22 Sep 2010

The Quest for a Streamlined Corsica (Part 2)

The Tourist Trail - Holy Grail?: In addition to the fact that tourism only directly benefits certain industry sectors and not the local population at large, I am no advocate of unbridled tourism. I believe there is a necessity to redefine and then capitalise upon the tourist demographic that will be most beneficial to the island's future, based on the cold facts of tourist spend per head.

First question: is the emphasis upon port developments the end-all-and-be-all solution for moving forward? From recent reports in local newspaper Corse Matin, it seems that cruise passengers on a Calvi stop-over do not disembark en masse with a view to flock down to the local boutiques and cafés. Rather they seem to be whisked off on day trips in the surrounding villages. In the same vein, private yachts stopping over in the island ports on their way from/ to Portofino, Puerto Cervo or elsewhere will have the larders full and be rather selective as to which restaurant - if any - they will be ready to spend their cash in.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the travel scale, self-contained self-catered camper vans and their 'savvy' middle-class occupants coming off the ferries are in for a holiday on the cheap, as I've had the opportunity to witness throughout the Summer. This means no (or hardly any) food shop, no local souvenirs, no restaurant dining, no camping fees... In my experience, coach passengers are equally reluctant to spend much, especially if they are on a full/ half-board accommodation basis. The number of 'one apple + one Carambar' I have witnessed being purchased at the local grocer's cannot seriously constitute a valuable spend per head.

Interestingly, four- and five-star Corsican hotels have been struggling this season (and the season past). Is tourism on the cheap the solution when there is potential for upping the ante and taking advantage of underused 4- and 5-star infrastructures? Maybe the focus on French clientèle (renowned for its cautious spending and lack of tipping largesse) is not necessarily one to aim for as a de-facto priority.

The Slow Death of the Past: The picture below is that of Ste-Claire chapel in Rogliano. This grand religious édifice sadly embodies everything that is unfair about disparity in the preservation of built heritage (with tough competition across Corsica for meagre subsidies). The bumpy journey to salvation begins (if it ever does in the first place for some monuments) with the building's historical acknowledgement and assigned level of importance and significance from a local, regional or national perspective (and the forecast economic impact via market study), and then onto the next level of salvage/ preservation/ consolidation/ restoration (or, failing that, further laissez-faire into decline!), facilitated by (tight) public budget subsidy and/ or private donations.

The neglected Corsican heritage is set against the unfairness of wealth distribution of a wider scale (the multi-million-Euro grants and subsidies allocated to the ports, roads and airports, for instance). In the face of economic reality and in the harsh light cast by return on investment figures, heritage crumbles irrevocably into less significance - if not insignificance - as a parent pauvre (second-class citizen). And with this, dozens of religious and disused public/ military buildings are falling further into more costly disrepair with each passing year.

Our case study, Ste-Claire, closed its doors after mass for the last time in Summer 1979. With the shrinking number of priests and parishioners and the French Catholic Church's reported financial disarray, it might be utopic to pray for the chapel's doors to ever re-open as a church. Meanwhile local councils, who are in charge of church stock built prior to 1905 (while post-1905 churches fall in the remit of the Catholic Church itself), are struggling enough as it is to keep open churches in working order, without the 'further burden' of those abandonned churches...

Back to Ste-Claire, how about rehabilitate it as a village hall, public building of some sort, and get the local CFA's (Centre de Formation d'Apprentis) building trade college involved in its restoration as an on-going learning project? Remains the all-important funding matter, where in this case 200,000 Euros would just about address the basics (just think of the leaking roof for starters).

A successful church conversion in London SW, featured on Film Locations UK

As a last but probably best resort, how about follow in Britain's footsteps and sell off those abandoned churches to private individuals keen to give them a second lease of life as a home/ office/ arts studio, instead of us standing there as powerless witnesses to further structural degradation while hoping for some elusive miracle or lottery grant... (to be continued)

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