The following article was written by Martha Hayden and originally published on The Restless Viking website on April 18, 2023.
Tucked behind a stone wall in the village of Gergei, Sardinia, a Mediterranean island, rests the tranquil Mario Cesare cottage. We had stayed here three years ago and were awestruck by the owner, Giulia. (pronounced Julia) She’d worked hard to acquire and restore Mario Cesar’s home into a Bed and Breakfast. Giulia was a visionary, bringing the past traditions into the future. Join us as we meet up with Giulia and her family three years later.
Giulia further honored Mario’s legacy by creating a community art competition which had enticed artists with a prize of 3,500 Euros. A vast variety of illustrators and observers attended the September 2019 festival which had consisted of creating village scenes and personal portraits as Mario had once done. The annual art show has continued. (except for 2020)
Giulia – February 2020
On our first visit in February 2020 Giulia had come to serve us breakfast. As she worked we had asked her about her life and her ambitions. She’d traveled to several countries, lived in the capital city, then chose to return to Gergei, the small village where she’d grown up.
Giulia had enthusiastically shared her plans to remodel a nearby farm for travelers. “I want to familiarize people with the traditional ways in preparing foods.” She explained as she served our breakfast of time honored edibles: goat milk yogurt, homemade sausage, jams, cheese, freshly baked lemon cake, eggs from her chickens and fresh fruit. Giulia and her boyfriend’s dedication and determination to continue cultural customs had been impressive! A young woman with a long-sighted soul. Giulia gave me hope for our future!
“Other things I want to teach is how to use natural things to cure ailments.” Giulia holds ancient knowledge of plants and salves as well as being a doula (midwife). She assists women with their pregnancies and delivering their babies. Giulia’s passion and willingness to help others had sparked my instant admiration. I had to comment, “Curing villagers with herbs reminds me of a Strega.” (I thought of the children’s book, Strega Nona, by Tomie DePaola. I used to read these stories to my elementary students.) “Many would call me a Strega.” Giulia nodded. Strega is translated as ‘witch.’ In Italian communities, this person is revered and trusted for their knowledge and helpfulness.
The Evil Eye Curse And Cure
“Is the Evil Eye Curse something you’re familiar with?” I had asked. Giulia’s response was enlightening to me. She explained that her grandmother and mother were known as Stregas, too.
If a villager had the “evil eye” curse (bad luck), Giulia’s grandmother would first drop oil in water. If it formed random dots she’d shake her head. If it made a pattern, which was evidence of ‘The Evil Eye,’ she would perform a spell to cast away the curse. She’d take ashes from the Saint Anthony bonfire and form a cross on the individual’s forehead. (The annual Saint Anthony bonfire is done at the end of January to wake the soil after the long winter. Ashes would be collected for future use.) Then she’d take a combination of salt, oil and water and form a cross on one’s palms while reciting the magical words (still a secret). This would cure the curse of the ‘evil eye.’
I was in awe of Giulia, her knowledge, dedication and commitment to her community. Our friendship continued by communicating through Facebook messenger once Chuck and I had returned stateside.
Keeping In Touch
“Remember how I had said I was a storm in my partner’s life?” Giulia had messaged me following our visit, “Well, we will receive two blessings around Christmas time!” The next message was a photo. “Here is the proof.” (below – left) A shiver raced over my skin with excitement for these new lives being created! At that time Covid was holding us hostage and I wondered if we’d ever have the opportunity to meet these babies in person.
For many weeks Giulia had made a daily 30-minute trip to the hospital to feed and hold her precious babies as they had required a neonatal intensive care hospital stay. This situation had been naturally stressful. In addition Covid restrictions required that only Giulia would be permitted inside the hospital to care for her babies. During this lonely time, Giulia demonstrated impressive courage. She had messaged me that her children had brought her the fortitude to keep going. “It is their strength that gives me energy and keeps me going.”
Meeting Olinda and Elia
Preparing to meet Olinda and Elia, Chuck skipped through the village of Gergei. My stomach danced with excitement to see Giulia and meet her little people. After three years and a global pandemic, we were about to once again cross through the vine covered gate of Mario’s peaceful cottage. So much had changed, yet I felt a sense of “coming home!”
A man called to us from inside the yard, “Come! Come!” In broken English he invited us to wait inside as Giulia had been delayed. Giulia arrived flanked by independent two year old youngsters with wide brown eyes and dark hair being blown by gusts of wind. The pair were toting tiny backpacks.
“Buongiorno, Nonno!” the pair called, speaking Italian. Poking out of the tiny door behind the kids, we waved to “Nonno,” too. We hadn’t realized that the man in the yard was Giulia’s father who had done and was still doing a lot of work on the property. The renovations had been a family mission.
The Mario Cesare Cottage
Olinda and Elia opened our gifts, books in English and Italian, then took to moving about the two bedroom home with poise and determination. As I clicked pictures, the duo picked up the heater remotes and ‘clicked’ a few ‘photos’ of us. “They are learning Sardo, (the Sardinian language), Italian and I read to them in English.” Giulia smiled revealing her dimple.
Giulia had brought pastries for us to share and some for us to take back to our hotel, Casa Mediterranea. The kids dug in, literally. After licking off the sugary powder, Olinda opened a croissant and used her finger to retrieve the chocolaty center. Elia joined his sister in “finger fishing” for the delicious treat. The two shared and cooperated with giggles and grins.
“Would you care to see the ruins?” Giulia inquired. “The ruins?” we both asked, not understanding. “Yes. The farm I talked about last time you were here. We haven’t done anything with it yet.” Giulia listed, “Covid. Babies. Cost. But we hope to receive grants or purchase another place and begin hosting guests who want to learn about traditional foods and preparation.” We climbed in our rental car and followed Giulia for several kilometers to her farm estate at the top of a hillside.
“There’s a traditional bread oven here, but this place needs a lot of work.” Giulia showed us around the land. There was so much potential and, as Giulia had said, so much work.
Collecting Asparagus and Chard
Giulia led us through a goldenrod field so she could collect asparagus and chard for us to take back to our hotel where our mutual friend, Ivo, could cook it.
The twins were enamored with Chuck. Who wouldn’t be, right? He’s a kid at heart! He sang, “Pop Goes the Weasel” as the kids brought him flowers to “pop” as he repeated the verse. Chuck had added with a smile, “By the time we left, half an acre of flowers were gone.”
“Chard is really good for you. People don’t realize all the good food that is available right here!” Giulia stated as she worked her knife through the stems and gathered the leaves. I thought to myself, ‘I guess everyone carries a knife in Sardinia.’ At a winery I had watched a group of men whip out their sharp pocket knifes to cut the offerings of meat and cheese. The people of Sardinia are certainly resourceful and come from a seriously tough lineage.
Olinda and Elia were curious about the stone wall and what laid on the other side. Chuck and Giulia lifted the kids overlooking the lush hillside. “The Circle of Life,” a song from the musical “Lion King” played in my mind. I felt a sense of hope for our future! Giulia will continue to lead and inspire so many people, especially her children, Olinda and Elia. Life is full of struggles, but as we connect and help each other, our world becomes a better place.
Chuck and Martha Hayden, aka The Viking and Poppins, enjoy going on adventures off the beaten path. They also like to share their explorations with others. The Viking is a retired expedition leader while Poppins is a retired teacher. The two offer independent views of their journeys showcasing places, people, and cultures as they explore the world. Visit and follow them on their website and social media accounts. Website | Facebook | Instagram |YouTube