Last week I got up before dawn and joined the queue of pale Brits waiting to leave London’s clouds behind. Gatwick airport was full of English families boasting 2 or 3 kids each, couples on their honeymoon and gangs of lads getting drunk at the airport pub at 6.30am… Charming…
I ordered a cappuccino and a croissant from Pret a manger and sat down to wait for my Easyjet flight. Destination:SARDINIA
To most Brits Sardinia is still a fairly unknown island, far more expensive than any Greek equivalent and with very few attractions for the average Anglosaxon: little shade on the beach, a total lack of cheap places to go for a drink, a fairly child-unfriendly attitude, and a general uber-posh, iper-glam, super-fashion atmosphere that’s bound to make them stand out as the worstly dressed in the region. That’s why the Brits visiting Sardinia prefer its family welcoming South or its chilled out Western coast.
But we Italians know Sardinia well.
We know what it tends to stand for: unreacheable wealth, expensive resorts, paparazzis chasing semi-naked TV presenters and politicians sun bathing on the decks of their yachts, Berlusconi serenading showgirls in his villa off Porto Cervo, footballers clubbing somewhere along the Costa Smeralda, the horrid Briatore and his “Millionaire” entertaining B-list celebrities
and lots of new-rich Milanese and Roman people dressed up to the nine, tanned to the bone, pretending to be intellectuals by attending a book launch in between aperitifs and dinners al fresco.
Of course Sardinia is first and above all a country of deep beauty, crystal clear waters and white beaches, great dignity and hospital people.
The sea here is blue like in the Caribbean Islands
the bouganville grows spontaneously, the local dishes have the strong and savoury taste of shepherds’ food and if you drive inland you find yourself a thousand years back in history, surrounded by Nuraghi – misterious circular stone buildings –
and mountains and flat prairies with wild horses (they used to shoot the Spaghettin Western movies here because of the resemblance between this region and Arizona).
But because of its beauty in the past 30 years Sardinia has been attracting not only the richest people in the country, but also whoever is trying to emulate them. Thousands of wannabe rich, wannabe posh, wannabe famous, wannabe on the same beach as that famous TV star I see every day… To cut it short, the most pretentious kind of folks you can imagine.
I hate steroetypes, and I know for a fact there are still people who simply choose to go to Sardinia for its stunning natural beauty. However, the moment I arrived at my parents’ timeshare apartment on the Costa Smeralda, all around me was pure caricature:
People talking as if straight out of one if the infamous fratelli Vanzina’s movies.
The greatest concentration of plastic surgery per habitants after Los Angeles.
And the greatest number of common, garish, vulgar, prejudiced, provincial Italians in the country. Nouveau-riches who can’t see a meter from their nose.
MY MUM THINKS I’M EXTREME IN MY VIEWS BUT I CHALLENGE YOU TO PROVE THE CONTRARY!
What are my parents doing in such an environment? Mostly, they enjoy the view and giggle at everything else.
My father hates gossips, sun bathing, shallow conversations, fashion, boats and showing off. But he loves the sea and his Sardinian holidays consist mainly of long solitary swims twice a day, reading books in the shadow (far away from the chatters of the sun bathers) and sitting on his flat’s balcony, working on his computer and taking in the view of the Pevero Bay.
My mum is a social butterfly. She loves getting to know the weird rich people who populate the beach, and they like her being fun and inquisitive. She’s one of those people who’s curious about folks and who can find good qualities even in the most obnoxious human beings.
But let’s go into details.
I arrive at the beach after having dropped my stuff and changed into a bikini, and I’m suddenly surrounded by tanned middle-aged women (more aged than middle), who introduce themselves as my mum’s friends. The first thing they say?
“Oh, you look “so English!”
I think the reason for such odd belief is that I’m the only one on the beach wearing a straw hat (hats aren’t fashionable this summer in Italy so nobody wears them) and sunglasses that don’t match the Italian fashion of the moment. Also, I don’t sit baking in the sun for hours on end at 35 degrees.
Of course their idea of “English” comes from James Ivory’s movies with Helena Bohnam Carter, and I’ve been repeatedly told I have a resemblance to her, hence the “you look so English.” Therefore I don’t even try to explain that English girls on the beach tend to wear skimpy bikinis and cow boy hats.
“You won’t get a tan if you’re never in the sun!” One of my mum’s aquientences yells at me. She has been sitting facing the sun for about 3 hours. When my mum dares to say to her that perhaps sun bathing for so many hours isn’t so good as, she replies “I don’t care, I love it too much!”
Sun-addicts are like smokers: they don’t care whether they’ll have cancer in 10 years, they just love it too much.
A little digression here: my father is one of the world’s leading experts in melanoma. He looks at the beach from his seat in the shadow (next to mine) and shakes his head in disbelief but knows better than saying anything. He can recognize a lost cause at first sight and has no interest in preaching to the un-convertable. Most people don’t know he’s a doctor and he never shares such information with anyone. They probably think he’s an antisocial boring old man whose favourite interest is chess and he likes it that way.
But back to me.
I’m about to get into the sea when this ubertanned old lady appears, wearing more gold than the statue of the Madonna of Loret. My mum immediately informs me that she’s a sort of boss here, the one who handles all the properties, supervising sales, rents, who comes and who goes. A sales-woman, basically but with the air of Marie Antoniette queen of France.
“She’s very refined,” my mum goes on telling me. “She reads a lot and knows very important people.”
To me she looks like the typical “piaciona”, and I’ve actually met her before, when I visited my parents a year ago, and was highly unimpressed. Anyway, to please my mum I shake her hand,
“hello, nice to see you again.” I say.
She looks at me
“So you must be the other daughter! The psychologist!” she says (she’s one of those individuals who only refers to people by their job titles, the only one who makes a point of introducing my dad using the word “professor”.)
“No, I’m always the same daughter,” I reply (I suspect my sister will never set foot on this beach as she would have a asthma attack at the mere sight of its inhabitants).
She looks at me surprised.
“Really? Are you the same one who was here last year?”
“You’ve changed,” she proclaims studying me from head to toes, and then adds: “TI SEI IMBELLITA! hai un po’ di colore…”
which is a virtually untranslatable sentence that for my non-Italian followers reads more or less like “You’ve become kind of pretty, you have some colour on you”, obviously implying I must have been really ugly and gray a year ago.
I don’t know whether to burst into laughter or to spit in her eye. Her remark is so rude it’s beyond belief. At the same time it’s so “typical”, the typical nosey, un-asked for comment that a certain kind of Italian ladies give kids. When I was 12, there was always some older aquientence of my mum’s who was ready to tell my mother how she found me: “Oh, your daughter’s got fatter!” “She’s too slim.” “She’s grown taller, have she had her period yet?”
Pity is I’m not 12, nor 15, nor even 21. I’m an adult like her and old enough to have grown up children of my own. I don’t need a moron who’s not a relative to tell me how she finds me in comparison to last year. She only had to say hello to me. But she feels “superior” and by making an incredibly patronizing comment about my appearance she immediately asserts a hierarchy – she’s up there and I’m down here.
I personally think she’s a CAFONA at heart, no matter how many books she reads.
After this, my mum receives a series of phone calls from a millionaire, Giovanna, who is apparently depressed because she hates her mother. She’s also terribly upset since her sister Paola doesn’t sympathize with her sufferings, instead she seems to foster an unreasonable love for their mother. Now, the mother is 94, had a stroke 6 months ago and is about to kick the bucket anytime. It’s no big surprise to me that Paola is taking care of her. But Giovanna keeps saying that neither the mother nor the sister love her and, to prove her point, starts mentioning episodes that happened 39 years ago…
I know why everyone was looking forward for the “other sister, the psychologist” to turn up: this resort is a crucible of middle aged nutters!!
Now I’ll write down, in no particular order, snippets of conversations I’ve picked up on the beach. Then you tell me if I’m not right in thinking most of people holidaying in Sardinia are a bunch of provincial, narrow-minded, wannabe-bourgeois with no empathy or sympathy towards the rest of the world:
“I’m smart, I’m not wearing a ring across my nose, I don’t come froml Burkina Faso” (it goes without saying that for such person every inhabitant of Burkina Faso or similar African country and generally anyone belonging to a culture he knows nothing about is a moron.)
“It’s hard to accept your kids’ choices. I wanted them to a have a family like in the Mulino Bianco commercial… I imagined my son in law to be tall and blonde, you know, the Swedish tyoe… ” (obviously Sweden must somehow produce the best husband material…)
“My daughter’s boyfriend has a tattoo! can you imagine when he’s 55 and has children, what would people think?” (The boy is 21. who cares what people will think in 34 years? Maybe Polynesia will rule the world and we’re all going to be covered in tatoo by then)
“I got lost in London and asked for directions but they were all negroes and spoke very ‘tight’ English, you know, as they do… I couldn’t understand!” (maybe it’s because your English is very poor???)
“Milan is full of Russian criminals. And let’s not mention the Albanians who are even more worse.” (Yes, and you are very worst at grammar)
“All those Nor5th Africans are ready to stab you for anything, they’re scared of nothing. It’s not their fault. If you were born in a poor country where most people are shithead muslims, you’re bound to grow up with lots of anger inside, poor souls…” (Such an intellectual argument leaves me lost for words)
“He comes from a huble family BUT he’s a good person, intelligent.” (humble people being notoriously stupid and prone to crime.)
Similar “BUTS” are quite recurrent on the beach:
“My hairdresser’s gay but a nice man”.
“My mother’s carer is Southamerican but very honest.”
“He’s black but not from Africa” (referred to my boyfriend. Him not being from Africa being clearly what saves me from the possibility of being sold as a slave or eaten alive)
What else can I say? I swam in a beautiful see, ate great food, laughed with my parents and enojyed the sunset. Provided you’re wearing earplugs or you don’t understand Italian, you can have a great time in Sardinia, simply ignoring whoever surrounds you.
In fact, next time I’ll take full advantage of my straw hat and pretend to be from Surrey. Totally oblivious and totally foreign… This is the way to enjoy Italy….
Io me piace spaghetti, io amo cibo e sole e mare e molto simpatiche gente!!!