doAdaqués is a bit of a tease. It is the most inaccessible town on the Costa Brava of Catalonia but also the most seductively beautiful. Put the two together and you can see how it got away with maintaining the air of a place where nothing happens, a place well off the beaten track that is a celebrity attraction.
However, the beautiful Mediterranean location belies a difficult history. The character of the Cadaquesencs, as they are known locally, has been forged by piracy, smuggling, isolation, bad luck and the Tramuntana, the crazy north wind.
Fate was not kind to the people of Cadaqués. For centuries, between their pirate abductions, they made wine, but then the late 19th century phylloxera epidemic destroyed the vines. Undaunted, they replanted olive trees, but the trees were killed by a freak frost in 1956.
After that, the Cadaquesencs took up tourism, spurred on by their most famous son, Salvador Dali, whose presence in the city has attracted a roll call of artists and celebrities over the years, including David Hockney, Richard Hamilton , Marcel Duchamp, Henri. Matisse, Picasso, Federico García Lorca, Mick Jagger, Sting and Shakira.
Business was booming until the gods once again put the Cadaquesenc character to the test with Covid-19. This latest blow only reinforced the local belief that when disaster strikes, the only person you can count on is a fellow Cadaquesenc, which led to the town’s motto, Nos amb nos (We with us).
Us With Us is the title of a book published in 2020 by Barcelona-based author Ryan Chandler. Part diary, part history, part travelogue, Us With Us’s quirky, quirky approach is perfectly suited to its subject matter, a mix of anecdote, reflection, poetry and even the odd TripAdvisor-inspired review combining to paint a loving and entertaining portrait of a place which the author describes as “pretty nearly perfect.”
Less a guide than a guide, reading Us With Us is like having someone gently take you by the elbow and say, “See that over there? Well, there’s a story that goes with it.”
The book is illustrated by local artist Javier Aznarez, who worked on The French Dispatch, Wes Anderson’s most recent film.
Chandler quotes the 17th-century chronicler Jeroni Pujade, who describes the people of Cadaqués as “the meanest and most wanton people on the whole coast”. Pujades summed up the local mentality as “we don’t want you and we don’t want to be wanted”, a precursor, perhaps, to the Millwall football fans’ chant, “No one likes us, we don’t care. “
As there is only one road in and one road out and little space for parking, in the summer the police often declare the lot full and turn people away to the edge of town. Of course, they could be stopped before they start the winding nine-mile (15km) drive over the mountain from Roses, but they don’t.
Before the road was built in the late 19th century, Cadaqués was only accessible by sea and plagued by piracy. The raiders would come and take several villagers and then ransom the monasteries that relied on these locals to do the heavy lifting while the monks concentrated on God’s work.
Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, was kidnapped by pirates near the city and held in Algiers for five years before a monastic order destroyed the ransom. His kidnapper was Dali Mami. “In a typical piece of fictional hocus pocus, [Salvador] Dali claimed to be a direct descendant of this famous pirate,” writes Chandler.
Cadaqués lives by Dalí as Stratford-upon-Avon lives by Shakespeare, but not in a tacky way. Unlike Barcelona, which is filled with Gaudí memorabilia, the visitor to Cadaqués has no ashtrays and Dali aprons. In fact, unlike most of Spain’s Mediterranean coast, it’s not sticky at all.
However, Dali is omnipresent. Every bar where he drank his favorite pink champagne displays a picture. At L’Hostal, now a restaurant but once a celebrity hangout with a wildly boho reputation, photos of Gala and Salvador Dalí and Marcel Duchamp hang alongside photos of Keith Richards, Sting and Shakira. It was here that Dali once allegedly mocked Jagger – some believe it was Richards – in an impromptu performance of Satisfaction.
There are more photos near Bar Melitón and a plaque on the wall above the table where Duchamp liked to play chess. But Cadaqués is not content to live off the picture of Dali. encourages art and artists, about 60 of whom live and work in the small town.
There are many galleries promoting the work of local and international artists, including Galeria Cadaqués where Hamilton and Dieter Roth famously created what is believed to be the first exhibition to include a section specifically for dogs.
In the old town, where the steep and narrow streets are paved with jagged slabs of slate, laid aside to prevent donkeys from slipping, people commission artists to paint something in their homes, using the small, metallic electricity as a canvas. meter cover.
“What attracts artists is not just the light but the minerality, which is a combination of light and stone and water that creates a color combination that’s unique, and you see that in the art produced here,” Chandler says.
The combination of this minerality with the strange formations of light and clouds produced by Tramudana reveals that what we think of as surreal was often Dalí simply painting what he saw.
By the way, this is probably where the name Cadaqués comes from cadec, (juniper), which grows abundantly around the city and on the nearby Cap de Creus. Unlike Menorca, where British settlers taught the locals why God created the juniper, there is no Cadaquesenc gin variety.
Wealthy Catalans staked their claim on Cadaqués centuries ago, but it wasn’t until the mid-20th century that the Catalan bourgeoisie set their sights on the place and began visiting and buying properties. The city retains something of its hippie air, though these days it’s more crumpled linen than tie-dyed T-shirts and, after all, wealth has grafted the place against the creep.
“If they haven’t sold out to tourism – and you won’t find menus with pictures of bacon and eggs – it’s partly because the Catalan bourgeoisie and people who have been coming here since the 1950s want to keep it the way it was,” says Chandler. .
In addition to the locals, there are also the new Cadaquesencs, people from Bolivia and Ecuador and elsewhere in Spain who work in the bars and restaurants. Or they did, until Covid shut everything down and put them out of business in 2020. The stoic spirit of the place will prove as contagious as the virus: they, too, have borne the misfortune to face another day. We with us.
Us With Us by Ryan Chandler is published by Barcelona Ink Books