Filling my head with stones

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by Mike

On the west coast of Corsica there’s a tower at each point and from the top of one tower you can see the next. The islanders built them in the 1500s as an early warning system against repeated Barbary pirate attacks, but the towers weren’t so successful – the Corsican way of life was completely disrupted and the residents fled the fertile lowlands for the rocky mountains.

We parked our scooter off a red dirt road running a ridge. From the ridge we saw the tower farther down the point, we could see the sea below and the mountains behind. Corsica is a wild island. Here, the trees were low, thick and untamed and it was very rocky. The island feels empty sometimes, primitive – all over the island there are grand views of mountains and valleys with no trace of people.

We walked toward the tower on a red path that cut through the trees and passed stone walls. Walls ran wherever they wanted, in the forest there would be a wall with some steps, then more walls, then there would be a cleared area where a structure had once stood. We could see the outline of a building in stone lines covered by moss. Then there were more trees and more walls.

There are so many walls on the island on the highest abandoned hill and right in the center of town. They must have taken so much work. Who built all these walls? People say the pyramids are a wonder of the world, but I wonder about the walls.

Off the path I saw one rock that sat like a little hut and it had a hole in the bottom big enough for an arm and it was hollow inside. I wondered what the rock had hidden.

After an hour we made it to the base of the tower and a relatively modern staircase took us up to the doorway. The stone tower was quiet, we were alone. This tower was only naked stones, nothing to indicate it has changed at all since it was in use. The main room was cool and a window facing north (toward Ajaccio and the mouth of the bay) let in natural light. There were two fireplaces – one very large and the other smaller – that were well-used. I imagine one was for heat and the other was for signals, but that’s total speculation. Only the small fireplace had a chimney, I don’t know what happened to the smoke from the large one.

The ceiling was a high dome and a staircase took us up through the wall and let us out on the spectacular roof. It had a 360 degree view enclosed by the turrets. The roof was dominated by the blue sky. On one side we could see the bay cutting into the mountains and on the other a steep forested hill rose from the Mediterranean. We could see other towers on other points in the distance.

We stayed in a Catholic convent all week (did I not mention that?) and when I asked Father Joseph if the ancient sites were good to visit he said, “Well, they’re ok if you’re interested rocks and old stuff.” (well, yeah, actually I am). Later, after a disappointing experience looking for a 4000-year-old castle without success, I wondered why I’m drawn to the old stones – why care?

By standing where they stood or touching the cold stone they had shaped I think I’m hoping to understand how they had thought. What drove them to build a wall climbing the side of a hill and is that a piece of being human that I could still understand? Maybe by touching that stone I’d tap into something fundamental to the human experience that I’m missing now.

Being a human today is not what it was like to be human then. When I’m touching a stone, as hard as I try it’s difficult to forget my place in time. Some day I’d like to meditate in a place like that and see where it takes me. Meditation is for clearing the mind but I want my mind to be refilled with the mind that built those walls. What was that place? Maybe I’d need drugs instead. It’s sad that those minds are extinct.

God, everything I write is depressing. Sorry.

Anyway, we’re stuck in Ajaccio because we’re low on gas and there’s a gas workers’ strike (so the stations are empty too) and the protestors have blocked the port. The talks aren’t going well, apparently, so we don’t know how long we’ll be here.

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3 Comments

Filed under Corsica, France, Travel

3 responses to “Filling my head with stones

  1. Contemplative piece. Wish you’d found the 4,000 year old building.

  2. Kandace Loewen

    Hi Guys; I’m a stone lover too…so I totally understand. It’s mind blowing to me to contemplate the patience of a stone layer. It’s about the whole process…from collecting, to stacking a pile, to building a wall. Very labor intensive…especially fitting them together so that they work together. The end result is certainly a feeling of accomplishment, that we know can last for centuries….a project that certainly outlives the stone laborer. Hope the strike is over!

    • Everywhere we went on Corsica there were stone walls in the forest. We could stop randomly and look around and know that we’d find one if we tried. It’s amazing that not only do the structures last, but the smallest stone piles seem to last as well.

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