postcard from sardinia

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Indy Lifestyle Online
For More than a year, our journey around Europe has been smoothed by the Cadogan Guides, the best contemporary travel guides - witty but not facetious, informative but not dull. So, imagine our dismay when we discover that our Cadogan Guide to Italy does not include Sardinia. No history of the island, no advice on what to see.

To be forgotten is Sardinia's fate. This enormous island, most of whose inhabitants do not seek independence, is miles from anywhere, including Italy. Within Sardinia itself, even individuals, in the words of the the Sardinian novelist Salvatore Satta, are "as remote one from another as are the stars". All we have to go on are images from the film Padre Padrone, with peculiar intimacies with sheep, and memories of a British family who spent months - or was it years? - in a cave, care of Sardinian kidnappers.

A Sardinian recommends Orgosolo, a wild highland town. Walls are daubed with political murals; houses are half-built yet inhabited; black-eyed men watch us suspiciously. It is no surprise that nearby, the previous week, a woman was kidnapped from her car, her sleeping child left on the back seat.

Unknowingly, we conform to local custom when I take Tallulah to mass, and Richard spends Sunday morning in a bar. The church is full, but the only male is the priest; the bar is full, but the only female is our baby Xanthe. Her curls so enchant the local bandits that she is smothered in chocolate and her proud father reels from being bought so many congratulatory beers.

We drive east, and stumble upon a bay of immaculate beauty. Our dismay at being stranded without a guide turns to excitement: we have discovered this Mediterranean magic for ourselves. But as I return from rinsing clothes in a stream, I hear Richard cursing. The police have arrived and are trying to move us on. Again, typical of southern Europe, our passport is the children. On sight, the police melt, wish us "Buoni divertimenti", and depart.

Tallulah and I attempt lessons. She has missed a year of school and now and again we make half-hearted efforts to catch up. I inscribe words in the sand, which she deciphers. Between words, she insists on rolling to the water's edge: the three "Rs", reading, writing and rolling. Then we sit in flowering cliffs to read The Little Prince.

Books form the bulk of our cargo. It is one of the zillion advantages of travelling in a van: you'd hardly be able to squeeze enough books for four people for 18 months into a backpack. With no TV, or much social life, how do we fill each evening? We read.

Tonight, we cook under stars that shine brighter than in Britain, and study Philips' Chart Of The Stars by the firelight. We may not have a guide book to Sardinia, but we can at least steer our way through the galaxy.

This is Helena Drysdale's last report for Real Life from her travels. She has been touring Europe in a motorhome with her husband and two daughters, investigating the re-emerging "tribes" of the continent.

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