Corsica On Five Coffees a Day
“That’s crazy,” I told myself. “I have no experience as a travel writer.”
“Just write the same stupid crap you always do,” the other me assured.
“You’re an idiot,” I told the first me. “I don’t write crap. I write penetrating social comment.”
“No, you’re the idiot,” the first me shot back. “It’s a travel guide! Just copy stuff from all the other travel guides!”
I had to admit, I had a point there. I had perfected the art of copying back in high school. At last, I consented. This is my report:
Corsica is a land of contrasts. (That is how pretty much any travel book or article about Corsica begins. Because travel writers basically describe everywhere as a “land of contrasts”. Send a travel writer to Mudwallow, Kansas, population 30, and he will send back a piece that begins, “Mudwallow is a land of contrasts.” (This will be followed by a section called: “Highlights: What to see in Mudwallow if you only have two weeks”))
But I digress. As I was saying:
Corsica is a land of contrasts. Just consider: During the day in Corsica, it is light out everywhere. And yet at night it is dark. Corsica has a rich variety of smelly cheeses. And yet it also has even smellier cheeses. It has very bad traffic. And yet occasionally, the car ahead of you moves. How are so many contrasts even possible, you wonder, on an island only 3 billionths the size of the planet Neptune? Well, that is just part of Corsica’s magical allure. (Travel writers are also highly attuned to “magical allure”. In fact, many of us have a special sensory organ devoted entirely to perceiving it.)
Corsica has a rich history full of giving birth to Napoleon, which you will be reminded of frequently. The Corsicans take great pride in this heritage, and celebrate it by serving coffee in tiny cups befitting the diminutive emperor. As you savor the magical allure of spending 3.5 Euros on a thimble of coffee, think back to the day when a single such thimble provided enough caffeine for Bonaparte to vanquish all of Austro-Hungary. Then marvel at the great sweep of history that was born on this remote, hardscrabble isle (marvel for two minutes, then rest, then marvel again for two more minutes. For best results, perform two sets of five marvels each.)
But of course there is more to Corsican history than just birthing Napoleon. Its past also features getting conquered – by the Carthaginians, the Romans, the Greeks, you name it. It was conquered by the Genoese in 1284, and then in 1769 by the French, who cruelly ordered all the inhabitants to immediately switch from Mozzarella to Camembert.
What To Do:
- Marvelling is a critically important activity in Corsica. If you are caught not marvelling, don’t be surprised if a local stops you and asks, “Qu’est-ce qui se passe? Vous ne marvelez pas?”
- Surely the highlight of any trip to Corsica is reading about the spectacular perched village of Zonza in the guidebook. You cannot actually get to Zonza, due to the traffic, but the description and photographs are truly awe-inspiring. Find a nice café in which to read about Zonza. (You’ll want to allot at least an hour for both reading and marvelling, with a little extra time for savoring.)
- Another great activity for those of you who, like me, know a word to two of the native tongue, is the opportunity to actually yell in French. This happened after Air France damaged one of our luggage pieces. My wife speaks French like a native, by which I mean snootily. But it was my shouting in my purest American accent, “Mais Non! Sacre Bleu! C’est Pas Juste!” and so on, that got us a free escort out of the terminal.
- One of the finest Corsican activities is The New York Times Crossword, which is available on your tablet or laptop should other members of your party engage in shopping in the many smart boutiques and tempting bazaars. The Saturday puzzle has an especially magical allure.
- Don’t miss the daily reenactment of the birthing of Napoleon (Weekdays – 10AM, Ajaccio Central Plaza).
In music, Corsica is one of the leading centers of playing, “La Vie En Rose,” on accordion. In the visual arts, you will find many fine works of the “bric-a-brac” school. But the best way to experience the arts of Corsica is to ask your spouse, “How was the museum?” when she returns to your café table. Then nod like you are paying attention as you sip your mango mojito, think about the contrast between your contented daydream and the actual conversation, and marvel at this land of contrasts.
Key Facts at a Glance:
Currency: The Espresso (6.2 Espressos = 1 Café Americain)
Language: Spoken French, with Italian hand gestures
Traffic Laws: No
Reprinted from The Rotting Post.