Wednesday, June 20, 2007


More on that West Coast Road

The road works on the west coast road between Calvi and Porto are finished. We did the journey on 10th June, and it took us just one and a half hours from the Airport junction outside Calvi on the N197 to the outskirts of Porto.

The road is much improved – wider, safer, all in all much better for the motorist. However, in the general scheme of things I don’t think the improvements will make a great deal of difference for most tourists, and here’s why.

We were on our way to Bonifacio in the deep south of the island. Going via the west coast took us from 9.30 in the morning to 4.50 that evening. We took an hour for lunch and half an hour for a coffee break, so that’s four hours and 50 minutes travelling time. And yes, we were pretty tired when we arrived. It still takes an age getting through the Calanques de Piana (despite there being very little traffic – God knows how long it would have taken had there been the July procession of camper vans). The road south of Piana, through Cargese, Sagone, Ajaccio, Propriano and Sartene is driveable and pleasant but it is still very twisty and takes a good deal longer than the road in the east.

So when we came back on the 12th June, we went via Porto Vecchio, Solenzara, Ghisonaccia and Aleria. After Aleria we turned west and our final leg took in Corte and Ponte Leccia where we joined the Balanina on its way to Ile Rousse and back to Calvi. The times? We left Bonifacio at 11 a.m. and were back in Calvi at 3 p.m.! This also includes half an hour for lunch at Le Banana’s between Aleria and Corte. So the way back took us just three and a half hours.

So there’s still no contest, despite the road-widening. If you’re staying in Calvi and want to visit Porto, Cargese or Piana, it’s worth going via the much improved west coast road, but if you’re heading for Bonifacio and the Lavezzi Islands (of which more later), don’t even think about it – go via the east coast.

By the way we saw some sparrows in Bonifacio (yes, I’m sure) and they seem to be doing OK. No news yet on any gobemouche fledglings.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Sparrows and fly-catchers

I had it in mind to write you a lofty little item about Corsican sparrows, or should I say a polemic about how Corsican sparrows are thriving while sparrows of the UK variety are in decline.

Not now I won’t. I’ve discovered that the little birds that wake me up every morning in this place aren’t sparrows at all but flycatchers – or gobemouches, as they are called here. I focused my attention on these agile but dull-plumaged creatures when a pair tooki up residence behind an exterior light on our terrasse.

The strut holding the light-fitting to the wall is precarious to say the least, and not at all where I would have chosen to build my nest. So about a third of the collection of dry grass and moss they had painstakingly transported to the construction site had in fact fallen on the floor and been abandoned.

We don’t mind sweeping up every now and again, but they have pretty much taken over the back of our premises. We feel we must talk in hushed tones lest we disturb them during dinner, and of course turning the light on in the evening is out, even though I do quite like poached eggs. For their part, they keep us entertained with their acrobatic flights in and out, occasionally hovering like “petits helicoptres” as a friend of ours, similarly afflicted, observed earlier on today.

More if we’re still there when they hatch. In the meantime, I have no idea how sparrows are doing in Corsica – I’m not even sure if there are any hereabouts.

Monday, June 18, 2007


Backing a winner

I do back a winner every now and again. Not so long ago I wrote a short piece about Catherine d’Angeli - potter, sculptress and ceramic artist - and it seems she is beginning to get the recognition she deserves.

Visit the 12eme Rencontre d’Art de Calvi, and you will find a number of her works on display – a group of funny little penguins, a large and powerful looking raku bear and a carefully observed sculpture of a woman. Her work is exhibited there alongside such notable contemporary French artists as Hervé Loilier.

I paid Catherine another brief visit recently. Her big new studio in Santa Reparata is coming along – but it is not yet quite ready for action. She has started exhibiting her work in Corsica and is tentatively hoping to hold an introductory course for would-be students in September, but the latter must still wait until the electricity is connected!

On the same occasion, I discovered just what a talented and artistic family Catherine comes from, for her cousin is none other than Antoinette d’Angeli, leading lady in one of my favourite groups of Corsican singers, Isulatine (see previous posts), and, it would seem, one of the leading lights in the recent Calvi Jazz Festival.

Sunday, June 17, 2007


Strange business in Palneca

I don’t often write about crime and violence in this diary. But today I feel I must. There have been goings-on in Corse du Sud that are so bizarre and so Corsican, I feel they deserve your attention.

On 23rd February 1993, around 11.30 at night, two men were involved in an altercation in the Mariani bar in the village of Frasseto. One – Paul Santoni – used to be the secretary of the town hall in Palneca; the other was Pierre Melicucci, a bar manager at Grosetto-Prugna. During the interchange, Santoni fired several gunshots at Melicucci, as a result of which he died.

Santoni then disappeared. He was sentenced, in absentia, to 20 years imprisonment but was never caught.

The story now moves forward 14 years to 1st June 2007. At around 10pm on the evening of that day, Santoni’s body was deposited in the corridor of his wife’s apartment block on Palneca. A doctor who examined the 74-year-old’s body said that Santoni had died of natural causes, and pointed out that he showed signs of malnutrition. He had come to the conclusion that Santoni may have been hiding in a shelter in the maquis, and that for one reason or another the person whose job it was to provide him with food had not been able to deliver.

What the excellent account of the discovery in Corse Matin (4 June 2007) does not say is that it sounds like something out of ancient Corsican history. Pascal Paoli outlawed the vendetta in the mid 18th century, but, as suggested in Prosper Meromée’s novel Colomba, written in 1840, the practice undoubtedly continued. I am not suggesting that Melicucci’s death was part of a vendetta, but it does seem that the very Corsican practice of supporting killers while in hiding in plein maquis has continued to the present day.

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