The street outside Casa Lussu in the small, stony town of Armungia is rough and patchy. In a photo from 30 years ago, Emilio Lussu, then owner of the house, watches bemusedly as a small river forms in this same street. He is leaning easily against the door frame of the entryway - a huge, double wooden door - as the water gushes through, lapping up to the stone and mortar walls of his house. But now the road is paved with a patchwork of cement and the water runs smoothly down the slope.
From the street, then, there is not much to see. The double wooden doors are still there, still a vibrant red, with a stout, growling lion's head for a door knocker. But - and this is the trick of the casa campidanese - the house is built in upon itself so that what happens inside is invisible to the outside. A thick wall surrounds the property like the protective wings of a stony mother hen. For this reason, the towns inland of Cagliari can seem almost glum upon the first wander. Villages seem to be made almost entirely of tall stone & cement walls, with only the occasional closed door that stares at you indifferently. And then the lucky glance into a courtyard belies the truth - each house is its own charming fortress, with each room opening up onto the central garden as if onto a domestic stage.
And so beyond the bright red door of Casa Lussu is a lively scene. The garden is lush and accommodating and before you are all the realities of a typical, well-to-do Sardinian farming family. There is the kitchen in front of you, open to all, which stretches the length of the house. To the left are two nicely appointed guest rooms and a small sitting room, which border the old stables and the hidden veggie garden. To the right are Emilio and his wife, Joyce’s, old rooms. Most rooms have direct entrance from the gardens, and the staircases and storerooms give the house a sense of being a sort of residential maze.
Atypically for a Sardinian farming family, though, Emilio became a revolutionary, a writer and a politician (his wife was a poet and translator). Emilio and Joyce’s life stories include the dramatic intertwining of world politics and personal choice that was possible only during the turmoil of their times. It includes prison escape and exile, far-flung travel and the union of an aristocrat with a farmer. They were free and deep thinkers, and it seems only inevitable that the house would become a place of intellectual intersection, dedicated to creation. In fact, today Casa Lussu is a place of learning, a place of historical importance, a love story, a place of sharing, and a social equalizer. On any given day, visitors should be aware that they may meet university professors, designers, film crews, local shepherds or artisans, perhaps all at once, and all at the same table.
Some years ago, Tommaso Lussu, one of Emilio's grandsons, moved back to Sardinia from Rome for a job. (Tommaso was raised in Rome so it's factually incorrect to say that he “moved back” to Sardinia. However even I, raised in California with Northern and Eastern European blood, often say and hear others say that I have “come back” to Sardinia. It's as if it were a place you only return to, so we will use the locally accepted phrase.) Tommaso, trained as an archaeologist, had planned on coming for the commission and returning to his city life. However, he easily got distracted - through chance and passion, he began to imagine a life at his family home.
He began to study traditional hand weaving under the guide of Tzia Giovanna, a distant relative of Emilio's. Her granddaughter Barbara, who had spent every summer playing with Tommaso as a child, came to visit often. And, slowly, Barbara became fascinated with their weaving and began to study together with Tommaso. Just as slowly, they say, their passion for weaving became something they could only imagine doing together, every day and always.
They concentrated first on how to weave textiles by hand, slowly but surely mastering the rickety wooden loom that had always been a part of the Lussu household. But through the laborious process of hand-weaving, and through their endless passion for research and knowledge, they were eventually awakened to other missing links in the chain of production. Theirs is a conceptual quandary, a constant intellectual conquest, rather than a practical response to today’s daily needs. Something made by hand - whether it be a textile, a piece of yarn, a cake - has its own soul, they argue. Its intrinsic value is beyond any economic consideration. They couldn’t weave, they say, without knowing first how to shear a sheep, how to wash and spin wool, how to dye it with plants from the surrounding countryside. And so on with each and every step in the process of creating a fabric.
Today, Casa Lussu is their union: it is their families’ past, of course, but also the embodiment of their future together. They hold workshops, host guests in their rustic B&B, work with established textile designers and producers, create and participate in artist residencies and generally entertain and inspire whoever enters into their charming domain. Stepping through the red doors feels like being welcomed into a private, eclectic family reunion. And once again, this place - a strange and fine magnet for the extraordinary - has been brought to life.
*The town of Armungia also houses a remarkable number of museums for a town of 500 inhabitants, as well as a small but worthwhile nuraghe. When visiting, please keep in mind that Barbara and Tommaso work tirelessly to create networks for various artists and artisans, keep up their historic home and pass on the important legacy of Sardinian textiles. If you are interested in contributing in some way, you can contact them or become a part of the Casa Lussu Cultural Association here.