Carloforte came at the right time.
There's something extraordinary about a place where nothing happens. And I do mean nothing.
Having come off a three-week charter, the nothingness of Carloforte was appealing. The first 48 hours were magic. I walked the length of the village for a coffee, went to the furthest beach for a swim, walked the length of the village for some bread, and again later for a glass of wine. I poked my nose into the women's clothing stores (there are no men's. Don't ask me where they shop). I lapped back to the boat. I did it again. And again.
Returning a few weeks later after a second, a third, then a fourth impossible charter (I'm talking twisters on the horizon and guests carried off in unseasonal currents) to see the same streets in the 37°C heat somewhat deflating.
I was injured, captainless, and hot like an overcooked potato. Moreover, having lived the idyllic boredom of life in a village with only a couple thousand residents, I was personally affronted when the tourist bustle of August arrived, filling the marinas with their blackwater and providing an audience for the shrieking busker, who gleefully performed a full tracklist of Freddie Mercury covers until the early morning, every morning.
In the same breath, tying off opposite the charmingly outdated flower boxes to be kissed on the cheek by neighbours who know more about me than those I've lived beside for years felt just like arriving home. There is a deep calm to the island, and a communal acceptance of every eccentricity. No wonder I fit right in. People are quick to call you on your faults, but they have your back.
It comes down to this:
Do visit San Pietro if -
1. You like tuna
The area is famous for its bluefin tuna. They eat it grilled, fried, pickled, dried, smoked, raw - and they eat it all. Fancy a tuna roe salad? Tuna tartare? Tuna steak still frozen on top but crisp at the base? A starter of tuna heart? Some tuna-stomach salami? You'll find it at any restaurant or pescheria, and most definitely Conard, the sole supermarket on the island. Carloforte's tuna is a world-renowned delicacy, particularly famous in Japan.
Most public buildings feature murals depicting mattanza, the method used in the seasonal bluefin tuna trapping over April and June each year. I arrived one month too late to see it, though I suspect that I would have needed sterner mental preparation for the occasion. By celebrating the violent battle between man and nature, Sardinia has maintained a wary respect for food and appreciation for a fruitful harvest.
Mattanza is a harrowing undertaking performed according to traditional methods half a century old, and is interlocked into the island's cultural fabric. Carloforte contains the only remaining active tonnare in the Mediterranean. This is a netted series of chambers designed to guide tuna into a closed area called the camera della morte (chamber of death). Teams of forty or so fisherman work together in a spearfishing mass slaughter to provide enough fish to last through the year until the next season.
Certainly, this method removes the comfortable third-person distance between the consumer and commercial fishery. Mattanza always begins in prayer. Strict annual yields are adhered to. What is caught is frozen, allowing tuna to remain a staple year-round. At least one-third of the restaurants on the island serve tuna in every dish.
There are a lot of things about San Pietro that feel feel caught in the last century, and accordingly, National Geographic suggests that the method is a more sustainable one than most modern approaches to fishing.
2. You like your neighbours close - close enough to inspect your nostril hair
Nothingness is noisy. It has substance. It comes at you with personality from every angle. Forget blending into the background with your earphones and novel. Conversations in Carloforte start abruptly, mid-sentence, and usually with a shout. There is no need for segway.
If you hurt yourself, your neighbours will notice. They will take it upon themselves to hike the isolated hills north of the village to bestow upon you a fresh, oozing aloe leaf for your injury. They will offer you handpicked tomatoes and boiled shellfish across the railing.
Immediately after connecting to shore power, I met my French neighbour, Benjamin, who was allegedly arrested for the biggest drug bust in Sardinian history three decades ago. He related a tale about his boss who enjoys a couple glasses of wine at the helm. Disconcertingly enough, the individual in question is allegedly indebted to four boats in the marina for damage induced while mooring under the influence. Of more concern to his neighbours is that his insurance details are fake.
The charming chap in question (and he really is charming) introduced himself by telling me a story about selling Rolexes to a man who drank enough champagne to fall into a river. Though I have heard the tale recounted several times since, I still don't quite understand whether his boast was fishing the victim out, or selling him the watch.
These conversations were held in French, heavily accented on my part with an anglophone twang, and on theirs with the rolling 'r' of the local language. Carloforte has its own proud and protected dialect (tabarchian), and it seems to be even more evocative than Italian. Many times a day I am drawn to the aft deck to check on the hullaballoo, expecting to see a fist fight - it's usually just two friends choosing which bar to stop by first.
3. You like sailing
Boats are the lifeblood of the island. They brought the thirty or so founding families who found it a safe haven from piracy in 1738. Carloforte is into fishing, building boats to help with fishing, and talking about both over a glass of warm white wine. If you like your drinks cool, you're not in the right place.
The two marinas, Marina Sifredi and Marinatour, stand shoulder-to-shoulder and coexist in an equilibrium fraught with tension - sufficient to put the Capulet-Montague rift to shame.
Everyone here sails. Without an airport, the sea is the only way to access the rest of the world. I have met five-year-olds who know more about boats than I do. If you ever find yourself questioning what your education provided, try debating the benefits of possessing two anchors instead of one with a gentleman who barely reaches your waist.
4. You appreciate an adrenaline-fraught morning commute
The ferries that connect Carloforte to the outside world rattle enough to pass for locomotives. The main Delcomar beast has a dignified history of shipping good Englishmen between the Isle of White and mainland England. That was until it was decommissioned two decades ago.
5. But you're not in a hurry
Carloforte is a place for the patient. If Sardinian time sits at the lax end of Italian time, San Pietro is at the furthest extremity of the spectrum. With the rare exception of a few tourist hotspots that operate with Germanic haste and formality, getting service in a retailer usually requires launching a local search party. The island wakes as one on the stroke of 8 am, forming queues outside the best bakery and grocers, before the summons to church at 9 am. Its bells are impossible to miss; something between a fire alarm and an opera gong. By 12pm the village is a ghost town. Cars dissipate in one of two directions into the countryside, and the shops close their shutters for a six-hour siesta that lifts just in time for happy hour. The festivities continue until 2am, at which time it's time to put the kids to bed and shut down the music reverberating between the narrow streets.
There are three main roads that service the island, and a single bus that loops between the beaches and ferry every hour. If one wishes to go north, there is one bus that departs Carloforte at 8am. It returns at 5pm, provided that it is not a weekend or Saint's holiday. Each trip is €1,30, and though the driver carries tickets, he will not sell you one. One must visit the tobacconist located directly across from the chapel since it has a monopoly on sales. It is also responsible for the management of all medical bills, which makes it all too easy to cheat the poor anaesthesia students shipped for twenty-four hour shifts from Cagliari to work in the local clinic (a thirty-hour journey in total). Luckily, Carlofortians are an honest, sturdy sort, and come together to sit around the trees while they wait for the shop to open. It's permanently abuzz with children on rollerblades and octogenarians engaged in animated and incessant argument.
6. You're a self-proclaimed drama queen and hopeless romantic
This took some getting used to. My season began in the melancholic laissez-faire of French Romanticism, and led me to the sardonic cheekiness of Spain. Italy, and more pronouncedly, Sardinia, take the whole live-love-life stuff to new heights.
The French take their sentiments seriously, but are suspicious of emotional expression.
The Spanish take nothing seriously, and are suspicious of emotion.
The Italians take everything in earnest seriousness, especially their emotions.
In France it is acceptable to love a meal, but not to show interest in complimenting the chef.
In Spain, you aren't expected to love the meal, but best leave a generous tip anyway.
If you eat out in Italy, you’re going to wind up best friends with the chef, his Mama and his Nonna, whose secret recipe you just tasted.
Call it stereotyping, but you'd be hard-pressed to prove me wrong. Italians love Italy, Italian food, and the Italian way of life. Sardinians, though Italian, distinguish between the two, preferring Sardinia, Sardinian food, and the Sardinian way of life. The expat-Genovese community that settled here looked inward, turning this outpost into a colourful celebration of itself. If you're into the dolce vita, San Pietro is dolce indeed.
Just make sure you bring a good book.