September 2018, one the Frisian bastards hiked the Grande Randonnée 20 in Corsica. GR-vingt, as the French say. The GR20 is Europe’s toughest long-distance trail, so they say. And one of the most dangerous, as it turned out. The bastard wanted to experience the similarities of hiking trails that cover territories of Europe’s autochthonous minorities. In this case, comparing the GR20 on Corsica territory with that of the Frisia Coast Trail. And, like hiking the Frisia Coast, the GR20 too guides you through the core of the region’s culture. Hiking ánd climbing Europe’s toughest and deadliest trail was taken for granted, in a naive way.
Whereas the last violent confrontation about identity and equal rights of the Frisians in the Netherlands already dates back to the early ’50s of the twentieth century, with the incident that became know as Kneppelfreed ‘Baton-Friday’ (read our blog post Leeuwarden 2018: European Capital of Exiled Governments on this matter), official cessation of the armed struggle in Corsica against ‘the continent’ was announced only as recent as 2014.
Trail-wise the differences could not be bigger. The Frisia Coast Trail covers 2,150 kilometers through successively Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark, with a total ascent of only ca. 300 meters and descent of ca. 300 meters. The GR20 covers only ca. 190 kilometers cutting through nearly the whole island from the northwest to the southeast, but with a total ascent of ca. 12.5 kilometers and descent of ca. 12.5 kilometers! The GR20 is a shark’s jaw with razor sharp and remorseless teeth. It consists of rock, rock and rock too. Mostly grey and red granite. And you better not roll. The Frisia Coast is as flat as a damask tablecloth. Soft and green. It consists of a combination of smelly clay, sand, sticky mud, seawater, and lots of spilled milk and cow dung. The only rock you will find, is imported basalt to strengthen the bases of dikes. Of course, with the exception of the red, rocky island of Heligoland of Nordfriesland in the North Sea.
The GR20 starts at the charming village Calenzana, with instantly from the start four horrible tough stages. The word ‘path’ or ‘trail’ should be taken with a bag of salt in general, when you talk about the GR20 trail. Most of it is loose or solid rock you stumble and trip along. This is particularly the case during the first nine stages. The same is true for the word ‘hiking’. This word suggests you advance by walking on feet mostly. What else? Well, not in the case of the GR20. Often mild advancement can only be made by using your hands as well. Rock scrambling, sometimes hanging on your fingers and feet above sheer heights. Or, as a French hiker on the trail said: “Death is never far away.” So, solo-hiking with a twist. Progressing just seven kilometers after nine hours of sweating on the trail. Wondering if it is all worth it?
At the end of stage 6 of the GR20 you reach the refuge at Manganu. This marks the beginning of the heartlands of Corsica. From here until the refuge at Bocco di Verdi at the end of stage 11, you will notice that the hut-owners of the refuges display many flags. And, they do not solely display the white Corsican flag with its, interesting, black Moor’s head.
The same decapitated Moor’s head, by the way, you will find on the coat of arms of the Roorda family in province Friesland in the Netherlands. As a reminder of their ancestors’ ‘achievements’ during the Crusades in the Middle Ages (read our blog post Foreign Terrorist Fighters from the Wadden Sea). The flag of Sardinia is top dog, with four Moor heads. This Moor-head is considered a topic of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, but was afraid it would unleash separatist goups again. You do not want to mess with the Roorda family.
Anyway, back to the flag-thing. No, besides the Corsican flag you will see many more colors. Flags of among other Catalonia, Basque Country, Tibet, the IRA, Wales, Brittany, Occitania and of Cuba. Sometimes the image of Che Guevara displayed as well. Occasionally with El Comandante’s famous words “Hasta la Victoria Siempre”. You understand the statement they are trying to make. Even in the small village Conca in the very south of the island at the end of the final stage 16 of the GR20, tattoos and berets were proudly shown to the Frisian bastard. Again, a testimony of their active loyalty to the Corsican Cause.
So, it is clear. During the GR20 you are hiking hardcore Corsica, in several respects. Fortunately, the bastard quickly learned from a Corsican fellow-hiker on the trail a few basic Corsican words, like bonghjornu ‘good day’ and grazie ‘thanks’. During dinner in one of the proud refuges, the owner made the bastard throw his head backwards and open his mouth. After which the owner poured mirte, a local liquor, straight from the plastic bottle into his open mouth. Not an unacceptable costume, and all because of showing interest in the Corsican language and culture.
One thing became clear. Despite the wide array of flags of minority peoples, nowhere a flag of one of the Frisian regions, like the one of region Ostfriesland, Kreis Nordfriesland, province Friesland or the rock-island Heligoland. Not even the newly fabricated, and for some obscure reason Scandinavian-inspired, inter-Frisia flag for that matter. No, nothing relating to Frisia. Even worse. Les frisons as such, were a totally unknown people to them. Mostly their reaction was when you asked them if they knew of the Frisians, they did not need a haircut. When explaining to a gardier of one of the refuges who the ‘frisons’ actually are and in which countries they live, he replied with a simple but meaningful:
“so many peoples are stuck in countries”
Indeed, Frisian public relations is poor. The bastard should have known that already. Barely able to penetrate into the history books of the countries they live in, let alone they could penetrate into the sharp granite mountains of Corsica. But it was much more worse. Fellow hikers originating from e.g. Brittany too, had no clue what-so-ever who the ‘frisons’ are. Maybe there is one small consolation. Despite all this, you will probably still find a flag of, let’s say, island Heligoland or Nordfriesland sooner on the entire island than the drapeau bleu-blanc-rouge of France.
It must be noted, when the bastard hiked the Cape Wrath Trail in the outer northwest of Scotland in May 2017, many Scots did know who the Frisians were, and even that the Frisian language was closely related to English. As far north as Orkney they knew. Yes, a taste in a way of brotherhood being both North Sea minorities, with the English’ poking nose in between. Read the blog post “My God, the Germans bought all the bread!” cried Moira, of the bastard’s experience hiking the Cape Wrath Trail.
But, one hazardous encounter took place.
When arriving in the morning at the refuge at Bocco di Verdi, the Frisian bastard was in need of food supplies for the coming 24 hours. It is a cozy refuge with a big fireplace, in a valley connected to the world via a dirt road. In front of the fireplace sat two old Corsican men. Both smoking a cigarette. The ceiling of this refuge too is draped with many of the flags mentioned earlier. Just in front of the bastard, a hiking couple from the so-called Île-de-France ordered two sandwiches to take away. They paid and the kitchen staff started preparing the sandwiches. After the couple had been served, the bastard asked for two sandwiches as well. “Non,” was the answer of the gardier. Let’s name the gardier Ocatarinetabellatchitchix. “The Kitchen is closed,” Ocatarinetabellatchitchix said. Only from 12:00 hours would the kitchen be open. It was 11:15 hours. This was weird. And, the four people personnel had nothing to do, besides being exceptionally busy with their smartphones, by the way. “Okay,” said the bastard, “I dry up and warm at the fireplace and wait until 12:00 hours for two take-away sandwiches, please.” “No, not possible. Only for eating here, not for taking outside” replied Ocatarinetabellatchitchix.
For a moment, everything turned as silent as the opening scene of Ennio Morricone’s Once Upon a Time in the West. The only sound was the crackling of burning wood in the hearth. The two old men stopped smoking. It was obvious. The Frisian bastard was being discriminated in a blatant manner. Honor and respect, traditionally held so highly at this rock island, were affected. And a bastard from Frisia, the region that had been Europe’s longest existing formal feud-society, and where inflicted honor should be compensated through vendetta too. What would be next? Paris held its breath. Would the ceasefire of 2014 hold? (read our blog post You killed a man? That’ll be 1 weregeld, please to learn how vendetta, bloodshed and honor was regulated in medieval Frisia till the end of the fifteenth century)
So, in the heartland of Corsica, beneath the proud flags of Corsica, Catalonia, Occitania, Cuba, et cetera, the Île-de-France guests were being served by the Corsican staff, and the Frisian was not. No solidarity. Minorities and minority people are trained to be overly hypersensitive to the slightest unequal treatment. Followed by a pavlov response that the central government should fix it. It was as if Ocatarinetabellatchitchix was mixing up the Corsican separation IFF slogan “I Francesi Fora” (‘the French Out’) with “I Frisiani Fora” (‘the Frisians Out’). This way jeopardizing the support from Frisia for the Corsican Cause.
But, o irony. It were the two Île-de-France hikers who solved the tensed situation. They felt so ashamed by ‘their’ country man, they offered one of their sandwiches to the Frisian bastard. That way choosing sides and saving honor. No bigger dishonor could happen to the gardier. Of course, the bastard declined the bread, expressing many thanks to ‘the continent’. The gift had been given by them already. An older French couple having a drink at the refuge, promptly started a discussion with Ocatarinetabellatchitchix, but it all had no effect. Although the peace was not broken, Paris could breathe again, and the two old men at the fire place could smoke again, it all was rather awkward to say the least.
With two cans of ravioli the bastard was allowed to purchase, he left the refuge to walk into an increasingly foul and stormy weather. To hike another two hours up the steep mountains, to refuge Prati at 1820 meter altitude.
Considering all other encounters during the sixteen-day trek, the people in the mountains of Corsica were tremendously welcoming, although a bit sturdy. The latter does not matter. That is manageable and recognizable with Frisia Coast. Besides, the smelly cheese and wild-pork sausages were excellent too. The siestas have not been ‘tasted’ by the bastard. Hiking the GR20 gives you no opportunity to enjoy the famous long Corsican siestas. Adding everything up, the unequal and unfair treatment at the refuge at Bocco di Verdi (also called Relais San Petru) is considered to be an unfortunate incident, and it shall have no consequences for the Frisian position concerning the Corsican Cause. No feud will be started. Yet…
Note 2. Read also our post Presence of mind to ask the right question, also at the GR20, or “My God, the Germans bought all the bread!” cried Moira when hiking the Cape Wrath Trail in the northwest of Scotland, and our post Croeso i Gerddwyr when hiking the Pembrokeshire Coast Path in Wales.
Suggestions for further reading:
- Abram. D., Corsica Trekking GR20, Trailblazer (2008)
- Dillon, P., Trekking. The GR20 Corsica. The High Level Route, Cicerone (2016)
- Fabrikant, M., Grande Randonnée, GR20, À traverse la Montagne corse. Parc naturel régional de Corse, TopoGuides (2016)
- Goscinny, R. & Uderzo A., Asterix in Corsica (1979)