Monday, 12 December 2011

Hopeland (Notes from Corsica) 4. Max

I'm not encouraging irresponsible drinking but you might want
to keep an eye on the guy featured in these posts from Corsica.
It was a pretty boozy night as you'll eventually see from the
gradual decline in the quality of my posing and Di's photography.
It didn't end well...


Looking at Max’s puckered eyebrow I was reminded of Hemingway’s hunter, who chased 
endangered species and exotic beasts only to blast them into oblivion. Hunters’ always pray on 
the biggest and boldest, assuming that the one with the most scars must be ‘of substance’. 
Kill the beast and inherit its potent integrity. Not that I saw our new friend as hunter; 
his were the eyes of the hunted. Max was a coiled spring, fiercely chauvinistic, proud of 
his Corsican roots, desperate to retain independence from the interfering mainland and keen 
to propagate his intolerance:
“It is not ‘maquis’ it’s macchia.” he spat again. “ The name comes from the mucchiu
wild rockroses that grow here in abundance. The French bastards took our word to give 
credibility to their fighters shivering and quivering in the bush. Maquisards? Pah!”
Max was easy company until Paris was mentioned, the tricolour a red rag to his bullish beliefs. 
It was our second evening in Corsica and we sat, as his guests, in ‘L’Arbre Cotier’ overlooking 
the glorious scope of Calvi Bay, the slopes beyond awash with the colours of spring.
Pac. Easter is a fine time to walk the macchia; the winter rains are still feeding the hillsides 
making the valleys like a beautiful yellow blanket. You can smell the honey and myrtle. 
Tonight you will eat young lamb, agneu de lait, which feeds only on the macchia and is fire 
roasted with the branches of that myrtle. And later I will introduce you to myrte our 
famous liqueur. It removes all conscience, and” he added with a chuckle, “the grass stains 
that follow.” Our waiter approached us with a sanguine nod before placing a large platter 
of chacuterie on the table. Here were Prizuttu, Coppa and the lean Lonzu with that never to 
be forgotten smoky buttery flavour.
“Again, the benefit of free grazing.” Max spluttered through a mouthful of cold cuts.  
“Our pigs run wild in the forests and feast on acorns and chataigne. We call the chestnut trees 
u arburu a pane’, bread trees, as they are so basic to our diet. The story goes that in the 
sixteenth century the ruling Genoese were unable to cultivate our mountains so 
they decreed that all landowners plant four trees a year; a mulberry, a cherry, an olive and a 
chestnut. Soon la chataigne reigned supreme et voila, we were self-sufficient. The Father of 
our nation, Pasco Paoli said, “As long as we have chestnuts, we shall have bread.” 
Of course the French despised us for this ‘food of laziness’, they saw our easy income 
as immoral and forbade us to plant new trees. We ourselves started to ignore this bullion and yet 
it endures.” With that he put his hand to his ear and produced an unearthly warble. The room 
fell silent and all eyes turned to our table, a few older heads nodding in solemn deference. 
Max finished his song with an uninhibited, tremulous crescendo. No applause, just a reverent silence.
“That was ‘The Chestnut's Lament’. Max blinked away the mist. " I will translate:
“For generations I have fed you, given fodder for pigs, wood for furniture and fuel, but now 
you forget me, let the maquis strangle me.”  
On your wedding day you would be presented with a feast of twenty-two dishes, all made 
from the chestnut and its flour. Even Pietra, this beer we drink, is chestnut flavoured. 
It’s good, eh?” Max was now ahead of us and tucked into his main course, a ragu of wild boar, 
with almost indecent haste.
“I am late for a very important rendezvous. I wish that I could be more respectful to you and to 
this sanglier” he dipped his bread, “I will definitely need his strength, for tonight I shall be 
leading the Good Friday procession, a re-enactment of The Passion of Christ. I will be 
the penitent. I have sins to atone for”, he added darkly. “Tell no one as only the priest is 
meant to know my identity. It is a great honour and I have a great cross to bear.” 
He did indeed. The next time we saw him he was barefoot and hooded, dressed in red robes 
with that great cross on his broad shoulder, followed by others, the confrere, in white robes 
and hoods. As Max approached our station he relieved the sinister tension by releasing 
an almighty belch. “Pietra” he muttered as he passed.  There then followed a snail-like coiling 
and uncoiling of the file of brothers. Now the mood was lightened by a stray dog that 
comically padded in and out of the brothers’ legs against the tide, a Gay Gordon to their 
cheerless conga.
“That is the Granitula, an ideological reference to death and rebirth.” Max explained later. 
We had reconvened to Bar de Golf for a nightcap. A burly barman with dancing eyebrows 
and a luminous shirt served us tiny glasses of myrte.
“Speaking of rebirth, this is eau de vie, our water of life and this,” said Max with a flourish 
“this is Maurice, one of my oldest friends. He can swim under water for a quarter of a mile 
and eat a whole suckling pig in one sitting. He also has the finest collection of 
Hawaiian shirts on the island.”
“Do you like Disco?” asked Maurice.


  1. More, more!!!

  2. Coming soon; glad that you are enjoying it...