Discounting Santorini and Rome, each place we visited was coastal, geologically similar, invaded by the same set of conquerors in pretty much the same order, and today’s people stood with their backs facing inland. In several places, guides spoke of the ruling country as if it were a separate and either tragic or comic entity holding them back from…something (though not particularly in Corsica).
These places sell the past — the stories, the citadels, the architecture, the art, the agriculture, the archeology are all about what was. And yes, that was a big part of the draw, but we got the feeling of a time eddy as well. Kings and princes and pirates variable hundreds of years dead are almost treated as contemporaneous in terms of their impact on current affairs. Except for the externalities (buildings, roads, autos, internet, etc) we could have been in any of a score of centuries. The daily and seasonal human commerce were the same.
Clearly, there were linguistic differences, but the Mediterranean equivalent of the trade language Swahili — in this case English — also contributed to the feeling of meta-country. True, it varied from place to place, but we found it difficult to attempt the national languages — Tourist-facing people simply were used to using (good) English. Local dialects, like Caribbean patois, were used to maintain a wall of verbal privacy, but they didn’t do much to hide body language.
Would we go to these places again? Probably not. There are more and other places on our flexible (to the point of floppy) list. Would we recommend others go here? Yes! We North Americans tend to think of 250 years as a long time; for the coastal fringes of the Med, 250 years is a parenthesis. This alternate perspective is useful and instructive. Continental North America, since the end of European colonization, has never been invaded (militarily). Since habitation, the coastal fringes of the Med have rarely gone a few decades without an invasion (counting pirates), and those invasions were generally of the pillage, burn, rape, enslave variety.
Now, arguably, they are invaded by tourists every year and while there is a sameness to this, each year’s invasion brings new cultural pressures as the rest of the world moves faster than the coastal fringes of the Med. We saw few people under the age of 30/40 and many of them were from the northern Adriatic. Like many small cities in North America it appears that migration toward the major cities is aging small communities into modern ruins. Although to be fair, many leave for work elsewhere and come back for the tourist season.
We are glad we did this. We are especially glad we did it under sail on a small ship. It was far more intimate this way, and we felt less like galactic invaders visiting a small planet.
Time to head for the Florida and Bahamas where we will consider “where to” next.