Tag Archives: wine

Corsica, France: Wild, Splendid and Retro

corsicaBy PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Sure, a lot of the places mentioned in Kevin Dolgin’s book haven’t been covered yet in these pages. On the other hand, Corsica is his real-life Utopia, so why not have another go at the magical island? Especially with the words of George Semler to inspire us. In the pointedly titled “Wild France,” a piece found at Saveur, he praises all that makes Corsica less civilized but more civil than the places people escape to it from. On a good day, from the right spot, you can maybe see the mainland, and that’s how the Corsicans like it. Semler is a professional appreciator of food, who says:

The Corsican specialties that I had been dreaming of since my last visit…get their unmistakable character from the maquis. The scrub also provides ideal grazing for game as well as for free-range pigs, cows, sheep, and goats-all of which forage at their leisure, resulting in especially aromatic and flavorful meats and milks.

According to Semler’s bio, he arrived in Madrid in 1970 from Vietnam, where he’d been an officer in the Marines. He’s published two books about Spain and written about a remarkable variety of subjects. Here, he talks a lot about the maquis, the mixed thatch of fragrant shrubs and herbs that covers much of the land — potpourri on the hoof, some would say — and permeates the fantasies of natives and visitors alike. The vegetation is so fierce thanks to mountain peaks that scrape the rain right out of the clouds.

He visits the wonderfully named Fromagerie Casanova, an establishment where cheese, and we would never have guessed this, is made by shepherds. And reveals more than some might wish to know about a cheese called casgiu merzu. He gives the historical reasons why the Corsicans, strangely for an island people, are not very much into fish. But “chestnuts are another story,” and he details the process for making pulenda, which sounds strenuous. And don’t get him started on Corsican wines. Or rather, do. This stuff is fascinating.

“Corsica is the third wine-producing island in the Mediterranean,” we are told by Marcel Michelson, who has been with Reuters since 1986 and is now Chief Correspondent. Which is why there could be trouble ahead for the island’s vintners, a dire possibility which is explained here in great detail. In The Telegraph, veteran travel writer Sasha Bates follows the Strada degli Artigiani, Artisans’ Route, which sounds like the most fabulous open studio tour of all time. There’s also, inevitably, a wine route.

corsica-erbalungaThere are aspects upon which we have not yet touched. For instance, did you know that Corsica is the home of many nudist colonies, such as Chiappa? Everybody knows Napoleon was born in Ajaccio, but few realize that the mythical character Ulysses lost many of his ships to malicious destruction, and his crew to cannibals, at Bonifacio. Did you know that in 1941, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., made a movie called The Corsican Brothers? Or that there’s a 6,000-year-old castle at Arraghju?

It’s a place where circuses are very popular, and drivers still pick up hitchhikers, and the people are buried in mausoleums. “Corsican cemeteries, therefore, look like little cities,” we learn in The Third Tower Up From the Road, where Kevin also tells a story about spending the night out in the maquis. It’s illegal to sleep in the forest, where the wild boars roam. Why? Some people find out the hard way. Kevin says:

The pigs won’t hurt you, but it can be a traumatic experience to be awakened at 3:00 am by a hairy snout snuffling around your head trying to find the source of that Camembert odor that unfortunately is still on your breath.

By the way, Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote the something called the Constitutional Project for Corsica, and we would be very grateful to anyone willing to give a paragraph or two on the meaning and implications of that. Please.

ship photo courtesy of gripso_banana_prune , used under this Creative Commons license,
tower photo courtesy of aslakr , used under this Creative Commons license

Endless Summer in Aix-en-Provence, France

Aix-en-Provence
By PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Is there a place-name that conjures up more pleasant visions of contentment than the name of Provence? Seth Sherwood in The New York Times offers a nice glimpse of the attractions to be found in the city of Aix-en-Provence, including the weekend hot spots. (The bi-continental author is based in both New York and Paris, the better to fulfil his travel-writer imperatives.) But there are nightclubs all over the south of France. What sounds uniquely interesting here is an art museum, the Fondation Vasarely, of which Sherwood says:

Opened in the ’70s by Victor Vasarely, the Hungarian-born mastermind of the Op Art movement, this retro-futuristic museum is packed with soaring, kaleidoscopic and mind-bending geometric art that will blow out your retinas and sizzle your brain – think M. C. Escher abstractions on a cathedral scale.

There’s a lot of history in these parts, and the old city is proud of being the former home of world-class writer Emile Zola and genius painter Paul Cezanne. A famous café called Les Deux Garcons is the spot where such luminaries as Sartre, Cocteau and Picasso engaged in the ancient tradition of people-watching. Songstress Edith Piaf used to hang out there too. And while we’re tuned in on the art wavelength, there’s a place called Musee Granet where an enormous exhibit featuring many works by both Cezanne and Picasso will be shown through September 27.

Way back in Biblical times, the Romans came to town and started the gentrification process, exploiting the thermal springs for their bathing pleasure. There’s a big modern spa that encompasses part of the archaic bath-house, which is on view as kind of an archaeological exhibit.

Sherwood gives hotel advice, and an overview of the shopping opportunities: furniture, beauty products, kitchen implements. Then he moves on to the gastronomical wonders. We are, of course, in gourmet olive oil territory, as explored by Agnès Lascève. Provence may be the herb-growing capital of the world, global headquarters for herbs of both the cooking and potpourri varieties. You can book a special package tour that includes luxury hotel accommodations and cooking lessons from a master chef. Eclectic sausages are a local specialty, I mean made out of things you never heard of going into sausages before. There’s a great farmers’ market, and a weird yet Michelin-approved restaurant where food is manipulated to look like other kinds of food.

And there is of course the wine. Don’t forget the wine, as if anyone could. Examiner expert Taylor Olson gives us the lowdown on which wine-producing regions of France are best at doing what, and reminds us that Provence is no longer just about table wine and rose’. In France Today, Frank Prial really goes into the subject with a scholar’s ardor. He recaps the sometimes disreputable history of the house wine of Provence, and assures us that, “Slowly, these well-made Provence rosés are rising above the tawdry reputation of the cheap, high-alcohol blends of yore.”

It will surprise no one to learn that Kevin has written about this region in a delightful essay titled “Of Romans and Pussycats: Provence, France” which is of course found in his book.

He says,

The cities are wonderful, the villages are wonderful… The edge of Provence is the shore, which English-speakers call the French Riviera and the French call the Côte d’Azur, or “Azure Coast,” because the water is blue. Really blue.

So, there you have it. How does a trip to the south of France sound right about now?

photo courtesy of nicsuzor , used under this Creative Commons license