Wednesday, 7 December 2011
Hopeland (Notes from Corsica) 3. Not France Then?
It all started with an argument.
I’d insisted that the quickest route from Whitby to London was via Norfolk. That way I could meet Reddyhoff to endorse his cover design for my new album ‘Alaska’. The sub title for this latest folly would be ‘Anywhere But Here’. The dye was cast. Di wasn’t happy to be cast as chauffeur. We never argue. We argued. During that journey off the beaten track, her sister, Hilary, replaced me in Di’s holiday plans, and if she was going to run for the hills Di would choose the most beautiful that the brochures had to offer. Her finger came to rest on Corsica.
“Trev, they’re the most beautiful hills you’ve never seen. You’re going to love it”.
The phone crackled; she sounded like she was shouting at me from 1933.
Hilary was equally enthusiastic: “The hotel used to be the home of the Michelin family.
Funny, as the fabulous food has got us working on our spare tyres!”
On her return Di remained keen: “You’ve got to come and see. It’s a dreamland; like something
out of a perfect past”.
We’d been together for many years and this was a first; we’d never returned to a holiday destination,
however much we loved it. The rule was always to keep moving, keep looking for something new.
“I feel like my heart has found a home.”
What was it about Corsica that had Di ranting like a Mills and Boon heroine? She was smitten.
I was intrigued and a little jealous.
As sea became land I peered out of the window for my first glimpse of the island. Mountains threw
themselves into the sea with dramatic certainty. Between the granite peaks, green valleys
arose elegantly and unchallenged but for the occasional shimmering of pink and white villages.
To my right I could see the tiny port of Calvi, fronted by its proud citadel. This ancient stronghold
had been the focus of many an envious eye; indeed Nelson had lost one orb here during
his unsuccessful bombardment of the fort from the hills above. There was a permanence that
permeated the vista; this place wouldn’t suffer fools and wasn’t for the changing.
As we stepped off the plane the warm air offered a pungent peppery aroma akin to rosemary and cat pee.
“That’s the ‘Maquis’. It’s a brush like heather and is the main vegetation of the Balagne.
The Balagne is the name given to this northwest region of Corsica. The people of the Balange are
fiercely protective of their land and its traditions and are regarded by many to represent the true nature
of Corsicans; proud, belligerent and chauvinistic.”
Di had swallowed a guide book whole and couldn’t help but regurgitate. We dragged our luggage
to the Avis Car Hire desk. This would give me a chance to practice my rusty French:
“Bonjour monsieur. Nous voudrons louer un voiture pour…”
“Ay up mate” interrupted Avis Man “You’re from Yorkshire, non?”
How had my northern roots been identified from my fumbling French? Avis Man introduced himself
as “Tony from Sheffield, non”. He had joined the Foreign Legion here fifteen years previously
“escaping a dodgy past, non”. The Legion’s legendary 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment was based
just outside of Calvi. He’d survived the whole experience intact. The only apparent damage was
his insistence on putting a ‘non’ at the end of every English sentence. Was this negative twitch
a result of sharing shower and shelter for a decade with a band of burly brothers deprived of
female company? I kept that thought to myself. With his time served and his past forgotten
Tony had fallen for a local girl and stayed on. Although we only ever saw him from the waist up,
he became a firm friend and the first face we’d look for on future visits, always guaranteeing
air conditioning and an upgrade.
Our second encounter was another face that would become familiar to us.
“You are for ‘La Signoria?” A heavy hand was on my shoulder. A mess of black buccaneer
hair fringed a thick mono brow that strained to support the weight of the magnificently
meandering nose beneath. An unkempt beard split into a kindly smile. A Moor’s head tattoo
on his forearm revealed the man to be Corsican, a ‘Corsican Places’ badge revealed him to be Max,
the local travel rep.
“Welcome to La Corse, my island. An island oui and remember, not France.” Did he really spit?
“I will take you to your hotel. I think you must be ready for a little luxury, non?”