Corsica is one of those places that most people would never think to travel to. It’s an obscure island outpost of France in the Mediterranean Sea stereotyped for its fiercely independent people and militant separatist culture that routinely tells France to get fucked. It has the highest per-capita murder rate in Europe, has a severed head on its flag, and the mafia runs everything. It’s also relatively inaccessible and just doesn’t have the same fairytale reputation of Paris or Provence.
For me it felt like I was going somewhere obscure and unique. It was somewhere I would never have gone unless I had someone on the inside to hook me up. Let’s be honest, an isolated island in the Eurozone is not exactly a budget friendly destination. I didn’t know what to expect before going other than that the place is beautiful, drop-dead damn fucking beautiful. And people get shot there on a regular basis.
Enter the Giovacchini Clan
So I received an email. It was the kind of email that has little written in it, but you know is important. The email was from the eldest son of an important Corsican clan that I met through a Persian connection we’ll call Roja (sounds dodgy I know). The email was an invitation to an “important wedding” and my attendance “was of great necessity.” While I knew there would be potential violence at this “important wedding”, it was the kind of invitation that you didn’t ask about, you just accepted.
If you flew directly to Corsica from Lebanon it would probably take you 2-2.5 hours. However, because Corsica is not exactly Frankfurt or Istanbul almost no airline flies there. Instead, I had to fly to Paris, via Istanbul. In Paris, with Roja on board as my protection, we made our first contact with the Giovacchinis and finalized the logistics of our arrival in Corsica. A day later we flew from Paris to Figari, an airport on the southern end of the island.
Upon arrival we found Napoleon, the eldest son of the Giovacchini clan, waiting for us with sunglasses on. It was midnight, and I picked up my bags and exited the airport. No sooner was I putting my bags (and luckily not myself) in Napoleon’s trunk, than I turned around and noticed the entire airport had shut down and plunged into darkness. I just looked at Napoleon and he signaled us to get in the car. I obeyed. He then bluntly told us to wear our seatbelts because the roads are treacherous and the local drivers are insane.
On the way to his family’s villa, Napoleon drove at high speeds through winding, wind beaten mountain roads which had stonewalls on either side instead of shoulders. We eventually passed Bonifacio, a town at the southern tip of the island. As we drove through the harbor of the town, Napoleon explained that in 2010 all of the restaurants and shops along the promenade had their owners systematically shot dead by the local mafia because they refused to share their profits.
Anyway, eventually we arrived at the Giovacchini lair, which was situated on a hill above Bonifacio behind some heavy stonewalls (I began wondering if the Giovacchinis had something to do with the killings in Bonifacio). Napoleon explained that it “just so happened” their villa was built on top of an “old World War 2” bomb shelter. Being a history nerd I decided I would believe the story rather than assume it was a bomb shelter designed to protect, not from Nazis, but from the next-door neighbors. I disembarked from the car into a howling wind and the sound of olive trees being punished for existing.
Image and Reality
The next morning I crawled out of bed at 11:30. I cracked the door to the villa open and Mediterranean sun rushed into my retinas, ouch. The view outside my door was serene. There were olive trees, palm trees, a pool, a blue sky, stone houses, and a view of the Corsican coast. I stepped out of my room and headed to what looked like the main house where I found Napoleon totally in his own world; hunched over a coffee with his head in a newspaper…Apparently some of his family friends had been arrested for a massive fraud scheme.
Any expectations I might have had about gun violence and hostile locals were dashed later that day when we headed into Bonifacio. The town was an amazing sight to be seen. It was essentially a tiny, old, fortified village sitting at the top of a massive cliff, surrounded on by ocean on 3 sides. I was excited with the prospect of visiting a town that could be a world-class tourist sight, yet nobody had really yet discovered. However when we got there we not only didn’t find violence, we barely found any Corsicans at all.
Instead of droves of gun wielding mafiosos, the seaside promenade was full of old French couples on vacation eating ice cream. Every one of the “dead owner shops” carried mugs, flags, and tourist paraphernalia decorated with that amazingly bad ass Corsican flag. I even ended up buying a mug. It was probably the first time in years that I put my “traveller’s” arrogance aside and purchased some straight up tourist garbage. The few Corsicans we did see were so chilled out they were almost asleep, or they were just smiley and helpful.
Weddings and Vacations
After being thoroughly convinced (and disappointed) that Corsica was just like most places in the world and that all of the infamous violence was relatively isolated, I realized that the wedding was going to be just like any other. I turned out to be right. In fact the only thing that really set it apart was the phenomenal food. The food was a medley of Corsican specialties like charcuterie meats, cheeses, local wines, wild boar, and fish. The fact that I didn’t have to murder a business owner to get access to this food made it an even more enjoyable experience.
At the end of it all, my time in Corsica felt more like a vacation than a daring travel adventure. Rather than dodge mafia hits, I spent 9 days on the island eating and laying on the beach. If you’ve ever imagined the perfect Mediterranean paradise, Corsica would have to be it with its miles of olive trees, green-rocky hills, and pristine beaches. The beaches aren’t just clear, clean, and rocky (like much of the region), they’re almost Caribbean in their look with turquoise water and white sand. Inland there are jagged, dramatic mountains, with villages perched on top of impossible rock formations. There are also areas that of the island that look like the desert in Arizona.
For me, part of an adventure is doing something you wouldn’t normally do. In Corsica I did that. Instead of trying to be the most badass rugged “traveller” (what I admittedly think I’m being most of the time, even if I don’t know what the fuck that really is) I hung out with old ice-cream eating French couples on vacation, I ate in nice restaurants, I rented a car, I bought souvenirs, I went to a wedding (not something I’m well acquainted with), and I just sort of did nothing. For me it was a new experience and also something I would normally associate with death. So I challenged my fears and had a really good time. This, I believe can qualify as adventure, even if I didn’t come close to dying.
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