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A. Colin Wright

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Sardinian Silver (Chapters One and Two)
by A. Colin Wright   

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Category: 

Literary Fiction

Publisher:  iUniverse ISBN-10:  0595481000 Type:  Fiction
Pages: 

190

Copyright:  Oct 2008 ISBN-13:  9780595481002

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Sardinian Silver

A young Englishman, working as a tourist representative, seeks romance in Sardinia, a fascinating if relatively backward country. Nevertheless, his experience is full of frustrations.

 Finding One’s Self on a Romantic Island That Time Forgot



Sardinian Silver


 KINGSTON, ONTARIO – How many young people have dreamt of self and sexual discovery in a far off, exotic place? Arthur Fraser, the main character of Sardinian Silver (published by iUniverse) by A. Colin Wright, not only dreamt of it, he realized his dream. Recruited to represent a travel firm from his homeland of Great Britain, Arthur arrives in the resort town of Alghero on the Island of Sardinia in the Mediterranean Sea and is instantly bewitched. Based on his own time on Sardinia, Wright’s captivating and oftentimes hilarious novel follows the exploits of a young man trying to find love while assimilating to an archaically orthodox society.


 Sardinian Silver opens with Arthur sailing across the Tyrrhenian Sea towards his new home. On his journey to Sardinia, Arthur meets a native Sardinian named Gavino. Eager to make a new friend, let alone a British one, Gavino strikes up a conversation with Arthur and quickly offers to show Arthur his island. Gavino is the first in a cavalcade of characters, serious, humorous and tragic, that help make Sardinian Silver the engaging recollection that it is.


 Once settled into the Sardinian resort at which he is working, Arthur sets out on achieving the one thing he wants most; finding a Sardinian girlfriend. He knows that this will not be easy, as Gavino has already warned him. Sardinia in the 1960s was still very culturally undeveloped. Sardinia’s residents viewed mainland Italians and continentals (the British counted among them) as immoral and contaminated by modern society. Still, this does not dissuade Arthur from his task.


 It was ten past nine. Quickly the girls had gone.


Parties like this were so promising, yet so empty. I recall another one, with Gavino and some of Marcella’s friends, where one girl enjoyed a few hidden caresses while we clutched together publicly, but reacted scornfully when I attempted to get her outside alone, and the others were quite shocked. Except for Marcella, who made fun of me. Hug and hold tightly in a dance, but be satisfied with this brief, despairing feel of another body, for it’s all you’re going to get unless you pay a prostitute for more: southern Italy in a nutshell. Yet Sardinia was a land of promise, which I loved even if it remained unfulfilled.


 In the tradition of Brideshead Revisited and The Lost Girl, Sardinian Silver is a charming and witty novel of growth, loss and realization that is sure to delight even the most critical reader.


 

 

Excerpt
One

A quarter to seven on a fresh, blustery morning in February. I went out on deck thinking it should have been warmer, warmer at least than Genoa, some five hundred kilometres behind to the north. The m/n Torres had come to calmer water since passing a long peninsula that jutted out from the Sardinian mainland, now finally in reach after twelve hours of overnight tossing. In the ship’s bar, I’d found a few unshaven figures sipping at strong black coffee, but in the world of sea and wind outside the door I was alone, except for those who’d been sick.

I leaned on the rail, staring at the sea and the distant coastline, featureless in this pale morning. I recalled how yesterday evening I’d stood watching the lights of Genoa disappear into the night behind; then, with the still gentle plunging up and down of the black Mediterranean beneath the ship, I’d set about exploring, immersing myself in its atmosphere. A small cabin shared with incomprehensible, rough-looking strangers. Sard handicraft in showcases in the corridors. In the bar, I’d studied a map of the island on one wall and then sat watching television, something novel against the incongruous background. For the first time I realized that another language was being spoken around me besides Italian: Sard, which I, a scholar of languages, hadn’t heard of until a month ago. In fact, I’d known nothing about Sardinia at all, except that it was an island below Corsica, shaped almost square, like a distorted shoebox stood on one end. And now I was being taken, impossibly, to a place that didn’t exist outside an atlas.

This morning Sardinia existed, stretching in a thin wedge of grey over the horizon. Somewhere ahead was a place that would have people, its own colour. No longer would it be just a black dot on the map labelled Porto Torres.

I’d worked in a travel business for two years, not counting my summers as a rep during my university vacations—which meant staying at one of the company’s resorts, meeting tourists on their arrival, seeing them into their hotels, and generally being available if they had problems. I immediately thrilled to the idea of Sardinia when my boss in London told me I was to go there, although, at twenty-four, I was too sophisticated to admit it.

He didn’t seem worried about my unfamiliarity with the place, or that I didn’t speak much Italian. “You’ve got a degree in languages, haven’t you? You can learn Italian when you get there. Sardinia’s going to be the fashionable place for tourism in a few years.” He was right. I learned Italian well, and
Sardinia would later become fashionable.

At the time, of course, my youthful romanticism about exotic countries was inextricably bound up with the idea of involvement with a local woman—the best way of getting to know a place, I told myself. But with my inborn fear of appearing anything other than an English gentleman, this was difficult. Particularly in Sardinia.

The journey there was trying enough. In the 1960s flying was a luxury, and the company sent me by rail, second class, which meant a Channel crossing from Dover to Ostend, followed by a night of travelling south across Europe, trying to sleep sitting upright in a crowded compartment. A routine trip, until I was jerked awake the next morning at the first stop across the Italian border. Domodossola, I read on the dull brown station signs, a name I knew well from my days of working in the office.

I was about to close my eyes again when I saw a pile of luggage being unloaded onto the platform—and there was my suitcase, which I’d sent through to Genoa. A phlegmatic British Railways official at Victoria had assured me it would travel on the same train as myself, but had said nothing about it being taken off at the border. I jumped to my feet, pushed past the slumbering forms in the compartment, struggled into the corridor, and made for the door.

On the platform I was about to grab my case when a man in a plain grey suit appeared before me, holding up an arm with a red band tied around it. Italian customs, I understood him to say.
I had to open the case while he rummaged through it, taking his time.

I’d just got it closed again when I heard the clanking of wheels behind me. My train was leaving—with my briefcase and coat still on board, en route to Milan, where I had to change to the only train that would get me to Genoa in time to catch the evening ship to Sardinia.

Trying not to panic, I lugged my heavy suitcase into the station to find the departures board. A local train for Milan was due in half an hour, but it would leave me a mere twenty minutes to make my connection. It was late, of course, and by the time it finally pulled into the Milan station I was standing impatiently with my hand on the door, ready to make a run for it, with just six minutes to retrieve my briefcase and coat from some lost luggage office and then find the other train.
Still dragging my heavy suitcase, I plunged along the platform, and to my relief saw the office straightaway. After bursting in, I found the man in charge was talking on the phone. At least my coat and briefcase were on a luggage rack behind the counter.

I hadn’t enough Italian to explain. “Deux minutes!” I shouted in French, gesturing urgently.

Then I was running desperately across the station, struggling with all my luggage to the platform, where the Genoa train was pulling away. A young man lifted my cases from me as I heaved them aboard, and then seized me by the arms and pulled me inside.

* * *

That was all behind me, I thought, as I stood by the ship’s rail in the morning breeze. Now, the same young man joined me.

“Oh, the Englishman, good morning!” He was taller than I, with a rather triangular, intelligent face and an attractive shyness. We’d started to talk on the train—his English wasn’t bad except for the stilted intonation—and he’d turned out to be Sardinian, the first I’d ever met.

I asked his name.

“Gavino Palmas.” His face was all activity as he explained that his surname was Spanish, since many Sards were of Spanish descent; that Saint Gavino, a martyr in Roman times, was the patron saint of Porto Torres.

“Arthur Fraser,” I introduced myself.

He didn’t catch it the first time, but laughed loudly to be sociable. “Mister Arthur, then. And you call me just Gavino.”

I grasped the hand he’d offered but then, uncertain, partially withdrawn.

He shook mine warmly and smiled, eager that I should be happy at our arrival. His words came falling over themselves. “You have seen Sardinia? The island we have passed, Asinara. It is—how do you say it?—a prison place. You know, bad men, robbers, bandits, murderers. We get them here in Sardinia. Alas. At Alghero it is more beautiful.”

“How do you know I’m going to Alghero?”

“All the foreigners go to Alghero. I myself, I go to Sássari.”

The second largest town on the island, where I had to change trains yet again. Stressed on the first syllable, not the second: knowledge I’d acquired in my local library.

“And the capital’s Cágliari?” I said, careful to stress it on the first syllable too.

“Cagliari. The Sards say it is the most beautiful city in Italy. Those who’ve never been there. To Italy, I mean.” As though it were a foreign country.
As the ship groaned on toward the land, my companion told me he worked in a lawyer’s office. He laughed, making a joke of it. “It’s very dull. Life’s like that for us Sards. I ought to have left for the continent before it was too late. There’s no future in Sardinia.”

He explained that he’d been away on a study tour of the continent—Rome, Florence, Bologna, Milan, but not outside Italy—and his sombre face brightened. He spoke hastily, with the long, drawn-out explanations of a child. “This was my visit first to the continent, imagine. I have often wished that I was born Roman instead of Sard, but only now I know what is wrong. We’re really very backward. You’ll see for yourself once you’ve become tired of the easiness and—how do you say it?—superficial pleasantness of life here.”

As the coastline became more distinct, Gavino’s enthusiasm returned. “But look there, you can see the port! Come to the other side, you’ll see more.” We pushed through the ship’s vestibule, crowded with people and luggage. “That is where the beautiful beaches are, along that coast.”

The superficial pleasantness of life. Wide sands against a background of low hills. Sun. Blue sea. Ahead of us was a long harbour wall with a tower and a light on top, and the masts of fishing boats clustering behind it.

“Porto Torres.”

The crowd on deck was growing. The tower approached ever closer until the sea carried it past. In the harbour mouth a tiny boat came out to meet us, almost disappearing behind a wave, then reappeared, dangerously close. The Torres lowered a thick noose of rope to be seized from under its bow. Engines stopped, the tug made off in the other direction, engines started again, and we were swinging round, toward a quay surmounted by a huge gantry looming up from the side. Down below on the dockside another crowd was shouting and waving, with women in shawls and porters in blue uniforms in front of piles of crates and enormous bottles in wickerwork casings. A surge from the water below, and the gantry was already lifting one of the gangways to place it against the ship. I struggled down it, pushing through the people thronging on the quayside, busy with their own, Sard, lives. Porto Torres.

I followed Gavino to another train. Climbing high steps, finding room for cases, sinking back into soft yet unbearably cramped seats. The ship, the last surviving link with the continent, was now only part of the background, giving pride of place to the stone walls, cacti, and sea through the window.
The doors rattled shut, and the train started to move lazily, stopping again at the town station.

When it left again, Gavino started jumping back and forth to point out the Roman ruins on either side of the line. “Look, if you turn back now you will see the Roman bridge, with the sea beyond it.”

The barren green countryside, the stony land beside the railway, and the huge cacti made everything seem exotic. I loved it all.
A couple of men passed down the central aisle, and Gavino shouted out to them with the peculiarly Italian “O-ui” sound. A brief exchange of enthusiastic, meaningless words as the men continued down the train.

“Ciao,” Gavino shouted after them.

He let his shoulders slump and his mouth drop. He was disappointed not to be able to introduce his English friend. Suddenly his mood had changed, and I was embarrassed for him, recognizing perhaps but not yet accepting that Italians had little of the Anglo-Saxon reserve about expressing their feelings.

For a while he was silent, and I, too, said nothing, content to watch out the window and listen to the strange sounds of Sard from the other passengers.
Around the shaking train stretched miles of olive trees. Gavino took a card and a pen from his pocket. “I will give you my address. When you are in Sassari you will come to visit me. And I will show you something of Sardinia. I will take you to Porto Torres properly, to Castelsardo, Tempio, and La Costa Smeralda perhaps. And this is my office address and phone number.”

I took his card and he gave me another so I could write down my address in Alghero as well. Gavino put it away with a glow of pleasure. “Oh, but we come to Sassari. Here you change, and I must leave you.”

I’d been aware of the town we were approaching and of a skyscraper that stuck out incongruously from its centre, with other buildings clinging onto it. The train drew into a station surprisingly large for an island I hadn’t imagined to have railways at all. Gavino led me through a surge of Italians on the platform to another train, chocolate-brown and more bus-like than the first, bearing a large yellow placard “Sassari—Alghero.”

Gavino was serious, bowing over my hand. “Mister Arthur, I thank you infinitely for your company. It has been a great pleasure, and please, when you come to Sassari, I shall be delighted to have the honour if you come and call on me.”



Two

When I arrived in Alghero, I was surprised to find a young man with a neat little moustache waiting for me on the platform. From his clothes and casual sportsmanlike manner, he was clearly English.

“Arthur Fraser, I presume,” he said, offering his hand. “My name’s Jim Fielding. You probably won’t have heard of me.”

I hadn’t and was a little annoyed that my private excitement at arriving in a strange place had been intruded upon. “Don’t say our firm’s got someone else here I hadn’t bargained on!”

It turned out that he worked for a rival company. “We were ahead of you there, you must admit. Not that I give a damn for it anyway. I’m only doing this to have a year’s break from college. Decided to come out a few weeks early, have some time wandering around by myself. But come along for some coffee. I presume you haven’t had breakfast?”

“What about my cases?”

He strolled over to a taxi, had a few words with the driver, and returned. “He’ll look after them. Your hotel will sort it out.”
I followed behind him to a bar across the street, where we remained standing as he casually ordered two coffees.

“How did you know I was arriving?”

“Hmm? Oh, I had a letter from Maurice.”

“Maurice?”

“Maurice Winter, your Italian manager.” He distractedly filled his coffee with sugar. “You know him surely? A good friend of mine.”

I explained that I’d never actually met him. Taking his time, Jim dug into his pocket, took out a whole pile of things he placed beside him, and finally handed over a grubby typewritten envelope. “Maurice gave it to me when I saw him in Rome. Asked me to come along and meet you. Look after you a bit, like.” He leaned his elbows on the bar and started fiddling with his moustache. “You’ll enjoy it here. Not too many hotels to bother with and ideal for having a good time. But then, I can tell you all you need to know tomorrow.”

“You’re just an amateur in this business, then? Still at university?”

“Hmm? Graduated last year. Just missed a first. Italian language and literature. I’m going back to do a Ph.D., but I wanted some practical experience first. You speak Italian?”

“Sort of.”

“It’s a wonderful language. Beautiful!”

It turned out we were both from Cambridge, and I soon decided that his know-it-all manner was only a pose. He was justifiably proud of having got himself a Sard girlfriend in defiance of local custom.

“But we must go. These women, they don’t like to be kept waiting. Marcella in particular.”

We plunged into a maze of narrow streets between houses several storeys high, where tiers of washing hung out over the street excluded most of the light. Jim mentioned casually that this was typical.

“Oh, but I forgot to tell you.” There was another long pause as he sauntered along. Someone perhaps had once told him to create expectancy in his audience and he’d never forgotten the advice. “The Americans are here too. Their rep’s called Isabelle, or Isabella—I can never make out which. She’s quite a character. Everyone in the island knows Isabelle. You’ll meet her soon enough. But this is your hotel, on the corner here.”

After introducing me as though I were his new assistant, Jim quickly departed, leaving the manager to make the more lengthy introductions.

Expressions of good will, enthusiasm over what a wonderful country England was, listening to a long list of the places the manager knew—boring, but important. It was half an hour before I was in my room, pleasantly large, with one tattered carpet on an otherwise bare tile floor.

I sat down on the bed and took out the letter from Maurice Winter, a friendly note to wish me good luck and give some useful background information. Then I looked up and saw the ceiling: a magnificent blue, with yellow and red stars and a number of plump angels floating ponderously across it, with vegetation entwined around the edges. Sitting on my bed, I reflected that all this was at last Sardinia, which had already been populated for me by at least two characters.

It was still only half past eleven. There was a knock at the door and a third character came in. A maid.
“Scusi.” She smiled eagerly, speaking loudly and slowly, expecting me not to understand. “You have unpacked? No? Then I will help you.”

I was aware of her physical presence. Were her eyes expressing friendliness or mockery? I wasn’t sure. Her features were coarse and she was badly dressed. Must have been older than myself, nearly thirty. Her hands were dirty, and so was her tattered red cardigan. Evidently she thought I hadn’t understood and came nearer, pointing at herself and then at me: “I … help … you.”

With my English timidity I refused, afraid of the impression I might make. Here was just the type of girl I’d like to get into bed with, but all I could do was watch her, cautiously.

She laughed, drawing her mouth wide into her cheeks, her teeth half open, almost jeering. Then ran her hand through her tangled hair and pretended to be indignant. “I … know … hang up clothes.” She scowled, still speaking in infinitives.

I made the excuse that I wanted to rest.

She seemed satisfied but added “I … do … very well,” drawing herself up proudly. Her bust, I thought, was too large, but her very earthiness—or was it just dirt?— excited me.

She let her mouth open mockingly. “You like me, yes?” She stretched again, her eyes shining. Realizing she’d caught me off guard, she slapped her hands down on her knees, laughed triumphantly, and turned to go out of the door. “Later I help you unpack!”

I recovered sufficiently to call after her. “What’s your name?”

She gave another grin and said, slowly again, “Te-re-sa.” Then she disappeared out of the door, uttering a stream of words I didn’t understand.


Lunch, siesta, strolls around the town, dinner in the hotel restaurant—those first days before the tourists started to arrive soon merged with other memories. Alghero was a typical southern port, with its fishing boats, elegant palm-lined avenue, and the poorer, bare white houses under orange-tiled roofs. Further away were the beaches of white sand and a greenish sea, which, when the sun slipped from behind its filtering clouds, would be transformed into the brightest of ultramarines. It was a lazy life for a while, and establishing professional contacts took little effort. My Italian improved rapidly. Only I felt I didn’t quite belong to this country yet and was impatient to do so.

My sense of dignity nearly spoiled things for me. One evening as I went into the hotel dining room, the head waiter announced that I was now to eat with the staff. Insulted and ready to demand my rights, I stalked after him through the kitchen to a large room behind it.

Sitting around an enormous wooden table in a group of shouting, grabbing activity were a number of the younger members of the staff, while a little old woman of about seventy ran around them. I recognized a couple of the porters—and Teresa, whom I hadn’t seen since her offer to help me unpack. She laughed tauntingly and shouted out “Oh, the Englishman,” letting her spaghetti dangle from her lips.

The waiter was introducing the others before I had a chance to protest. “Carlo and Franco, the porters. Elena, Graziella, Teresa, Maria-Grazia, the maids.”
Teresa gave another cackle and placed her hands on her hips, swinging round on her chair ostentatiously.

“And this is the housekeeper, Signora Anna-Maria.”

The old woman, smiling up at me respectfully, came forward to shake hands. “I have a fine family, have I not? Beautiful girls, well made, look for yourself.”

One of the porters made a remark in Sard, laughing at the old lady, who almost before he’d finished speaking trotted over to him and cuffed him with her arm, but her eyes were smiling. “To teach you good manners. Don’t take any notice of them. They’re badly bred, the lot of them.”

“I’m not badly bred!” Teresa protested.

Franco retorted, “Yes, you are! Sei mal-educata, mal-educata!”

He stepped back out of the way as Teresa sprang to her feet, pulling at his hair, laughing wildly, with a stream of words I couldn’t understand. Impatient to explain my offended dignity, I still paused to admire her. The side of her forehead was disfigured by what seemed to be a permanent burn mark. In a few years’ time she’d be the typical rough peasant woman I’d never look at again, but now I imagined removing her tattered clothes—once I’d established that I should eat in the dining room.

Franco had soon recovered, letting out with his fist and catching Teresa on the arm. Pretending to be afraid, she fled to the other side of the table, flinging chairs in his way as he and the others chased after her. Trapping her in the corner, he pummelled her without mercy while she gave loud, exaggerated cries of pain. But soon she was back at him, clawing in front of her and then skipping out of his reach. Signora Anna-Maria stood laughing, sometimes trying to catch Teresa herself, telling them all to behave. “What will the Englishman think?”

Let me join in, too, my desire whispered, as I imagined how Teresa would fight with me in bed as my hands sought their prize—while my dignity still wanted to make my little speech. Finally, I asked if it was normal for a tourist representative to eat with the servants.

The old lady took my arm. “You’re the first guest we’ve had. You should eat outside, of course, but you’re going to be one of us, after all. Although if it offends you, of course you can eat outside.”

Dignity relaxed. The old lady clasped her hands together when I said I’d be happy to stay.

Teresa slapped her hands on the table. “Now we can tell him how we decided to invite him.”

“Behave yourselves!” Signora Anna-Maria commanded.

Carlo explained. “We didn’t know, you see. Then Franco was outside your room this morning. ‘He’s one of us,’ he told us. ‘I quite clearly heard him ... in bed.’”

Laughter while the old lady gave a click of disapproval. I was unsure of the verb Carlo had used. “Scorregiare?”

Teresa turned her back, bent forward, patted her behind with her hand, blew out her cheeks and emitted a loud rasp through her lips.

Signora Anna-Maria pretended to cuff her once more. “Go away, you filthy girl! Sei mal-educata!”
Teresa stuck out her tongue and in a gesture of mock gallantry pulled out a chair for me, half curtsying as she indicated for me to sit down.

* * *

Jim’s moustache looked as if it needed trimming.

“Been waiting long?”

“Twenty damn minutes.” I’d been filling in time by seeing how often I could make the attractive girl behind the pastry counter look at me. Twice since I’d arrived. Did that represent my prospects for Sardinia?

“That’s all right then. In Sardinia it’s rare for anyone to be less than half an hour late. Glad you got my note.”

He strolled over to the counter, sticking out his chin inquisitively as he gave the order. Avoiding the other patrons, he brought back a coffee and a pastry, then sat down with me and proceeded to light a very English-looking pipe.

“I thought I’d better give you some gen about this place.”

His use of slang was old-fashioned. “Is there much to tell me?”

“Oh, no. The main stuff you’ll obviously find out for yourself. Sorry, I didn’t want to offend you. OK?”
I listened, looking at the long rows of wine bottles behind the counter, with outline maps of Sardinia decorating their labels. Jim had one interesting idea, namely that the three reps—he, Isabelle, and myself—although working for different companies, should pool resources so that individually we might have more time off, all of us looking after one another’s tourists. It sounded all right to me, as long as our bosses didn’t know.

“What’s the talent like here?” I interrupted him.

He grinned. “Well, the tourists are often daddy’s pampered little daughters without daddy and longing to have a good time. Unfortunately, though, the local men with their flowery manner of speech and dark adoring eyes are often more of an attraction than we are. Not that it concerns me anyway. I’m lucky in having a Sard girlfriend.”

“Yes, you’ve told me. So how is it with the Sards?”

“Hmm? Well Marcella’s modern in outlook, something of a rarity here. You may manage to find someone if you try hard enough, but with a respectable girl it’s almost impossible. I’ve just been lucky.” He made his customary long pause. “All women indoors by nine, and if you go out with a woman more than once—if you manage to go out with one at all—you’re engaged to her. If you object, you’ll have her brother standing behind her in church with a shotgun to make sure of it. Even the few modern ones daren’t offend tradition too much. Marcella’s usually spoken of as ‘that girl with the wicked continental ideas.’ No brother, luckily.”

“It’s that bad?”

Jim puffed away complacently on his pipe. “Marcella told me about a girl who asked her priest if it was wrong to kiss her fiancé. He said it was OK as long as she kept her teeth tightly closed, but if she parted them it was a mortal sin. It was in a small village, admittedly—and the church, thank God, has less influence in the towns. But even there the attitudes are still pretty strict.”

“What do the men do then? Prostitutes?” I asked casually, so as not to show my interest. I’d never had the courage to go with a prostitute, but the idea of it excited me.

“Hmm?” Another long pause. “Yes, if they can’t get hold of some English or German girl. All the men go with prostitutes, I’d say, without exception.” Jim screwed up his eyes and gave expression to an odd fastidiousness. “That’s something I find rather distasteful. A lavatory act, I’d call it. But it’s a recognized profession, though no ‘nice’ girl will admit she knows of its existence.”

I was about to ask about a girl like Teresa, but we were interrupted by a sudden shout from the doorway. “Hi there!”
The whole café stopped to stare as a tall, haggard-looking woman of about forty in an off-white raincoat made a theatrical entry and launched herself toward us. “Now I guess you must be Art Fraser!”

“Arthur his name is.” Jim had evidently remembered that I didn’t like being called Art. “This is Isabelle.”
“Isabella Schwartz,” she said loudly, pronouncing it as ‘sworts’ and grabbing hold of my hand. Then she let go and flung out her arm in what seemed to be intended as a gesture of patriotism. “American to the core, in spite of my name. Great to meet you, Art!”

The others in the café were exchanging glances.
Her pose changed and she looked flustered. “Look, I’m in one hell of a rush. You didn’t see Alberto, did you, Jim? It’s damn rude of me, but I’ll see you this afternoon, OK?” She seized my hand again and released it before making an equally dramatic departure.

“Exit Isabelle,” Jim announced. The audience relaxed. “We’re due to meet her later, to show you something of the countryside. Her boyfriend’s got a Giulietta, which she drives at about a hundred and forty.”

“Sounds fine. Who’s Alberto?”

“No idea. He’s not the one who owns the car. Which reminds me ... ” He waited for several puffs of his pipe before telling me the two of us had a chance to get a secondhand car if I was interested.

“I’ll think about it.”

“The trouble with this place,” Jim said as we wandered back through the narrow streets, “is that most of the inhabitants have never been out of the island. You just can’t tell them that life’s different elsewhere, in England, for example. England’s the same as the continent, and the continent’s ‘immoral.’ ‘We’re more honest than the continent,’ they’ll say, ‘if we go out with a girl we marry her.’ It’s a fantastic place. It depends a little where you are, though. Sassari, for example, is terribly dull. Alghero’s a bit more liberal because it’s ‘contaminated’ by the tourists.”

I returned to the hotel for lunch, but it was quieter since the staff all came in at different times. I didn’t see Teresa at all.

Isabelle turned up screeching in the Giulietta early in the afternoon. I sat next to her, while Jim struggled into the space behind the two seats.
“Where are we going?” She flung the car into gear and drove off, only to come to a violent halt the next moment as she nearly hit a cyclist.

After a stream of ludicrous Italian she set off again. We took the coastal road to the west, and soon we were following a narrow reed-lined isthmus between the sea and an inland lake that shimmered like a watercolour painting. “Fertilia,” Jim’s voice came from the back. “The Roman bridge.”

Halfway across a channel from the lake into the sea stretched a low stone bridge over several arches, but then it stopped short, as if some catastrophe had overcome it, its last column rising in sharp relief from the blue and green below. The typical Roman brick and red of the tiles, the prosaic strangeness of the past—its eternal stillness soon shattered, however, by the American desire to reduce antiquity to a photograph. Three shots with Isabelle standing up in the driver’s seat (a muffled “goddamn it” as she pressed the button on the second of them), and the car jerked forward again.
After passing the main airport, little more than a single runway, we left the highway for a white, chalky road leading among cactus-hedged fields emblazoned with the stumps of vines. Past hamlets with impossible names—Palmadula, Biancareddu, Casteddu—until we reached the northern coast and headed back toward the east. Now Isabelle got into an argument with a farmer, whose cow had the effrontery to stop the car and then, in grand style, relieved itself against the side. Her argument consisted largely of gestures and the words “Io … carabinieri,” pronounced as though they were the name of a Chicago gangster, while her unshaven protagonist defended himself in Sard. Neither understood the other and the conversation ended in another roar of the Giulietta’s exhaust.

“Second Roman bridge,” she yelled.

It was the one I’d seen before, from the train. Soon we were in Porto Torres, driving through streets where shawled women outside their doors warmed themselves over bowls of sand with little piles of glowing charcoal in the middle.

“What you might call an underdeveloped country,” Isabelle pointed out. “You see the DDT painted on the houses? They only stamped out malaria a few years ago—the good old Rockefeller Foundation. Sure glad they did. My arm got lousy with mosquito bites last year.”

“Isabelle came to Sardinia last year, too,” Jim explained. “Beat all the other firms to it. Come to think of it, it’s the one place the Russians didn’t get to first! Pity really. Communism would do a lot of good to this place.”

He started talking about the theoretical advantages of communism. There was something placidly reassuring about Jim: God was in his heaven and all was right with the world, as long as it could be reduced to a formula of words. He was still talking long after we’d left Porto Torres.

Olive trees and stone walls guarded us from the road, then more cacti and open countryside. “You see that?” Isabelle shouted, swerving violently. “A new rag!”

“A what?”

Jim chuckled. “The tower. She means a nuraghe.”
It was no more than an unheeded symmetry of stones in a field, like a ruined Martello tower, but mysterious, exciting. I’d read how there were several thousand nuraghi in the island, towers whose purpose remained unclear, the remains of Sardinia’s earliest known civilization. As always it was the atmosphere, not the historical details, that appealed to me. I could almost have waited for a nuraghic warrior to appear on horseback from behind it, but Isabelle, the tourist site having been ticked off, accelerated.

Roman remains, exotic scenery, local customs, a prehistoric civilization—I loved everything. To assimilate the strange and belong, in a society different from my own, had always been my desire. For the first time I realized that one day I’d have to leave Sardinia and, irrationally, it made me afraid.
The top of a rise, then down again. Sassari, the single-skyscraper town, was approaching. Past stone houses, then a sudden corner and the station where I’d changed trains. I remembered Gavino.
We drove up a long narrow street, the top end of which had no room for more than a single file of traffic and was alternately one-way, as controlled by traffic lights. On a wall was another sign indicating the pavements at the side were one-way for pedestrians as well. After a fork in the road, we emerged at the foot of the skyscraper. Through a square filled with palm trees, a barracks on the left, a short, colonnaded street leading to a larger open square—and here was a pompous Vittorio Emanuele II guarded by four sentinel palms with their branches drooping to match the stone feathers of his helmet.

“The Piazza d’Italia, inevitably,” Jim commented.

“Let’s have a drink. My legs are cramped.”

We left the car and went to a bar on the edge of the square, just under the colonnade.

“I must say I like Sassári,” Isabelle said, stressing it on the wrong syllable. “It’s got atmosphere, not like Alghero, full of foreigners.”

I’d been thinking of Gavino and wasn’t really surprised when he walked in. He flung up his arms in amazement, let out an “Eh!” of joy, and came rushing over. I introduced him and invited him to sit down.

He was delighted. He explained where his office was, spoke of all the things there were to see in Sassari, said how friendly the people there were, unlike those in Cagliari, the capital. I had to tell him in detail of my impressions. Then at the first pause in the conversation, he was suddenly anxious he might be keeping me from my two charming friends. I slapped him on the back, reassuring him, at which he went red with pleasure and, changing to Italian, suggested we should use the intimate tu form of address. “Oh … but if you will not be offended?” He laughed again when I responded, using the tu form myself.

His shyness, his fear of saying something wrong, his self-conscious politeness, reminded me of myself as an undergraduate before I’d learnt to protect myself by a wall of superiority. I felt a vague unease, realizing there was so much I had in common with Gavino, things in myself I wanted to overcome.

“But your friends are getting impatient. I must leave you. But come and call on me whenever you come to Sassari.” He left quickly, first paying for all the drinks.

“Nice chap, your friend,” Jim said. “The famous Sard hospitality. But would you mind if we made a move? I’m supposed to be meeting Marcella this evening.”


Professional Reviews
Foreword Clarion Review
ForeWord Clarion Reviews FICTION
Sardinian Silver
A. Colin Wright
iUniverse, 186 pages, Softcover $14.95, 978-0-595-48100-2
Four Stars (out of Five)

After an absence of forty-two years, languages professor A. Colin Wright returned for a visit to Sardinia. His nostalgic novel, Sardinian Silver, he says in its afterword, “evokes a Sardinia that no longer exists but which had a quality of its own that is worth remembering.” It was a quality he also found in the no longer extant brand of Sardinian Silver wine that was “like a fleeting memory of something beautiful.” His efforts to recapture the quality and memories of Sardinia, the wine, and his friends from the 1960s have resulted in a novel of superior literary merit.
Wright’s novel is a pastoral romance about a summer in the life of twenty-four-year-old Englishman Arthur Fraser, a tourist guide in Sardinia. It is skilfully and evocatively written, relying on the interactions between its characters as they travel, fall in and out of love, and indulge in occasional bacchanalian festivals. While there are no action-packed adventures, there is a well-developed sojourn to Orgosolo, an enclave of outlaws where Arthur and his friends feel, “as though we’re entering a forgotten civilization, peopled by ghosts of ancient warriors.” And when Arthur and his friend Gavino vie for the same girl, a kind of genteel jealousy arises, which suits the type of novel Wright has written. Otherwise, the novel relies upon Arthur and his several female acquaintances to add spice in some episodes and humour in others. Of particular note is Wright’s ability to elicit the morals and mores of 1960’s Sardinia, both through what happens on the island and in Rome, and by the attitudinal interplay between traditionalist Sards and visiting foreigners like Arthur and his transplanted English friends.
Wright’s characters spring to life, full blown. Angst-ridden Arthur unceasingly searches for love with all the wrong women until the right one arrives at the book’s conclusion. His girlfriends contrast the morality of the day and the place with their boldness and outspokenness. The men, on the other hand, either appear grateful to follow in the wake of the women or to participate in surreptitious affairs, like the “nauseating man with the moustache and the nasty smile” inquiring of Arthur about the availability of a servant girl for “other things.”
In the end, as Arthur reminisces years later with his wife about Sardinia and “all the people we knew there,” he concludes, “An odd bunch, weren’t they?” But odd or not, they are well worth knowing.
M. Wayne Cunningham




Chicago Institute for Literature and Photography
Chicago Center for Litterature and Photography, March 25th, 2009
Sardinian Silver
By A. Colin Wright, 
iUniverse / ISBN: 978-0-595-48100-2
The more these days that I'm getting to read the growing amount of self-published and basement-press books out there, the more I'm starting to realize that we are right on the cusp of a new golden age of sorts for literature; that we are right at the start of a hundred million retired baby boomers writing a hundred million pretty decent memoirs and semi-autobiographical novels, most of which will never see much distribution beyond a various few websites and print-on-demand outfits. It's easy to forget in our contemporary times, after all, but the unusually large population that makes up my parents' generation (born in the middle-class boom following World War Two, hence the term 'baby boomers') really did swallow the Kennedy 'social contract' Kool-Aid quite profoundly when they were young; they really did buy into this whole idea of devoting forty years of one's life to a kinda crappy office job, to raising a family and buying a home and perpetuating the military-industrial complex that kept the US and Europe the undisputed financial leaders on the planet for more than half a century, in return for a fabled old age of leisure and wealth and cutting-edge medicine, a time when they can finally sit down and bang out that book they put off writing for decades (or paint those paintings, or grow that garden, or take that globetrotting trip), but in this case with style and financial stability and long-established health insurance to boot. And now here we are, forty years since the Kennedy era, and sure enough millions more of these people are retiring each and every year these days; and sure enough, every single one of them seem to be sitting down and cranking out a book they've been working on in their heads for forty freaking years, providing a deep and wide breadth of new literature that we should all treasure for suddenly now existing.
Take for example Sardinian Silver, the first novel by retired language professor and playwright A. Colin Wright, which he plainly admits is based on real experiences from his youth; specifically, the short period from his own Kennedy-era days that he spent on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, back in the early 1960s before it had become the middle-class tourist mecca it now is. It's a fantastic short read, to tell you the truth, like discovering a lost Graham Greene story or something; but that of course is the problem with books like these too, that by waiting forty years to write this, it simply will never have the kind of power or impact that Greene himself had when publishing his similar tales back in the actual early '60s. And that's why this growing collection of baby-boomer books are destined to exist mostly at this ghettoized basement-press and self-published level, and why in many ways it's actually your job as a reader to go out and find these kinds of books, if one wishes to have the quietly pleasurable experience of reading them; because books like these are definitely worth your time, but simply aren't worth HarperCollins spending a million bucks on. That's just the drawback of waiting forty years to do a creative project, is that the appropriate zeitgeisty moment for that project has already long passed; and that of course is why we as a society have such radically different views on amateur creativity now, and why people are much more encouraged these days to write such books while holding their crappy day jobs, not to wait until retirement to do so.
Because make no mistake, this slim manuscript is a Mid-Century Modernist wet dream, not only from the aspect of cultural references but even the tone and pacing of it all. Set in 1961, it's the story of young Brit Arthur Fraser, who in a bout of restlessness has recently accepted a slightly disreputable job as a jet-setting tourist-company rep; his job during these "Swinging London" times is essentially to laze around various unknown yet trendy hotspots around the world, so that when customers of his travel agency show up for their vacations, he can help them find the cool unknown neighborhood pubs and whatever other prurient little things they're looking for. This gives Arthur the excuse, then, to spend his days essentially bumming from one local venue to the next, drinking and flirting with the natives, hanging out with his fellow adventure-craving early-twenties rival tour reps; and along the way, he of course falls in love with various women, has sex with various women, breaks up with various women, and all the rest of the drama you would expect from a good-looking 24-year-old suddenly living full-time on a desolated Mediterranean island.
In fact, for those familiar with her, this book actually reminds me a lot of the Modernist-era work of crime novelist Patricia Highsmith (author of The Talented Mr. Ripley among many others), not in content but rather because of what both authors are trying to accomplish with their manuscripts, of the way both paint an indelible portrait of sleepy southern Europe during the height of the continent's postwar economic prosperity and optimism. The fact is that Wright takes his time here with his story, making plot a dim second to the mere establishment of time and place and mood, gently exploring the back alleys and side daytrips of this remarkable island with a kind of grace and ease that only comes with maturity. And in this, astute readers might be reminded as well of the "Alexandria Quartet" by Lawrence Durrell, which once again was written in the same period this book is set; like those four short novels all set in Egypt, this too really relishes the time it spends with eccentric locals, really takes the effort to try to make you feel what it was actually like to be in this particular exotic location at this particular moment in history. And like the author, I too was more entertained than annoyed by all the youthful self-caused mistakes Arthur makes in his love life while there; and this is yet another benefit to Wright penning this at the point in his life when he did, that his age and experience lets him now look back and gently laugh at the indiscretions of his youth, to reflect on them with the emotional distance that makes them truly memorable tales. (And don't get me started on how charmed I was by the book's contemplative epilogue, in which Arthur visits the now unrecognizable island in the post-tourism-boom 2000s, looking back wryly on how different his life would've been if he had only made a couple of different key decisions during his first time there, musing aloud whether such an alternative life would've ultimately been better or worse than the one he did end up living.)
But of course you see the problem here; that nearly every detail I've mentioned, from the books it resembles to the subjects discussed, are nearly half a century old at this point, making Sardinian Silver fine for what it is but simply decades past its cultural prime. And that's been a part as well of me reading a growing amount of these basement-press baby-boomer books, a growing frustration over all these people being taught back then to delay their creative sides for decades to begin with; what a shame, I many times think while reading books like these, that someone like Wright isn't a young hungry creative right this moment, a period of history when such people are encouraged to write these kinds of books when they matter the most, when they can have the absolutely biggest cultural impact they can. That's the thing I want to make most clear today, and is of course the root of the grand irony which is retired-baby-boomer literature; that like I said before, this novel is without a doubt as good as one of Graham Greene's minor works, and in fact could easily be mistaken for some forgotten Greene tale that's been gathering dust in some attic trunk for decades. What a shame, then, that Wright wasn't able to publish this book when Greene was publishing too, and have the kind of impact that Greene originally had when he too was fresh and exciting.
It's for these reasons that a book like Sardinian Silver is such a satisfying read, but also a book that by its nature will simply never become an unexpected hit, will never get picked up by a mainstream press for national distribution. It's yet another reason why smart lovers of books do themselves so much of a favor by sometimes trawling the so-called "gutter" of self-published, print-on-demand literature; as books like these show, millions of retiring baby boomers are rapidly turning this once-derided section of the industry into a legitimate new option for finding brilliant new novels, titles that fall in the weird middle ground between mainstream and experimental. There may never exist a simple guide to such books, and no splashy Hollywood adaptations may come from them; but for those simply interested in reading great books, such unfiltered wading through this print-on-demand world can many times produce surprisingly great results.
Out of 10: 9.0



Apex review: Linda Waterson



www.apexreviews.net
info@apexreviews.net



Sardinian Silver
Anthony Colin Wright
ISBN: 9780595481002
iUniverse
Reviewed By Linda Waterson

Official Apex Reviews Rating:


When Arthur arrives in Sardinia, he quickly finds it to be his version of
heaven on earth. From the scenery to the native customs to the folkways and
mores of the local residents, the idyllic island has everything his heart could ever
ask for - that is, until he meets the enchanting Anna, a breathtaking beauty who
soon becomes the sole focus of his existence.

Convinced that marrying a Sard girl would be the culmination of his living
fantasy, Arthur decides to pursue Anna - albeit cautiously - by using his best friend
to send a special gift to her; however, when his plan backfires and Anna instead
falls for his friend, his compulsive obsession with her only grows, setting off a
prolonged - and often hilarious - series of misadventures centered on his
unwavering determination to finally find true love.

Sardinian Silver is an engaging, entertaining read. In it, author Anthony
Colin Wright uses powerful imagery and a vivid cast of characters to bring a
compelling story of love - both sought and lost - to impressive life. Wright’s
depictions of Sardinia and its lush, flowing features is enough to make the reader
pine for an extended stay, and the sheer earnestness of Arthur’s ill-fated pursuits is
sure to spark the flames of nostalgic passion in many a lovelorn soul.

A compelling testament to the true power of persistence, Sardinian Silver
is a sobering, yet amusing reminder of the emotional fragility that lies within us all.
Highly recommended.



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