Travel: Grand Tours - Fireside Tales in Bandit Country ; Writers' Adventures in Literature: Dorothy Carrington Tells the Story of a Corsican Murderer

Article excerpt

Born in 1910 in Gloucestershire to a land-owning family, Dorothy Carrington lived in Paris, Vienna and on a farm in East Africa before settling in Corsica. This bohemian, socialist globetrotter, who died a year ago today, made her first visit to the French island, on whose culture and history she was to become the leading authority, after being inspired by a meeting with a Corsican waiter. Carrington's subsequent lifetime of exploration revealed Corsica's unique megalithic remains, and the myths and legends of its isolated, pastoral societies. The following extract is taken from `The Dream Hunters of Corsica'.

My knowledge of the Corsican tradition was gleaned little by little over a period of years after 1948, when I first arrived in the island with my husband. People of all kinds and ages contributed to my understanding of different phenomena, people I met when moving about the island in the 1950s, on foot, by bus and by train. These encounters were so rewarding that I never regretted being unable to afford a car. Again and again I was to be enchanted by the way the Corsicans, reputedly wary of foreigners, spoke to me so freely, and to feel grateful for their confidence.

Chance acquaintances invited me into their homes, like the voceratrice, and the woman who gave me the food of the dead. Poverty has never made the Corsicans mean. Their traditional hospitality gave me the key to the rest of their cultural heritage. The best moment for conversation was the veillee, the evening gathering of family, friends and neighbours, in winter round the hearth, in summer on the little stone terraces outside the houses, under the stars. The term veillee has been discarded now that television has robbed the custom of its intrinsic character; in the 1950s it was almost the only available distraction, the day's work done.

Tales would be told; some relating events that had made recent news, others belonging to a legendary or semi-legendary past. Favourite subjects were the exploits of famous bandits, some of whom were personally known to my hosts. So I learnt the life story, at once pitiable, grotesque and tragic, of the bandit Muzarettu, who died soon after I came to the island. It was a slap in the face from a nephew at a card party that launched him on his terrible career. …