Cadaqués is a small town on the northeast coast of Spain near Barcelona. A student in the dorm at the Sorbonne where I was staying in Paris had just returned from Cadaqués. He told me that Salvador Dali was there. He had met and spoken with Dali in one of the cafes in town.
I had long been a fan of Dali and it occurred to me that I might also go down to Cadaqués and meet Dali. Wasn’t travel in Europe all about experiencing art and meeting famous artists anyway?
I’d been in Paris for over a week by then. I had gotten all the Visas that I needed to travel by land through Switzerland and Italy to Greece, then on to Turkey and Syria (where I was going to stay with a friend from Penn’s family), Iran and India. This was before the European Union allowed easy passage across borders with minimal control. Paperwork and planning were essential for any travel. I started setting myself a good example which wasn’t always easy to follow.
I was intrigued by the possibility of meeting Dali. It was cold and rainy, miserable weather in Paris. I had already spent several days at the Louvre and time at several other museums.
Getting ready meant purchasing a Canon 35mm camera and lots of film for my trip. I spent time with Paul and Gaby, a couple I had met in Nassau when our Loftleiðir Icelandic Airlines Jet couldn’t arrive because it was snowed in for a few days. I spent a day shopping with Gaby for linens and things for their new apartment. The universe was conspiring to get me to move on.
When I learned from the student who had been to Cadaqués and met Dali, and how warm, sunny and beautiful it was there, it was time to leave rainy Paris and head south. After Cadaqués, I felt I could easily hitchhike across to the French Riviera and into Italy to pick up the mail being held for me at the American Express office in Rome.
It was easy to get all the way to Figueres, where Dali was born, just across the French border into Spain. From there I headed east on a narrow little unpaved road that wandered east. I walked up and down the hills toward the coast. There was no traffic on this lonesome road. I had been walking an hour when an old pickup truck caught up to me and slowed down. The driver offered me a ride to the end of this road, Cadaqués.
We drove slowly. It seemed to be a challenge for the pickup just to move forward. It was wonderful. Everything had slowed down. I was heading off the beaten path, away from the crowds, off to see an idiosyncratic painter, some one who saw the world from a completely different perspective. We finally reached the town; we rattled through the nearly deserted town center. We got to an arch that led to the seaside road. That was the end of this ride and I got out. My host driver pointed across the street to the cafe on the pebbly beach. “Go to the Cafe Maritime and you will be able to find a place to stay.”
I walked across the street onto the beach and into the Cafe Maritime. There I met a gregarious fellow named Pedro. I walked in and Pedro greeted me “Welcome, how can I help you?” Pedro had started in Spanish. I replied in French, and we were able to basically communicate.
In Catalonia, the first language is Catalan; the second language is French; and the third language is Spanish. At that time, Spanish was the official language, but the least used in towns like this. All three share many, similar words and sounds.
I asked him about a place to stay. He turned and asked a local boy sitting near him to take me to a place he described to the boy in Catalan.
The boy guided me outside back up into the town, a few streets from the beach. There he showed me to a door of a nice sized house. I knocked on the door and after a few moments a girl in her twenties opened it up smiling. Her name was Marie. The boy told her something in rapid Catalan that I assumed introduced me. Catalan and French were somewhat mutually understandable, but not in all cases. I could understand Pedro speaking slowly, but this…
We went up a flight of stairs into a large, bright, airy room, with lots of windows and some comfortable sofas. Marie asked me in French how long I wanted to stay in Cadaqués. I replied, “a week or two.” She quoted me a price, which I thought sounded reasonable. We had a deal.
Marie’s family owned the house. Marie and her girlfriend were staying there as was another young man from France.
During my time there, I got up early for a walk around town, bought bread and cheese, sometimes yogurt. I sat outside at Café Maritime for coffee and conversation with the 7 or 8 regulars. There were fellow young travelers as well as local personalities. Sometimes even the local Guardia Civil (Franco’s authority in town) would join the group for a café or glass of wine. The Catalans didn’t support Franco and his Guardia Civil. He had suppressed regional cultures, like Catalan but now in Franco’s decline the authority of Madrid was soft here deep in Catalonia.
Usually, Dali’s assistant came by later in the morning. He was quite tall and thin as a rail. He carried a mahogany walking stick with a silver serpent on the top with ruby eyes and an emerald in the center. A very theatrical presentation.
I met a goat herder at the Café. After a few days of my interest and listening, he invited me up into the hills around the town to explore the hills. The next morning, we followed the trails into the grassy hills above the ocean. It was exactly how I had imagined the Mediterranean rural life was lived.
After a few days of hanging out, I had the good fortune to be invited, with the entire town, to the annual Festival held every year on January 20 at the Hillside Sant Sebastia Hermitage estate. It was located on a large tract of land comprising much of the area on the South flank of Cadaqués. It was up a long winding road on the top of one of the hills with a spectacular view. It was home to a member of the Guinness family with a small working monastery and church (the Irish Guinness family of Guinness Stout fame).
From three in the afternoon until late into the night there was Guinness on tap. Food was abundant: lambchops, fish and more. There was dancing singing and music. I felt like a peasant invited to the castle on a feast day! The luck of being in the right place on the right day!
The following day, I encountered a new traveler at Café Maritime. He regaled us of the glories of sunny and even warmer nearby Morocco.
It was near the end of my second week still without an appearance by Dali. I was tiring of waiting for Godot and time was melting like Dali’s clock. I was back planning to hitchhike across Southern France to Rome.
But then, the thought of detouring to Morocco and across North Africa to Tunisia, Malta and Sicily also sounded like a good idea to me. Maybe a warmer one.
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