on james baldwin & the presqu’île de l’Île-rousse
While reading the biography of James Baldwin by David Leeming, I learned that James Baldwin had traveled to Corsica, more specifically to L’Île-Rousse on the west coast, at the time of the publication of Giovanni’s Room, his second novel.
He went to L’Île-Rousse “where he would try to finish Another Country.” It was September, 1956. He stayed for six months, living in a house provided by a friend Mme Dumont.
It was the first time I had heard of L’Île-Rousse. I knew one day I would travel to Corsica and decided then that L’Île-Rousse would be a part of that visit.
I assume at some point James Baldwin wandered out to the presqu’île of L’Île-Rousse and looked back. (“Presqu’île” refers to the peninsula that juts out from the port in L’Île-Rousse.)
Walking out there is what you do while visiting L’Île-Rousse. A small tourist train is available as well, and it will take you to the top and down again. You follow the Route du Port and then diverge to the left and walk up the Chemin de Phare. It is an easy walk.
At the top and at the end of your walk is the Phare de la Pietra. (Phare in French means lighthouse.) On the way up is the Tour Genoise de la Pietra à L’Île-Rousse. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)
Looking back to L’Île-Rousse you get a sense of the rugged landscape that dominates Upper Corsica. It looms up in the distance and reduces L’Île-Rousse from a city to a town. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)
You feel like Gulliver after he washes ashore on the small island of Lilliput, looking back and down from the Phare de la Pietra and toward L’Île-Rousse and the Tour Genoise de la Pietra and the 6-inch tourists and the toy tourist train and the model town that is L’Île-Rousse. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)
The waters of the Mediterranean Sea surrounding Corsica are deep blue and clear. The colors contrast with the reddish, rustic rocks and granite that line the shores. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)
My aunt bought the house in Ile Rousse ( 1957, I think ) when Baldwin moved out. Did he leave for greener pastures or from a certain racism practiced by the Corsicans? Who knows.
Anyway, I first spent the summers in the villa in 1959, then in 1964-65-66-67-69 ( college years! )and 1971, 1985.
The villa is located about 3/4 mile outside of Ile Rousse on the road to Bastia. Still owned by my cousins. They spend the summers there. Sadly, Ile Rousse has really grown. ” You can’t go home again.”
I may spend some time there after Covid-19!
And finally, my aunt didn’t tell me that James Baldwin lived there in 1956 until 1967!
Oh my! What a gift you gave me me this morning when I saw your mail for the first time. No, I do not believe he left for racial reasons. He thought France was a wonderful place to live. On Corsica itself I do not know. He had initially planned a short stay on Corsica to escape and to write. He wanted to be left alone to finish writing a book. He did that and returned to the mainland to his home at St-Paul-de-Vence.
I know, of course, the road to Bastia. If he was that far from the center of L’Île-Rousse–three-quarters of a mile–he did find some solitude in 1956.
Yes, L’Île-Rousse is popular and many summer homes are there. It is a popular town for vacationing British, French, and Corsicans. The British and French arrive from the mainland by Ferry and then drive the few miles (kilometers) across Cap Corse to L’Île-Rousse for their vacation.
Again, thank you for your note. It was a pleasure to see it.