Fridays, I do errands, visit with neighbors in the village, write or finish songs I’ve started with others, and on Saturdays, I typically am playing a show somewhere, either in Sardinia or on the “continente,” or I am trying to attend some event related to other components of my research related to relationships between Sardinian and mainland Italy, or Sardinian language-related events (for example, yesterday I documented a protest against NATO military bases on the island, and then saw an animated, Sardinian-produced documentary film about a flamingo (a bird very much associated with Sardinian and the city of Cagliari) at a film festival (the only of its kind) that features minoritarian languages around the world.
And then we’re back to Sunday, where I return to my new-found love, the sea, and the thing, surely, that keeps all Sardinians grounded and sane, a bit like how, it is said, central park in New York has always keeps New Yorkers sane in the midst of the city’s chaos: it’s refuge, it’s a space of decompression, a place to clear your thoughts, your heart, your mind.
Of all the things I feel most taken by, so far, it is the Sardinian language that has grabbed me the most. After six months, I’m finally beginning to be able to follow conversations. And I’m able to now sing in Sardu; speaking it still feels daunting and like something that will come in its own time, but not on my time schedule, necessary. So for now, I’m listening a lot, and uttering super simple phrases to gauge comprehension.
It was also a powerful sort of initial full circle, from the time, three years ago, when I first visited this Mediterranean island, to now, where I’m now in the middle of a Fulbright year, supported by a second fieldwork grant from the Wenner-Gren foundation, on my sabbatical and living in a big, historic house on the main street at the beginning of the stretch of street where the horses run for the yearly carnival, teaching seminars and giving research lectures in the city of Cagliari, 1 ½ hours south but a universe away, and immersing myself in the study of the Sardinian language through the writing and performance of original songs, sung in Sardinian.
The audience at this presentation was also a microcosm of some of the many and diverse worlds I’ve come into contact with in Sardegna, thus far: my Sardinian language teacher (Campidanese) and a classmate, a fellow Fulbrighter and New Mexican compatriot hailing from Acoma Pueblo and reared, among other places, in various small “border” towns on the Navajo Nation, a former high school language teacher and Sardinian language advocate and self-taught ethnomusicologist, ethnomusicology students, collaborators and close colleagues, fellow “compaesani” from my adopted village of Santu Lussurgiu, guitarists and musicians, my dear friend Matteo (the first person I co-wrote a song with in Sardegna), and a group of around fifteen country music line dancers, each wearing a white western hat, invited to attend by their instructor, a Sardinian country music aficionado who also fronts an Outlaw country band called The Highwaymen (his dancers and fans are sometimes referred to as “Texardi,” a word fusing Texas with “Sardi,” the plural for Sardinian). Dancers, mostly Sardinians, also include one West Virginian, and retired defense force employee who decided to retire in Sardegna.
The next song, “Lucinda,” is a love song dedicated to my (now-deceased) pickup truck, Lucinda, the truck I used to herd sheep and haul for many years when living on the Navajo Nation, and whose death affected me like the death of a beloved friend. Then we arrive at the co-write, “Tiria,” another country love song but this time a bluegrass love song for a now deceased grandmother, the musical muse and the person that taught my co-writer, Matteo Carta, how to speak in the Sardinian language. This is always a challenging song to sing: the melody in the verse and the chorus are almost identical, so it’s easy to mix up the chords between the verses and the chorus, but it’s also difficult to perform because I know how much it means to both of us. Matteo almost cries each time he sings it, and I hear this in his voice, particularly in the last, sotto voce verse he sings after the guitar solo, which then makes me want to cry; there is also a poignancy and a fragility with which Matteo, in his “cavernous” (as it’s described in Italian) baritone, sings this song that still, three years later, gives me goosebumps when I hear it. Shortly before we perform the song, we learn that one of the women in the room is the goddaughter of Matteo’s mother, and from the village that the song is named after, “Tiria,” making the delivery, and the poignancy of sense of place, even more powerful.
Responses to the songs, and to the presentation, are enthusiastic and result in wide variety of questions, from “do you use songs as the starting point or the end-point in your research process” to very general ones such as “what do Americans know about Sardinia” and “how do Navajos feel about white people,” but all of them grounded in a particular set of understandings about Sardinian identity, its colonial connections to a shared sense of history with Indigenous communities around the world, with what has been lost, and how what remains might be retained and reborn linguistically, politically, and culturally.
I’ll end with a very new and in-progress recording of a song recording reflecting my very first month's here, last summer, my own version of culture shock learning to navigate the steepest cobblestone streets I’ve ever seen, and trying to learn to make my peace with the intricacies of Italian bureaucracy, one day at a time. Buona giornata a tutti.