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Thanks for checking out The Aix-Files, my

blog postings inspired by my time in and around

Aix-en-Provence and the Vaucluse. The spot includes travel tips,

discoveries of local food and wine, recipes,

cultural events, interviews and historical

tidbits about Southern France. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Easter in Corsica

Palm Sunday in Agacco, Corsica

Wild lavender, Corsica

Foamy fish lunch at Ajaccio

Dramatic hike around Piana, Corsica

The famous heart-shaped hole, near Piana, Corisca

Driving around Piana, Corsica!

Thursday evening ceremony, Patrimonio

Office of the Tenebre - the book

The men entered on their knees, wearing grey cloaks and head-scarves. Inside, the church was lit only by candles. There was still enough light outside at 8:30 pm to illuminate the church further. Not that there was much to see, as earlier in the day, all of the statues in the church had been covered with veils, which is how they would remain until Easter Sunday. Through the open door we could see some of the most stunning countryside the world has to offer.

We were in the tiny village of Patrimonio, in the northeastern part of the island of Corsica. It was the Thursday before Easter. Christophe, the director of the Corsican vocal workshop that Jim has been attending, is a member of the confrérie (brotherhood) providing the striking vocal music for the event: the Office of the the Tènebre. Fifteen candles were lit on a candelabra. The men gathered in a circle around a very large ledger holding the book with the words for the ceremony. After each singer recited his designated phrase, the whole group would respond together in rich harmony, and a candle would be snuffed out. The ceremony ended in silence and in darkness. It is one of the most solemn moments leading up to Easter.
Earlier in the evening we attended mass in the church. The confrérie also provided music, alternating with singing by the congregation. At one point, several of the confrérie removed one shoe, and took a seat around the altar. Then their feet were washed ceremonially by the priest. This was not a service to which we were accustomed.
Some nourishment was required to sustain all this solemnity, so in between the mass and the office of the tènebre we joined the conférie in the sacristy for slices of pissaladière (onion and anchovy pizza garnished with olives) and bottles of delicious red wine from Antoine Arena, one of the best winemakers of the island. Patrimonio, it turns out, is home to a glorious concentration of excellent wineries.

Good Friday morning, Erbalunga

Meeting another conferie near Erbaunga

Procession, Cap Corse

Procession, Cap Corse

Village Procession, Good Friday, Cap Corse

Good Friday morning we crossed the peninsula of Cap Corse to the seaside village of Erbalunga, where we hoped to hear various other confréries as they made a circuit of mountain villages, singing all the way. But we did the wrong thing. Instead of waiting for each confrérie to arrive, one after the other, we mistakenly followed the first confrérie, dressed in red and white, from tiny chapel to chapel, from village to village, climbing further and further up the mountain and further and further away from our starting point. Not that weren’t enjoying it – the singing was very moving. At one point we finally met another confrérie, dressed in blue, who lined up in two rows outside the little church while we processed through grandly. And of course there was a break part way so everyone could nibble on Easter bread, tasty cakes, coke and wine.

Break-time during the proccession (a steep mountain still to climb)

Easter bread with an egg baked in it
 As beautiful as these tiny hamlets are, it’s hard to believe people still live there, so far from civilization. But along the (long) route we made the acquaintance of young Cedric and his father who works for France Telecom, commuting to nearby Bastia and Paris when required. He has resisted his boss’s constant urging to move to Paris. He says he will never leave.

Erbalunga, Corsica

Anyway, four hours later, with no end in site, we realized we’d bitten off more than we could chew. Plus, we had more processions to catch in Calvi that evening! So Cedric walked us part way down the mountain (you can tutoyer a boy if he’s wearing braces, right?). All the while he proudly regaled us with stories of the history of the island and about his desire to move to Canada, which he once visited.

Preparations for Good Friday Procession

The night-time procession in Calvi started on the citadel in the old church where we had heard so many fabulous concerts back in the fall (see blogs October 12 and 23). The name for this special Good Friday ceremony is ”Granitula”. It refers to the manner of processing in two circles, going in opposite directions, and making a formation like an escargot, the circle tightening closer and closer, then reversing and opening up again. There are various explanations for the Granitula. Christophe maintains it represents Christ’s descent into hell, then his ascent into heaven. Others insist the shapes represent the sun and growing wheat.

Granitula procession

Good Friday Procession, Calvi

Granitula procession, Calvi

The Calvi confrérie started in the old church and processed solemnly through the town, singing all the way, and stopping five times to make their spiral formations. They also carried huge crosses decorated with palms, a statue of Mary, dressed in black, and Jesus, on his death bed. Then they made their way back up to the church, and finally to their own meeting hall where they lined up in formation one last time to sing, then carefully hung the crosses on the wall.

Some days later, as we were eating lunch at an outdoor café, we chuckled as we observed city workers lugging the crosses from their municipal trucks, unceremoniously, down into a storage room until next year.

City workers doing their sacred duty

Easter Monday, Calvi

Easter Monday Procession, Calvi

Easter Monday Procession, Calvi

Locals prefer the Corsican spelling of Lavatoggio

Don't even THINK about moving to Corsica


-Attended a fabulous concert on Easter Sunday evening at the cathedral in Calvi featuring the Corsican group Alba. They mixed very traditional and dramatic vocal singing – chants polyphoniques – with contemporary arrangements highlighted by instruments such as clarinet, harmonium, stand-up bass, guitar and mandolin. Memorable.
-Easter Monday we attended mass (with a baptism) followed by a procession with the confrérie again. This time they carried the image of Jesus on a cross facing backwards. They processed slowly around the church. The statue of Mary was now wearing vibrant colours. At one point they turned her statue, ceremoniously, in four directions, with accompanying song.
-Enjoyed a rustic dinner at Chez Edgard, a country auberge, where I sampled civet de sanglier ( wild boar stew).
-spent three days on the island of Porquerolles where we:
- hiked 26 km (even Jim with his bad knee!)
- picnicked on the seaside.
- enjoyed a fancy meal at le Mas de Langoustier, the sort of place where, earlier in the day while we nibbled on our lunchtime picnic of charcuterie, we observed someone arrive by helicopter for a 1 pm reservation, then depart again at 2:10, presumably to attend a business meeting in St. Tropez at 2:30.
-appreciated the eco-atmosphere of the island: garbage bins are scattered throughout and one is not allowed to smoke on the beaches or in the parks, in other words, anywhere, except for outside bars and restaurants!

Charcuterie, Ajaccio market

Sheep's milk cheese (brebis), Ajaccio market


Slices of charcuterie are the most popular starter course at restaurants. Corsicans developed their love of charcuterie long before it became the biggest trend in Toronto and they are justifiably proud of it. Highlights are coppa, lonzo and the black, thin figatelli. Another specialty is brocchiu, (pronounced “brooch”) which is fresh cheese, like ricotta. It is often added to omelettes with mint, or baked into lasagne, also with mint. Or it’s added to fruit for dessert, probably with mint, but I didn’t try it. They are big on meat. Sanglier, or wild boar, is a specialty. What I found strange is that despite being on an island, and very often in a seaside town, I could not find locally-caught fish to buy. I asked in Calvi, and I was told to go down to the marina to meet the fisherman, early. I did that, but then read his sign saying he would be there between 10 am and 1 pm, depending on the wind and the weather. I returned at 10:30, with no sign of him. I tried again another day, later, still no luck. Fortunately, nearby restaurant Le Callelu, right on the marina, served his St. Pierre, simply grilled and delicious.

RECIPE OF THE WEEK: Omelette au brocciu et à la menthe

I know, another egg recipe. But this is really special. And I know you can’t possibly find the same kind of eggs, the same fresh cheese or the same mint in Canada. But I am sure you can re-create something reasonably similar, something perfect for a Sunday brunch, perhaps for Mother’s Day. [Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!].
Start with the freshest eggs possible, four for two (or five if Jim is invited). Crack them into a bowl and mix with a fork. Add in big dollops of fresh cheese. In Corsica one would use Brocciu (pronounced “brooch”). In Aix we can find brousse, the equivalent. Otherwise consider fromage frais or ricotta. Add a good handful of chopped mint, which they adore in Corsica, some salt and pepper.
Heat a sauté pan over medium heat and add enough olive oil to slick the pan (with or without a touch of butter). Pour in the egg mixture and immediately lower the heat to very low. Cover it with a lid. After a minute or two, pull in the sides a bit with a wooden spatula to allow the liquid on top to hit the pan. Cover again and cook until set. This is a flat omelette, not meant to be folded over. If necessary, pass under the broiler for a couple of minutes to finish cooking. Please let it remain moist on top – you don’t want it to be rubbery.
Enjoy with a little salad or serve in squares as an apéro.


A la prochaine,



Gaetano said...

Love your post post. The pageantry is fantastic and the surroundings too.

Denise Grison said...

Hi Andrea!
I've been enjoying your blog since Sandy T suggested I check it out.
Am currently on Amalfi Coast (Positano) with my daughter. Next stop is Aix-en-Provence, arriving late May 21 and staying for the week.
Any chance we might connect?
Will also leave note in your CBC acct, if I can access remote site.
Denise G.