Growing up in Ghilarza, I knew I couldn’t spend my entire life in such a small place. Now I happily live in a fast-paced London and I admit that looking back, the reasons that made me leave are the same that make me happy to return each time.
Arriving from the airport, I cross the village and, running alongside my former secondary school, head up Via Nessi, then Via Matteotti. After a while I reach Piazza degli Eroi (Heroes Square), and my house, an old-fashioned building dating back to 1870.
The first night we talk family updates over a huge dinner of fresh lasagne followed by wild beef steak with a side dishes of crispy season vegetables.
Kitchens in Sardinia are the main rooms of the house and the windows are kept open–winter and summer alike–to enjoy the calm of early afternoon or evening.
Waking up the next day in my childhood room, I realize that I don’t need to be ready in fifteen minutes to catch the bus.
In fact, in Ghilarza there are no buses. In half an hour you can easily walk from one side to the other along il Viale, a long boulevard that marks the end of Ghilarza and the entrance to the adjacent village, Abbasanta.
In the center of Ghilarza is the Piazza di Chiesa (Church Square), with a post office, a market, and the smell of spit-roasted chicken at Da Cristina and homemade wheat bread at Pische. Around one o’clock the town seems to be falling asleep: all shops are closed.
And just after lunch you might see only one or two cars and just a few folks–retired farmers or masons, meeting up in their favorite bar for a poker game.
My window opens to the main street Corso Umberto, named after the former Italian King Umberto I. As a teenager, I used to watch amusedly as black-dressed ladies rushed to the church for the 7am Holy Mass.
In Ghilarza, Catholic pulpits are taken very seriously. Every single child has gone through the first four holy sacraments up to the Confirmation.
Three times a year Ghilarza has the mysterious atmosphere of a ghost town. For nine days each time the inhabitants move to tiny built-up areas to worship three important Saints of the Catholic calendar.
Celebrations start only after the Saints’ statues have been brought to visit and bless every single house. Once celebrations have started, all the houses are left open so that you can go back and forth to anybody’s place, stopping for lunch, dinner or just a drink.
On the day of my departure my parents’ main worry is that I can’t taste everything on menu they had prepared for me. So the last lunch must be memorable: a starter of seafood salad is followed by pasta with mussels.
After lunch I know what to do: my baggage is ready, some home-made delicacies packed, a last glimpse at my room before switching off the light and going down the cool stairs, promising it won’t be so long before the next visit.