with no money (or very little since she had just sold a pig!) and six little pests, to embark on a journey without any kind of facility.

I guess she was both brave and reckless, but first of all, she was pushed by the need to provide her sons and daughters with food everyday. Post-war Italy was a wreck, Sardinia was among the worst hit regions and Sedilo suffered terribly from hunger. There were no options but leave.

The preparation involved also taking the picture for the ID (photo above). The council told my grandma the photo needed to include all members, that's how the picture that now is the symbol of our family was taken. The photographer fell in love with it and displayed it for months in his shop.

I knew they started their trip in Abbasanta, the nearest train station from Sedilo, but I've always wondered how they got to the station so, artlessly, I asked her: "Did you book two cars at least to go from Sedilo to Abbasanta?"
"What car?? I stuck them all in a coach! The little money we had was to suffice for the whole journey, and rest assured that we knew when we were leaving, but we had no idea what day we would arrive!"

My grandfather's youngest brother helped my grandmother during the trip, he was 22 and, like the rest of the group, he had never left Sardinia before. They didn't even speak Italian, only Sardinian native language, let alone French.

Once in Abbasanta's train station, my mother ran to the platforms: "Grandma took me away by my hair," she told me. "She didn't have time for pampering anybody. I never ran away anymore."

"Felice," remembers my grandmother amused, "didn't want to go anywhere without pabassini (the typical Sardinian cakes), so I had to make some before leaving." Felice is my uncle, and at the time he was two. Needless to say, the smallest daughter, the eight-month one, caught the flu during the journey.

After a two-hour journey by train they arrived at the port and got on the ship. The most obvious way would have been toward Genoa, which is close to France, but in 1957 there weren't any ships travelling from Sardinia to Genoa, so my future family got off in Civitavecchia, Rome's port.

From here, they caught the train to Switzerland, where they waited for another train that would bring them to Metz, Lorraine. It was November, and temperatures were starting to go down, especially in Switzerland. The kids were not dressed with winter clothes, so the social workers provided them with blankets. "I might still have one of those blankets," remembers my grandmother. "They were very warm!"

The journey lasted three days and in Metz my grandfather was impatient to welcome his family.

My mother doesn't remember much of her first moments in her new hometown, so my grandma helps us piece together the events. Once in France, all immigrants were gathered in a former military dormitory, where they would live together for a month.

After a few days the families were allocated a house each by the mine company (because my grandfather got a job in a mine in Lorraine, 1000 mt underneath the earth surface). The house actually became property of my grandparents, who were also given the first monthly salary and one allowance for each child.

My grandmother remembers that they had never seen so much money all together so, when my grandfather got home with all that cash, they spread it out on the main table and kept staring at it, speechless. With hindsight, that money was barely enough to make ends meet, but my grandparents were used to living in such poverty that they believed they had touched the sky with a finger.

Since then, my grandmother was the family's accountant: her husband would give her the salary every month and she had the task to administrate for everybody's expenses.

This is how their French adventure started. Now that I'm an expat, every time I go to visit my grandmother she cries at the idea of her granddaughter living abroad, because I remind her of all the difficulties they had. Of course there is no way to make her understand that my situation is very different from theirs, that I have chosen this life, and that my travels are much easier.

I think that, after all, she's proud of my choice to carry on with the family tradition, and somehow, I feel I have more in common with my grandparents since I left my hometown.

Travelling through Ireland

Although I've lived in Dublin for two years, I admit I haven't travelled extensively throughout Ireland as much as it deserves. I have been to the Irish west coast and it's truly stunning. It was pouring, but this is normal, although I would have preferred to stare at those landscapes with the sunshine.

Galway is a very lovely picturesque town and people's warmth confirms the dogma of the Irish friendliness. My friend and I had lunch at a small restaurant, before jumping on the coach for the Aran Islands. Needless to say, it was pouring, and when I got on the boat I was soaked.

On the boat I got sick, and once in the island (we chose Inis Mor, the biggest one), we rushed to the b&b, barely able to see around us, due to the heavy rain. We only had a weekend, and didn't manage to see much. Of course, this is a good reason to go back, maybe around May or June, in the hope of a greater cosmic cooperation.

My ideal trip in Ireland would be travelling through all the west coast. I would go to the first car hire at Cork Airport and then start journeying from Cork, passing by County Kerry, going up to Galway and Aran Islands.

I would stop here a couple of days to have the opportunity to better visit the area and especially the Cliffs of Moher that I missed last time. Just past Galway I would definitely stop in Connemara and in County Mayo, before getting to Donegal, very famous for the unforgettable sceneries and the constant bad weather.

I can't wait to visit the area, get to know the Celtic traditions Dublin is losing and listen as much Irish music played live as I can.

My life as an expat in London: hit the ground running

When I moved to London two years ago, I wasn’t a newbie: I had been living as an expat in Dublin for other two years so, with my previous experience and confident in a language not so foreign anymore, I was ready to face the jungle.

Despite grim forecasts, on my very first day in London it wasn’t raining, and this made it much easier for me to understand the bus service and locate the stop of my future university.

I originate from a godforsaken little village in central Sardinia, but I had lived seven years in Rome, so I was aware of the difficulties I will have found at the beginning. However, I was pleased to notice that, despite its size, moving inside London is quite handy: the public transport is very efficient (almost always) and decentralized facilities make every district independent and citizen-friendly. As much as a fast-paced, hectic metropolis can be.

Looking for accommodation in London is always a lottery: luck is crucial. It’s not hard to actually find a place, especially if it’s a room in a house share, but beware, or you’ll end up spending most of your salary in rent and bills. Your best bet is to look for an all-inclusive rent, so that you don’t have bimonthly surprises.

Once I was settled and had all papers sorted out, I tought I could relax a bit. I soon understood it wasn't my case.

I live in what is commonly known as being the “bronx” and I love it. Peckham derives its fame from violent clashes between local gangs that took place years ago, but today it’s a colorful district and by all means my favorite shopping destination: I know I can find anything, especially when it comes to ethnic food.

As soon as I leave the apartment in the morning, I rush to the bus stop, because not catching that bus means missing the other connections and potentially getting stuck in a heavier traffic than usual.

One thing hasn’t changed since my first trip on a London bus: I'm constantly distracted by the colors, the variety of styles, ethnicities and little markets. I keep thinking this is also London’s greatest strength: I live in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world.

The line between my working day and my time off is very blurry because I work from home, so when I’m not busy I feel guilty and I find myself something to do.

Once or twice a week I work in an office located near one of the busiest tube stations in Central London, Waterloo, and when I get off the bus I get mesmerised by staring at thousands of people darting in and out the metro, up the bridge that connects two street levels, and hundreds of commuters queueing for the bus.

I never have lunch every day in the same place: at times I manage to treat myself with half an hour (nonetheless) at home enjoying a proper meal, other times I grab some noodles or sushi on the road.

Living in London doesn’t necessarily mean being able to enjoy the impressive range of opportunities such as museums, theatres, events, but somehow nobody seems to know what to blame.

Extreme consumism. Zygmunt Bauman has defined London as the "dustbin" of globalisation: sometimes I think he's right. I like living in big cities, but sometimes in London I feel like I'm a number, and this freaks me out.

Nerve-racking red tape aside, time managing is perhaps the most frustrating thing in London. The days fly and once in bed I inevitably realise I have done barely half of what I was meant to. Like in most big cities, tourists in one week visit more than locals in a year.

Truth be said, when I manage to get myself some time off, I’m spoilt for choice. Whether you prefer sophisticated or casual leisure activities, in London you will find what you are looking for.

Food-wise, I’m definitely less fussy than I was when I left Italy almost five years ago. I like going out for dinner and try the huge range of ethnic restaurants, be them Moroccan, Indian, Italian, Chinese. Despite my friends’ warnings, I was pleased to acknowledge that eating out in London is not as expensive as its reputation suggests.

I usually end my day jealously looking out of the window at the willing runners jogging around Peckham Rye Park and I wish I was as athletic as they are.

What to visit beyond Dublin

I'll never forget (and always regret for not having photographed) a postcard picturing a skeleton at the bus stop, with the underlying caption: Dublin bus.

Having lived in Dublin for two years, I can say that postcard gets pretty well to the point. Some buses pass regularly, but others never come. The worst thing ever when you leave home in the morning and get to the stop, is seeing your bus leaving: you are going to be late.

Dublin city centre is quite walkable, but if you are to stay longer than a week, you can't miss visiting the villages around the outskirts, such as Howth, Malahide, Dun Laoghaire, and for a more comfortable tour, your best best is to go to a car hire in Dublin. By relying on pricey public transports, journeying through the towns around Dublin can take you days, instead, by driving you keep your own pace and visit much more.

Howth is a little fishing village that offers truly breathtaking views, and restaurants serve the best salmon in the area. On Sunday there is also a little openair market with stands selling homemade products, not only Irish: I found a delicious Polish bread with many cereals.

If you ever go to Howth, get fit before: you can't miss climbing the sheer cliff up to the tower, it's a great, properly thrilling stroll.

In Malahide, besides the lovely beaches, there is a beautiful castle, inhabited by the Talbot family for some eight centuries. If you have time and feel like driving, a very suggestive spot is definitely Glendalough.

I went to Glendalough by coach and I spent there a whole day. Truly amazing, the tour starts at an old cemetery, with a tiny old church that reminds me of the movie Magdalene's Sisters about the past Catholic zealotry of the Irish people.

Going beyond the graveyard, there is a countryside path with a river equipped with many bridges, two lakes, wildlife and seldom heritage sites, all contributing in giving the impression of a bucolic walk where modernity hasn't arrived yet.

Of course the dream suddenly stops when you get to the end of the itinerary and find yourself in front of fast-food stands releasing the smell of freshly made sandwiches.

The trip to Glendalough really impressed me, even if there's no museum or castle to visit, and I surely recommend it to anyone who plans a holiday in Dublin.

Want to buy me? I'm worth two camels

Striking (and disappointing) revelation, in Istanbul, when a camel-trader was ready to pay only two camels to buy me.

"Only two??" I muttered, outraged.

"But they are expensive!"

"That's ok, then."

After a couple of minutes of negotiation, the deal was closed. I'm not sure why the buyer offered to pay the two camels to my friends instead of my parents for example, since I'm not married or engaged, but with the prospect of my future life in the desert, that was definitely a minor detail. I was actually flattered that someone was ready to give up on something precious for me. And camels are precious, indeed.

It all started when my friends and I were lured in a permanent exhibition in central Istanbul, where artists were teaching their art to young students and, at the same time, displaying their work. Just before the entrance we found a local carpet-maker who invited us in his lab/store performing the most charming techniques Turkish shopkeepers learn the very first day they start working.

Situated beside the Topkapi Palace, Ismail's shop is a colourful exhibition of strictly handmade carpets aptly enriched with photos of her mother and sisters during the whole making process, sewing and colouring with natural pigments, more resistant than the artificial ones.

Chatting, it came up that Ismail doesn't originate from Istanbul but from a little tribal village and, having noticed my enthusiasm, he kindly invited me to a bellydance party with his friends and family next time I would go to Turkey.

Since then, I've been dreaming about all this bellydancing (not that I'm able to bellydance, but still like the atmosphere), so when I go back to Istanbul my first stop will certainly be at Ismail's studio, just to make sure he's going to keep his promise.

In that case, my promise is that I will post here the pictures of myself bellydancing. If not too detrimental to my public image.
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