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Corsica On AssignmentArrows

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From Author

Peter Ross Range

Corsica On Assignment

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From Photographer

Bruno Barbey

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Dan E. Moldea (top), and Jean Paul Guillot



Field Notes From Author
Peter Ross Range
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    One evening I arrived in Sarténe for what I had heard was a major religious festival. I didn't have a place to stay, but I had the phone number of Marie Mondoloni, who was a godsend. Marie is one of the town's leading citizens. She lives in a big stone house on the edge of town, and she took me in. She fed me, gave me a place to sleep, and led me along in the dramatic religious procession that night. Like everyone else, I carried a candle, which made taking notes a little difficult. As we marched with hundreds of other Sartênians through the winding stone streets of this 1,000-year-old town, Marie explained that she had done this every August 15 since she was a little girl several score years ago. One of her sons led the procession wearing the brilliant crimson soutane and pointed white hood of the local confrérie, a religious brotherhood that exists mainly for walking in this event every summer. At the town church, I was carried away by the beautiful music, part liturgical, part traditional Corsican polyphonic laments. The whole evening was an intense dose of Corsican tradition, food, and—best of all—Marie's amazing hospitality.

    Two days after I arrived in Corsica, I came down with a painful intestinal ailment. I had not experienced anything like it since 12 years before in Moscow, where bad food was the culprit. It was August, the height of the tourist season, and it was almost impossible to find hotel rooms. I got the only vacant room in the fanciest hotel in Bonifacio, with a gorgeous view over the cliffs to the Mediterranean. But twice I had to make the long trek down to the lower town on the waterfront to find a pharmacy. I lay in bed for a day and a night, unable to enjoy the hotel's luxuries, periodically calling my wife in the United States on my cell phone for advice on dealing with blocked bowels. It was the first time I had gotten long-distance medical care straight to my pillow from 4,000 miles (6,400 kilometers) away. And hopefully it will be the last.

    For days I tried to reach Jean-Guy Talamoni, a lawyer and one of the leading nationalists in Corsica. He's the top aboveground figure in an otherwise underground separatist movement. That's why the whole world was trying to reach him for comment.
    Suddenly, as I drove through the coastal town of Porto-Vecchio, my cell phone rang. It was Talamoni. "I'm calling you back only because you're not French," he said. I begged him to give me five minutes to park my car and find a place to take notes. I ran into the nearest café just as the phone rang again. Gesturing wildly at the bartender to turn down the loud music, I scribbled madly into my notebook for ten minutes as Talamoni compared Corsican separatism to the aspirations of Catholics in Northern Ireland, separatists in Spain's Basque Country, and the American patriots of 1776. It was a strange and disjointed interview, but it was an exclusive—I thought. The next day I opened the newspaper to learn that Talamoni had told the same things to a Swiss reporter. Everything was reprinted in the French newspapers. So much for my exclusive.

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