Thursday, 24 January 2013

Corsican daze

We meet the family the next day and are relieved that Jacques and Chantal speak good English - perfected on their travels.  And it is no surprise that they are lovely warm people - after all they invited us without even meeting us. They have spent a year touring South East Asia on bikes with their children and close friends who also had two young children and it was on this journey that Albane and Benoit met them.  They have also spent time volunteering and living in the Indian Ocean and New Caledonia before coming to Corsica to work in the Agriculture/Environment/Forestry ministry.  We spend a good few evenings chatting about all sorts.  Our plan originally was to stop a couple of nights and then head southwards, but somehow we end up staying a week......and more.  Somehow, in the process of spending time with Jacques and Chantal and their kids and meeting their neighbours and friends we feel drawn into a comfort blanket of love and friendship which is hard to shrug off.  We have been lucky enough to spend the last two months in the company of friends and it is very hard to strike off again, just the two of us, upon our journey.


Jacques takes us with him on a visit to the east coast where he has to go for work.  The route goes through the dramatic mountain scenery in the centre of the island.  It's a rainy day but sometimes the clouds part, opening up fantastic vistas of the coastline and the mountains.  The high villages look quiet and closed up for the winter - not a lot happening at this time of year.  On our return Jacques offers me the wheel.  It's almost a six-hour return drive for the day so I accept, happy that at least the car is automatic.  But the mountain roads twist and turn and I see not so much of the scenery, with eyes glued to the road (but hands not glued to the wheel, to Gayle's horror, as I talk to Jacques), until we stop at the Col de Bavella, where the GR20 footpath crosses the road.  We can understand the attraction of working and living here.

It seems our slothful nature once again dictates our plans - but our plans are always fluid in any case.  The threat of heavy rain on Sunday decides our actions.  We will leave on the Monday.  In the meantime we have some laundry to do and we offer to oil the wooden garden furniture - a winter job in readiness for the spring when it will get warm enough to sit outside again.  Gayle finally has a go at making chapattis with fairly successful results, although the idea of doing this in the tent seems fairly implausible.  We are invited to dine on roast lamb with chestnuts and mushrooms with beans from the neighbours' garden.  In fact, Jacques and Chantal try nowadays to eat as much fresh local produce as they can.  A friend also delivers a leg of boar, a humungous thing, a result of a successful hunt and so a Sunday festival is declared....

The weekend turns out to be very sociable.  Sophie and Matthieu who live just down the hill hold a soiree de fromage welcoming in the New Year and an opportunity to taste some of the many cheeses they have brought back from their holidays.  Now, it may be a stereotype that the French are obsessed with cheese, but some stereotypes are founded in truth.  In our time with Magali and Jean-Baptiste and now here with Chantal and Jacques we are discovering an endless variety - made from the milk of cows, sheep or goats, pasteurised or "raw" - all wonderful and all rather aromatic.   At the end of a great evening we depart with a generous taster of each from our kind hosts.

after le fromage has been consumed

Sunday is indeed very wet and we meet more friends who come to partake of the boar and play some board games.  It's like Christmas isn't over.  It's a real pleasure to talk and laugh in our broken French and we are lucky that there are enough people who understand and speak English for us not to feel left out.  Inevitably, as Monday rolls around we do not feel like departing just yet.......

Later in the week Jacques tells me he can't wait to read our account of our stay here.  It's getting dark and behind the neighbours' house we're digging a grave.  This is a new experience for me.  Jacques digs like an expert and is quite handy with the pickaxe and shovel.  He looks like he's done this before.  After some huffing and puffing we decide the grave is big enough and Jacques manouvres the dead sheep into the hole.  Earlier in the week he showed me how to split logs with a long axe.  I'm a townie from Manchester - never done this kind of thing before - but had to admit that Jacques was right - when that log splits in half at the first blow it feels good.  Mind, when it takes about 38 blows it does not feel good.  It feels bloody stupid.  "You are the new Charles Ingalls" Jacques declares when I have finished, "and you still have two feet!!" He looks surprised and delighted.

Somehow, I'm not sure how, we contrive to stay another day or two.  When we finally leave we are possibly suffering from what Brazilians call "saudade".  (I'm not sure how this translates - but if you listen to a lot of Brazilian music you can hear it.)  

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