Vital Signs

Susan Sontag

"Side by Side by Sontag" was the London Observer's headline describing an evidently turbulent scene at the last Edinburgh Festival. The comedian Simon Fanshawe spotted a famous couple hobnobbing hard together— photographer Annie Leibovitz and her bosom buddy: "the great critic and writer Susan Sontag." As the Observer's "Arts Diary" put it: "Unable to contain himself, Fanshawe leapt across to pay unadulterated homage to Leibovitz. The absurd compliments gushed forth until Fanshawe finally extracted himself with a brief nod in the aghast Sontag's direction." Reading this episode, a little bell tinkled in the mists of what memory my mind has left me.

Back in the early 60's, I was living in an old stone house in Corsica: more particularly in the remote northwestern enclave of La Balange. This was, and is, a mountainous area of goat and sheep farmers whose relatives drifted over from le continent of a summer to spend the day sipping local D'Amiani pastis on the squares of tiny villages skewered to the nearest mountainside by 17th-century church steeples, and to play boule in the cool of an evening.

These hill villages, climbing up to Corsica's glorious central massif of snow-capped mountains and dense fir forests, averaged about 300 somnolent inhabitants each. As Michelin still puts it: in winter, after the French rentée...

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