The wind is said to exact an unusual psychic toll on people living in a small pocket of north-eastern Spain. Known as the Tramuntana, the wind’s cold, dry currents gust down from the Pyrenees, bending trees, shifting roof tiles and snapping TV masts. Its arrival in upper Empordà, the northernmost part of Catalonia, is said to make children giddy.
The sudden change in air pressure can cause headaches and bad moods, and its incessant blasting is said to jar the nerves and push depressives to despair. Suicide and murder rates rise during prolonged bouts, and the wind has even been cited in court as a cause of temporary insanity. Anyone considered a little daft in these parts is often referred to as atramuntanat, which in Catalan means “touched by the Tramuntana”.
Despite its claims on their sanity, locals insist the wind gives the region a wildness that is invigorating, and its influence on the landscape is ubiquitous. Over millions of years its battering of the coast has carved the shoreline into a series of dramatic cliffs capes and anthropomorphic rock formations. Hence the name Costa Brava, or rugged coast.
It is, however, the strange luminous sunsets, which slope portentously into the horizon prior to the wind’s arrival, that linger most in the memory.
These skies and outcrops recur in the paintings of Salvador Dalí. The artist spent his holidays as a boy in the coastal town of Cadaqués and later kept a home in Port Lligat, a small harbour next to the town. He said once he had been eternally “quenched” by the light and colour of the place.
Although most associated with Dalí, the sleepy fishing village and its network of steep narrow lanes have lured many other artists and intellectuals over the years. Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Henri Matisse, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst and Man Ray all spent time here, as does Antoni Pitxot, and the British pop-art pioneer Richard Hamilton still lives locally for part of the year.