Corsica

July 6, 2017 at 4:18 pm (Uncategorized)

In Calvi, Corsica, I nearly got eaten alive. And I loved every second of it. I’ll explain.

Corsica is a French island in the Mediterranean but has a history of being claimed at various times in its very long history by different factions of Italians and French, as well as the Romans before that. It has its own language, Corsican. It’s a craggy, granite island closer to the shore of Italy than France and directly north of Sardinia. It takes one and a half hours by plane from Paris to reach the 3,350 sq. mile island, and it’s a four-hour ferry ride from its northern tip to Livorno, Italy.

The island of about 320,000 permanent residents is a place famous for many things both edible and historic. For example, it’s the birthplace of Christopher Columbus and has a fruit native only to it, the cedrat, a cross between a grapefruit and an orange or lemon.

When a beginning French student – 30-ish years ago – I learned the remote island also was Napoleon’s native land. Ever since then, I wanted to see the place at least partly responsible for the man who eventually declared himself emperor. I wasn’t sure I’d ever get to Corsica; it seemed out of reach and even too small on which to land a jet, let alone have an airport of its own.

In addition to Israel, our month-long trip always was going to include Italy, and we planned to travel to that part of the world with the Jones family. When piecing together our trip and poring over regional maps, I was reminded of Corsica’s proximity to Italy’s west coast. So I threw out a trial balloon that turned into the first part of our sojourn: Not one of us had been to Corsica before and everyone shared in my intrigue (well, a least in a little bit of it). So, we made it a destination.).

Dave secured a villa for the eight of us just outside the city center of Calvi, which is perhaps the second most populace city on the island of almost exclusively French-speaking people.

I was – how can I put this delicately – comme un cochon jouant dans la boue. (Read: Similar to “a pig in shit.”) I had to pinch myself each day of our eight-day stay: I once again was in France, practicing my French while lapping up the natives’, and I felt I got to touch history and a different slice of French culture.

What made it different? No offense mainland France, but on Corsica, the folks ARE NICE. And patient. And very helpful. We encountered exactly one rude Corsican, and it seemed her rancor wasn’t directed toward us but toward her job as a checker at the German grocery chain Spar. (Who wouldn’t detest that job?)

I was prepared at every turn to encounter folks unwilling to work through my accent until they could understand me. Rather, we interacted with people pleased to not have to attempt to struggle in English (nearly no one spoke English). They let us use the restrooms in their restaurants…even if we weren’t eating there but merely passing by with a full bladder. They let us enter their stores and touch their merchandise without the expectation we’d buy something.

We always got a cheerful, “Merci, bonne journee, au revoir!” whether we left a small store with its goods or empty handed. When passing people on narrow sidewalks, they’d make eye contact, smile, even say “bonjour”! This behavior caught me by surprise, again and again. In case I haven’t been clear enough, the French – in the majority of my experiences – behave the opposite of what we experienced in the parts of Corsica we got to visit. Was it the island mentality? Was it their tourism-charged industry that put them all in a hospitality-oriented frame of mind? Was it simply that Corsica is French but isn’t *really* France?

Like mainland France, the pastries are beautiful, scent entire streets from boulangeries’ open doors, and aren’t expensive. Also like mainland France, the people love their dogs; they go everywhere their humans do (the grocery store, cafes…), and said humans often ignore their precious dogs’ refuse. That irks me to no end. Especially in the heat wave that occurred during all but one of our days in Calvi. Ewwwww.

The other thing the unusual heat wrought was mosquitoes. At all times of day and night. I usually don’t get bitten by bugs; or, when I do, they’re benign and few and far between. But the Corsican mosquitoes were having none of that. Each morning I’d awake to new, red, itchy-as-hell welts and bites. Not one in our party was immune. Along with our pastries, we purchased bug spray and a lovely gel to apply after bites became angry. One morning, I emerged from bed to realize my exposed, bitten skin looked like the starry night sky. I got eaten alive. And I loved every second of it.

 

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