Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Back to Bonifacio

Twenty years ago we sailed from Bonafcio in a rusty old ferry across the narrow straights to St Theresa di Gallura in Sardinia. Our seven week sojourn to Tuscany, Corsica and Sardinia was at that time our most ambitious to date and the first long camping trip sourh with all three of our kids. Our youngest had just turned three a week or two before we departed.

Bonafacio ferry dock - mentioned  by Homer, not something Dover can claim.
We were interested to see if Bonafcio had changed much. The answer, not really. Below the old town a new marina has been constructed and the quayside now is lined with restaurants - about fifteen of them in a row, each with a canvas gazebo outside.

The marina -

a comparatively recent development.
Inside the town walls there are lots of tacky tourist shops, but in truth Bonifacio was very touristy back in 1998; is it more so now? Tricky to tell. What is undeniable is that the old harbour and the walled town above it are not going to be overwhelmed by a few gift shops. It was, and still is, a breathtaking sight.

The gorge-like inlet is so unique that a passage in Book 10 of Homer's Odyssey, written 2700 years ago, may well describe Bonafcio's natural harbour.
We reached a fine harbour, with a stretch of sheer cliff on both sides, and narrow access between the opposing headlands, jutting out at its mouth. My captains took their curving ships inside, and moored them close together in the cavernous harbour, since all around us was shining calm, with never a wave, great or small.
After an hour or so of wandering around the old town taking pictures that made it look less packed with gift shops than it is really, we walked back to where we had locked the bikes, by the small Spa supermarket on the edge of town.

 It was only a 20 minutes pedal back to the campsite, the road climbed steeply up a narrow limestone walled valley. Pedelecs are wonderous devices, gently assisting six decade old knees up the hill and delivering us at the top both still able to speak. My bike seems to have recovered from an intermittent fault developed over recent days. Every so often the motor kept cutting out - the most likely cause, damp in the gubbins somewhere. In rainy weather the bike covers protect the electrical parts from rain falling from the sky, but not spray off road. Our ebikes are not reliable in wet weather. Maybe more recent models are more robust.

We had lunch in the van then cycled around some of the local minor roads. We found a beach looking across Golfe de Sta Manza towards the island's central mountains. Though it was Sunday there were few people about and only one brave soul swimming. A chilly breeze blew in from the sea and rain clouds hid the higher peaks, we decided to head back to the campsite.

Local fauna

Ebike hero shot
By evening the forecast rainy weather had arrived and continued intermittently most of the next day, a mixture of drizzle and steady downpours. Gill bought a day's internet; even with the booster wand the signal wafted about and proved too unreliable to upload photos. The blog is back to being ten days out of date. 

Revisiting Bonafcio after a twenty years interval got us thinking about how Corsica had changed. Not as much as some other places, we agreed. Even the young man from the campsite had extolled the way the place had maintained a traditional approach. Though a new swimming pool is half constructed, aspects of the place's facilities remain as we remember camping in France in the 70s. Most sites in France now have unisex sanitary facilities. Not here. In the male half of the block the WCs were staunchly traditional in design. 'Le direction' had even taken the trouble to put up a notice concerning the 'old school' sanitaire for the benefit of 'foreigners'.

The men's facilities were unashamedly venerable...
The women's however fittings that were so 'ultra-modern' they seemed latter-day antiques - Gill photographed the tap, remarking it reminded her of Thunderbirds - the fins in particular having Stringray connotations.

I think you need to be French to understand the cultural nuances here, particularly relating to the particular requirements of the masculine digestion system. When Roland Barthes wrote his seminal work 'Mythologies' in the late 1950s, he provided an incisive cultural commentary on many aspects of French popular culture - soap-powder, wine, les vacances, TV wrestling - all these things were subjected to in-depth semiotic analysis. It seems to me a matter of some regret that Barthes omitted to turn his attention to what to an outsider appears to be a unique, indeed peculiar aspect of French culture - its toilets.

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