Monthly Archives: February 2009

The cemetery in Pinareddu


by Mike

Azure doesn’t remember the cemetery from the story I wrote. One of my formative travel experiences was here in Pinareddu in 2001 and I’d written a short story in which the cemetery served as a landmark.

She remembers a lot of the other parts of the story though, even one I’d forgotten – the ‘storm.’ On my first night here, sleeping alone in Francois’ empty house, I was terrified as I listened to the wind bang the shutters against the walls all night. It wasn’t even a storm really, just a windy night, but it was so dark and I was so alone that I threw my headphones on, took a sleeping pill and hid under a pillow as soon as the noises started. It was probably 8pm or something. Azure also remembers the part where I walked home from town at night and two dogs came out of the black to bark at me like they were going for the throat. I was sure they were going to kill me, I just about shit myself and ran to the house and probably took another sleeping pill under a pillow.

Azure’s on the back of the scooter as we drive through town and retrace the story. Those damn dogs are still there at the bottom of the hill and farther up I point through the trees to a white balcony, “That’s the room I slept in.” It’s high on the hill above Pinareddu with a complete view of the town, bay and sea.

I take Azure up the road toward Francois’ brother’s house and we stand outside the gate. “I walked into his house and the walls were covered in moths, his dogs were jumping up and snapping at moths under the ceiling fan.” When I had finally arrived on Corsica, after weeks of fantasizing, I was overwhelmed by the experience of travel and this house was folded into the stature of those feelings. It remained large through relived memories and retold stories, but now with Azure it looks small.

My memories of Pinareddu are exhausted so we turn around. We drive down the hill, past Francois’ home, past the beach and the two restaurants and past the cemetery.

“Do you remember the cemetery?” She doesn’t.

Francois had cancer and was dying when he drew the map on a napkin for me. We were at his kitchen table in Bellevue before my first big trip. He said, “The cemetery is the first thing you’ll see coming into Pinareddu, you’ll pass it there on the right.” I could see he was walking the path in his mind as he drew the map, rewalking it, reliving memories from his ancestral fishing village. The black lines ran from Bellevue to Paris to Nice to Bastia and to Ste. Lucia. Then another set of lines showed the five kilometers down to the town, the cemetery and then the road to his brother’s house where I would find a key to Francois’ house. I could stay there if I could get there. It seemed impossibly distant. He must have known that he would never come back. He was too sick.

I made it to Paris and I made it to Nice. Then I made it to Bastia and finally to Ste. Lucia. I was thinking of him as I started walking the winding road, I retraced the lines for him five kilometers down toward the sea and Pinareddu. I imagined that from Bellevue, he was walking through me and looking at the Mediterranean and smelling the trees again. He was passing the cemetery on the right again, and he recognized the people at the restaurants and he surveyed the beach. I imagined him walking past the dogs up the hill to his brother’s house for the key. Then we walked to his empty home where he could remember the smell of the trees and he knew the shutters banged at night and he could see the sea from the balcony.

Though the cemetery was just a landmark on the map, I’m sure his grandparents are buried there and their parents, and when I walked through town I wondered if he would be buried there too. I wondered if, as he walked the town in his mind for the last time, he expected to be buried there himself. He died that summer. He gave me a complicated gift that sparked a new direction in my own life and I never thanked him. Francois, at the end of his life, gave me a map and with it the promise keys in far away places.



Filed under Corsica, France, Travel

“There’s nothing there.”


We just drove around the Southwest coast of Corsica (the area to the north of Sartene, for anyone ambitious enough to follow at home. Here’s a map.) We looked at a stretch of 20 km we’d have to drive and Azure said, “There’s nothing there….” the map was emptyish.

Here’s what was there:
– There was a white horse in a little grassy area in front of a stone shed. The shed was on the side of the mountain and had an amazing view. All of these things had views, so assume that they did.
– There were large stone walls that were falling apart, covered in moss. They were so large they stood out compared to all the other ones we see.
– There were a few scattered cemeteries with amazing views of the valley. There was one grave that didn’t have a headstone or a cross but two small slabs of rock like bookends and a pile of rocks in between.
– There were a lot of trees, it was totally forested. Half the ride was on the north side of the ridge and half on the south. It was the late afternoon, so the valleys were illuminated.
– There was a small vigil on the side of the road – a red candle with a picture of the Virgin Mary.
– There was the most perfect stone wall we’ve seen – all the little rocks fit perfectly in the large ones and it was white.

This area is so rich in secrets. There are so many things that we want to take pictures of but just pass because if we stopped for everything it would take an hour to go a mile, and that’s just on the roadside.

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Sartene sunset storm


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My First Big Ride

by Azure

Mike wanted me to talk about my first big ride (we drove from Nice to Toulon). I think he just wants to prove that he wasn’t being a baby when he was saying how tiring it was riding the scooter from Paris to Nice. I never thought he was, but in case there is any doubt, I’ll confirm, it is hard riding 4 hours on a scooter and I wasn’t even driving. It gets cold at the end, you get tired and especially going into cities, the signs all point to the highways, so you end up driving around and around trying to avoid them. It didn’t jade me against scootering though, two days later, we went on a 5 hour sightseeing trip and it was awesome! I think it feels different knowing you have to get somewhere versus wanting to see something. Even after 5 hours of looking, I could have done more.

The video above is from our loop, not my first big ride. I didn’t take any photos on it, since I was sick and tired. The video is at sunset north of Toulon. Mike referenced it in a previous post.

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Don’t Think We’re Homeless


by Azure

We took the night ferry to Corsica last night. I love riding big ferris, especially at night. They are like second hand cruise ships, with bars and cafes and sleeping cabins. Of course we were too cheap to spring for a cabin, but they wouldn’t let us opt for nothing, so we ended up with something called a “pullman” which Mike thought was going to be similar to a hurricane Katrina refugee bed, but ended up being like a big airplane seat. The problem was that they were in the center of the ship and it always freaks me out not to have a window, maybe something about the movie “Titanic”. When we got on, we saw people (seemingly upstanding citizens, in fact) reserving the large cushy benches in the dining areas. We soon caught on that you could really just sleep anywhere, so we searched out the only soft places left, which were the big benches right in front of the snack bar. A whole family was spread out on both sides of one and we took one side of the other. We got to lay flat and slept uninterrupted until 6am when the captain came over the loud speaker saying everyone had to get out of their rooms. It ended up being perfect for us and we now know that we don’t even need to book those silly pullmans.

I got to see my first sunrise over the ocean and we were able to hop on the scooter and ride down the coast in the morning light. For a long while there were no clouds in the sky. The cherry blossoms are coming out already and some parts of the drive smelled so sweet. It was a beautiful day.



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Sweet Ride!


by Mike

From Toulon we drove east brushing the foothills of the Chaine de la Sainte Baume mountains, through one-street towns like La Valette, Soulies-Pont, Cuers and Pierrefeu.

I told Azure I really look forward to the day when I meet a Frenchman who says, “I’m from Toulon,” and I say, “Oh! We were in Toulon!” and he says, “Well, actually I’m from a really small town an hour outside Toulon that nobody’s ever heard of,” and I’ll say, “What’s the name of the town?” and he’ll say, “Les Mayons,” and I’ll say, “We’ve been there!” and he’ll buy me a pastis.

From those foothills we crossed a valley and entered a different mountain chain called the Massif des Maures and drove up a valley to Collobrieres, a town that’s crowned itself capitol of hazelnuts, I think. There were little pictures of nuts everywhere, stores sold nut butter and so on. It’s a small town on a small river with a small 12th century single-arch bridge that’s still used as the main road for cars. It’s a really small bridge.

We went into the local bar to grab a hot chocolate and it was about a dozen men and Azure and me. There was a guy at the table next to us looking at the horse racing schedule in the paper and once he’d made his choices he called rudely to the bartender to come over and place the bets electronically for him. The bartender did it, then the guy left the bar. Then he reappeared outside in the window next to me smoking a cigarette and watching the race on the TV above my head.

The room next door was a hopping restaurant (in these small towns there seems to be only one restaurant where everyone goes) and at about 2:00pm the waiter called in through the doors, “25 cafes!” The bartender gave a look – he only had one espresso machine. Someone in the bar chimed in with, “Make it 26!” which drew laughter.

We drove farther up into the mountains and followed a sign for “Notre Dame des Anges” (Our Lady of the Angels), and the road kept going up and up, riding the ridges of hills. Finally it looped around the highest hill and dropped us at the steps of a sanctuary built at the crest in 571 A.D.! From the sanctuary you could see both the Alps (which we actually couldn’t see because of trees) and the Mediterranean 20km away. The sun was SO bright, I was able to shoot pictures of Azure laying on the ground with her helmet on, exhausted from the ride, at 100 ISO on f22 with no problem.

The inside of the sanctuary had a little natural light from a (dirty) skylight and the blue walls were covered in relics and plaques that people had sent as thanks for their miracles. It was one of the odder churches I’ve seen and I’m glad I got some good pictures.

We walked from the dark sanctuary into the bright courtyard and I had to shade my eyes. A man walked right in front of me and I turned to look – he was a young black monk in a violet robe and he stopped in the shadows, his body curved in front of a wooden door. The top of the door was round and he was trying to unlock the door with his set of old keys. His skin was a beautiful smooth brown like hazlenut butter, like the color of the wooden door, and I decided I had to ask if I could take his picture. He hesitated, smiled and said, “I’m sorry, no.” Azure and I learned our lesson – never ask. It’s a picture I’ll remember, anyway.

From Notre Dame des Anges we descended the other side of the Massif des Maures and hit the town of Gonfaron, took an immediate right and went back into the mountains through Les Mayons. We had trouble finding the road to get back in, but once we did we were rewarded – the sun was getting low (it was about 4:30 and we were on the Northeast side of the mountains) so there was orange light to compliment the spectacular views of the valley. In addition, the road went from paved to dirt so suddenly there wasn’t even that gray-black strip of asphalt we usually have to tolerate, instead it was just many different shades of orange and brown leaves, dirt and wood.

The road got rougher and we kept climbing higher. Soon we could tell that the road was in such bad condition that either they had never paved it or it had been unrepaired for decades. We passed several private property signs and by the time we suspected we weren’t allowed to be where we were, we were too deep into the drive to turn around.

We kept driving and bumping and after half an hour my heart was racing some, I’ll admit. I was worried what would happen if we got a flat tire right before sunset when we hadn’t seen another car on the road, hadn’t seen another person for 10 kilometers and we weren’t convinced we were even going the right way. We came to a five-way intersection of dirt and torn-asphalt roads. The signs were all faded and I didn’t trust they were still pointing in the right direction. We decided which road to go on based mostly on where we figured we shouldn’t go, and we headed west.

The road remained dirt and we started seeing a house here, a fence there, and when we turned a corner there were two guys digging a rock out of a hillside.
“Hi, can you tell me which way to the D39?”
The guy didn’t want to give me a straight answer, then finally said, “You know, this road is forbidden to vehicle traffic, it’s private.”
“I know, I’m sorry, we’re honestly lost and we’re trying to leave, I’m sorry.”
“Where are you trying to go?”
“Toulon, eventually, but right now we’re going to Collom… Collombro…”
“That’s it!”
“Keep going straight, the road will take you to the D39.”

When we finally got back to the paved highway there was a sign facing anyone entering the dirt road, “This road is forbidden to vehicle traffic under penalty of lawsuit.” Yikes. I think the people back in those hills really tried to protect their privacy, to isolate themselves from everyone else. When I think of people like that I imagine them to be loners or Unabomber types… different. But these guys were completely personable and eventually kind. They looked normal. They could have been anyone we’d have met in Toulon or Nice.

We finally wound our way out of the mountains and back to Toulon. We hit a supermarket and made a picnic, then got in line at the ferry terminal for an overnight boat to Corsica.


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