postcard from corsica

Helena Drysdale, her husband and two daughters are travelling Europe in a motorhome. Their mission: to investigate the re-emerging "tribes" of the continent.
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Indy Lifestyle Online
"Who are we meeting?" Tallulah asks, as we grind over Corsica's crag. "A poet with a special name - Angel," I explain. "Will he have wings?" "I expect so. But they're usually invisible."

Anghjulu Orati, to give him his full name, is something rare; a poet who writes in Corsican. I find his books in Bastia. By chance, the bookseller is also his publisher and gives me his phone number.

Anghjulu is an energetic, dark-haired man, who charmingly compliments our children. Unusually, Tallulah is not wearing her nightie over her wellingtons. and Xanthe is not daubed from head to toe in felt pen. They look almost normal.

Anghjulu's mother expresses equal delight and gives them chocolate. An unwise gift. Xanthe careers around the room, one hand aloft, and the chocolate threatens to continue its voyage onto the furnishings.

Anghjulu's mother kindly shows the children around her olive groves, leaving us to talk. Anghjulu denies that his poetry, despite appearances, is political. He is keen to distance himself from the violent anti-French nationalists whose graffiti deface every wall.

We drive across the maquis - the scented scrub for which Napoleon yearned while in exile - to a golden beach. We park on a field of flowering asphodels, and Richard builds a fire in a wild boar's routling. "I think we have found paradise," he observes (beard reeking of smoke) as he roasts a chicken and drinks honey-coloured muscat beneath Hale-Bopp.

But there's trouble in our paradise; Corsican man of the less angelic kind. Camouflaged, laughably, in complete military regalia, he shoots anything from rabbits to sparrows. We reassure a frightened Tallulah that his aim is good, but while fetching river water Richard is rained with lead. Playing with the children near the van, he stumbles on an unexploded grenade. Sadly, we leave, the hunters now the hunted.

Hunting has also chased away the wild sheep, and the lamergeyer, the vulture that smashes bones on rocks to devour the marrow. Anghjulu has named his book after these Corsican creatures as metaphors for the Corsican language, hounded to near extinction, surviving only in the wildest part of the island.

Helena Drysdale