I Was Blown Away
I missed out last week as I was on a classic sailing boat battling 65 mph winds?called the Mistral?somewhere off Corsica. The Mistral lasts from three to six, possibly even nine days, and legend has it that if one murders his wife on the ninth day, judges turn a blind eye to the vile deed. But before any of you travel to the South of France hoping to get rid of the old lady, don't. It's an old wive's tale, and political correctness being what it is nowadays, even in the land of cheese they'll throw the book at you. The only foolproof way to murder one's wife without punishment is to be black, an ex-sports star, and for the wife to be white, preferably blonde.
But back to Corsica. It is the last lovely and unspoiled place left on the overcrowded and overbuilt Mediterranean coast. The birthplace of Napoleon is fragrant with pine and thyme, its maquis-covered cliffs rising from azure and clear seas. The Corsicans are tough and easily take umbrage. The reason I love them is because of their propensity to blow things up. No sooner do the modern equivalent of the Mongol hordes arrive on the island and propose to develop parts of it than bang go their offices, their cars, at times even the hordes. Ever since the 60s greedy developers have been trying to drag the Corsicans into the modern world of tourism, starting of course with glass buildings and glitzy hotels. Boom is the answer. If only the Hamptons had more Corsicans than Irish, Jews and Poles, the now ghastly Hollywood East would be a dream.
During the first millennium Corsica was under constant attack by those nice guys the Moors and their cousins the Saracens. The papacy became the great protector against infidel invasion, with Rome eventually conceding the island to Pisa, and then to Genoa. The Genoese solidified their claim from 1284 until well into the 18th century, when revolutionary aspirations gripped the people and a popular uprising ensued. The excuse was somewhat the same as our American brothers used 40 years later against the British: taxation.
Genoa did not drench the island in blood, as was the custom of the day; instead it settled for enticing the enlightened and mainland-educated elite to join in a sort of collective assembly. This was in 1735. (Had the Brits followed the Genoese method, one thing is for sure: Americans would today have a better sense of humor, along with very bad teeth.) Collective assemblies sound good, but are as effective as the Belgian army. An obscure baron of Westphalia, Theodore of Neuhoff, saw the opportunity to become royal and landed on the island promising to help the Corsicans throw out the Genoese. He was pronounced king on the spot, coined money in his image and had new leaders elected. He also did the smart thing, calling for Jews to come to Corsica to develop the island.
Now, as some of you may have guessed, this did not go down well with the powers that were. The Genoese, however flabbergasted, smelled real change and struck back with a vengeance. For 10 years the Corsicans resisted against the coastal garrisons of Genoa, until the sneaky French encouraged the revolutionaries to ally themselves with their king. I don't know what exactly happened to poor Theo, but I'm guessing he assumed his original title of baron and remained happy to be less than a footnote in the island's history.
Enter Pasquale Paoli, after the perfidious French hand back the island to Genoa. Paoli is Corsica's George Washington, except that he lost. Not only did he install universal suffrage, he even gave the vote to...women. Needless to say, this innovative push for human rights pissed off every one of the haves. The Genoese were so alarmed at this radical democracy that they sold the place back to the Frogs in the Treaty of Versailles in 1768. (The great Napo was born the very next year, ergo his claim to be French.) The French came down like the proverbial ton of bricks, and after some bloody battles Paoli took off for England and Corsica became a French province.
On July 14, 1789, however, the ghastliest of catastrophes struck France: The starving (they refused to eat cake) peasants stormed the Bastille and eventually overthrew and murdered the royal family. The peasants then demanded that Paoli return to Corsica, which he did, until the bloodthirsty Jacobin mob turned against him. (He was a true democrat, they were smelly Stalinists.) Paoli then turns to England, which was ever anxious to thwart the French rabble. Enter an obscure Corsican-born French general by the name of Bonaparte, and Corsica eventually becomes French forever after.
This, then, is la petite histoire of the island, keeping in mind that Europe's history is one long account of hatreds and brutality, death and destruction.
And talking about death, we almost lost Charlie Glass in the process. Glass, as some of you may remember, was kidnapped in Lebanon by Islamofascists, who, typically, picked up one of the few American tv reporters who was and is on the side of the Palestinians. Although tied, he eventually escaped while his captors were asleep. This time he was not so lucky. Speaking over a mobile telephone?yes, I purchased one because the classic boat I was on had no modern conveniences, in fact no conveniences whatsoever?I warned him to drive to Calvi and wait for us there as we were about to hit a Mutiny on the Bounty storm. "I've never been sick on a boat in my life," bragged Charlie. What he failed to mention is he'd never been on a boat before. It took him exactly 80 seconds to start puking his guts out; thankfully he had the presence of mind to do it downwind.
And he was not the only one. Five out of nine, including two female members of the crew, were down in no time, including my daughter and her boyfriend. Glass was the worst, remaining a horrible green for something like five hours, moaning softly as he periodically hung his head over the side and blasted away. Although I am one of his closest friends and constantly worry about him?he has the horrible habit of being poor but never asking anyone for help?I found his condition extremely funny and roared with laughter throughout. So much so, in fact, my young son, crewing on board and enjoying the ride tremendously, asked me to stop. But then he started to eat an ice cream cone in front of Charlie, prompting the latter to beg for him to stop between heaves.
By the time we reached St.-Tropez everything was hunky-dory, except for those foul-smelling gin palaces of the nouveaux riche and extremely vulgar that line the harbor and pollute the beaches. The most disgusting of all is Le Grand Bleu, owned by a grotesque American dotcom billionaire called McCaw. Space prohibits me from listing all the fat shits on super-yachts, as the stinkpots are known among us purists, except to say that if the revolution ever comes, please check with me first. I've got a list three miles long, starting with McCaw, Pigozzi, Steiner... Robespierre, where are you now that we really need you?
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