I have just returned from a week or so on the beautiful island of Corsica. It is a very popular holiday destination with people from mainland France and perhaps less well known and less frequently visited by English speaking countries such as the U.K. This is slowly changing with more regular and direct flights to Corsica. My experience of the island caused me to reflect on yet another aspect of the process of writing my tribute to Eugene and Pieter, which I will explain later on.
First of all, a word of warning, the island is not a suitable holiday destination for anyone with a fear of heights or suffering from vertigo! I have always been a mountain lover and as a passionate skier I have spent much of my time on mountains. My love of mountains is in the genes as my mother’s family comes from the heart of the mountains in Switzerland. My family learnt to ski and navigate mountains at the same time as learning to walk. I therefore feel suitably qualified to assure you that the mountains on Corsica give any other mountain range a run for their money.
The island is one big mountain range. It consists of one layer of mountains after the other like layers of flaky pastry punctuated by deep, narrow valleys. One of the fascinating things on the island is that animals of all description roam around freely from dogs, mountains goats to cows. To my utter amazement and contrary to any experience and belief I’ve ever had of cows, these have developed the skill of traversing steep mountainsides and emulate their much smaller and agile cousins, the mountain goats. How these animals find their way back to their local pastures or farmers keeping track of their herds is an anathema.
We had every intention of driving around, visiting all the main tourist spots and towns during our stay but this was an ambition very quickly thwarted after our first trip to visiting some of the villages on the ‘must see’ list. There are virtually no roads that do not involve traversing narrow mountain roads and a journey that would normally take an hour in most other countries where I’ve travelled takes at least three. It is a busy island with a lot of traffic and despite being out of the holiday season the roads continues to carry numerous coaches ferrying tourists around the island, not to mention local buses for commuters. One particular journey we thought would take 2-3 hours took us nearly 7 hours.
Tourists not familiar with mountain driving etiquette continue to drive as they would elsewhere, which is on the rear bumper of the car in front instead of leaving the required minimum of 200m gap between cars. The result is that meeting a coach on the narrow winding mountain road means that there is no room for maneuver and neither cars nor coaches have the space for reversing to allow others to pass. And believe me, there is no opportunity for any leeway as there is only the empty space of drops of hundreds of meters between you and the edge of the road. So, on our first trip we very soon found ourselves on a gridlock road with traffic not going up or down. The only thing we could do was to take the opportunity of spending a couple of hours on a photo shoot of the breathtaking scenery until inch by inch space was cleared for coaches and cars to pass.
After this hair-raising experience we thought we would take the advice of an earlier traveller to the island and make use of the local train. It consists of one line that eventually forks to the west of the island on the one side and the other track continuing to the northern finger of the island. We should have guessed that it would not be an ordinary train journey. Without a shadow of doubt the scenery was as spectacular as those found on the car journey and there were no coaches to look out for coming around the tight hairpin bends. However, it was a very narrow railway line hugging the side of the mountain, snaking around tight bends with equal drops of significant spaces of emptiness. Although the train didn’t need to negotiate coaches blocking its way around the tight corners, but instead it had to negotiate the mountain climbing cows, goats and the odd pig.
The train driver took it all in his stride and disconcertingly took his eyes of the track while chatting to the conductor and sharing photos on their mobile phones. This was not engendering any confidence, especially when negotiating a tight bend across a viaduct spanning a valley some thousands of feet below. The train journey reminded me why I had given up on the various white knuckle rides to be found at theme parks; I am just too old to be scared half to death! We intended taking the left fork of the train line the next day, but decided that once was enough.
So how did my experience of negotiation the mountains of Corsica allow me to reflect on my writing? Well, as I mentioned I am passionate about mountains but after our various experiences of these majestic and breathtaking mountains, I began to think that enough is enough. There comes a point when any experience tips into this category and I then asked myself what will be the enough limit of my book and that which I will share about Eugene, Pieter and their experiences of their own white knuckle ride living with terminal cancer?
How many memories do I share with my prospective readers? How much would they want to or be capable of reading? When would enough be enough and what do I include and what do I omit? At this moment of my journey I do not have the answer and it will no doubt only become clear when I embark on the editing and rewriting stage. For now it is back to my own more gentle and comforting mountains in our part of the Languedoc region in mainland France.