La ballata di un uomo utile

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La ballata di un uomo utile

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Dear Marco & Nadia,

So my stay at Santadi ended in the same way that it began, with food, wine, music and laughter. The only difference was that I cooked the food this time. I was quietly pleased by the sardine fillets marinaded lightly in lemon juice, with lemon peel and basil. I was more noisily pleased by the friggitelli and prawns; and by the time we got to the shoulders of 7-month lamb in white wine, vinegar, anchovy, caper and rosemary, I was quite carried away. That may have had something to do with the amount of the admirable Terre Brune I drank (and the vermentino, and the contadino’s wine and the whatever else it was).

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Anyway, the real point of this letter is not really to relive the glories of the last supper, but to thank you both for your kindness, your generosity, your patience with my blundering Italian, and, above all, for introducing me to so many different sides of the region around Santadi. Without you I would never have found the signora who made those delicious artichokes hearts sott’olio that she sold beside the road at Sant’ Anna Arrisi (although I have yet to be convinced by her wild cardoons); or got to La Pescaia at Porto Pino in time to see the fishermen bringing in the day’s catch; or walked in the woods of Pantaleo; or sat down to talk about tuna with Signor Tonno or enjoyed the bottarga he made from the roe of grey mullet from Florida (so much better that the stuff from Cabras, he said) ; or heard about the farmers’ water co-op around Mascainas; or listened to the buzzards weeping mew over the two sacred sites at Tattinu; or learnt about the mystery of the Monster Gigala; or tracked down Signor Orru, who made those brilliant broad beans, wild asparagus, funghi and other vegetables sott’olio that we ate at lunch when I arrived; or eaten royally nightly on tuna belly, steaks and lamb chops, grilled sardines and grey mullet, octopus and potatoes cooked in its juices, and a great deal more besides.

As you said, Marco, this corner of Sardinia is like Italy 40 or 50 years ago. It has the same sense that not much has changed here for centuries. People go about their lives in the way the always have, There’s no doubt that times are hard. People mutter about la crisi. Barter has become a means of exchange again. But I wonder how many towns in the UK of the size of Santadi, about 3000 people, would support 5 butchers, 5 fruit and veg shops, 6 bakers and God knows how many bars. I lost count.

It’s been a bloody fantastic few days, illuminating enjoyable, fattening, fun. And listening to the Balia family on song and hearing the first performance of your La ballata di un uomo inutile was a rare privilege. Thank you for all of it.

A prossima

Matthew

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