For our 23rd wedding anniversary, we went to Corsica--to a hotel that looked very tempting as it was recently renovated... Unfortunately, it was not ready to welcome us in the best conditions. At the end of our stay, we can truly say we "wiped the plaster" with our very own clothes! Find out the meaning of today's expression essuyer les plâtres--and read about our trip to France's "Island of Beauty" in today's post.
ESSUYER LES PLATRES
: to be the guinea pig
: to cope with teething pains, to endure the early hiccups of something new (hotel, business, service, etc...)
AUDIO FILE - listen to Jean-Marc read the following sentence in French:
Pour notre 23 ième anniversaire de mariage, nous sommes allés en Corse dans un hôtel qui avait l'air fort alléchant car tout récemment rénové.... mais qui n'était malheureusement pas prêt à accueillir dans les meilleures conditions. A la fin de notre séjour, nous pouvons dire que nous avons "essuyer les plâtres".
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE
by Kristi Espinasse
When you are married to an outdoorsy kind of guy nice hotels are not a priority. The idea is to spend vacation time exploring--and not lavishing in a cozy bed made up of fine linens. Instead, lumpy mattresses, bathrooms shared with strangers, and noisy streets just outside our window are something I have grown to expect when my husband reserves "une chambre". And though we have moved on up, over the years, to nicer and nicer accomodations, I never expected Monsieur Rough-It to reserve, for our 23rd wedding anniversary, such impeccible digs...or at least they were touted that way in the newly-made-over hotel's presentation.
So there we were on Corsica this past Thursday, wrinkled and stiff after an overnight ferry ride from Toulon to Bastia...but that didn't matter as we were headed for an impeccible piscine (as seen in the hotel's impressive ad) to float to our heart's content--i.e. pass the time until our room was ready....
If only the pool were ready. Ah well, a few dirty cushions, a pile of wet towels (no more dry ones available so Jean-Marc lounged on a tea towel), and an unfinished poolside bathroom did not take away from the scenery. Just look at the view of the Mediterranean! But when the hiccups continued to our room (faulty light switches, a garbled telephone line to the reception, and no T.V. or internet, we soon realized the hotel was experiencing teething pains ... and that we guests were, as the French say, wiping the plaster!
Even if the newly-renovated hotel's plaster had dried weeks ago, there were many unfinished bits. Instead of detailing all of them in this post, let's turn our attention outward--beyond the boastful (and soggy) hotel...to what the French call "The Island of Beauty"....
Quelle trouvaille! What a find to see these beloved capers growing high up on the island. If Corsica is known as L'Ile de Beauté, it is also appreciated for its delicious harvests. Chesnuts, olives, figs, citrons (heritage tree, grown for its skin), grenadines, grapes, pomelos.... and those ball-like strawberries growing in the wonderful arbousier trees. Jean-Marc pulled off to the side of a breathtaking (so steep I couldn't breathe) road to gather a handful of the ripend fruit for us to eat. (I'm looking for the photo of those strawberries to show you now, meantime, here's a picture of the châtaignes we gathered by the side of yet another winding road... They should remind you of another of Jean-Marc's favorite things to hunt and eat. Can you guess?)
Chestnuts looking very much like oursins, or sea urchins! Jean-Marc loves both of these Mediterranean délices.
Apart from the goodies you can pick along the roadside or in the wild maquis, we sampled a lot of Corsican dishes made up of local cheese, like brocciu, and "tested" a lot of creamy desserts, like fiadon - a Corsican cheesecake recently discovered at the spectacular Mugel plage here at home in La Ciotat.
It took a lot of seaside naps--relaxing siestas in which we were rocked to sleep by the waves at the beach, to digest so much Corsican goodness....
Even Mr Sacks--Jean-Marc's dear, elderly sacoche, needed a nap--because, you know, in dog years Mr Sacks would be 140 years old....
And in married years, our couple is 23 years old. We are both grateful to continue to love and to cherish. Thanks, Jean-Marc, for planning a wonderful celebration on France's Island of Beauty! Corsica was as beautiful as ever...even if it didn't feel as authentic and rich as the first time we ventured here years ago (to Ajaccio). Jean-Marc had a simple explanation for that:
"Because back then we were roughing it!"
The earthy scents and rugged fare came back to me, remembering those inexpensive inns run by old Corsicans who probably hunted the sanglier they used for their rich terrines, and picked the figs from their own modest gardens. Next time we may skip the fine and soggy linens in exchange for a lumpy mattress and one of those authentic inns.
It looks like Smokey got a good deal at his hotel. We found a couple here in La Ciotat who charged very little, but gave so much more to our 8-year-old (in human years) golden boy. As Smokey continues to snooze (here at home now) I'll be working on this edition--adding more photos and info about France's Ile de beauté.
Arbutus unedo - or "strawberry tree". As you can see, these don't really look like strawberries and the fruit can be as bland as a mouthful of sand...unless you pick it as just the right time. The last week of September must be that right time. Wow, these were good!
Jean-Marc and I both chose Barcaggio as a highlight of our trip. The charming port, the swim JM enjoyed (and the sea urchins he caught and ate sur place) and the U Fanale restaurant were delicious discoveries. We will never forget the chestnut flan we had at the restaurant!
From Corsica to Mexico. Sent this birthday wish to my beautiful Mom, who turned 71 on September 23rd.
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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety