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Those who don’t need heroes


If, fifty years ago, Orgosolo was best known for its bandits, today its claim to fame are its murals—hundreds of them, painted on the stone walls and around the doorways and windows of just about every little business in town. They say the first murals were painted by an anarchic group of students known as the Dioniso in the late 60s. Remember this was an incredibly poor region; the populace has always felt ignored by the national government and harassed by the carabinieri. So maybe when the first mural went up, probably overnight, expressing some pissed-off student’s outrage over the conditions of life on Sardinia, instead of painting it over, they left it. They probably thought, You know what, that guy is right. Besides, it’s not a bad painting.


photos by David Lansing

photos by David Lansing

And then maybe another mural went up outside a bar and a week later someone painted a scene on the ancient wall of an old house and before you knew it, there were 20 or 30 murals around the village and Sardinians who used to hurry through this slightly-dangerous little berg started stopping, taking photos, and maybe even buying a cold beer or a wedge of sheep cheese. Unwittingly, the anarchists had kick-started a little tourism, giving the community another way to make a few lira besides kidnapping strangers. Commerce was created.

Not that this is Venice or anything. There are no tourist buses coming here, no Orgosolo Grand Resort hotels. As Paola and I walked from one end of town to the other, in about half an hour, we may have seen half a dozen other tourists at most. In fact, it was so slow in town that the guy running a little souvenir shop actually ran after us to give us a postcard of a mural commemorating 9/11. For free. 

Most of the murals depict some sort of political message. For instance, one shows what looks like a soldier from WWII and the comicbook bubble next to his head says, “Another war? No, gracie.” Others are poetic, quoting Pablo Neruda, or philosophical—like my favorite, a painting of an old Barbagia shepherd, holding a cane, beneath the words “Happy are the people who don’t need heroes.”

I don’t know who those people are, but I like the thought. 

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It’s a shame Sergio Leone didn’t shoot “Per Un Pugno di Dollari” (or “A Fistful of Dollars” as it was titled in the States) in Orgosolo, Sardenia instead of Almeria, Spain. Clint Eastwood’s sullen character, The Man With No Name, would have fit right in with the rugged locals of Orgosolo, men known for their secretive ways and a fondness for revenge. In fact, just a few years before Leone shot what some consider to be the first commercially successful Spaghetti Western (for all of $200,000), Vittorio De Seta, shot “Bandits of Orgosolo” in the untamed region of Barbagia, an area long known for its lawlessness.

The film, shot in sort of a documentary style in 1961, used non-professional actors from Orgosolo to portray the hard-knock life of the poor farmers and shepherds who, like the warring cowboys in “Fistful of Dollars, make a meager living through banditry. Back in the 60s, you ventured into Orgosolo at your own risk. As Pasquale Cugia wrote of the area, “The people of Orgosolo, bold and proud, eager for adventure, have warlike ardor in their blood and the restlessness of the nomad races.”


photo by David Lansing

photo by David Lansing

Sort of reminds me of what The Man With No Name has to say when he first wanders into the little hellhole in “Fistful of Dollars” and says the only one making any money in town is the undertaker. Did you know that they originally offered the Clint Eastwood part to James Coburn, who turned it down, and then to Charles Bronson, who thought the plot was ridiculous, and finally to Richard Harrison? And it was Harrison who suggested to Sergio Leone that he get Eastwood for the part.

Anyway, we hung out in Orgosolo yesterday, chatting it up with these old guys sitting on a stone wall who looked sort of like a bunch of aging Tony Sopranos. I asked one of them if it was true that the shepherds here used to kidnap people and take them to their hideouts up in the rugged mountains of the Supramonte. The guy just shrugged, like How should he know? Then another old guy started whistling. Maybe I was just being paranoid but it sounded a lot like the theme from the last of the Dollars Trilogy, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” From somewhere down the mostly deserted street, I thought I heard the sound of a cracking whip. A few minutes later, a sullen youth passed by yanking a stubborn donkey with a rope. When the donkey stopped walking, the youth yanked the rope as hard as he could. Once he yanked and the donkey yanked back and the youth stumbled to the ground in front of us. I almost laughed. But then I thought about the scene in “Fistful of Dollars” when Eastwood’s character says, “I don’t think it’s nice, you laughin’. You see, my mule don’t like people laughing. He gets the crazy idea you’re laughin’ at him.”

And then he shoots everyone. Which seems like a pretty ridiculous scene. Until you’ve spent an afternoon in Orgosolo. 

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