Corsica Kalliste

BY Lisa Lindblad

December 13, 2010

The Greeks called it Kalliste, “the most beautiful.”

The 400,000 who live on Corsica swell to 2 million in the summer season.  But even with this five-fold increase, the island is spare and feels huge and empty.  Out of season one can drive for miles on the winding roads and encounter only a goat, a wild boar.  Swimming off Cap Corse in the north, the loneliness of a day is lightened by the rich marine life that makes snorkeling so rewarding here.  “In season” the tourists arrive and cluster – in St. Florent in the North, Propriano on the West, Bonifacio in the South and Porto Vecchio on the East.  “I am going to the village,” says the dour Corsican, eschewing the sea and the coast for the fresh air and rock girt privacy of his mountain village.

Corsicans are not sea loving people.  For 2000 years they have been swept by invaders who came to their shores.  Perhaps their inward looking bent and slowness to trust outsiders results from this history. There is one thing that gives me pause in commenting on the Corsican and his feelings about the sea, however, and that is the cemetery.  In Corsica, there is an art of dying and the most elaborate, showy examples of this are the mausoleums that populate the island – particularly in the north – and the exquisite positions of these tombs.   In each village, as in Olmeti, the cemetery faces outward, always seeming to have the best view of the sea, “the most beautiful” view.

Fiercely proud of their island, it is, ironically, both the threat and the isolation the sea has brought that has marked the island and its people’s character.  The isolation has ensured that Corsica remains remarkably pristine and ecologically healthy, both on land and in the sea.  The isolation has also made them vibrantly independent and, for a quarter of the population, this independent spirit has fueled a burning passion and fierce fight to separate themselves from the motherland, to become independent from France.

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John Derian Goes West