We got up on our second morning and poured over the maps, tourist booklets in French and Italian and Trip Advisor on the incredibly slow internet. We had chatted with the hostess of apartments and she circled some places we should see beyond the standard tourist stops. We decided on Barumini for the best place to see Bronze Age ruins and headed north. Now, for Carmen the Garmin to work best, you need an address, which we did not have, but with a map and some common sense we thought we could make this work. Rene had already programmed the Garmin to have a nice English speaking female voice which was lovely, however, her accent would make your high school language teacher jump from the roof of the school to her asphalt death. It was impossible to understand what she was saying and it was down right funny, expect for it was not helping much. Eventually we got out of town in the general direction and hoped for the best.
Still raining on and off we guessed and followed our way through miles of dry, brown, harvested fields and desolate landscapes. Not the ripe lush beautiful fields of other parts of Italy I have seen, but clearly things had grown there. Not many people either, or cars, or anything really. We drove through a small town that looked pretty empty and closed up but we were definitely on the right road. Then we came to a small Sardegnian style ATCO trailer at a work site. It was about 6 foot square. No workmen in sight. Some 6″ hog fence stretched across the road and a sign. Closed for Work. No machinery anywhere in sight, no workers, and no detour, no work happening, just closed. We turned around and headed for the town.
It was starting to rain again and we drove around and around town looking for something that was open since it was around 2 PM and during the siesta time. No luck. Found a museum, closed. Found some signs for restaurants, closed. No one on the street. Could have been a movie set. Empty. There was something that looked like a bar (coffee place) but no cars around or lights on, but we did see a young boy in the doorway, probably home from school. Eventually, we decided that it was our only hope, and with all the sausage, cheese, wine and bread in Italy, we had somehow forgotten to pack a lunch. We were hungry. Popped open our crappy umbrella and dashed for the door. Open! Only the proprietor was there, the young boy must have walked to the back of the bar and back into his mother’s kitchen. We ordered some espresso and two round, flat, discs of something. Turned out to be some sauce between two discs of pastry dough – cold, soggy, boring, but food. As we checked out the interior we noticed all manner of US signage. Odd. Eventually, someone came in the bar and got a coffee, we asked him about the closed road and said we were going to Barumini. Oh yes, of course, you have to go around, the road is closed. Around what? Around on a dirt road, you know. Hmm, we didn’t really but he was up for showing us the way. OK, we’d follow him. Then, I’m not sure how exactly but in the next few sentences while I was wondering how we would find our way BACK from Barumini via dirt road, after he left, he somehow told us he was a farmer and was showing us pictures of tiny crocus in a grey- clay dirt field on his iphone. He was a saffron farmer. Really? We were amazed. He was very proud. It was saffron season, he was harvesting this very day. Seriously?! Did we want to see? Yes! OK, he would be back at 2:30, wait right here.
After he was out the door Rene wondered out loud if it was a really good idea to follow this guy, but he seemed very genuine, enthusiastic and friendly, I was up for it. Besides, can you imagine the opportunity ti see saffron being harvested – what were the chances? We moved outside to wait under the overhang, I forgot why, and then watched over the next 10 minutes as truck after tiny truck pulled into the little square and parked. Out of those trucks came a variety of farmers and workers in muddy boots or work clothes and they all headed right for the bar- it was coffee time.
2:30 came and went but a few minutes later our saffron guy pulled up and signaled us to follow him, which we did. Rene was evaluating internally exactly what she would and would not do, “OK, I’ll follow him, but if he goes to his house, I am not going in.” He went to his house, he signaled for us to come, we went in. Inside this tiny little room, about the size of an atrium in a SkyRanch home was a sofa facing away from us, backed up to the wall and doorway of another room, to the left was the open kitchen with a small table wedged between the cooking/ dishwashing wall and a fireplace. Not a big kitchen fireplace with place for cooking, a raised hearth and moveable cooking tools – no this was more of a heap of a fireplace that sort of slumped into the kitchen from a corner looking like it was sort of added later and just a pile of rocks barely hanging together with a campfire in the middle of it. Two women were seated at the table. They wore blue gloves, and in front of them was a huge pile of purple crocus and a small flat cardboard tray with a collection of red stamens. In front of the fireplace was a tray of soggy crocus drying a bit before they were up next for processing.
The processing was uncomplicated, one women took a flower cut the bottom off about 1/4″ and tossed it on the table. The other women, picked up the flower and unraveled it to find the three pronged stamen and then discard the female parts and the petals. Saffron guy was talking a mile a minute, no one looked particularly surprises to see us and we were invited to sit down. He showed us yesterday’s harvest, 8″ x 11″ a few layers deep – maybe 1- 2 oz. This was WORK! Before we knew it we were handed a small glass of Mirto – a local liquour made from a small blue berry. Very good, yes, good, you like, yes. Good, good. You want to see the next room. He squeezed past one of the women, opened the door to what looked like a bedroom, no bigger than the kitchen, and spread on the mattressless bedframe was a load of purple crocus drying in the breeze of a fan. This is a typical house, he said.
Next thing we were trying our hand at stamen picking, we were evaluated, corrected and reminded one stamen was 1 Euro. Not really, but we had to be careful. Along came another lady to help,she spoke English, well 5 or 6 words anyway. Then the moka pot went on, did we want coffee, no we just had some, thanks. A few minutes later a young man joined us and we crammed all 6 of us around this table, Rene sitting on a child’s chair about a foot from the ground and we were all working away. The experts checked our work and we checked our work. Always two sets of eyes on every batch.
They wanted to know if we went to the museum, no, it was closed. It’s not closed, my sister works there. She was just at lunch. You should go there. Saffron season is 15 days long. The sagra ( festival) was last weekend. There are only a few growers of which HE is one. He pulls out large color photos, laminated, of crocus, harvesters, (all women) and fields. I comment he is the capasquadra (head of the squad) he breaks out into English “I BOSS” I mention that he is the boss but all the workers are women, the ladies like this and he digs around until he finds a picture of another dude. Then reminds us with a big smile, he is the boss.
After an hour we say our goodbyes, cannot believe our incredible good fortune to have stumbled on to this opportunity and decide Barumini will have to wait, we are going to the museum.