Friday, 4 May 2012

Hopeland (Notes from Corsica) 24: A Cima

OK, this is the last post from the Corsican notes.
We're off back there in a couple of weeks but... things have changed. I won't elaborate here; more maybe later; suffice to say that our ten years in Montemaggiore have been the richest and sweetest of times. We grabbed it and made it ours; hardly surprising that others would want a piece of the paradise; sadly there's never quite enough to go around. 
Reading back I recognise the giddy joy in the unevenness of the writing; the ups and downs have been well chronicled here and in both 'Hopeland' and 'Keepers'. 
Those were done for me and Di. I think that we've both learnt a lot; enriched and open to adventure; yet gifted the perfect platform for recollection and self-regard; I think that we've both emerged... better.
Looking at photos from the past decade on the island I'm always fearful that we'll seem 'smug', but I only ever see 'happy'.
And yet, as Tom says, "the obsession's in the chasing and not the apprehending."

"There are in our existence spots of time,
Which with distinct pre-eminence retain
A renovating Virtue, whence,… our minds
Are nourished and invisibly repaired"

William Wordsworth
From The Prelude

I’ve lived the life, now I have the tools.
Where once I was misguided by wiseacre wisdom and boozy false dawns, I now understand that, in darker times, I had needed to see a light, even if it was a shadowy bliss.
I’m told that there is a point at which the pursuit of a dream can turn on itself and hope takes flight, when the youthful adventurer becomes the seasoned traveller and innocence is soured by bitter experience.
Wisdom warns of undercurrents, so we tread water.
All waters lead to the sea, but somehow this island has returned me to the waterfall and there I found the water fresh and sweet.
Refreshed, I began to write.
I wrote about my living day, the ‘dear ordinary’.
But, why the inherent need to write?
I write to join the dots and make sense of the past.
I write to protect myself from emotional inertia, to help myself ‘move on’.
I write to connect with myself.
But ultimately I write to remember and to be remembered.
From heart to head, from head to hand, I write to make marks on a page, to give myself shape and form, that form declaring ‘I am here’, and, like any cave painter, my hand is poised to leave a mark that declares: ‘I was here’.

And here, as I scribble in my small yellow note pad, I recognise safe harbour and liberty. I am ‘of the moment’ and at this moment there’s no place on earth I’d rather be. I’m learning to inhabit my world without resenting the past or fearing the future. Refreshed and heavy with hope I work hard at being remembered. Perhaps being childless is what continued to lead me so vividly back to my own childhood, a past that’s been altered and now fits me well. Whether half remembered or best forgotten, memories are filtered, the haze of a childhood that can never be reclaimed is where we all start and end. William Wordsworth wrote about ‘spots of time’, vivid memories that can be recalled at will and help trace a life’s journey, moments that resonate long after they came to be, giving clarity and new meaning to present circumstances. Visions that taste and smell of one's very fabric.

Early this spring morning we walked out of Montemaggiore towards the village cemetery; the Romanesque church of San Rinieru, and then up through a field of grazing cows under the protective gaze of a lacklustre bull, up as far as an ancient walled path lined with lavender, still used by shepherds to channel their flocks back down the valley. Following this route we traced the villages of the commune of Monte Grosso from above: Lunghignano, Cassano and eventually Zilia. In Zilia we refilled our plastic bottles with icy water at the roadside fountain and bought apricots at L’Epicerie from the toothless lady who always rants at us in Corsican, cackling hysterically at the end of each impenetrable yarn, her tired lips glad at the relief of not having to keep those ill fitting dentures in place. Understanding little, we couldn’t help but join in her laughter. As usual, the only part of this oft-repeated monologue that we comprehend is her age (now eighty two, she’s getting younger) and how much she loves the Irish. On our return we descended into Cassano as the heavens opened, taking relief in the tiny bar just off the star shaped village square, dunking small almond biscuits into our milky coffee until the storm passed. After the rain we retraced our steps back up the hill, homeward. Now, as we approach the cemetery we pause for rest, sitting on the grass roof of a shepherd’s hut, looking down at our village. In the heady midday heat, memories come fast to me, as if all previous experience is being funnelled from the eye of that stormy past, down into this vivid singular moment. Like the proverbial drowning man, images flicker and flash before me; here in the beating sun my heart races at the recognition:

I’m sitting on a swing. Over my sandaled feet I see Gareth, entranced by a pet chameleon, “his name is Peter” he lisps. Kate squints up at me from the dust, toothless and happy, while Mum twirls in a turquoise ball gown that seems made of paper.
How do I look? Will I be the prettiest there?” she asks. On her wrist is the gaudy bangle I brought with Dad’s dollar from Changi market, her birthday present. My father stops singing and smiles down at me, his front teeth intact. Kerry shouts at me to be bolder so I stand tall on the swing “bend your knees, it’s easy”, she whispers, from behind me now. Soon I’m swinging my red knees high, well past the horizon, giddy with excitement.
The rusty squeal of that bright arc.
Two shadows that linger and then depart.
Blue sea, white dog, a red sand filled bucket, the tang of metal in my mouth, finally the vague but definite outline of a blue tractor, before the visions blend and blur and I blink to stop the dizziness.
When I open my eyes I’m back on the lustrous roof of this bergerie, clutching my yellow notepad.
I lean into the gentle breeze and open my mouth.
I can taste the sea.


  1. Love your analysis of why you write, Trevor. An ancient impulse. Funnily I've often felt that it's having children that brings pieces of my own childhood back. Maybe it just comes back at some time anyway.
    Perhaps the impetus that launches us into the world starts to grow weaker and we are sucked back into the gravity of our own lives and what they 'mean'. If we are lucky I guess we find more energy there and a narrative to make sense of our lives and also to follow into the future.
    An injection of Corsica sounds like it helps this!

    1. The idea of life as a cyclical journey is a comfort and gives... value.
      Reminds me of the TS Elliot quote:
      "We shall not cease from exploration
      And the end of all our exploring
      Will be to arrive where we started
      And know the place for the first time."
      That 'ancient impulse' to reconnect with our own past is fascinating; in league with that other inclination; the need to tell stories; either to preserve truths or reshape them.
      Thanks for reading Seamus.
      Did you get the CDs?

  2. Sad to see the series end here... I've reread the original notes that I printed off awhile ago... I really wish they could have been published somehow as there's some brilliant and thoughtful writing there. The potpourri nature of the composition (narrative, diary, meditation, poetry etc.) is a little uncoventional, but somehow adds to the charm of it all. I often wonder if you have a photographic memory for all the elaborate details of your subjects or if you have a videocam strapped to the side of your noggin...

    I guess my big peeve about E-mail, E-books, blogs, twitter etc. is the impermanance of it all, as well as the loss of continuity. It's difficult to properly appreciate something read in chunks. There's nothing like real "hard copy" is there? I'm tempted here to go into a rant about the impending demise of CD's, books, photographs...

    Enjoy your trip... Surely you'll have some new Corsican adventures. Perhaps stir up some anarchy in the village? Maybe a Corsica Notes - Part 2 ???

    1. No videocam strapped Tim.
      No photographic memory either; in fact my terrible recall is why I write; to help me make sense of that blurry past. It's also why those 'spots of time' are such a revelation when they show themselves...
      Create anarchy in the village? I'd end up planted in the maquis...