I leave on a sunny but cool day, remembering to be at 700 m above sea level (sea which I see in front of me!) Today I don’t have to pedal, 2 kilometers downhill, and also pretty steep with a few hard bends!
I enter Elini, a village of just over 500 inhabitants that many Sardinians have never heard of, and having passed the crossing of the narrow-gauge railway, I arrive straight at the main square, where the Town Hall and the modern church of San Gavino Martire are. Giorgio immediately joins me, having returned from his shift to ARST (local coach service), who will host me for the day. We have only a few hours before Giorgio has to do another shift of a few hours, and we take the opportunity to take a drive around.
Giorgio tells me that Elini is called ‘sa mamma de Arzana’. The first settlement was slightly shifted compared to the current Elini. The inhabitants fled for a pestilence, a part went to the lower part of Arzana, and another in the current center. We drive to a new area of the village, and Giorgio tells me that Elini does not suffer from depopulation, on the contrary it is slightly increasing thanks to the purchases of homes by foreigners. Then we drive into the narrow streets of the historic center, or Bixinau Su Murone, to return to the area of the small railway station, just behind the central square.
We then leave the village and drive into the countryside. Here the Trenino Verde railway use to run. It has stopped in this season but in summer it resumes the activity. We pass the old railman house, all in granite and Giorgio tells me that families lived here. The railway was a vital element, and gave work to several people. Back in town, Giorgio takes me to his father-in-law, an elderly gentleman who confirms the origins of Elini, remembering a ruin of a church in the area of San Giovanni where the original village once stood.
Giorgio returns to work and I take this opportunity to stay at the central bar to eat and work, between a chat and the other with the bartender, interested in my project, and a few passing customers. When Giorgio returns from his shift, he takes me to the Carmine Park, a beautiful green area above the village, where there is the church of the Madonna del Carmelo, a dense ilex forest, and a granitic vantage point from which there is another perspective of the flat below.
The last stop is the home of ‘tzia’ (literally aunt, old Sardinian for Mrs.) Virginia, an old and cool lady who tells me a few stories from her life. Now the light has fallen, I take the last photos in the village and we return to Giorgio’s house, in the countryside just outside the town. Here we have dinner with his wife Patrizia and Tonina, daughter of tzia Virginia, who brings us the typical anguli ‘e cibudda, ogliastrino bread with onion. The evening passes pleasantly chatting about art, music, politics and life.
SHORT SARDINIAN STORIES
Tzia Virginia speaks only in Sardinian dialect but luckily the Ogliastrino is similar to the Campidanese, and with the help of Giorgio I can more or less understand everything. She is one of those people who lived in a railman’s house on the old Trenino Verde railway. She tells us how they lived there in a few rooms, five sons, some of which were born right there, in harsh conditions, cold, without light, without telephone, without bathrooms. Fire was made in the brazier, they washed in the tub.
On winter mornings the only thing you could see was white, snow, as far as the eye could see. And this white mantle was interrupted every day only by a dark strip, the passage of the mouflons in a single line, five females preceded by a male. As well as the train, which passed every day. To get out of the house they regularly had to break the ice sheets. In this house, tzia Virginia went directly from a child to a responsible woman. From the age of 7 she started doing everything at home, taking care of goats, making bread, pistoccu, all by herself, and she took care of the little brother born here.
Giorgio teases her a little, asking if in those days bandits were seen around, and she says ‘certainly!’ Once, some of these bandits arrived, she and her mother barricaded themselves inside. The mother sent her running upstairs to play the ‘trumpet’, of which all the railman houses at the time were provided, in order to communicate with each other or send alarms. Tzia Virginia was small and her breath too weak, so blowing out the trumpet nothing came out. Sometimes these bandits sought only a little refuge and food. When Giorgio asks her if some of these bandits were hosted and if a cordial relationship was established, tzia Virginia makes a nod without saying anything and changes subject.