Sardinia, an agroforestry terroir

 

La vita in Sardegna è forse la migliore che un uomo possa augurarsi: ventiquattro mila chilometri di foreste, di campagne, di coste immerse in un mare miracoloso dovrebbero coincidere con quello che io consiglierei al buon Dio di regalarci come Paradiso.

Life in Sardinia is perhaps the best a man can wish: twenty-four thousand kilometers of forests, rural lands, shores immersed in a miraculous sea correspond to what I should suggest the good Lord to give us as a gift, the Paradise.

Fabrizio De André, singer and songwriter (Genoa, 18 February 1940 – Milan, 11 January 1999)

 

Dear EURAF Friends,

We are getting closer to the 6th EURAF conference in Sardinia. I am thrilled and not only because I have been involved together with many colleagues in a long journey started in 2018.

We know the story or, better, the history. The pandemic, several “stop and go”, webinars and online meetings.

In 2020 I was asked by EURAF colleagues to write about my feelings in facing all the changes due the pandemic in organizing EURAF2020. Today, I would like to accompany you to Sardinia sharing with you my feelings towards this land.

I am not from Sardinia. I have been there several times both for work and holidays reasons. I love this Island. Now I am longing to come back to a beautiful land: a sort of homesickness caused by dear friends I have there and the burst of vibes Sardinia is able to evoke.

So, let’s start the journey!

Colors, scents and flavors

You will arrive from different parts of Europe, probably some of you already know Sardinia, some others will come from countries with a similar climate, some others from completely different latitudes.

When you will be still flying approaching the airports you will be impressed by the blue-green sea touching and shaping the land contours. A profusion of nuances spread from the water, the sun and the sea floor moving and dancing all along the shores, the gulfs and bays of the Island and preluding to what you will meet in the inner parts of the “Isola”.

The colors, in fact, are just a glimpse of what, once landed, will embrace you: the scents of Sardinia will start capturing your senses. The scents of Sardinia change with the wind who, as a master perfumer, mixes the perfumes of the Mediterranean maquis impressing them in your memory. It will be your strongest connection with nature, but also with culture and traditions.

Aromatic plants will be with you along the travel, appearing in a garrigue with their blossomed bushes, flavoring a traditional dish or dyeing traditional textiles.

What am I speaking about? Helichrysum, wild lavender, rosemary, cystus, lentisk, myrtle just to mention a few. Myrtle, symbol of love in the Greek mythology, will welcome you in the form of lush vegetation or of a delicious liqueur you will enjoy at the end of a convivial dinner in Nuoro.

Sardinia is mostly known because of the sea, and most of people visit it during summer: there are many reasons for that. But have you ever been in springtime in the inner parts of the Island?

 

Nuoro and silvopastoral systems

Be enchanted when you will be in a holm oak wood completely covered by an explosion of white asphodels in blossom. Live the bucolic atmospheres of silvopastoral systems when you will attend the study visits.

The province Nuoro will catch your attention because of the diversity of environments, landscapes, agrifood systems and traditions making this area unique: the best place for discovering, understanding and studying Mediterranean agroforestry systems: the meriagos with cork oak trees, the public managed pastures, the complex landscape mosaics with pastures, forestation sites, vineyards, orchards and olive groves. Such combination is what makes Nuoro and the surroundings the gravity center of our debates on agroforestry.

Nuoro is the “capital” of Barbagia, the central part of the Island, defined as the most authentic Sardinia, a land of fierce people who have settled there since remote times. The area around Nuoro was the center of the Nuragic civilization (from c. 1500 BC to c. 250 BC) as attested by more than 30 Nuragic sites.

I visited Nuoro more times. A town which can be “literally” lived reading the works of several authors or admiring many pieces of contemporary art in the numerous museums of such a small, but culturally lively town. Let’s have a walk from the museum dedicated to Grazia Deledda the Nobel prize in literature in 1926, to arrive, wondering through the old Via Majore, to the Museo d’Arte di Nuoro (MAN) hosting temporary international exhibitions and permanent shows of XX century Sardinian artists. Not so far, Sabastiano Satta square opens up with Costantino Nivola’s granite statues scattered in a white space. Sardinia is also a land of stones, giant ones standing naturally or in form of ruins, such as the Nuraghes which witness a remote past still alive and depicting a landscape at times rugged and mysterious.

Let’s visit the most important ethnographic museum of Sardinia on the slopes of the Ortobene Mountain, a symbol of the town where you might listen to the choir of tenores whose notes resembling the sounds of nature elevate you to heaven. In Nuoro the old quarters of Séuna, and Santu Pedru are evoked in “The day of judgment” a novel by Salvatore Satta (Nuoro, 9 August 1902 – Rome, 19 April 1975) I enjoyed reading some years ago. Many scenes of the book caught me, but this, according to me, showing the poetry of making the carasau bread is a special one (the translation is mine: forgive me!).

Everything was collected in the house, everything was made in the house and, because of that, rural little houses had been built all around the courtyard, each of them named according to the gifts of earth, there preserved, the little house to keep oil, the wheat little house, the fruit little house and, then, there was the oven little house which was like an altar or an Etruscan grave, full of sieves, còrbule, canisteddas (small and big baskets made of palm leaves) hanging on the walls. To cook the bread women used to come from the neighborhood; because that was a big task and it was necessary to knead, to stretch the dough to get wide sfoglie, pass each of them to the woman who was sitting at the mouth of the oven, with the nocks of the handkerchief up on her head, her face enlightened in the shadow.

She used to lay the pastry on a thin and smooth shovel, one of those made by the shepherds in the village of Tonara, [when] they were immobilized (at home) because of the snow. They used to come down to Nuoro in spring time, riding on their skinny horses. The woman used to put the shovel into the oven and the pastry, if properly made, used to become, with the heat, an enormous ball which was passed to another woman who, sitting crossed-legs in front of a stool, used to cut out the edges and two steaming hosts of bread that slowly stiffened, became crispy and were placed in high stacks to be stored, afterwards, in the cupboard.

To which millennium that bread was dating back, only God knows: perhaps it had been brought by Jewish people who were chased from Africa in the most remote times.

The work was solemn like a ritual, also because it used to continue till the morning, and the late hours used to bring silence: young boys used to sneak through the narrow door, their faces flushed at the heating, inebriated at the scent of the bread and the lentisk logs, captivated by the flames flickering on the walls, but also a bit shy in front of those industrious women who were the servants.

The latter looked at the children of the master joyfully, and like in a magic trick, in a few seconds, they were able to prepare a round bread, shaped as a ring they rapidly immerged into the water where it started sizzling like a scorching iron. And the bread came out glossy and shiny like a mirror: glazed, as they used to say. It was a moment of joy for them and the kids, all joined by something ineffable and free from masters and owners: they were joined by life.

I am sure you will have the chance to taste the carasau bread and many other local delicious dishes and products served on trays made of cork. But would you like to have one more hint of what Sardinian agroforestry can offer to your senses? I am speaking about seadas a tempting dessert made of a pastry filled with sheep cheese and lemon zest and dressed with honey flavored with the bouquet of the woods: they will definitely sparkle in your mouth.

Probably you have already read about the study visits organized at EURAF2022, but you might be also curious about the social dinner location. So, let’s go to Su Gologone a magic place fed by the Gologone spring in a timeless, untouched landscape. Rugged nature and refined art will be the magic mix for a friendly evening enjoying good food, wine and experiencing the authentic Sardinian soul.

 

Dear friends, I hope to have gifted you some images of Sardinian agroforestry terroir but, I am sure, that they are just a little, little glimpse of what you will find and enjoy in this beautiful island.

See you in Nuoro!

Francesca CAMILLI