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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

From the discomfort zone: Sardinian sojourn

There once were 10,000 megalithic stone dolmens scattered across the island depicting prehistoric architecture.

Written by Shombit Sengupta |
Updated: October 12, 2014 3:56:32 am
Take a look: Take a look:

Discomfort from Church domination led Italians to pursue an individualistic approach. Disrespecting religious taboos, they embraced art, science, literature and philosophy to begin the Renaissance, injecting colour in every element of design.

This infusion of colour is so deep rooted in every Italian psyche that when I egged on my dressed-David-statue look-alike Italian friend to enter our Painter CEO Club, he subconsciously painted Mediterranean blue of the sea, green of the hills and orange of the sky at sunset. Yes, he’s a CEO in India. That’s why I invited him to display his artistic mindset through colours on a canvas, something that 59 CEOs, managing directors and chairmen have already done. Take a look:

Or did my dressed-David paint his favourite Sardinia, his wife’s Mediterranean home? My experiential learning of Italian design techniques got heightened when his 84-year-old father-in-law, Mr Meloni, took us back from AD to BC. He trudged us up to a primeval granite shelter called Nuraghe Majori. Made of piled boulders without any material to joint it together, its rooms, passages and the steps to a turret were still decipherable. Sardinia’s hallmark is its unique Bronze Age Nuragica civilisation dating 1800-1100 BC. There once were 10,000 megalithic stone dolmens scattered across the island depicting creative, innovative use of materials and techniques of prehistoric architecture. Just imagine, this ancient foundation of Italian design is transcending to their day-to-day culture today.

Mr Meloni’s spirit of exposing the old was inexhaustible. On a sunny day, we went to ‘Olivastro di Luras’ — possibly the world’s oldest olive tree. It has a girth of 11.20 metres and is more than 3,500 years old. Speckled light falling under the tree displayed its exquisite bio-design; it was like an expedition to discover living history. Mr Meloni explained differences in trees of thousands of years ago.

India’s banyan has multiple roots emanating from branches that spread to become trees, whereas olive trees have just one trunk and root penetrating underground. Its age is recorded in the rings of its trunk. Perhaps there’s some relationship between Italian individualism and the olive tree’s single trunk, whereas the banyan seems to accommodate a few generations of an Indian joint family living together.

Our trip to Mr Meloni’s farm was hilarious too. Driving his small, four-wheel drive Fiat Panda car, he sped us down winding roads without a single pothole, traversing the beauty of virgin greenery. In 45 minutes, we arrived at his undulating farmland where plenty of cows were grazing. A huge metal gate was locked. He gave the key to my dressed-David friend. It’s important to tell you that on our return, he got off the steering wheel to personally lock the gate to be 100 per cent sure. With typical Italian-Mediterranean hand gestures and a wink, dressed-David indicated how his father-in-law had no confidence in anybody when it came to his cows.

We entered the farm and my wife and her Italian friend rushed to greet the cows. Watching from my camera lens, I saw the cows were going away. Well my wife’s a brown foreigner, but how could they refuse to reciprocate an Italian psychology doctorate from Cambridge? Mr Meloni, behind me, was chuckling childishly. When he appeared in my camera, in a beautiful voice he called, “Bey! Bey!” Believe me, all the cows immediately turned to surround him, as though they were conversing, nudging to get closer to him. My wife laughed, but David-look-alike was totally disappointed. He dramatically bemoaned in heavy Italian accent and perfect English that even being a loving son-in-law, the cows didn’t care. I really enjoyed capturing this mutually-loving attitude of the animals and Mr Meloni on video.

Unlike French society, I find that Italy’s incredible theatre reputation goes beyond the stage into real life. Their day-to-day practical living is extremely dramatic, from body gesture to spoken language to dressing style, transcending to their toilet, kitchen, bedroom, living room. You can understand grand Italian culture from famous cine directors Federico Fellini or Ettore Scola, actors Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni and Vittorio Gassman. Of course let’s not forget their political drama, from former President Silvio Berlusconi’s nude underwater parties with nubile girls, to Cicciolina, the prostitute who became  and Italian minister in 1987.

When Cicciolina went on official visits to different countries, she’d dramatically bare her breasts at the airport. She openly offered to have sex with Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden in exchange for world peace. In every aspect of Italian life, there’s drama that’s not artificial, but real social life. It’s really spectacular.

Easter Sunday lunch was an incredible four hours of true Sardinian-North Italian atmosphere surrounded by dressed-David’s extended family and friends. When I accompanied my friend to bring the food, I figured we were going to a caterer. But, no. His wife had ordered food from different friends’ homes.

What touched me while returning home was dressed-David’s affectionate conjugal gesture. He stopped the car at a slope, climbed the mountain’s edge, cut some wild lavender flowers with a pocket knife. His plan to embellish his wife’s table with Sardinia’s fragrance is another example of Italian elegance. Such cultural aesthetics are embedded in Italian living style. We dined in full view of the valley, mountains with plenty of cork trees. Then in village Luras, we visited his sister-in-law’s ancestral home. Entering a centuries-old house and feeling the family continuity in every corner seemed more like a hallucination than visiting the palace in Versailles.

My Italian experience can fill a book, but let me conclude my learning of design from five countries:  France on making every selling proposition aspirational and disruptive; Germany on precision and process; Americans taught me industrial scale; Japan about miniaturisation and Italy for elegance and artistic sense. Such learning is relevant to our country’s new mantra of developing our peoples’ skills and capability so the world can come to ‘Make in India’.

Shombit Sengupta is a global consultant on unique customer centricity strategy to execution excellence for top management.

Reach him at

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