If you've ever visited an island and thought, "I could live here," you have something in common with Henri and Cara Straforelli. But unless you've ever actually packed your belongings into four Rubbermaid containers, used your father's heritage to gain French nationality and relocated a Web-based business from Canada to the French island of Corisca, then the Straforellis still have a leg up on you. Because that's just what this couple -- who've since added baby Ayva -- has done. We asked Cara to share a taste of la vie douce.
When did you decide to move to Corsica? We came to visit with my husband's mom and brother in 2004, and we kind of looked around and thought, "Hey, we can do this; we can live here." We wanted to live somewhere else, to leave Canada and experience another country, but we just didn't know where to start. We had some family here, so we decided to do it.
Tell me about where you live. We live in an apartment. It's two floors, three bedrooms and two baths. It's quite nice, and it's pretty much the same size as our house in Canada, actually! It has a terrace, which is nice in the summer because we can go out and eat down there. If we were up just a little higher we could see the water because we're very close to the ocean. Beneath us is a big room that they rent out for parties and wedding receptions. On the weekends they always have Corsican folk music gatherings, so you can hear the old-fashioned Corsican country music.
What's your favorite Corsican dish? Les moules et les frites (mussels and fries). It's this big bowl of steamy mussels with broth over it, and you can get different fl avors. There's a Corsican beer called Pietra; it's made with chestnuts. And the broth that they use has that beer in it. That's the one my husband likes, but I like the one with curry.
What was the actual moving process like? Basically, I didn't want to move my whole household over here. So we sold much of our stuff in Canada and shipped four quite large Rubbermaid containers over here -- that's all we were bringing, besides clothes. Because of a strike -- which happens often in France -- a port was blockaded, and we didn't end up getting our stuff until two months after we arrived. It was a rude awakening to realize how politics and cultural matters are a lot different here than they are where we came from.
Was that the biggest adjustment for you? It's very isolated here, especially in the winter. The village we live in, Patrimonio, has about 350 people. Winter and summer are night-and-day different. Winter is so quiet: Restaurants are closed, shops are closed, there's nothing going on. That's usually when we go back to North America for a month or so to visit. In the summer, beginning in about May, the scene just explodes here, and it's way more like what I'm used to. I'm more of an urban person, so coming here has been challenging. But my husband likes it because it is so tranquil.
What about your daughter?How has it been to raise a little one -- and have another due in November -- on the island? One reason we left Canada is we were not interested in the lifestyle of buying one house and then having some kids and buying a bigger house -- the whole materialistic sort of thing. We just weren't interested. Here, it's not at all like that. It's very laid-back. I wouldn't say the people aren't hardworking, but they've got a very different mentality about working. They take a two-hour break from noon to 2 o'clock: Everything closes and people nap or eat a big meal with their families. Families are important, and we appreciate that, as well. I think that's probably one of the things that keeps us here. We want our children to have a different sort of cultural upbringing.
You write a blog about your life in Corsica. How has that been going? I started the blog before we came, but it took on another meaning after we came here. I encountered so many other expats and American girls like me who live in France, and I met all these people from my blog, which I never thought would happen. That was a good way to learn about everyday things. When I gave birth to my daughter, I asked questions like, "What do I take to the hospital?" A list they had given me here said, "Take a bedside table and a lamp to go on it." I thought, "Really? I have to bring that stuff with me?" Read her blog.
So what's the moment that always takes your breath away? To get to Bastia, which is where I work, you drive on a twisty, turny road up one side of the mountain and down the other side. In the summertime it's packed with campers and motorcyclists and bikes. When you're at the top, you can see the Mediterranean all around you -- it's a unique view. I've driven that road so many times, but it never fails to surprise me when I see cows or goats walking in the road. When we come down the hill, we can see our village and the whole valley and all the vineyards in front of us. We think our side is prettier than the other. It's usually sunnier on our side, too. We always say, "Ah! We're glad we live on this side of the mountain!"
Facts of Life
- Climate: Mediterranean
- Population of island: 260,000
- Population of main town, Bastia: 38,000
- House starting price: $290,000
- Travel from the US: Air France flies from New York's JFK Airport to Bastia through Paris.
- Closest hospital: Centre Hospitalier de Bastia in Bastia
- Price of local beer: 2 euros for a Pietra at the Bar du Passage in Saint-Florent.
- Languages: Corsican, French
- Ease of immigration: Not so easy. Contact French Embassy to get started. ambafrance-us.org
- Ease of buying a home: Actually best to rent.
- Website: english.visit-corsica.com