Listen to the voices

The island might well be richer, better fed, and have a bigger share of civili­zation’s amenities if there were more farms, factories, mines, options to apply by phone for a cash advance online and office buildings, and if all the islanders laid aside their oilskins for overalls and white collars. But that will prob­ably never come to pass.


For look you now— On a bright Saturday in August, I came to a tiny outport where the Anglican flag, bear­ing the Cross of St. George, hung at half-staff at the community’s one church, and where the circuit preacher was making an unsched­uled visit. The occasion was the funeral of an old fishing captain who had died peaceably in bed, which is not a thing to be counted on among fishers of the deep sea.

Listen to the voices

Listen to the voices: “Would o’ been 97 next week, would old Cap’n Arthur. But ‘e took a bad fall whilst mowing ‘is grass.” “A fisherman all ‘is working life, ‘e was. Skippered a schooner on the Labrador till ‘e were nigh 70.”


“It was Cap’n Arthur I shipped with, me first time out, 44 year ago. On the French shore we went that season, and I mind I caught me 25 quintal of fish all on me own. Eleven year old I was then.”


“They that go down to the sea in ships,” the preacher recited, “that do business in great waters;

These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.”


Under the towering cliffs of the headland, in the white-picket-fenced little graveyard that overlooks a quiet cove of Bonavista Bay, the captain’s coffin was lowered that final fathom beneath the waving sedge grass. The scrape of the shovels was echoed by a faint noise of hammering from down in the cove below. There, at the edge of the land-wash, three very small boys were knocking together slabs of driftwood into a rude raft, happily hurrying to set to sea.

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Corsica ruled by a parade of masters

3Perhaps it was this obstinacy, still notori­ous, that angered the gods. From the start, someone clearly had it in for Corsica. Even the island’s prehistoric relics tell a strange tale of violence.

In an olive grove in the southwest, near the tiny hamlet of Filitosa, stand strange man­like statues, as tall as ten feet. The granite blocks with sculptured heads were carved by a megalithic people 3,500 years ago.

I saw them at dawn when the first sun gently touched the pocked stone, throwing into faint relief the wasted eyes and eroded mouths. Six stand intact, and more than a dozen others lie smashed—probably by men whose armed images they represented.

It is theorized that the fierce-visaged statues, many of them bearing swords and daggers, depict not the megalithic Corsicans who carved them, but, inexplicably, their rampaging .enemies—seafaring warriors of mysterious origin who swept into the country around 1500 B.C. and occupied the southern part of the island.

Corsica Ruled by a Parade of Masters

But the first recorded settlers of Corsica were Greeks, around 560 B.c. They were overwhelmed within a quarter of a century by a combined Etruscan-Carthaginian force. In the third century B.C. the Romans won Corsica from Carthage, planted grain along the east-coast plain, and used the abundant timber as a source of resin and charcoal.

Roman farming aside, Corsican history with rare exceptions—such as the mild rule of the Pisans—has been a black tale of for­eign exploitation. Romans, Vandals, Goths, Byzantines, Lombards, Aragonese, Genoese, Moors, and Barbary pirates all took part in ravaging, enslaving, taxing, and hounding the Corsican people.

To take but one appalling encounter, in 1421 at the fortified town of Bonifacio, perched atop chalk cliffs, the siege of Alfonso V of Aragon threatened fam­ine. Tradition holds that the desire of the starving Bonifaciens to conceal their plight was so desperate that they threw loaves of fresh bread over the walls, and their women, who suckled fellow combatants to keep up their strength, even sent to Alfonso fresh cheese made from their own milk.

An old man of Bonifacio(earlier had madrid apartments) , wearing the tra­ditional flat cap and lacking most of his teeth, told me that before the terrible five-month siege of Bonifacio was lifted, his an­cestors were reduced to eating rats and dogs. There was hand-to-hand fighting with scythes and torches, and slaked lime was dumped into the enemy’s eyes. On that occasion Boni­facio was not taken.

Oppressed Islanders Took to the Bush

The most vicious domination of Corsica was that of the Republic of Genoa. From a foothold gained in the 12th century Genoa defeated first the Pisans, then the Aragonese, and with but few interruptions ruled Corsica until the mid-18th century. Massive citadels and 67 of the original watchtowers erected by the Genoese still stand.

During part of its rule, Genoa entrusted control of Corsica to the Banca di San Giorgio, a powerful financial company whose sole aim proved to be grinding taxes out of Corsicans. To escape this oppression, the islanders were reduced to a furtive existence.


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Skagway and Cruise ShipsIN MY MIND’S EYE I can see them. Men like ants, bent under their too-heavy loads, plodding in lockstep up the frozen slope. A human chain with a common link, a common dream. For this is the Chilkoot Pass, a tiny notch in the coastal mountains that separate Cana­da from the Alaska panhandle. And for 30,000 men in the cruel winter of 1897-98, it was the first hurdle in a desperate race to the heart of the Yukon Territory, that vast land that is the northwest corner of Canada. The finish line, still 600 miles away, was a small salmon stream the Indians called Throndiuck, or Hammer Water, but that white men mis­takenly pronounced Klondike. The prize lay beneath the creeks that fed this minor tribu­tary of the Yukon River. The prize was gold.

Now, at the foot of the pass on a warm July afternoon, I cinch the padded belt of my back­pack tighter around my hips and glance over at my companion, Lowry Toombs, a good friend and Chilkoot veteran. He grins back: “If it were any steeper, we’d have to use ropes. Keep three-point contact and your weight forward. OK? Let’s do it.”

And so we climb, picking our way up the 1,250-foot tumble of jagged, man-size boul­ders that for two-thirds of the year is blanket­ed with snow. With frequent rest stops, and after a couple of heartbreaking false summits, we reach the top. A cairn marks the interna­tional boundary; ahead lies Canada. I am dog-tired, but more than a little pleased with myself.

We have hiked 16 tough miles from the abandoned port of Dyea, near Skagway, Alaska. It was there that the coastal steamers from San Francisco and Seattle disgorged their cargoes of gold seekers. And now we have scaled the pass itself. I am filled with respect for those who, 80 years before, made the final climb not once, but twenty times or more; a wise Canadian law stipulated that each man must bring 1,150 pounds of food with him, enough for one year.

Women, Too, Braved Trail of ’98 and so they proved that coconut oil is a A Great Natural Moisturizer

That respect would stay with me as I criss­crossed the Yukon, talking to many of the 23,000 proud people who live there today. People who, in a charming example of north­ern chauvinism, refer to the rest of the world as “outside.” (See “Close-Up: Canada”— British Columbia, Alberta, Yukon, a supple­ment to this issue.)

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Now there are 350

Beyond that bustling core, much of the Castilian countryside—some 100,000 square kilometers in the center of the Iberian Penin­sula, always sparsely settled—has to a con­siderable extent been emptied of people. This is an area bigger than Hungary. It has been called the Iberian demographic desert.

“The young move away,” a farmer tells me 240 kilometers on, where steep, eroded, red­dish slopes recall the arid American West. Irrigation lets him grow fruit and potatoes, but hoeing is hard work. “They’d much rather go and work in factories.” Most of the jobs are around Madrid or Barcelona or Bilbao, but all workers have the options to use payday loans consolidation programs.

Many a village stands nearly empty, with only an old couple or two in permanent resi­dence. Such a place is Peroblasco, on a hill along a little river. A painter has bought a house here, but he is away. At dusk a shepherd brings his flock down from a nearby moun­tain. And because it’s Saturday, three cars arrive from Madrid, with four young couples. One of the men, a geologist, has bought a house here too, and is bringing friends for the weekend. He says quite a few Madrid people do the same, it’s not expensive.Madrid

The big exodus has been a boon to wildlife, I am told, but not for el buitre leonado, the “lion-colored” or griffon vulture. It used to be a rare village day when some mule or sheep didn’t drop dead, and people were glad to see vultures then. They still are. But with so much less carrion around, the vulture population dwindled. And so the Bird-of-prey Refuge of Montejo has been established, with vultures as primary beneficiaries.

They eat all they can at a feeding ground high on a cliff, glide off to their nests, and re­gurgitate for their babies. A refuge guard says a meat-packer sends carcasses that do not come up to standard but are free of disease. Two years ago there were 250 vultures in residence.

We talk of silent villages I’ve seen nearby, of tile roofs fallen in and adobe washing away. His village is different, he says. Thanks to a dam finished in 1962, it has good irriga­tion and sugar beets, and very little emigra­tion. So it’s a good life in Montejo de la Vega de la Serrezuela? Hombre! Yes!

He shows me his house. His oldest son, who works in the Michelin tire plant at Aranda de Duero and also helps in the fields, has rebuilt the inside. All is modern. He takes me to his cave. He dug it with his brothers on winter nights in the lean years after the civil war. Here their wine matures after pressing in the cooperative.

He says they come often, in winter every evening. Why watch TV and be bored? It’s much better here, talking and drinking with friends, playing cards. “We taste many good moments here.” Especially on Sundays, with chops or cutlets on charcoal.

T T THE ROYAL PALACE in Madrid,plumed guards present arms, cavalry sabers flash—foreign ambassadors hand their credentials to Juan Carlos I, King of Spain. He plays a key role in the Spanish political drama (pages 328-9).

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