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Bon anniversariu à mè!

"Some people our age are old."

sunny 25 °C

So two days ago I celebrated my birthday. My 70th birthday, to be specific. Let us pause for a moment to take that in.


When I think about that number, I have two separate but equal responses: (1) "Whew – I made it! Lucky me!" and (2) "WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK???”

I’m sure those of you who are there, nearly there, or recently there understand the sentiment. As a friend of ours said recently: “Some people our age are old.” We, of course, are not. I’m pretty sure I’m still 40, actually. But all my documents – and that pesky spare tire around my midriff that won’t go away – tell me otherwise. So at some point I guess I’ll have to believe it.

In the meantime, it’s just one more reason to celebrate, and celebrate we did! We arrived in Corsica two days before my birthday, and Erev Birthday found Avi and me in a beautiful little church up in the hills outside of Ajaccio at the invitation of Fred Vesperini, the director of Spartimu, a musical ensemble that specializes in traditional Corsican polyphony. Fred had taught a few Coriscan songs to our choir, Rhythm ’n’ Roots, and some of the choir members went to Corsica this past June to learn with Fred and other musicians. I wasn't among them, but knowing I would be in Corsica this fall, I asked our choir director Karla if she would e-introduce me to Fred in the hope that Avi and I could meet the group and maybe hear them sing.

Lucky us: they were having a rehearsal on Friday evening, and Fred invited us to join them for their rehearsal! The church where they rehearse is in Bastelicaccia, about a 20-minute drive outside of Ajaccio, with lots of roundabouts en route (we only missed our turnoffs twice – pretty good!) and the kind of steep, curvy hills that make driving with standard transmission such an adventure (we only stalled 3 times). But we made it, and what a thrill to be part of such a joyful, soulful, and intimate musical experience!

All the guys were super warm and friendly and made us feel completely welcome. Although they were rehearsing for an upcoming concert, Fred took the time to explain things to us such as what the songs were, where they originated, how the voices worked together, etc. And when it came time to take a break, they cracked out bottles of wine and whiskey and shared them liberally with us. (Why don’t we do this in our choir, I’d like to know? Fred would like to know too.) (Avi is now a fan of Corsican whiskey.)

At one point Fred noted that although their main repertoire was traditional Corsican music, they also adopted music from other traditions and made them their own. “If it touches our hearts, we will sing it,” he explained. “See if you can guess where this next song originated. The words are Corsican, but the melody is…?” We couldn’t guess. Turned out it was from Austria. Another one was Russian (with Corsican words). That melody we recognized.

And then they started in on another song. This time the words were not Corsican, and both the words and melody were very familiar to Avi and me. Yes: it was a Hebrew song, Erev Shel Shoshanim, sung with gorgeous Corsican harmonies and melismatic flourishes! They had learned the song because it touched them, Fred told us, and they performed it often at their concerts.

Eventually the rehearsal drew to a close, but before they all left I asked them if they would be willing to sing Erev Shel Shoshanim once more, and could I sing with them? An enthusiastic yes, and the evening ended on the most magical note (no pun intended) imaginable!

Here's me with the guys from Spartimu. Fred is in the middle.


And here's me singing with them. (I tried embedding the video here but kept getting error messages, so just click the link and it will take you to my YouTube page, where I posted the video.)

You can hear more of Spartimu on YouTube. Check them out and be wowed by their sound!

So that was the evening before my birthday. On the actual day, we treated ourselves to a boat tour to the Scandola Nature Reserve, with its amazing calanques (jagged cliffs and rock formations in magical shapes) and glorious blue Mediterranean water, where we stopped twice to dive in and swim with the little fishes that swarmed around the boat. Idyllic.

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We followed the tour with a concert of more Corsican music by another group, In Cantu (also wonderful), and finished with dinner at a little restaurant that features food from a different country each night. Our night was Tonga.

And that was my 70th birthday! Today is the third day of the rest of my life, and so far, so good. Well, as long as I don't pay attention to what's going on in the rest of the world, which I've been successfully ignoring up till a couple of days ago. But that's a topic for a different time. You'll forgive me if I don't get into it here.

We're now in beautiful Bonifacio, which I'll post about later – probably when we get to our next place, since I'm always reliably a couple of days behind in my posts. For now I'm going to pack it in because I'm wiped from a long hike today, and tomorrow we have an arduous day at the beach planned.

Bona notte!

Posted by AvrilAbroad 21:51 Archived in France Tagged corsica music birthday calanques boat_tour spartimu scandola_nature_reserve

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How fabulous, and welcome to a very special club!

by Diane Fischler

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