Was that a howl? I look out the window and shiver. Corsica is steeped in superstition. And tonight’s moon is almost full, a hunting moon…
For spine-tingling stories, Maison Borghetti provides the perfect setting. It’s crammed with cabinets of curiosities and esoteric objets d’art. I’m particularly taken with the gargoyle grinning from an alcove, pictures of the Grim Reaper, and a plague saint (St. Roch) watching over me in the bedroom.
A handsome stone house, Maison Borghetti is a chambres d’hote (bed and breakfast) in Talasani village.
Once owned by a Corsican revolutionary, it’s now home to Brian, Patrick and their dog Kika. Doubles with breakfast are from 65 euro ($90).
Brian is Irish with a background in computers. Patrick is Belgian and a trained chef. After years of Corsica vacations, they moved from Amsterdam around four years ago.
High in the chestnut woods, Talasani is around seven miles from eastern Corsica’s coast. As with many hill villages, you’d need a car.
There’s no shop and the sole bar/restaurant only opens in summer.
Thankfully visitors needn’t starve. Patrick will cook dinner for guests—on this night a three-course Moroccan feast with aperitifs, wine and a digestif of chestnut eau de vie. As my hosts were wonderfully profligate with the red wine, it was worth every cent of 27.50 euros ($38). A Corsican couple from Ajaccio were staying too, so it felt like a dinner party.
After trawling through French strikes and politics, conversation turned the mazzeri—Corsica’s feared dream hunters.
None of my dinner companions had ever met one—the consensus was that the mazzeri have died out. But the British writer/historian Dorothy Carrington documented meeting both male and female mazzeri in the 1970s. Most operated on the psychic plane, killing animals (wild and domestic) in their dreams. But some went into a trance akin to sleep-walking and hunted for real.
Thing was, the hunted animals had a human face, usually that of someone in the village. The mazzeri didn’t keep it secret—they announced their “kill”. Belief was that the victim would die within the year. If an animal was only wounded, then the person it represented would fall ill or have an accident.
The mazzeri counterparts are signadori, wise women adept in herb lore and spellcraft against the evil eye. If rumor is right, more remote inland villages still have one.
Some local plants also have magical links. In common with ancient Greek beliefs, Corsicans once thought the asphodel was linked to immortality. (In legend, the plains of Hades are also known as the Asphodel Meadows.) It used to be planted around tombs across the Mediterranean. There’s a Corsican saying that those who forget the asphodel have forgotten their roots.
If you’re into folklore and flowers, you’ll have a field day. No guarantee that weird dreams won’t materialize, but you should feel well protected in Maison Borghetti. Even my bathroom wall is adorned with three icons of saints, including one of a dragon-slaying St. George.
You might also start thinking about how much fun it would be to run a chambres d’hote or live in a village house yourself. So, don’t miss my full Corsica report in the February issue of International Living magazine, out this week.