After a short ride I arrive in Ales, where Stefano, a friend and fellow bass player, welcomes me with his wife Annabel. I’m lucky. Stefano and Annabel live on Piazza Gramsci created by the sculptor Giò Pomodoro and adorned with abstract and fascinating works dedicated to the Sardinian thinker who, willy-nilly, hovers through the streets of this town.
Once the bike is set up, we start a walking tour around the town with Stefano. The first stop is at the birthplace of Antonio Gramsci. Although the Gramsci family lived in Ales only for a short time (Antonio’s father was transferred to Ales from Ghilarza), I am thrilled to be here due to the historical importance of the place. But I am disappointed to see an entrance in less than good condition. Stefano tells me the story of a recent discovery.
On the other side of the road is the Documentation and Association Center “Antonio Gramsci Birthplace”, the former Coni bar which has always been considered the birthplace of Gramsci. However, after a series of studies conducted by Luigi Manias, technical director of the Gramsciana Library that I visited a few days ago in Villa Verde, it emerged that the real birthplace was located in the building opposite that housed the San Francesco kindergarten, today in abandonment. There is therefore a project for the enhancement of this important place of memory that we hope will be realised soon.
After the church of San Sebastiano we come across a plaque in memory of Jennifer Scintu, one of the victims of the 2016 Brussels airport attack, whose family was originally from Ales, where she returned every summer as a girl. Then we walk through the streets of the historic district of Santa Maria until we reach the homonymous church on the edge of the town.
We then take the car to climb Mount Arci, a part of which is located in the territory of Ales. We arrive at the top, where there are several farms. Parked the car, we set off in wooded areas with dense vegetation, stopping to drink in some source, and arriving at an esplanade where there are the high poles of a never completed wind turbine system. We are facing west, and, as in a geographical map, I can clearly see the design of the Gulf of Oristano.
In the afternoon we resume the visit of the town. I am attracted to the entrance of a house where there are sculptures. It is the home of Teresanna, born in Ciampino, but whose father was from Ales. The building houses a beautiful b&b and is home to the Amphora Art Gallery, a series of rooms in the house where various paintings by Sardinian artists and the beautiful photographs of Teresanna’s husband, Alberto Muro Pelliconi, underwater photographer from Imola who also produces beautiful artistic knives, are exhibited.
Ales is the seat of a diocese, one of the smallest in Italy. We then continue towards the Cathedral of San Pietro Apostolo, built around 1100 and then rebuilt in the Baroque style. On the square there is also the Diocesan Museum and the historical archive, which I visited a few years ago during my genealogical research. On one side of the cathedral, in a well-restored square, is the church of the Madonna del Rosario from 1721, and not far from here is the Episcopio, the bishop’s house.
We enter the cathedral, surmounted by a beautiful dome covered with majolica and with the two bell towers on the sides, which also end with two small domes covered with majolica. The interior is worthy of a cathedral, paintings and statues, a fourteenth-century crucifix, ornaments and marbles to make you shiver, especially those of the main altar.
A day in the company of a musician could only end with a jam session! We go to the headquarters of the Dalton Association where, together with Mario, Stefano and Maurizio, another old musical acquaintance, we improvise a bit. A bearded character who everyone calls the “toy boy” also came to hear us. He is the Ax Master Federico Coni.
SARDINIAN SHORT STORIES
Toys 1. Before arriving at the Cathedral square, Stefano and I stop in the workshop of “artistically relevant wooden creations and anthropo-zoomorphic furnishing accessories with recycled woods”, also known as “Pinocchieria”, by Federico Coni, known as “Baloccaio” and “Master of the Ax”.
Federico welcomes us and proudly shows us his wooden creations, a good part of which jump out of the story of Pinocchio. I begin to understand. Federico created characters and situations from Collodi’s famous fable. There are many: the famous puppet in various versions, the carabinieri, the cat and the fox, the blue fairy.
But there is much more. Nuragic warriors, launeddas players, animals of all kinds, pink flamingos. Federico takes us to the area where he organises educational workshops for kids and children. Then to his desk where new projects come to light in the form of drawings.
Talking to him about my trip makes me curious to understand how a character on a bicycle made entirely of wood could look like. Federico, intrigued by the idea, preys on pen and colours and sketches a figurine that is familiar to me! When we go away, in saying goodbye he gives me one of his “smiles” that I will hang on my bicycle and will accompany me until the end of this journey!
Toys 2. In the previous days I stayed in Zeppara, a small hamlet of Ales, noteworthy for the presence of the Traditional Toy Museum, a beautiful display of wooden toys, most of which are reproductions made by middle school children of Ales.
The toys, in a well-kept environment, are organised into sections, from weapons, to means of transport, handcrafted yo-yos, spinning tops, up to rag dolls, raffia and corn cob dolls. And then the ones that attract me the most, the ones that make sounds!
Toys 3. In feeling Gramsci’s presence immersed in a world of wooden toys, I wonder if there is a relationship between the two. I find out yes. In the biography “Vita di Antonio Gramsci” by Giuseppe Fiori, Nino’s manual skills in building all sorts of tools and toys are revealed:
“For this disposition to practical activities, he also made toys, boats and carts himself. «My greatest success», we read, «was when a mill in the town asked me for a paper model of a superb double deck schooner, to be reproduced with tin» ».