Monday, May 28, 2012

Corsica

Island of Beauty!

I have had a lifelong interest in Napoleon and always wanted to go to Corsica.  Last week Commander Kelly fulfilled his lifelong dream and finally visited Corsica!  I learned that Corsica is far more than just the birthplace of Napoleon.  Corsica is an island of mystery, an island of beauty.  It is a perfumed isle, scented by the Maquis.  It is a towering mountain rising out of the sea.  Its fiercely independent and creative island people have longed for independence while living under the boot or shadow of nearby and more powerful political entities (somewhat akin to Ireland).  The term "Vendetta" was invented in Corsica and they have long memories here.

Filitosa Statue
Man's first settlement in Corsica dates back to the seventh millennium before Christ -- a staggering 9,000 years ago!  This was, therefore, long before the Egyptians built the Pyramids.  You can see the ruins of this at Filitosa (http://www.filitosa.fr/en/index.html) near the southwest coast of the island.  This area was first rediscovered by novelist Prosper Merimee in 1839.

Commander K. at Cuccuruzzu
Corsica boasts the seat of the oldest castle in Europe -- Cuccuruzzu -- a bronze age fortification that dates back three thousand years.  Ancient Corsica was settled by the Greeks and later Romans.  It was occupied by the Pisans then the Genoese.  The Barbary pirates (see earlier post, The Pirate Coast 5/9/12) raided it along with most islands in the Mediterranean.  Land on the coast (ocean views) was traditionally viewed as being worthless due to the fear of abduction and seaborne violence.  The Maison Napoleon (his birthplace) in Ajaccio has a trap door in the second floor which would have allowed residents to conceal themselves from marauding pirates.  Napoleon is alleged to have taken refuge here at some point in his youth, perhaps from his unruly siblings...?

Note Trapdoor in floor of Maison Napoleon, Ajaccio
Pasquale Paoli 1725 - 1807
Pasquale Paoli (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pasquale_Paoli) was the leader of movement for an independence from the Genovese and, later, the French (to whom Corsica had been sold).  He was the elected leader of a representative democracy where he was also Commander in Chief.  He was also author of its constitution.  Does this all sound vaguely familiar?  The Corsican Constitution was, in fact, a model for the American founding fathers who created the US Constitution.  The Corsican Constitution Paoli wrote was far ahead of its time, even guaranteeing voting rights for women in the 18th century!  Napoleon's father Carlos Maria served under Paoli.  After Paoli's defeat by the French in 1769, he retreated into the mountains and continued a guerrilla struggle.  The town of Paoli, PA is named in his honor.



After having been conquered and assaulted so many times, Corsica perhaps avenged her honor when its most famous native son, Napoleon Bonaparte, managed to conquer most of Europe at the start of the 19th century (see earlier post Napoleon..Relevant to Americans in 2012, 5/28/12).

Corsicans have a well-deserved reputation for toughness.  The paratroopers of the French foreign legion make their home in Calvi.  The Union Corse (mentioned by Ian Fleming in Casino Royale) was/is a Corsican mafia (drugs, prostitution, etc.) that dealt harshly with French collaborators in southern France after the Second World War.

On April 22, 2011 in Porticcio Marie Jeanne Bozzi, the former deputy mayor and a madame in local prostitution, was shot eight times in the back.  Here is the full article...http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/19/opinion/the-corsican-connection.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

The Corsicans' favorite French verb is "plastiquer" -- to blow something up with plastic explosives!  I saw buildings on the Corsican coast that had been blown to smithereens.

Romaneque Church, near Calvi
Corsica has a year-round population of 300,000 but swells to 1.5 million during the summer months!  It is a part of France, though often an unwilling part.  Corsica has no industry to speak of.  It does, however, have unspoiled natural beauty, a moderate climate, hearty cuisine and good affordable wines.  The Chestnut-flavored beer, Pietra, is not to be missed. This combines to form a the booming tourist trade in the summer months.

Do not allow any possible feelings of Franco-phobia to deter you from making a visit to Corsica.  There are no "French Surrender-monkeys" hiding in the Corsican mountains!  The brutal truth is that most Corsicans cheerfully despise the French!

Commander Kelly says that a great way to see and explore Corsica is to go on a hiking tour with Butterfield and Robinson (http://www.butterfield.com/)

Special Thanks to Marya Dumont and Dale Sherrow (of B&R) who were my outstanding guides to Corsica last week!


Corsican group, Arapa, sings of Cuccuruzzu




You can now purchase Commander Kelly's first book, America Invades here...www.americainvades.com or on Amazon...www.amzn.com/1940598427


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