eucalyptus: 1 post

Corsican Eucalyptus and the Scent of the Maquis

A few years ago I met a woman who talked about her fiendishly complex emigration from Russia to Israel in the ’80s and how instead of Jerusalem she ended up living for a year in Ajaccio, the capital of Corsica. I asked what Corsica was like, my own mental image comprised mostly of Napoleon, the French Foreign Legion, and Laetitia Casta. She reflected for a moment and then said that it smelled heavenly. She meant the smell of the maquis. Since then I’ve been obsessed with the maquis, or as it’s known in Corsican, machja.

In Corsica, the maquis is ever-present–this wild scrubland vegetation covers nearly 20% of the island. Even when you don’t see it, it fleets before you in bits of folklore and stories. For instance, the guerilla fighters of the French Resistance in World War II were called maquisards, from the maquis (pronounced in French as ​[maˈki]) that reach up to 10 feet and make for an ideal hiding place. The maquis provides food, medicine, and lore. The scrubland starts at the sea coast–le maquis bas, climbs higher–le maquis moyen, and clings to the mountains–le maquis haut. These low, middle, and high maquis are woven of more than 2,500 varieties of wild plants, and their aromas build up slowly like a pyramid of a perfectly constructed perfume.

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