Corsica: Small Island, Many Facets

News Editor

In The Washington Post, Tracy Dahl reports on the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival, and if you’re wondering, “What is the possible relevance to Corsica?,” just wait till you hear this. The story of the sweet onion began, Dahl says:

[…] in the late 1800s, when a French soldier found a sweet onion seed on the island of Corsica and brought it to Walla Walla. The Italian immigrant farmers there were impressed with the onion’s winter hardiness, and they began to cultivate it. Years of selecting each crop’s sweetest and largest specimens for seed harvesting made “Walla Walla” synonymous with huge, sweet onions in much of the Pacific Northwest.

Science pop quiz: If they all sprouted from a single seed, where did the genetic diversity come from that allowed sweeter onions and larger onions as time went on? Sounds like a rural legend. Maybe the soldier found, like, a handful of seeds.

Another product of Corsica was, of course, Napoleon. In The Seattle Times, Associated Press writer Ron Todt gives us an overview of the hundreds of Napoleon-related items on exhibit at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia through early September. As Todt points out, this is the man who sold the United States 28,000 square miles of land for a nickel an acre.

All the artifacts are from the collection of Pierre-Jean Chalençon, who was interviewed for The Wall Street Journal by Julia M. Klein. Chalençon, who is a scholar as well as a collector, calls Napoleon a visionary because he liberalized the treatment of the Jews in the territories he conquered and tolerated gays in the military. The patron/curator also says, “Of course, he sometimes made some mistakes — nobody’s perfect.”

At Drapers Online, Sushma Sagar tells us about a “boutique festival” in the Corsican town of Calvi (pictured), a four-day music event with a lot of bikini beach action, the whole scene being “reminiscent of Ibiza ten years ago.” She mentions the non-commercial, sparsely-sponsored ambiance of the festival but, with a nod and a wink, suggests that “any brands wanting a fast track to the hippest kids in France might want to take a look.” A self-described brand courtesan, Sagar says of the brands in her past that she “was always faithful and genuinely loved each one at the time.”

And does Kevin Dolgin write about Corsica? Why yes, quite frequently in fact — at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, where he contributes one column per year in praise of that loveliest of islands, in amongst all the other places he writes about. And of course there’s plenty of Corsica in The Third Tower Up From the Road, where he says, “While on a map Corsica looks very small, there are whole worlds packed into that island.” Truer words were never spoken. Kevin is partial to a certain town with 29 buildings, and does not fear “roads that are more like glorified, semi-paved mule tracks.”

It’s worth noting here that another travel writer of renown, Paul Theroux, has said, “There are no bad drivers in Corsica. All the bad drivers die very quickly.”

And, as long as we’re doing quotations, Kevin Dolgin quotes his native Corsican father-in-law: “When a Corsican tells you that he’ll kill you if you do something, it’s usually best to believe him.” And maybe there’s some validity in that old saying, “An armed society is a polite society.” The Corsican people are also characterized by visitors as among the most sincerely welcoming hosts on earth. Go figure.

One writer theorized that there are four Corsicas, but that seems to be an underestimation by far. Please report in on your favorite facet of Corsica; we’d really like to hear about it!

photo courtesy of, used under this Creative Commons license

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