Monday, 10 June 2013

Corsica Bound: Diary of Departure: 1

Corsica bound. Our taxi drops us off at Stansted airport.
At check in we bump into fellow lovers of ‘La Corse’ Steve and Jane Barber. We met in the self same queue 8 years ago. Since then they’ve visited us in the house, rented ‘Chez Diane’ four times. They know Corsica like the back of our necks. Behind us in the queue, they sympathetically regard the back of head. My holiday haircut is not a success. I’ve been compared to ‘Beaker’ from the Muppets, the pin up psycho from ‘One Few Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, and that guy from ‘Oh Brother Where Art Thou?’ You know, not Clooney with his hair net, but the one with the overbite and a convict’s crop. That’s my look. I asked for ‘summer short, not like a teacher please’. I got ‘Total Twat’! It is irredeemable. A straw hat beckons.
Meanwhile, front seats on the plane. Legroom. Yay!
Empty for a reason; the roof above leaks like a septuagenarian’s gusset.…
Easy flight, arrive on time, step on to Corsican tarmac and that familiar smell of cat piss, the maquis. Beyond the runway our village of Montemaggiore hangs in the clouds; snowcapped mountains beyond.
We’re first at the Avis queue.
It’s all going too well.
We drive Steve and Jane to their hotel in Calvi then set off up the mountain and enter the village 15 minutes later. We haven’t been to Montemaggiore since September. In our absence we have had our roof replaced, effectively a retiling of the roof terrace. Twelve thousand Euros for an area half the size of a tennis court… We check it out. Looks solid, terra cotta’s nice but … 12 frickin’ K!!!
Back downstairs: no hot water!
I run unmanly for assistance. No one is in the village; not a soul, personne. Turns out that they are all over at the fete of St Restitude in Calezana.
We ring all of our local friends looking for a local handyman. “It’s Sunday, you’ve got no chance” is the consensus…
I try to solve the problem by kicking the water tank. Then I open a red valve that sprays water out all over my Timberlands… I touch the coil/thermostat at the base of the tank and get a little shock for my stupidity.
We mooch around for a couple of hours; have a ‘dry bath’, a Stoke speciality that involves a kettle, a sink, a hand towel, a loss of dignity and much spillage. We then look more closely at the water switch in the house, (in at the bottom? Out at the bottom?) and try the trusted  ‘turn it off and on again’ method. We do the same with a hot water tank switch in the cellar.
No success.
After much experimentation with switch variables we have hot water.
Seems that we’d been using the infamous ‘turn it on and then turn it off again’ method. Doh!!
Refreshed and shiny we gad out back down the mountain for a seaside supper to Le Chariot in Algajola; one of our favourites. Not exactly ‘haute cuisine’ but just perfect for first night comfort food. The patron Patrick initially receives us with indifference and then immediately warms when he recognizes our uniquely pitiful patois. “Aaah, c’est vous! Les Anglais” he shrugs with a mixture of mirth and pity. And we thought that we were as good as native… Our waiter is a familiar too; Jean Marc has worked up and down the coast between Calvi and Isle Rousse. He moans about the weather like a Brit. The Balagne, our area in the north west of the island, is famously tempestuous; one minute stormy, the next idyllic sunshine.  Corsicans’ take any opportunity to put their anoraks on. I say “whatever the weather there is always a gifted moment of sunlight”. Jean Marc reluctantly agrees, pragmatic and poetic;  “Oui, there is always the sacred promise of an 'Hublot' (a port hole) in the clouds.” I try to explain the phrase ‘window of opportunity” to him and we wonder if it means the same thing… Di’s talked out so tucks into a carafe of rose whilst I order a bottle of Pietra, the potent local beer made from chestnuts. Everything is made from chestnuts here. Even the polenta and bread… Di has the speciality, Ragu de Veau, a veal casserole made with wine and olives. I go for the Roti de Cabri au Feu de Bois; baby goat bathed in local olive oil and roasted over a wood fire with peppers, potatoes, loads of garlic, served up on a sizzling platter. It tastes even better than it sounds. We finish with local Fromage de Brebis served up with a dollop of fig jam. Figs are everywhere on the island.
Home to the ipod, brandy, bed and book. I love reading here without the usual distractions and I’m starting the holiday with James Lee Burke’s ‘Feast Day of Fools’. Great stuff. Burke sticks to a well trusted formula but writes beautifully, funny too:
“Musicians make poor criminals. Outside of wrecking hotel rooms, they’re amateurs when it comes to serious criminality.”
“Tell me why…?”
“They believe they have a gift, so they feel less inclined to steal. They also think they’re special and they don’t have to prove anything… My first husband was hung like a hamster. But after he recorded once with Stevie Ray Vaughn, you’d think he was driving a fire truck up my leg…”
Black hats cross white hats. The writer expertly dissects their motivations, revealing and reveling in their demons and… the nature of things (particularly nature). I suspect that the white hats will eventually win the day (although they don’t always with Burke).
Ipod: I drift off to the strains of Amos Lee's soulful crooning. I love 'The Mission Bell' his most recent album, produced and played on by Calexico, but tonight we rediscover his self titled debut.
Song of the day: 'Keep it Loose, Keep to Tight'

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