Wiping the drive of my aging Dell laptop that has been shoved under a bed collecting dust for the past five years, rendered useless by my three Macs, has unlocked so many memories for me—particularly of my second stint living in Europe in 2005, when I met SVV. During the same journalism program, we were required to travel extensively for class, as our area of study was international journalism and world politics. On our first lengthy assignment, my friend Helle and I were sent to France. The project was on communities—or more so “ghettos” as our not-so-silently-racist professor assigned it, but we preferred a more politically correct topic and thus tweaked the idea to include all communities living together under one belief—and we could pick anywhere in the massive country we wanted to highlight.
Being the dedicated students sun addicts we were, we went as far south as we could go and still technically be in France. And that’s how we found ourselves in Corsica.
Corsica is a mountainous island in the Mediterranean—its highest peak rests just below 9,000 feet—with a population of 250,000. Like any territory vying for independence (think Basque Country and Euskara), it has its own language, Corsu, though most everyone also speaks French. Its southern tip is separated from Sardinia by little more than a narrow strait.
While it’s true, we both crave sun like nobody’s business—Helle is from Denmark, and if you’ve ever been to Scandinavia, you know the residents need all the sun they can get while away from their cold, dark countries—our interest in Corsica was piqued by the FLNC.
Corsica is a “territorial collectivity” of France, which more or less means it enjoys some of its own rights but still is ruled by France. Not everyone agrees about this—not by a long shot. Enter: the FLNC, a well-known “terrorist” organization. (I use air quotes as the FLNC is considered such by the media and perhaps much of France and maybe even Europe, but it’s hardly the kind of terrorism we’ve seen in the United States in recent years. Members are more akin to political activists—albeit, very violent ones—than anything else.)
Helle and I found throughout rallies and chance meetings and many pre-arranged interviews that, for the most part, the majority of Corsicans seemed to want to be autonomous. Which is why the FLNC—National Liberation Front of Corsica—the poster organization for such a cause, is so powerful on the island.
Like any militant group lobbying for more rights—to eventually be free of French rule—this doesn’t come without violence. Several bombings have taken place over the years, both around Corsica and in Paris, not to mention, assaults, robberies and other acts of aggression. Helle and I visited many of the bombed sites that are now little more than rubble.
While there, we were even granted access to sit through the trial of one of the alleged bombers (I say alleged because it’s been a long time and I honestly don’t remember his name or what the outcome was).
But while our purpose for being on the island was for work, we’d spend most of our mornings and early afternoons in interviews and doing research, while the late afternoons and evenings were for enjoying our surroundings; after all, the island was simply gorgeous. We stayed in Bastia, the major port city, for the majority of our time on Corsica, but also took a few days to drive along the coast down to Bonaventura for an interview with a former FLNC member, then over to the capital of Ajaccio to interview a Parliamentarian, through the mountainous university town Corte to get students’ take on the initiative and on back to Bastia.
We got a local’s view of the island through staying with a handful of CouchSurfers in Bastia. (One even gave us his entire guesthouse for the duration of our stay! Guess that right there dispels the “French are rude” stereotype, eh?) We got a crash course in Corsican politics and history. We got some solid stories, which we sold to local news outlets. And yes, we even got a bit of that time in the sun we so desperately craved.
*Back then, I used a Nikon point and shoot. Today, I primarily shoot with a Canon T1i but when that’s not convenient to carry, I keep a Canon G11 in my purse and a Canon Powershot 780 in my ski pants’ pocket.