Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Path to Surrealism

Last Saturday my walking pal Jaume and I did our usual walk to Vilabertran, but this time it was without the dogs and with a group of people we didn’t know.  The event was sponsored by the Friends of the Dalí Museum, of which I am a member.  The purpose was to learn about the painter’s experiences in the nearby village, where one of his best friends lived.

Salvador Dalí was born and lived the early part of his life in Figueres.  His good friend Ramon Reig had a house in nearby Vilabertran and he went there often on weekends.  When there, he spent a fair amount of time painting.

On the way to Vilabertran you pass a stand of trees off to one side that seem to hide a house.  I’ve always been curious about that house which I figured was probably an old farmhouse and maybe one of those beautiful old stone constructions.  But there is no evident way to get to it.  There is one small path that cuts off in that direction, but then it is cut off by a wall.  I learned that near the house there is a spring.

As it turns out, that is the old path that Dalí would take when he went to Vilabertran.  Indeed, Jaume used to go there as a kid for picnics at the spring.  As happens here, someone who later owned the property put up walls so that people could no longer pass through.  But it turns out that the right-of-way is public, and the local governments have sued to have the path reopened.  This may even happen sometime soon.

In the village there is also a small lake, much talked about by Dalí and his sister, and much painted by the two boys.  But we couldn’t see that either.  Some other property owner has walled that off.  Peeking over the top, it seems to be a jungle, but the wall is too high to actually see inside.  We did, however, see images of the paintings done all those years ago when, evidently, there weren’t as many walls about.

We visited the church and cloister of Santa Maria, a beautiful medieval compound.  Of course Dalí must have been familiar with it, but I don’t recall any concrete reason for our visit except that it is the jewel of the village and is home to a rather impressive, large, gilded cross.

Dalí’s friend Ramon Reig, a youngster his own age, had inherited from an uncle the impressive modernist villa that still stands and that is now the Vilabertran city hall.  Reig was also a painter and when they were together, while the rest of the family chatted, ate, and drank, the two boys spent their time painting.  It was interesting, on our walk, to see images of a few of their paintings from that time, side by side.  It’s not like you would have any idea which ones were by the genius.  He had a long way to go before adopting surrealism as his way of expressing himself in art and in life.

While Dalí went on to become, well, Dalí.  Reig became an art teacher.  In fact, Reig was my friend Jaume’s art teacher when he was in school.  Jaume was thrilled to learn more about his old teacher directly from the man’s granddaughter.  And she seemed equally thrilled to chance upon someone on the tour who had known and studied with her grandfather.  And I could only marvel at how much a small town Figueres really is, where, as they always tell me, everyone knows everyone.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Sant Jordi: Roses and Books

People who can celebrate their patron saint with books and roses have to have something going for them.  Sant Jordi (Saint George) is Catalunya’s patron saint and celebrate with books and roses is exactly what Catalans do.

The reason for the rose is simple.  George killed the dragon (and saved the princess) and where the dragon’s blood fell a red rose grew.

Sant Jordi became a Catalan holiday in 1456 and ever since then men have been giving their loved one a red rose.

But the book?  Was George an avid reader?  Did he write?  The idea of the book came from a Barcelona bookseller way back in 1923 when he realized that William Shakespeare and Miquel Cervantes both died on 23 April 1616 (although it seems that Cervantes died on 22 April and was buried on the 23rd, but never mind) and thought maybe this coincidence would improve business.

And so it came to be that 23 April is celebrated with roses and books.  The tradition is that the man gives the woman a rose and the woman gives the man a book.  But in fact, it is much more free-form than that and there are lots of books for children as well as for adults.

Sant Jordi is lovely.  In any city, town, or village, the main street or square will be lined with stalls selling books and roses.  Some of the stands are from bookshops and florists, others are non-profit, community, and political organizations set up to sell flowers or books or both as fund-raisers.  As you'd expect, the biggest book and flower fair is on the Rambla in Barcelona which is packed down its length and from side to side with books and roses, and teaming with thousands of people.  The Rambla of Figueres was also teaming with people when I went at noon with Cupcake to visit the stand of the rescue group who brought him to me.  But it was so crowded that I couldn't walk comfortably with the dog.  When I returned later, closer to lunch time, it had thinned out and I could take some photos.  When I too left to return home for lunch, it was clouding up, and while I was still walking it started to rain.

In 1995, seeing the Catalan holiday and thinking that celebrating books (and the death of two of literature's greatest) was a good idea, UNESCO declared 23 April World Book Day.  And so now, it is possible that in any city anywhere you might find a book celebration, especially this year, the 400th anniversary of the death of the two greats.  If you don’t find one, you might want to help instigate one for next year.  It’s never too late to celebrate.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Driving Drunk in Spain

The first two years I lived in Barcelona I didn’t have a car and didn’t miss it.  I walked everywhere I wanted to go in town, and I used public transportation for outings.  Once we rented a car to go to the mountains.  It was fine.

Later when we had moved and needed a car to do just about everything, I came to see how crazy people here were on the roads.  When I walked, I was about the fastest and always weaving in and out among the other pedestrians.  But on the highway?  Goodness, gracious, great balls of fire!  No one obeyed the speed limit and lots of crazies would pass on a two-land road when there was an oncoming car.  My car.

I decided at some point that people here drive like madmen because there is little or no penalty for doing so.  Even if you run over someone and kill them not much happens.  When I got my driver’s license, a young man who got his at the same time said he was very happy because now he could do whatever he wanted behind the wheel.  And he’s not the only one to say that.

But lately there have been a couple of accidents that have brought to public attention the absurdity of no penalty and letting drunk drivers loose.  One young man was deemed drunk and had his car impounded, but he was not hauled in, despite the fact that he had been charged with drunk driving several times in the past and was driving with a suspended license.  He got his car back a few hours later after a friend redeemed it for him, and soon after that, while drunk, he crashed and killed a young woman in the other car.  The public was not pleased.

Because people are getting fed up with the risk of becoming roadkill (something blatantly clear to me for a long time, but not so obvious to the natives), the Catalan public television station has been highlighting all similar stories.  Of which there are many.  Yesterday’s took the cake.

A young woman was stopped at a control point and deemed to have double the allowable alcohol content in her blood.  It turned out that all the other four young women passengers in the car were also too drunk to take the car and drive the group home.  So one of them called her father to come and get them. 

When the father showed up on his motorcycle, the police did a breath check before letting him drive all the girls home in the young woman’s car.  But lo and behold, he was found to be even more drunk than any of the five young women, with three times the allowable limit of alcohol in his blood.

I wondered how the six of them got home.  Did they keep calling other family and friends until they finally hit the jackpot? 

Photo: Catalunya Informacio

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Where Have All The Flowers Gone?

The path to Vilabertran changes throughout the year, season by season, and day by day.  Sometimes there are surprises such as outstanding clouds or fields that were full of corn one day and bare the next.  But this week I had an unpleasant surprise, and it was not the result of a harvest.

Lately, as I’ve been waiting and hoping for some poppies to pop up, what has been springing up instead has been alyssum that’s been growing along the sides of one section of path.  Alyssum is a weed; late last fall several of the fields were covered with it.  I looked it up to see if it were perhaps being grown as a crop but it turns out that no one wants to eat alyssum, not even rabbits.

I was enjoying the alyssum.  It added a nice spring touch to my walks and my photos.  When I saw two city workers taking weed whackers to the sides of the path, it never occurred to me that they were going to work their way over to the flower-lined section and whack away the pretty flowers.  But when I came back on Thursday, the flowers were all gone and the edges were bare.

Most civilized people would agree that flowers are a good thing -- that they make the world more beautiful.  But people around here don’t seem to know or appreciate that.  I am angry so I’ll say it.  If you want streets with colorful flowers, cafes and bars that are nicely decorated, places that lift your spirit and encourage you to relax, go to France where aesthetics are considered important.  Here they don’t even leave the wildflowers in peace to make the world just a little bit more beautiful. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


On my walks, it’s the clouds I like most.  They’re part of the view and active participants in the scene.  Within a few minutes, clouds sometimes radically change the light and the mood.  There are the puffy clouds like the ice cream castles Joni Mitchell sang about; streaky ones that look like someone took a grey paintbrush to the sky; or they might be very dark.  Those very dark clouds aren’t gloomy.  Gloomy is the nondescript grey across the sky that doesn’t make for interesting photos.   Dark clouds may be blocking the sun, but they’re dramatic.  It’s even more dramatic when you see them coming and think to yourself, uh oh, I should have brought something waterproof. 

Ice Cream Castles



It’s the sky that sets the tone – drama, mystery, light­-heartedness, or threat.  Clouds don’t keep me from setting out on a walk as long as it isn’t actually raining when I leave the house.  Then again, I have been known to get soaking wet before making it back home.

You're Probably Going to Get Wet

Rows and flows of angel hair 
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere, 
I've looked at clouds that way.

But now they only block the sun, 
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done, 
But clouds got in my way.

I've looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It's cloud illusions I recall
I really don't know clouds at all.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Always Different

I walk through the fields to the village of Vilabertran three or four times a week.  Sometimes I go alone, other times with one or two (sometimes more) friends from the dog park.  One person who comes to the dog park but who has never gone for the walk asked me once if it isn’t boring to always do the same walk.  Well, for one thing, there is no other walk through fields where you don’t have to walk alongside a highway or take a car first to a starting point.  But in any case, boring?  I don’t find it boring.  It’s different every day.

I take photos along the way, but there seems to be one spot where I tend to stop more often.  Sometimes I think to myself, what are you doing?  How many photos do you need of the same thing?  But when I see something beautiful I want to take a photo, and in fact, they are not of the same thing.

The view from the same spot is always different.  Sometimes there is snow in the mountains, others there isn’t, or you can’t see it for the fog.

Sometimes the fields are green, sometimes golden or brown.

One day the corn is high, the next day it’s gone – the farmer came, cut it all down and took it away.

Sometimes it’s sunny, sometimes cloudy – it’s the cloudy days I like the most.

And then there's yesterday and today.