Thursday, May 19, 2011
getting short with the bonapartes
Corsica is a boost for those of us who are vertically challenged.
After all, the eponymous manifestation of the short complex came from this island. The Big N. Monsieur Bonaparte himself.
I thought Corsica would be a veritable Napoleon museum. It isn’t.
The house where he lived as a child is there. And the “palace” where he sent pillaged works of art to his Uncle Joe. Plus a handful of statues of the Emperor dressed in various costumes.
But that is about it. There may be more Napoleon paraphernalia in Baltimore.
I must confess I have a soft spot for the little dictator. After all, if he had not run riot over Europe, the continent may have remained a checkerboard of minor principalities with hyphenated names providing a breeding ground for spouses of Queen Victoria’s descendants.
No Germany. No Italy. And maybe no World Wars I or II.
The Corsicans we met were not too happy with their home-boy-made-good. They want to be free of France. And His Shortness was about as French as Armagnac.
Fortunately, Corsica offers the very antithesis of French sophistication. It must be one of the most rugged areas of Europe. That may be because the tradition of vendetta (confusingly pronounced “bandita” by our guide) has kept the human population in check.
In one 35 year period, the residents slaughtered one-quarter of their neighbors over land, honor, or merely an old-fashioned insult. That was in the 1700s. But dead chromosomes now lead to lifeless family tree branches.
Rather than spend our short stay in the rather pedestrian town of Ajaccio, we took a bus tour up into the interior mountains. They are as beautiful as anything Arkansas has on offer.
Bus tours in Corsica have their own unique rhythm. Long drives with short stays at destinations. And the inevitable eccentric stops – often at shops associated with the tour guide.
In our case, it was a 15-minute stop in a gravel parking lot with no view – even though 5 minutes earlier we had passed viewpoints with stunning vistas.
But the scenery on the tour was a fair trade for that minor annoyance.
The high point of the trip was a snack stop at a railway station high in the mountains. Our guide shepherded most of the bus flock into a typical tourist eatery that would not frighten cautious Americans.
Three of us decided to visit the shoddy inn across the dirt road. And as Robert Frost wrote: “And that has made all the difference.”
The place could have been right out of a Cocteau film. Rustic outdoor seating. Dappled light through aged elms. A young proprietress with a baby in a play pen and a rattish dog curled in its bed.
A guitar and steep mountains with vertiginous water falls completed the pastoral cliché.
While our bus mates ate burgers and fries, we folded into a salad made of local cured meats (primarily made of chestnut-fed pigs) and goat cheese.
Good friends. Good food. Good scenery. A practically perfect experience.
Would I go to Corsica again? I doubt it. It is beautiful. But it offers mere remoteness. That I can get in Melaque.
And, in Melaque, I am one tall dude. If Napoleon had grown up there, he may have left Europe alone.