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
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.