Chapter Twenty-Two, September, 2005

 

Homer describes Odysseus’ entry into “a curious bay with mountain walls of stone to left and right, and reaching far inland, a narrow entrance opening from the sea where cliffs converged as though to touch and close.”  On September 19, 2005 Sharon and I sailed into that very harbor.  It is now known as Bonifacio, Corsica.  What a thrill.

But things had changed in the last few thousand years.  To begin with, there is the walled city at the top of the cliffs.  Two hundred feet or so above us is the fortress built by the Genoese, mostly in the 9th to 12th centuries.  Then there are the crowds of boats.  Boats, big boats, everywhere.  All milling about in the narrow channel waiting to find a place to moor.  It is so busy there stood a “traffic cop,” all in white, whistle in mouth, shouting and pointing, trying to direct the chaos.  We poked our heads in, and beat a hasty retreat to the open sea.  But it sure was fun to experience.  Once.

We’ve spent the past six weeks in Sardinia and Corsica.  In Sardinia, we “settled” into the lovely bay of Porto Conte.  Here we met up with others on our same path, and decided that Sardinia is the perfect place to leave the boat for the winter.  Using friends’ advice, we discovered Cesare.  Cesare is head of the little family-run marina/boatyard in Fertilia, Sardinia.  When we met with him, and inquired about the possibility of staying with him for the winter, his response was “Is possible.”  We told him we wanted to be hauled out of the water in early October.  “Is possible.”  We asked if we could do some of our own work in the springtime.  “Is possible.”  We inquired about whether we could extend our stay in the spring to accommodate the Martin Family Reunion in late June.  “Is possible.”  Never “Yes,” but always “Is possible.”  We think we’re going to be happy here; everything, it seems, “is possible.”

Much of our time in Sardinia was spent making arrangements for the winter, but we have formed some initial impressions.  Alghero is a small city with a lively feel to it.  No “Full, Fried English Breakfast” signs on every street corner, as we saw throughout Portugal, Spain, and the Balearics.  Here, if there is an ex-patriot community at all, it is made up of Italians.  The seaside in Alghero is dominated by the old, walled Citadel, flanked by the bustling marina.  In the old city the buildings and streets are medieval, and it is fun just to stroll.  Outside the city wall, things are much more modern, but still very European.  The bus stops at the park just opposite the marina (not our marina, which is in Fertilia), and the park is filled with people.  Here we feel as though we could be in any small Italian city, but definitely not suburbia.  It is still a city, with residential units above the street-level businesses. 

Corsica has been different.  Here we have been tourists.  And there has been much to see.  The island is ruggedly beautiful. 

We rented a car for a few days (600 miles in three days, much of it at 20-30 mph through the mountains) to tour the island.  We decided to wing it, and not make hotel reservations along the way.  Early in our tour, we came across a lovely hilltop town with quaint hotels and inns. 

Sharon formed a “vision” of what our hotel accommodations would be for that night.  Our traveling companions deferred to Sharon’s “vision,” and she was given the task of selecting the hotel.  What we did not know, of course, is that this particular weekend, the last of the summer season, is one of the most popular on Corsica.  “No room at the Inn.”  We drove on through the night seeking a hotel matching Sharon’s “vision” with vacancy.  And we drove.  Town after town, farther and farther into the countryside.  Finally, we found it!  Sort of. Suddenly “vacancy” became priority but this meant deviating dramatically from “Sharon’s vision”. When we at last put our weary heads on the pillow, it was in twin beds set on linoleum floors with cobwebs in the window shutters.  And, yes, there was a restaurant right down the road, with good peasant food.  But alas, it was booked solid. We made up for it all when we dined the following evening at a fabulous quaint restaurant and broke the bank.

Corsica is a little bit of Paris, countrified. Very sophisticated, of course. The French don't know how to do it any other way. The clothing shops are stunning, although not tempting which is good. The home decor is another whole ball of wax. We hit market day in Porto Vecchio. Not your average jams and jellies. Oh, no. In Corsica they do cassoulet in a jar. Can you imagine!? Even their soaps are handmade and gorgeous and tied up in silk voile. At the market they had straw baskets trimmed in leather that were in Sharon's words "smashing". You probably know they bring their dogs everywhere so their baskets are extra large to accommodate the dog.

It has suddenly occurred to us that we are no longer able to commit to "our favorite place". We thought it was the Azores, replaced by Seville, then Morocco and now Corsica is winning the race. Unbelievable. Corsica is very mountainous so the daily touring entailed hairpin curves and cliff side panoramic seaside views sometimes as far as Elba. We saw wild boar and pigs and lots of free ranging cows and horses. Sheep are everywhere. The villages are architecturally primitive and rustic with all the French accents of traditional color and detail. Huge oak double doors, lion-head brass knockers, sage green shutters, wrought iron planters in every window, foulard and lace draperies...and more. Even the picture perfect "petite femme" appeared in our stroll through the sidewalks of Piana. We have loved every inch.

We visited an archeological site where Odysseus’ “Laestrygonians” might have lived; the site has been inhabited for 6-8,000 years.  As usual, John made another new friend.

We finished our tour with a concert in the local church, which is entirely trompe l'oile. "Cernardi" is a traditional Corsican soloist accompanied by two guitarists. The music was quite emotional, reminiscent of the Flamenco singing we experienced in Spain, sans dancers but in Corsican French. We were unable to understand any of the lyrics but there seemed to be a bit of Corsican Nationalism in the program, judging by the reaction of the audience to some selections. The perfect ending to our tour.

Now we’re back in Sardinia where we’ll put Seraphim to bed until springtime.  We’ll spend the winter between here and the mainland, experiencing the dream of living in Italy for an extended period.  We are already hooked on the food, fashions and folk.

Until next time, Ciao.