The Gerrei area is testing my legs. Today I have to redo the climb that takes me back to the road to San Nicolo, and it is longer than I remembered, yesterday I made it downhill like a missile. The nice thing is that the landscape around is spectacular, deep valleys and on one side the view is lost to the mountains of Gennargentu. When I reached the top I did not know what was waiting for me, a long, steep descent, full of curves, that pains me as much as the climb, I am thankful for not having to do it in the other direction! I pass by a stream and cycle the last uphill stretch before entering the village.
I cycle along the main road and arrive at the Town Hall. The Mayor Stefano and the Deputy Mayor Umberto are waiting for me. In front of a coffee they tell me a little about San Nicolò Gerrei, a village under one thousand inhabitants, but which, compared to neighboring villages, has all the main services, schools, a medical center, the bank.
After having arranged for me a room at the bnb Zia Chiarina owned by Angelo, a nice guy from Cagliari, Umberto takes me by car to visit the village. We pass by the old dairy, a well-renovated building converted for various activities, a marble worker, various business offices. Along the sports field we arrive at Funtana Congia where the wool was treated. This whole area was the original core of the village, now an old historical center. The area around it was marshy, so the old name of the village was Pauli Gerrei (marsh of Gerrei) then changed to San Nicolò.
We return to the main street where there is a beautiful building, the old court, once a prison. Not far from the square with the church of San Nicola di Bari, patron saint, and in a side street are the ruins of the house of the Marquis Zatrillas, of Aragonese origin. Not far from here we arrive at the other residence of the Marquis, with a beautiful arch of red granite stone at the entrance, where two beautiful capitals, probably Renaissance, have been incorporated.
We drive to the upper part of the village, where there are several sources of water and a beautiful structure of the old aqueduct in futuristic-fascist style. We come back down to a square, with murals and a monument to Salvatore Corrias, a sort of Sardinian Schindler, who in wartime saved the lives of many Sardinian Jews, and when this was discovered he was shot after a summary trial.
In the afternoon I can take a nap, then visit the library, in a beautiful building where the old school was based. There is a well-stocked Sardinian sector where I pause to leaf through several books, including one on the surnames of Sardinia by Massimo Pittau, who derives the surname Dessanay from De-sa-nai (of the branch). I take a last tour of the village to photograph some glimpses of the old historical center, where many houses are still in stone, a sort of very schistose dark limestone, and then conclude the evening at the bnb chatting with Angelo and admiring the back garden, with a peacock, hens and turtles!
SHORT SARDINIAN STORIES
My grandfather Sebastiano was a teacher in San Nicolò Gerrei, in 1927 and 1928. I know this also because the only poetry I discovered by him (his dad Pasquale was a poet) are signed Sebastiano Dessanay, San Nicolò Gerrei, 1927. I wonder how this village was in those days and if this area inspired him to write poetry. So I ask the Mayor Stefano if there is a historical archive, to rummage through documents and maybe find some old photos or school records. Stefano tells me that the archive is not currently accessible but that he will ask the clerk to do some research. When we go outside we meet a gentleman, Ugo, from Silius, who as soon as he hears my name asks me if I’m a relative of Bustianu the politician. He tells me that my grandfather often came to this area in his electoral campaigns (are today’s politicians doing the same?) And he tells me that he had made friends with his father in Silius and that every year he went regularly to visit and to have lunch. ‘Tomorrow, if you’re in Silius, go see my mum, she’s still alive, 96, she definitely has something to tell you’ Ugo tells me. And so I found another personal connection in this impervious land, isolated and forgotten by everyone, the Gerrei.