A couple of days after our extraordinary visit to the Teatro-Museo Salvador Dali in Figures, my son Duncan and I drove down across the Plane of Ampurdam which is often depicted in Dali artworks as a flat surface with orthogonal lines converging at the horizon. This fecund agricultural region was spread out below the boy Salvador as he painted in his first studio, a converted laundry shed on the roof of the apartment building in Figures where the Dali family lived.
At the far edge of the plane, he could see the coastal mountains on the other side of which lay the fishing village of Cadaques where the Dali family visited many summers. It was this delightfully picturesque town build around one of the many bays on the rugged coast that later became the home to Salvador and Gala Dali. They bought and joined together several fishermen’s houses on the tiny, island-choked bay of Port Lligat.
That house, a labyrinthine structure climbing the hill above a stone landing at the shoreline, was our destination. The Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali had kindly made reservations for us to visit at 4:00 of the first day we spent in Figures.
Having discovered very shortly after dropping down from the steep and winding mountain road into Cadaques that we would be smart to stash the car and walk about the town, we started out for Port Lligat early in the afternoon. We later found out there is a steep path over the ridge between Cadaques and the little bay, but in our ignorance we followed the hot winding road that climbed up through ancient, and now abandoned, stone terraces.
Such terraces, almost without any vegetation on them, covered every possible slope along this part of the Costa Brava. The vines had died in the Phyloxea epidemic that wiped out most of Europe’s vineyards. The cork oaks had died during several unusually cold winters and the olives had also perished through almost forgotten environmental disasters. At one time Cadaques had been a busy port exporting cork, wine and olives, but that was before the memory of its current inhabitants. It now serves not freighters, but international yachts and is a popular resort.
A couple of years later, my wife Melinda and I would rent for a while a marvelous restored farm mansion set on a mountainside among the terraces south of Cadaques. At night the only lights we could see were those on boats out in the Mediterranean.
At the top of the ridge where the path to Dali’s house drops down the slope to the sea, Duncan and I found a small chapel sporting a belfry which inspired Dali’s often used image of a girl skipping rope. In the grave yard is a Dali sculpture featuring his hypercubic cross. It felt to us as if we were getting very close to the heart of Dali country.
When we arrived in the small plaza in front of Casa Dali, we were charmed by the view past the beached fishing boats (including Gala’s small yellow one) to the islands and promontories with their horizontal layers of terraces. Everything looked so Dalinian! That is the wonderful thing about visiting this part of Catalonia—one sees Dali images everywhere, especially in Cadaques, Port Lligat and on Cap de Creus. Everywhere I looked around Port Lligat, I saw Dali paintings that I knew very well. Later, looking out of the windows of Casa Dali, I again saw paintings that I know well.
What a thrilling experience to walk into the plaza decorated with a fishing boat out of which grows a cedar tree. Why, that’s “My Cousin Carolineta On The Beach At Rosas”. Never mind that the famous beach is many miles south over very rugged mountains from this boat and tree. They are featured in that painting along with the little girl.
Duncan walked over to the ticked-seller to buy our tickets for the 4 o’clock time slot. He returned with a Duncan smirk that I love. “OK, Dad.” He said. “I’m impressed. They’re closing the house at 4:00 so we can be alone inside.”
It was very hard to relax on the hillside in a more recent olive grove while we awaited the witching hour. We lay on golden dry grass in dappled sunlight and passed a Cuban cigar back and forth. Duncan had bought it for me in Cannes after he left his three traveling buddies to join me in Spain.
A few minutes before 4:00, we worked our way down through the trees and across the terraces to arrive right on time at the front door of Casa Dali. We were welcomed by the caretaker who asked us to wait a few minutes while the earlier visitors left the house.
What happened then (Oh, it was lovely) will have to be the subject of ALONE WITH DALI AND DUNCAN PART3. See you then.