No peace until the stars end

One starry ferragosto night I stayed to sleep aboard my yacht. The boat was moored in the marina right in the heart of the little harbor town of Sant’Antioco that in August bursts with life once the sun sets and the evening breeze cools the hot streets. The piazza of the marina often hosts concerts and guest performers — some are awesome, some others… well, also full of awe. I was in an all-male company: my five-year-old son, alias Captain Daniel Bronstein Pitzanti, immediately took possession of the commander’s cabin determined to put to use all the seaworthy objects he could sight — from fire extinguishers to binoculars, but the incessant gentle rolling and rocking, and the sound of the waves tapping on the hull instantly cradled him to sleep. Whoever tried to nap on a boat knows well the potent somniferous effect of the sea. I stayed a little bit more outside on the deck to watch the show (without buying a ticket, I had a better view than in the front row), but I also succumbed to Morpheus without listening through the end.

That night on the stage was the Tazenda band, whose repertoire is a fusion of folk Sardinian music with contemporary rock and Italian pop. The name should ring the bell to Isaac Asimov’s aficionados — Tazenda, the world where the stars end, a planet in the Foundation series where Hardy Seldon’s arcane Second Foundation was supposed to be (wrong guess! in reality, it resided on Trantor, just under the nose of the prepotent First Foundation.) I’m not an expert in Tazenda’s music and not a big fan of theirs either, with the exception of one song that, undoubtedly, made them famous and is, until now, one of their signature pieces. This song is Non potho reposare.

In 1915, amid “our European conflict” (who could possibly imagine then that another, deadlier, “conflict” would follow shortly after?), Salvatore Sini, a lawyer from Sarule, province of Nuoro, writes a poem in sardu logudoresu titled A Diosa (this fact alone restores my faith in the human race.) I don’t think the word “diosa” exists in sardo, but it definitely does in Spanish, where it means “goddess” (more on the Spanish connection in the sequel.) The poem is a part of a cycle of two poems, the other one named A Diosu, both have the same meter and structure (nine hendecasyllabic sestinas following the ABABCC scheme) and represent the affectionate correspondence between two lovers forced to live far away from each other. Since sardo is mainly a spoken language (don’t ever dare call it a dialect under penalty of being roasted in place of a porceddu — it is actually a full-featured language in its own right, with a proper vocabulary, grammar, and syntax that are probably closer to vulgar Latin than to Italian), several alternative spellings exist. I tried to reproduce the one coming from the most authoritative sources with my own English translation, but since I don’t speak the language, I cannot guarantee the correctness of the original or the nuances of the translation (where I did allow myself some poetic license to make it sound better in English).

Non potho reposare amore e coro
pensende a tie so’ donzi momentu.
No istes in tristura, prenda e oro
né in dispiaghere o pensamentu.
T’assiguro chi a tie solu bramo,
ca t’amo forte t’amo, t’amo, t’amo.
I cannot have rest, love of my heart,
Thinking of you alone every moment.
Don’t be sad, my precious jewel,
Give in to no sorrow in your thoughts.
I swear, it’s only you that I desire
I love you, love you, love you wholeheartedly.
Amore meu prenda de istimare
s’affettu meu a tie solu est dadu;
s’aio gittu sas alas a bolare,
milli bortas a s’ora fio boladu;
pro benner nessi pro ti saludare,
s’attera cosa non a t’abbissare.
My love, my precious jewel so esteemed,
My fondness is for you alone, unshared;
If only I had a pair of wings to fly,
A thousand times would I take flight
And come to greet you
Or, at least, to see you.
Si m’esseret possibile d’anghelu
d’ispiritu invisibile piccabo
sas formas; che furabo dae chelu
su sole e sos isteddos e formabo
unu mundu bellissimu pro tene,
pro poder dispensare cada bene.
If only it were possible, of an angel,
Of an invisible spirit I would take the form.
I would steal the sun and the stars
From heaven, and create
A beautiful world to stay with you,
Forgoing all my earthly possessions.
Amore meu, rosa profumada,
amore meu, gravellu oletzante,
amore, coro, immagine adorada,
amore coro, so ispasimante,
amore, ses su sole relughente,
ch’ispuntat su manzanu in oriente.
My love, my sweet redolent rose,
My love, my fragrance of carnation flower,
Love of my heart, my venerated image,
Love of my agonizing heart.
My love, you are the sunshine
That rises every morrow in the East.
Ses su sole ch’illuminat a mie,
chi m’esaltat su coro e sa mente;
lizu fioridu, candidu che nie,
semper in coro meu ses presente.
Amore meu, amore meu, amore,
vive senz’amargura nen dolore.
You are the sun that with its rays,
Brightens my heart and shines upon my soul;
Sweet lilly flower, candid as the snow,
You are forever planted in my heart.
My love, my love, may your own life
Be lived without bitterness or sorrow.
Si sa lughe d’isteddos e de sole,
si su bene chi b’est in s’universu
haret podidu piccare in-d’una mole
commente palombaru mi fio immersu
in fundu de su mare e regalare
a tie vida, sole, terra e mare.
You are the starlight, the shining of the sun,
You are the good that exists in the universe.
I would jump off a rock, and like a diver
Dive into the deep waters
And give you as a gift
life, the sun, the earth, and the sea.
Unu ritrattu s’essere pintore
un’istatua ‘e marmu ti faghia
s’essere istadu eccellente iscultore
ma cun dolore naro “no nd’ischia”.
Ma non balet a nudda marmu e tela
in confrontu a s’amore, d’oro vela.
Had I been an artist, a portrait,
A marble statue would I sculpt
Had I been a fine sculptor.
With pain I say, I’m none of either.
But so little worth are stone and canvas
Compared to you, my love, my golden sail.
Ti cherio abbratzare ego et vasare
pro ti versare s’anima in su coro,
ma dae lontanu ti devvo adorare.
Pensende chi m’istimas, mi ristoro,
chi de sa vida nostra tela e tramas
han sa matessi sorte pruitte m’amas.
I yearn to hold you and to kiss you fondly,
And fill your heart with my soul entire.
Alas, it is from distance that I’m destined to adore you.
Thinking of your love fills me with courage;
The fabric of our lives is weaved
With your love to me.
Sa bellesa ‘e tramontos, de manzanu
s’alba, s’aurora, su sole lughente,
sos profumos, sos cantos de beranu
sos zefiros, sa bretza relughente
de su mare, s’azurru de su chelu,
sas menzus cosa do, a tie anzelu.
The beauty of the sunsets and the dawns,
The shining sun, the tender scents,
The sounds of the spring,
The winds, the waves, the sparkling breeze,
The heavenly blue, the best of every thing
I give to you, my love, my angel.

The poem was published in 1915; five years later, the Sardinian musician and composer Giuseppe Rachel set it to music. A Diosa quickly became popular in the entire island under the name Non potho reposare from the first line of the poem. Since the first 78 RPM recording in 1936, the song has been performed by many choirs and soloist singers including Achinoam Nini (a.k.a. Noa) and even the legendary tenor Plácido Domingo. However, Non potho reposare owes its international acclaim (and the attention of these illustrious singers) to Tazenda and the band’s lead vocalist Andrea Parodi.

Parodi is an interesting phenomenon in the Sardinian (and Italian) artistic landscape. Born to a Ligurian father and a Sardinian mother he spent his childhood in Savona (though he would come to Sardinia to visit his grandparents in the summers). Like his father, he is a seaman by profession, with no musical education whatsoever. But, he is a natural singer with a prodigious tenor that he would transform into a profession only early in his twenties. A very fortunate choice indeed — he would become an iconic voice of Sardinia. Parodi’s personal life wouldn’t shame a fairy tale. His (second) wife Valentina was one of his fans. He — already hyper-successful, she — a penniless sixteen-year-old high school student. She met him once at a concert, asked for an autograph and gave him a scarlet rose. And, yes, their eyes crossed. Since then, their story was like a long crescendo. There must be something in the island’s air that makes people fall in love from the first sight. I am telling this with authority and from experience, as it has happened to me as well. I also have my Sardinian Diosa to whom I would write love letters — for several years before we could finally live together.

I saw many times Non potho reposare branded as “canto d’autore di ispirazione folklorica” and “a part of the culture and the Sardinian folk tradition”. I tried, in vain, to listen to every note of Parodi’s singing to detect even the slightest resemblance to the traditional music of Sardinia, but I rest my case and admit my ignorance. The song is written in 3/4, a waltz tempo, which is definitely not a very common type of music for launeddas. Apart from the tune, the very meter, intonation, and the prosody of the words remind more of Sanremo than of a rural sagra. Parodi himself was born in Porto Torres in the province of Sassari, and his dialect (pardon, language) technically belongs to a different linguistic subgroup (closer to the corso of Corsica rather than to the logudorese of Nuoro). Don’t believe me? Try listening to Dimonios, the march of the “tattarini” from the famed Brigata Sassari (the mechanized infantry brigade that since its creation in 1915 remains all-Sardinian). And turritano of Porto Torres is even farther from logudorese than sassarese.

What is, then, the connection between an Italian pop song (nothing derogatory intended) to the Sardinian tradition? I did some research and came across a certain Antonio Lo Frasso, a military and a letterato (a rare combination, I admit, especially nowadays, but if a lawyer can write verses, so can a soldier). Lo Frasso was native of Alghero (a Catalan enclave on the Sardinian west coast) but spent most of his life in Barcelona, where he wrote his most known opus, Los diez libros de Fortuna de Amor. The ten books narrate, in prose and rhyme, the tormented love story of two Sardinian shepherds, Frexano and Fortuna. Belonging to two opposing factions, the ovejeros (the good guys) and the porqueros (you nailed it — nothing good can have such a nickname), the bucolic Romeo and Juliet fall victim to the bitter rivalry and fight for power. Frexano is a big fan of pecorino sardo and less so of porceddu, so he sides the ovejeros. For that choice, he is unjustly framed, accused of murder, incarcerated, and subsequently exiled from the island. The shepherd finally finds refuge in Barcelona, while his unfortunate Fortuna is forced to marry another shepherd. Never was a story of more woe… but at least the lovers stay alive and exercise in the epistolary genre. Incredibly, this adventure is most likely autobiographic, though very little is known with certainty about Lo Frasso’s life.

In the sixth book, the names of two other shepherd lovers pop up — Dulcineo and Dulcina. This makes me wonder: wasn’t the latter a source of inspiration for Cervantes? It is not totally implausible, as Lo Frasso lived before the ingenious hidalgo fought the windmills on his noble steed. Anyway, in the preface the author feels compelled to explain to the reader why, despite his being a sardo D.O.C., he chose Castilian as the book’s language:

Aunque no ha sido poco mi atrevimiento escrevir en la presente lengua y dexar mi natural sarda – no por falta que no sea muy buena y muy cumplida de vocablos, tanto como alguna otra, excepto que fuera de mi patria, por ser tan estraña, no se dexa entender tan comúnmente como las otras.

Even in 1573 reaching a wider audience was already an important consideration. The Sardo-Catalan soldier describes (an absurd) scene at the court of an important señora who hosts Frexano, in which the guests request that the shepherd sing some rhymes “en lengua montañesa sardesca” to hear the difference between Castillian and Sardinian songs. The shepherd complies, and these are some of the verses that Lo Frasso puts into his mouth:

Non podende sufrire su tormentu
de su fogu ardente innamorosu,
videndemi foras de sentimentu
et sensa una hora de riposu.
Pensende istare liberu et contentu,
m’agato pius aflitu et congoixosu
in essermi de te señora apartadu
mudende ateru quelu, ateru istadu.

Non poto dia et note reposare,
qui ya m’agato mortu d’ogna hora,
et torrende in me vengio a pensare
qui tota sa culpa tenes, señora.
Podendemi su male remediare
crudelissima ti vido anchora,
ti la feit pro ystare discansadu
et da su fogu me d’a separadu.

The poet couldn’t completely forsake his origins and wrote these verses in sardo; by doing so, he anticipated other Sardinian authors, being probably the first ever to publish lyric poetry in his native tongue. It’s unnecessary to understand either Spanish or sardo to notice the remarkable resemblance of this sixteen century’s glosa to our A Diosa. The Sarulese lawyer certainly plagia… I mean, was inspired by this story and its rendition in rhyme; of course, he replaced the nowadays archaic ottava rima (like in Orlando innamorato) with the more palatable sestina structure. Even the invocations of Diosa and Diosu suspiciously resemble the names of Lo Frasso’s Dulcineo and Dulcina. In my view, it is this act of attribution of the first love poem in sardo and not the music that makes Non potho reposare a quintessential Sardinian song. Even the pickiest purist would be satisfied with this connection to the land of the nuraghi.

How does the story end? Andrea Parodi succumbed to cancer in 2006. His last public appearance was in September in Cagliari — the terminal illness made him look morbidly thin and pale, his long hair gone without a trace, but his sonorous voice resounded, beautiful and rich, as in the better times. He finished his concert with Non potho reposare, inviting his young wife on the stage and singing tenderly non potho reposare, amore e coro, looking right into her eyes. She couldn’t refrain from tears, and, I bet, many in the audience had shining eyes on that summer evening — not from the wind. Parodi died less than a month after, aged 51, leaving the love song to his Goddes forever linked to his name. Diosu has finally found his peace.

I would like to finish with another Non potho reposare. Around 2011 (or, maybe, 2012), I listened to Noa in Cagliari, in the Roman amphitheater, again under the stars. As a homage to Andrea, who was her collaborator and friend, she, of course, sang him his love song.

One reply to “No peace until the stars end”:

  1. Yulia says:

    Amazing!!! Thank you Alex for a little excursion and deep feelings-emotions

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