EMPORDA and surroundings


Albons Bellcaire d’Empordà Foixà Fontclara La Bisbal d’Empordà
Canapost Casavells Corçà Clots de Sant Julià Canet Cruïlles Marenyà Matajudaïca Monells Palau-Sator Parlavà Pals Peratallada La Pera Púbol Rupià Sant Iscle d’Empordà Sant Julià de Boada Sant Sadurní de l’Heura La Tallada d’Empordà Tor Ullastret Ultramort Verges Vulpellac

Agullana Castell Sant Ferran fortress Dali's Museum Figueres Maçanet de Cabrenys Lladó Llers L'Escala Les Escaules Peralada Pont de Molins Riumors Sant Miquel de Fluvià Sant Tomàs de Fluvià La Vajol Vilabertran Viladamat Vilanova de la Muga Ventalló

Besalú Porqueres Banyoles Cervià de Ter Le Boulou Maureilles Céret Saint-Genis-des-Fontaines


Dalí's artistic enclave

Cadaqués, in Spain, has been inspiring artists for decades. Just be careful the wind doesn’t make you lose your head.
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.

The allure of Cadaqués stems in part from its remoteness, as the town is cut off from the rest of Empordà by a range of coastal hills. The 40-minute drive from Figueres, the main district town, took up to eight hours before an adequate road was constructed, in the last century. This meant the sea was the main route in and out of town.
As a consequence the locals considered themselves quasi- islanders, cut off from the mainland. It used to be said that many of the town’s inhabitants had been to Cuba and the US but never to Figueres.
Several of the exotically coloured buildings that overlook the town’s picturesque rambla were funded by lucrative trips to the West Indies. Locals even speak their own brand of Catalan, known as salat, exchanging the definite articles “la” and “el” for “sa” and “es”. The dialect is still found on parts of the Balearic Islands, where some of the town’s residents were resettled following King James I’s 13th-century conquest of the islands from the Moors.
The proximity of the French border and the many secluded coves also made the town a refuge for pirates and smugglers in centuries past. The town was famed for its salted fish – Rome was said to be particularly fond of its anchovies – and evading the excise on imports of salt was a profitable activity.
The town’s association with the arts has its origins in the Pitxot family, ancestors of the Catalan painter Antoni Pitxot. The Pitxots, who had a strong artistic tradition and were friendly with the Dalí family, maintained a summer residence in Cadaqués that was once painted by Picasso. It was at the Pitxot house that the young Salvador is said to have discovered modern art.
Dalí’s eccentric egg been returned to the way Dalí and his wife, Gala, maintained it.
The painter’s toxic appetite for publicity and his rather silly self-pronouncements tended to overshadow his art in the latter half of his life. But if his importance has waned with the critics, his popular appeal remains strong, and the house, with its mushrooming extensions and labyrinthine network of halls, remains a testam-roofed house and studio is now one of the town’s main draws. It was turned into a museum in 1997, eight years after the artist’s death; the curators say it has ent to his invention and industry.
An aged Dalí was controversially burned in a fire while staying at his castle in nearby Púbol in 1984; rumours persist that it was a botched suicide attempt and that he may also have been mistreated during his convalescence. Despite the somewhat tragic end, the image of the moustachioed dandy replete with cape and cane, which he so assiduously cultivated, still endures.

The best of Cadaqués and its surroundings

Dalí himself inaugurated the project to build this museum on the ruins of the Municipal Theatre of Figueres in 1974; it contains the world’s largest collection of his work. The artist lived in the museum for the final years of his life; he would often wander down and talk to unsuspecting visitors. The range of work on view is a testament to the ease with which Dalí mastered so many styles. The artist is buried in a crypt at the centre of the museum, where the theatre stage once stood. Gala-Salvador Dalí Square 5, Figueres, 00-34-972-677500, www.salvador-dali.org.

Walking Cadaqués
About eight kilometres east of Cadaqués is the headland of Cap de Creus, the easternmost point of the Iberian Peninsula and one of the wildest spots on the Costa Brava. The well-signed trail takes about two hours on foot; you don’t have to do it all, and it is an ideal way to see the beautiful coastline. In 1998 the peninsula and the Verdera mountain range were made Spain’s first coastal reserve. The lighthouse at the cape adjoins a nice restaurant and coffee shop and provides stunning views of the region.

Cafe culture
There’s a strong coffee tradition in Cadaqués; one of the great ways to sample the town is to come down in late afternoon or early evening for a stroll around the narrow streets, then watch the sun go down in one of the seafront bars or cafes. Marcel Duchamp and the US composer John Cage played chess daily in El Meliton, a cafe-bar just off the rambla. Duchamp is said to have regarded the local fishermen as strong opponents. When it gets dark, order a ron cremat, rum flambéed with coffee, on the seafront terrace at Café Marítim.

Wines and cavas
Empordà is credited with being the oldest wine-making region on the Iberian Peninsula. Evidence of vine cultivation can be traced back to 500 BC, when the Greeks colonised the sheltered Gulf of Roses. A highlight of this trip was a wine-tasting tour of Castillo Perelada, one of the top wine-makers of the region, renowned for its cavas. Former US president Harry Truman was so taken by its cava rosado on a visit to Spain in the 1950s that he wrote to the vineyard to compliment it. The vineyard also holds the distinction of being the first sparkling-wine producer to be sued by French champagne producers, in the 1960s, over the use of the word champagne on its label.

Modern architecture
Among the jewels of Cadaqués are the dozen or so modernist villas designed by Peter Harnden and Lanfranco Bombelli. The American and the Italian met in Paris after the Second World War and formed a life-long collaboration, the fruits of which are dotted across the hillsides behind the town. For anyone with even a passing interest in the building styles of Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, these sleek villas stand as a testament to one of the great revolutionary periods of architecture. Moves are afoot to establish a guided tour.

Irish Times
Eoin Burke-Kennedy
February 28th 2009

No comments: