Sunday, 20 October 2013

Hopeland (Notes From Corsica): 8: Smelly Man

8: Smelly Man

So, we had decided to buy a place in Corsica.
That’s the royal ‘we’ of course. All of my spare cash had disappeared into the bottomless pit formally known as ‘my musical career’. Di however had a tidy sum to invest. Not only had she been a canny saver and investor, she had also recently come into money. When we first met she was making a successful career as a professional dancer. Her main work came with ‘The Brian Rogers Dancers’ who breathed life into the death throws of variety television in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. If you happen to be watching an obscure satellite channel in the early hours and see an old edition of Ted Rogers’ ‘321’ our a Russ Abbot ‘Seaside Special’ that’ll be Di mincing away behind him, kicking her leg high, happy as the proverbial pig. She would have danced for nothing; it had been her passion since she was seven. She’d been rehearsing for ‘The Royal Variety Show’ and had been partnered with a fumbling student. I think he’d been more concerned with his mistakes than Di’s safety and she came down from a lift unsupported. Her cruciate ligament exploded. The knee was reconstructed by the same surgeon who had saved Paul Gascoigne’s career, and after thrice weekly rehab it was deemed to be ‘stronger than ever’. All would have been well if she’d been a central defender, unfortunately Di the dancer had
lost grace of movement and, crucially, confidence. Pirouettes became impossible; the joy was gone and Di the dancer was done. She was heartbroken and removed herself from that lifestyle and protected environment, a circle of friends that had been her family. I know that there are worse tragedies happening everywhere, everyday, but this was one of the saddest things I’ve ever been close to. Even now I sometimes I catch her unawares, dancing in the kitchen to the stereo, or some other music inside her head. At those moments, if I could love her more, I would.
Di did however receive substantial compensation for the accident, and determined to invest it wisely. She’d been searching for something to replace that lost passion and she had found ‘Isle de Beaute’.

Early the next year we took an Easter flight to Nice and caught a local connection to St Catherine’s airport, Calvi. Di was intoxicated with the bustle of the tiny port and that’s where we’d start looking at property. That Sunday morning we parked in the pine forest behind the long stretch of luxuriant sand that is Calvi bay, and with sandals in hand, walked the happy half-mile into town. There we pressed our noses up against the dusty windows of a few estate agencies. Not much was on offer, the odd villa beyond our budget and wildest dreams, an old mill that needed care and conversion, a pile of ancient bricks in one of the outlying villages, a picture perfect plan of a palmed development that Ken and Barbie might occupy in a year or two. On the back of my hand I scribbled the contact mobile number displayed in the window of what seemed the most substantial office, ‘Agence Souris’, also the only place that seemed to offer anything for under a million francs. Heavy hearted we tramped to a sea front bar on the port, ‘Cuccarella’ and ordered coffee. We were served by a sparrow like lady who relayed our order into the darkness of the bar in cockney Franglais. Using Di’s mobile phone I rang the number on my wrist.
“Oui?” a pause. I filled the silence with an ill prepared monologue about our wish “to see some properties, you do have properties, have you any properties, perhaps?”
A sigh and then the response came in clipped English.
“Your price range?”
“Flexible” I parried.
“Nine o’clock. Tomorrow morning. Ask for me, Madame Souris” and the line went dead.
“Souris” I echoed, adding her name to the scrawl on my wrist. The sparrow hovered with cappuccinos.
“Hello there. You’re English yeah? My name’s Pat. Been living here for so long I’ve lost count. That’s my boy Jean Michel,” she pointed proudly to a pale youth serving at a nearby table. “My husband Jean’s inside in the shade. Corsican. We’ve been running this place into the ground for… so long I’ve lost bleeding count!” she laughed showing an ill-fitting set of perfect dentures. “I couldn’t help but hear you talking to Madame S. You looking to buy local?” Di enthused while I ventured into the darkness in search of the toilets. Leaning on the bar was a chunky man in his sixties, reading a newspaper. He glanced up over his thick glasses and nodded towards a door half hidden behind a stack of lemon boxes. “Le Crapper” he said smiling, and went back to his journal. As I returned, Pat was waxing lyrical, cigarette in one hand, French fry in the other.
“Not easy buying here love. The locals keep the best properties to themselves; keep it in the family see. There’s so little new development, pushes the prices right up. How much have you got to spend?” she waved ketchup coated chip at me.
“We’re, ah, fairly flexible”, I said, admiring the way she effortlessly alternated between cig ‘n’ chip.
“Well, I’ll keep these little ears open to the ground for you duck. Not much gets by me” she winked and disappeared inside.
“Does it have to be Calvi?” I asked Di as we walked back up the beach towards our car. “It all seems so expensive. And do we really want a new apartment? I thought the whole appeal of this place was its authenticity.”
Di wasn’t sure what she wanted. “All I know is that I love it here. I don’t want to be a visitor, I want to be part of it; I want it to become part of me, part of us. Look at it Trev.” She waved her hand through the panorama and put her camera to her eye. To our left lay the port, its tiny marina fronted by sleepy bars and restaurants, overseen, like an ancient nanny, by the Citadel. To our right the bay stretched lazily into the distance towards the village of Lumio. It seemed that we had the whole beach to ourselves until a yelping dog careered sideways out of the pines behind us and made for the water, closely followed by a scruffy man in baggy beige pants and a tight anorak. As he passed us he eyed Di’s camera.
“Ah, photo, photo. You will take me and my dog please?”
“Of course, no problem” replied Di. “Please to meet you”, said the man reaching for my hand.
“Trevor” I offered as we shook.
“Tresoir” he countered and beckoned his side-winding pet.
“Tre…vor” I corrected him.
“Tre..soir” he replied grabbing at his dog’s collar.
“Vuh, vuh” I corrected like a stuttering bee. The man eyed me uneasily and lifted his dog to his chest before striking a pose. “My Tresoir” he whispered defensively.
“Oh, the dog’s name is Tresoir?” All became clear. “Yes, and me, I’m Trevor”
“No, Tre…soir” he replied wearily.
Tresior was no pedigree; in fact he looked more like a hyena than any dog I knew. Leering towards the camera I could swear he was smiling through a hair lip.
“After three” directed Di. The man puckered up and Tresoir French kissed him.
“You see, he loves me,” he roared, revealing a mouthful of rotting teeth that Tresoir seemed keen to clean. I could see that Di was in trouble; her shoulders heaved as she pressed the camera hard into her face. She has never been good with body smells, give her a dodgy toilet or a sweaty sock and she goes into uncontrollable convulsions, her upper body rocks and her cheeks fill like a bull frog doing a Dizzy Gillespie impression. I tried to distract the man who was becoming puzzled by this strange body language.
“Are you Corsican?” I asked.
“No. French. Toulouse. But I learn my English good in America. I was a sailor. I jump the ship in Baltimore and wash dishes all the way to New York, New York. It’s a wonderful town”, he added brightly.
“Off to Buffalo!” quipped Di as the dog flew past us with that peculiar sideways gate. The man eyed her nervously and took a step backwards.
“Now I am here with my family because my doctor tells me Corsican air is good for my bad health.” He pointed to his head. Di pointed to an outcrop of rocks that formed a natural pier jutting a good thirty yards out to sea.
“How about a shot of the two of you, er, at a distance, on the rocks, right at the far end of the pier, looking out to sea.” As her subjects shuffled away and into position, Di buried her face in my neck.
“That smell. Is it man or dog?”
“A bit of both” I replied.
“Pretty gruesome. Three dimensional” whimpered Di as she framed the noxious gruesome twosome.
Later the man pressed a piece of paper into my hand “Call me when you have photographs. A frame would be nice.” and with that he made off down the beach in search of a now long lost Tresoir.
I unfolded the paper. An indecipherable telephone number.
“No name” I muttered.
“Smelly Man” replied Di.



The walls are still standing
Not barriers built to claim
Just signs of life

That signify ‘we were here’

Their rough integrity
Promises nothing but endurance
And that endurance keeps the promise
Made by happy men
Shirtless and sure
That they would be remembered


  1. This one made me laugh. You'd better change your name for the foreigners LOL :) So ad about Di. It must have been so hard for her. Imagine if you (or I) went stone deaf. Terrible. And she's got you too! :)

  2. Yup, Di is doubly fated.
    She still dances like a pro though; just needs tequila instead of a warm up...