Sunday, 19 February 2012

Hopeland (Notes from Corsica) 14. In The Village

We waited for the villagers to reveal themselves and gradually they emerged. I would be lying if I waxed lyrical about open arms and embraces; there was a reticence that was initially unsettling, but we came to sense a proud and private nature, which made the eventual connections more profound. We mirrored their discretion, stepping lightly but hoping to be liked. Titin and Lucie, our elderly neighbours, were ever present and friendly, but their Corsican brogue and hearing difficulties made chitchat difficult, so we gestured and smiled. Robert and Marie-Lucie became our touchstones in the village, introducing us to the now familiar faces whenever our paths crossed. There were only two public places in the village, a mill where the locals brought their olives to be pressed and converted to oil, and a small bar. Francois owned the bar and we made it our habit to nip in for a drink with him whenever we returned from our daily trips. Each visit would inevitably produce a new introduction; this seemed an exclusively male environment; the women would poke their noses around Francois’ door but seldom enter. Di was always politely offered a chair in the corner but insisted on sitting at the bar. I think that they liked her for that. We met many of the villagers there, characters whose proud and private nature prevent me from detailing too much of that character. The first evening spent Chez Francios ended with a tasting session of the local eau de vie, firewater flavoured with local berries and herbs. We set Di’s camera on ‘auto’ and took a photo of us all with seaside smiles, leaning heavily on the bar like a bunch of old friends. We still have that picture stuck to our Corsican fridge. Also on that fridge is a picture of Victor Savelli who ran the village mill. We had met him by chance in his wife’s charcuterie shop in nearby Lumio. A local producer (two trees) had made an appointment for the next day and Victor invited us to witness the pressing process. There was nothing modern about the moulin; an ancient pile, its grand design was a combination of ingenuity and necessity blended with the benefits of the application of gravity and brute strength. Olives were placed between large granite presses that were threaded in turn on a thick metal corkscrew. A bewildering series of cogs, wheels and gears were ultimately connected to a donkey that, upon encouragement, plodded in circles, turning the screw until the presses had squeezed every drop from the fruit. The oil ran luxuriantly into a collecting stone basin, where it was filtered and decanted into emerald green bottles. Two small trees had produced a dozen liters of lemony liquid gold. The happy owner of the fresh oil proudly gifted us a tiny bottle ‘not for the pot’. It should be reserved, he said, exclusively for salads and cold preparations. The raw peppery flavour was an initial shock but we learned to love it. It works well with salads and pasta, but never fry an egg in it.

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