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.


Felipe Zapata said...

 I hope you trimmed that huge glob of fat off the salad meat, amiguito.

Art Moretti said...

Don't mind old Felipe,  he's just jealous. 
What a trip. 

Steve Cotton said...

I trimmed it right into my ever-growing belly.  When I return to Mexico, it will be months of beans to cut through the lard. 

Steve Cotton said...

It certainly was an eating adventure. 

M Cotton said...

It is good to have you back.  I have missed your witty daily commentaries.  

Steve Cotton said...

I should be back in Melaque next Wednesday.  With a regular swing in a few days after that.  I hope.   

Kim G said...

If you haven't read Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad, you really must, especially after having just toured bits of Europe with a group of Americans.  It is laugh-out-loud, side-splittingly funny.


Kim G
Boston, MA
Where we continue to toil away in the temperate rain forest.

Steve Cotton said...

I read it years ago.  It may be a good addition to my Kindle reading.  Have you read the recently-released autobiography? 

Don Cuevas said...

 Great "salad", except for the kernels of corn. But I could take it.

What's behind this statement? 
"we took a bus tour up into the interior mountains.  They are as beautiful as anything Arkansas has on offer."

We lived in the north Arkansas "mountains" from 1979 to 1995. They can be beautiful, but they have very little altitude. Perhaps the maximum local relief is about 1500 feet.
Saludos, Don Cuevas

Steve Cotton said...

I must admit my memory of the Ozarks comes from one brief visit in the 1990s.  But they struck me as quite pleasant.  Maybe not as rugged as the mountains on Corsica.  I thought someone should say something nice about the state -- even if it meant stretching the metaphor.