The undisputed highlight of our trip has to be our visit to Corsica. We visited with our Corsican Cousins, (3rd and 4th Cousin's at this point, they are my great-grandfather's brother's descendants) in the mountain towns of Pieve and Sorio.
Around 1946, after a visit to Corsica with her father my grandmother started a correspondence with her Cousin NouNou. NouNou and Nana corresponded for over 50 years. As Nana's health declined she asked me to continue the correspondence. I have done so sporadically for the last 13 years, sending Christmas cards and a yearly note.
Last fall, as we began to seriously plan for this trip I sent off a emailed note (with the help of Emily a friend who is a french teacher) to Nou Nou and Janette, to see if it would be be possible to see each other and for us to visit the family home in Pieve (where Nou Nou's grand-daughter Sylivie lives with her children). Janette let me know that NouNou had passed away since we had last corresponded, but that they would love to see us. News of Nou Nou's passing were a disappointment but not a shock as her health had become frail in the last few years. It was sad to contemplate that we would not have a chance to visit with her again (I had a chance to meet her in 1997 on our previous trip to France) and ask her more question about family history.
Janette and Sylvie and her children were amazing. They went to great effort to host all of us. I had told them that we would be happy to rent a house or find a hotel room, but they found a way to room us all. They opened up Nou Nou's house in Sorio (which had not been used for several years), and Slyvie's children gave up their rooms so part of the group could stay in the house in Pieve. The house in Pieve is the house my great-grandfather Jean had been born in, and Slyvie has done a outstanding job restoring and enhancing since she moved back to Corsica ten years ago.
Despite Janette and Sylvie's concerns we were all very comfortable in the homes. My brother Juan Daniel, Chris, the girls and I had Nou Nou's house in Sorio to ourselves. We arrived late at night, after stopping the Pieve house for a midnight snack. The next morning I opened the shutter to find this amazing view out of my window! =>
On our first full day Janette, and Sylvie met us at the Sorio house and led us on a short hike on of the many walking trails Corsica is known for. The views and flora were amazing. The trail led behind the village up the mountain. The terrain is wild and rugged, with ruins of shepard shelters and cisterns dotting the trail.
After our hike we headed over to Pieve house for lunch. After sharing Corsican beer (flavored with Chestnuts) at the town bar, Janette and Sylvie made us delicious Quiches and salads. Every meal was beautifully laid out, and served in the traditional course style. Sylvie is invested in maintaing Coriscan traditions, so nearly everything we ate was either grown or produced in Corsica from the tomatoes in the salad and the wine on the table to the figs and cheese served for the dessert. It was lovely touch, that deeply touched us. Not only were we eating in the family home, but were eating the fruits of the land of our ancestors.
In the afternoon they escorted us down to St. Florent, a seaside town world famous for its beaches. The girls dug into the sand, and we took some time to enjoy the sound of the surf and feel the sun on our skin.
In many ways Corsica reminded us of Puerto Rico, the size of the island, the mountains, and beaches, but it is a much drier, more rugged environment, the mountains much taller and the roads much much narrower. Yet we felt at home, the views filled our hearts and the small streets welcomed us. After our beach excursion we headed back to the house and another wonderful dinner. The highlight of this dinner was local goat cheese and figs.
For the next day Janette and Sylvie had an ambitious expedition planned: Wineries and scenic roads of Cap Corse, the finger-like peninsula sticking up in Northern Corsica, where our ancestors were said to have come from before the settled in Pieve. Chris and I while tempted by the wineries and views opted to stay home with the girls since we knew a long day on the curvy roads would lead to sick and cranky girls and ruin everyone elses fun. Instead we chose to dedicate the day to exploring Pieve and Sorio on foot. We wandered down each alleyway, sat on the terrace of the Pieve house, walked around the churches, and made a mental map of the towns to take with us.
The day was peaceful and restful. Our goodbye dinner was memorable as it featured a very strong Corsican fish soup that stretched most everyone's culinary palette. The night before Janette had asked us to add an entry to Nou Nou's Casa Nuncia book. A memory book made for her by her grand-daughter Isabelle's husband in 2001. In it Nou Nou shared her memories of living in the houses in Pieve and Sorio and of her family in the days leading up to her marriage. My father asked me to write our entry. And in it we shared our family connection to the Pieve house, and the affection of our grandmothers. We thanked them for the opportunity to come and visit with them and let them know how welcomed they would be in coming to our homes in Puerto Rico, Miami, Rochester and Lansing.
The visit was too short and just long enough at the same time. Having the nine of us descended on them was surely exhausting, so leaving after 3 nights was a relief for them. However there was so much left to see and explore in Corsica, that I think we all wish we could have stayed longer. I hope to return someday again, maybe when the kids are older and hike more of the trails. I would love to tour the island, maybe visit the cities. Maybe next time, I will find out if there any family records in Bastia or at the central Catholic church since the churches of Pieve and Sorio are closed.
If you have ever considered visiting Corsica, do it. The air is fresh, the land beautiful and the people fantastic.