The Eastern Coast – extract: La Corse des écrivains by Thierry Ottaviani

Stretching from the southern tip of Corsica to Bastia, the eastern coast is much less winding and mountainous than the western side of the island. ‘This immense plain which forms the whole eastern coast’, writes Gustave Flaubert ‘is uncultivated for the greater part – covered here and there with a maquis whose tuft of greenery appears from afar, in the middle of this white earth’. 

Things have changed since the XIX century.
The eastern plain, far from being sterile, is now an intensive agricultural production area that exports wines, vegetables and fruits – including the famous Corsican tangerines.

Starting from the southern point towards the north, we reach Porto-Vecchio – ‘the old port’ in Corsican. This town on the east coast was founded by the Syracusans. Also nicknamed ‘the city of salt’, because of the salt manufactures exploited since the Antiquity. Porto-Vecchio is now, in the summer months, highly sought after by the tourists, who are attracted to the crystalline beaches, nightlife and luxury shops.
Such a change from the last century, and the descriptions made by John-Antoine Nau !
First prize for the Goncourt in 1903, this writer spent seven years in Corsica, living in Porto-Vecchio, which served as a setting for his book: Thérèse Donati (1915). In this novel, the city appears austere, without any gardens, and with rows of houses having closed windows – like eyelids that are lowered, tired of only contemplating the walls of imprisoned stones. The only escape being the salt manufactures, and the bottom of the bay.
Now, below the walls of the city extends the port. and it is from there that the Palombo customs boat (with pleurisy), raises anchor in Alphonse Daudet’s short story: Les Douaniers.

In the last century, the French from the mainland discovered the region of Porto-Vecchio through Prosper Mérimée’s work: Matéo Falcone. He presented it as such: ‘If you have killed a man, go to the maquis in Porto-Vecchio, and you will live there in safety, with a good rifle, powder and bullets; do not forget a brown-hooded coat, which serves as a blanket and mattress. The shepherds give you milk, cheese and chestnuts, and you will have nothing to fear from the justice or relatives of the dead – except when you go down to the town to renew your ammunition’.
When he wrote these lines in 1829, Mérimée had not yet been to Corsica, but this did not prevent the author from guiding the readers.
‘Leaving Porto-Vecchio, and heading towards the interior of the island, we see the terrain rising quite rapidly, and after three hours of walking through tortuous paths blocked by ravines, we find ourselves on the edge of a very extensive maquis’.
All the talent of the writer is there !

 

 

Extract: La Corse des Ecrivains by Thierry Ottaviani
Photo credit: OMT Porto-Vecchio 

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