gall and gumption

Saturday, May 30, 2009

buckner: Cavalcata

I’m in Sardinia again this year, teaching Book Arts classes to kids in the cities of Sassari and Thiesi. This year I had the insight to bring a copy of Lawrence’s Sea and Sardinia with me, which I haven’t read in many years. In it, Lawrence and Frieda (he refers to her as the q-b throughout) sail by boat, in the early 1920s, from Sicily to Cagliari on the southern tip of Sardinia, and then travel by train and bus into the mountainous central region. Lawrence spends a good deal of time in this book describing the traditional peasant costumes of the men and women they meet (mostly the women—as MM pointed out long ago, he describes women’s clothes and men’s ‘turgid loins’). Here are some examples:

…slowly chanting in the near distance, curving slowly up to us on the white road between the grass, came the procession. The high morning was still. We stood all on this ridge above the world, with the deeps of silence below on the right. And in a strange, brief, staccato monody chanted the men, and in quick, light rustle of women’s voices came the responses. Again the men’s voices! The white was mostly men, not women. The priest in his robes, his boys near him, was leading the chanting. Immediately behind him came a small cluster of bare-headed, tall, sunburnt men all in golden-velveteen corduroy, mountain peasants, bowing beneath a great life-size seated image of Saint Anthony of Padua. After these a number of men in the costume, but with the white linen breeches hanging wide and loose almost to the ankles, instead of being tucked into the black gaiters. So they seemed very white beneath the black kilt frill. The black frieze body-vest was cut low, like an evening suit, and the stocking caps were variously perched. The men chanted in low, hollow, melodic tones. Then came the rustling chime of the women. And the procession crept slowly, aimlessly forward in time with the chant. The great image rode, rigid, and rather foolish.

After the men was a little gap—and then the brilliant wedge of the women. They were packed two by two, close to each other’s heels, chanting inadvertently when their turn came, and all in brilliant, beautiful costume. In front were the little girl-children, two by two, immediately following the tall men in peasant black-and-white. Children demure and conventional, in vermillion, white and green—little girl-children with long skirts of scarlet cloth down to their feet, green-banded near the bottom: with white aprons bordered with vivid green and mingled colour: having little scarlet, purple-bound, open bolero over the full white skirts: and black head-cloths folded across their little chins, just leaving the lips clear, the face framed in black. Wonderful little girl-children, perfect and demure in the stiffish, brilliant costume, with black headdress! Stiff as Velasquez princesses! The bigger girls followed, and then the mature women, a close procession. The long vermilion skirts with their green bands at the bottom flashed a solid moving mass of colour, softly swinging, and the white aprons with their bands of brilliant mingled green seemed to gleam. At the throat the full-bosomed white skirts were fastened with big studs of gold filigree, two linked filigree globes: and the great white sleeves billowed from the scarlet, purplish-and-green-edged boleros. The faces came nearer to us, framed all around with black cloths. All the lips sang responses, but all the eyes watched us. So the softly-swaying coloured body of the procession came up to us. The poppy-scarlet smooth cloth rocked in fusion, the bands and the bars of emerald green seemed to burn across the red and the showy white, the dark eyes peered and stared at us from under the black snood, gazed back at us with raging curiosity, while the lips moved automatically in chant.

Here is another interesting bit:

The long stocking cap they wear as a sort of crest, as a lizard wears his crest at mating time. They are always moving them, settling them on their heads. One fat fellow, young, with sly brown eyes and a young beard round his face, folds his stocking-foot in threes, so that it rises over his brow martial and handsome. The old boy brings his stocking-foot over the left ear. A handsome fellow with a jaw of massive teeth pushes his cap back and lets it hang a long way down his back. Then he shifts it forward over his nose, and makes it have two sticking out points, like fox-ears, above his temples. It is marvelous how much expression these caps can take on. They say that only those born to them can wear them. They seem to be just long bags, nearly a yard long, of black stockinette stuff.

Over this past weekend I was able to attend a festival in Sassari called the Cavalcata. People come from all over Sardinia to march in a parade in traditional costumes and participate in horse riding events. I took these photos of the spectacularly beautiful costumes. Also note how handsome the people are!


At 12:39 PM, Blogger Kia said...

I remember his description of the hats. And that great moment when he and Frieda find themselves walking down a hillside in some village, and the hillside is actually the bathroom for the villagers, so they have to pick their way between the piles of poop and he's in a towering rage, he's just furious with disgust. I love that scene.

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