a report from just about nowhere,

Ken Lefolii December 2 1961


a report from just about nowhere,

Ken Lefolii December 2 1961


a report from just about nowhere,

Ken Lefolii

CADAQUÉS is a whitewashed adobe town on the Mediterranean coast of Spain, an easy pull by oar from the French border. Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque worked out some of the first cubist paintings here in 1910. Salvador Dali lives here now, when he isn’t cashing in some of his paintings in New York. Aleppo Ortuna pours absinthe after lunch here, at his outdoor bar in the town square. There is no denying that Cadaqués, in a small way, is a hangout for painters and drunks. But Cadaqués is mainly a fishing and escape town.

By escape town I mean a place that is good to get to and good to be in. and where nothing that goes on has anything to do with real life, or at least not yours. The day 1 came to Cadaqués, late last September, was the day after Dag Hammarskjöld’s plane crashed in Africa, but as far as I know nobody in town spoke of Hammarskjöld, the UN, or even the cold war while 1 was there. Aside from the fish catch, which was holding up for the time of year, the talk was mainly about the Greek princess who

is engaged to Juan Carlos, the son of the pretender to the throne of Spain. The girl has an outsider’s chance to become Queen of Spain sooner or later, but the feeling around Cadaqués is that she could have done better.

The man to know in Cadaqués is Lep Ortuna. Lep's bar is really a shack to hold the bottles, a couple of planks to hold the drinks, and a few' stools and tables scattered around in the fresh air. But it stands in the middle of the plaza facing the only road into town, and Lep is to Cadaqués what the local newspaper is to worldlier places. The first time I pulled a stool up to Lep's bar, he asked me where 1 was from (we spoke French; for an English-speaking Canadian, talking to a Spaniard in French is a pleasure. He thinks you can really speak French.) 1 said 1 was from Canada. That was indeed a curious thing, Lep said, because generally speaking there is no traffic between Canada and Cadaqués. The French pass through in large numbers during July, on their way to the Costa Brava. The Germans pass through in smaller numbers during August, on their way from the Costa Brava. The English come and go in September. Few Americans come, and no Canadians.

The Costa Brava is the riviera between Cadaqués, in the northeast, and Barcelona, 120 miles to the southwest. This is the only playground in Europe that the Americans have not

yet been accused of spoiling. It is the English and Germans who are accused, mainly by other Germans and Englishmen, of spoiling the Costa Brava. The Spaniards, who take the position that statistics are no part of the meat and drink of life, have never counted how many more tourists are now' arriving each year than the last, but they point out that the number is manifestly vast. The Economist, a British periodical not given to frivolity, says there are now' more Englishmen w-ith the w'rong accents on the beach at Estartit than at Blackpool, a condition that has caused Englishmen with the right accents to move a few' miles down the Costa Brava to San Feliu de Guixols.


One reason why Cadaqués is a matchless escape town is that when you get there you've made good your escape from whatever it was you were trying to shake in the first place, and from the Costa Brava as well. Another reason is that the make-a-little-whoopee crowd from the Costa Brava likes to take a bus or boat tour to look Cadaqués over, but likes to get back when night falls to the fake pirate dens and hit-parade guitar players down the coast. During the day their blend of languages and bright shirts gives the place a certain cosmopolitan style; there's no point in escaping to a fishing village where there's nothing going on but fishing. At night their absence gives the place some honest-to-God peace and quiet.

To escape to Cadaqués the opening move is to escape to Barcelona. Pan Am sells roundtrip seventeen-day excursion tickets direct from New York for $383. But the deal with the airline is the last time an escapist with any sense needs to reach for his



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“There is one way to get clipped in Barcelona. Take a woman for a walk”

heavy money as long as he's in Spain. (The real reason for the rush to the Costa Brava, I’m sorry to say, is not an eye for scenic grandeur but an eye for a bargain. Nothing costs as much here as it does anywhere else.) The Ritz Hotel, which in Barcelona is a thin cut below the most lavish hotels in town, rents large rooms with balconies and throws in breakfast in

bed for about $4.50 a day, and it’s glad to get it.

There is only one way to get clipped in Barcelona, and that is to take a woman for a walk. The boulevards of Barcelona are wider, more pleasing to the eye. and even more crowded than the boulevards of Paris, but they are lined with jewelry, antique, anil leather shops that are pure sin in the

eyes of a woman. Three women off a cruise ship each bought a purse for $150 or more, one day while I was waiting for a clerk to bring me a nail file, and 1 heard them tell each other that none of these purses could be touched in New York for less than $400. The thing to do with a woman in Barcelona is hustle her into a cab (at about four cents a mile, as

nearly as 1 could make out) and drive down the boulevards to Barceloneta.

In the Romans’ day in Barcelona, this waterfront quarter was the whole town. It has worn well, but it is now a slum. The only tourists that seem to get down to Barceloneta are package - tour customers taking a rewarding look at the excavated Roman wmlls. The trick is to drive right past the Roman walls down to the waterfront. where the last street is a row a quarter-mile long of fish restaurants. They all look about the same: an open kitchen in front with half a hundred kinds of fresh fish piled up waiting to be fried, simmered. steamed, stew'ed. or broiled; then a closed dining room with autographed pictures of flamenco dancers, professional wrestlers, and former generals in the Falangist army; then an open-air dining terrace; then the beach; then the Mediterranean. The best time to start dinner is around five in the afternoon, and the meal should go something like this:

While you are changing into your bathing suit, send the waiter for a bottle of manzanilla, long glasses, and a bucket of ice. Manzanilla is a sherry so dry, so light, and so clean to the nose and taste that the Spaniards claim it won’t travel, and keep it to drink themselves. (Sherry growers also say that there aren’t many people outside Spain who have any use for dry sherry. Harvey’s Bristol Dry, for example, is blended from some fine, old, and impeccably dry wines—I’ve tasted them before they’re blended—but in the end the blenders make Britsol Dry sweet enough so that it wouldn't occur to Spaniards to touch it, except maybe for dessert.)

Drink the manzanilla on the rocks. Between pulls, swim around in the Mediterranean. When the juices start to run. send the waiter for snails. He’ll bring back dozens of them, heaped in a deep dish, small, hot and spicy. Between eight and nine it will start to get dark; change and go inside. Dance. When they play one of those heel-stamping, hand-clapping numbers, forget it. Spanish girls tend to be strong, rhythmic, lithe, and a pleasure to dance with, but do not ask one to go for a walk with you down to the dark end of the beach. Her big brother is liable to stick a banderilla in your ribs. Spanish chaperones are all old pros.

At around ten. sit down on the terrace and order dinner. There is baby octopus on the menu, half-grown squid, cuttlefish, praw ns, shrimps as big as lobsters, lobsters as big as your leg, mussels, eels, crayfish, goosefish, sole, plaice, dace, and everything else up to and including salmon cooked à la Nova Scotia, which to the Spanish mind means baked in olive oil. There is only one thing to watch out for, and that is anything described as à la Romana: this means deep fried in a blanket of batter, and even chipirones, tiny and indescribably tasteful baby squids, are just another mess of fish and chips when they get this treatment.

Monopole, a full but fine tasting Spanish white wine, goes well with the light and simple dishes; Spanish champagne and most other white wines taste like grapepits. Marques del Riscal, as good a medium red wine as almost any in Bordeaux, is good with bouillabaisse or one of the gumbos of shrimp and cuttlefish, almonds and olive oil. parsley and saffron that cooks all along this coast like to work out on. Afterward, order an espresso — the straight coffee tastes like betel nut on the half-shell — and call for a hooker of Fernandez 103 brandy, which would drive the best brains in Cognac right tip the wall if they knew about it. By the time you’re ready to go it will be after midnight and the bill, if there are two of you, will be at least five dollars. You can blow as much as six if you’re really hun-

gry. This is a fair account of what there is to eat and drink in any good restaurant between Barcelona and Cadaqués. The next morning, if you're still with me, escape to Cadaqués.

The bus fare from Barcelona to Cadaqués is about three dollars all in. The hire of a Seat, the Spanish version of a Fiat and a completely adequate car about the size of a Nash Rambler, works out to about $7.50 a day. Anybody who rents a car in Spain should drive as if his life depended on it. because it does.

In some heavily traveled parts of the country—the road south from Seville down through Andalusia is one—the government has decided that it wants the scenery to shape up smartly, and every householder within sight of the highway is under orders to whitewash his walls twice a year. A man who lets the whitewash slip his mind has his memory jogged by a fixer in a green uniform with a tommy-gun on his back. Neither the fixer nor the Generalissimo,

so far as anybody knows, much gives a damn what the inside of the place looks like, but the whitewash certainly gives a dressy look to the roadside; the villages are dazzling. No such order, however. has been handed down around Barcelona. It wouldn’t work in many cases, anyway; a few miles outside town there’s at least one bank of red clay that’s hivedout to make a tenement for half a dozen families. One of them has a glass window set in the dirt, by God. but whitewash wouldn’t do much even for them.

Hotel signs start plugging the Costa Brava not far from Barcelona, but the brava isn’t apparent until the road passes Floret de Mar about forty miles from the city. This is where the granite cliffs, feelers sent out by the Pyrenees, run straight to the Mediterranean and drop off. still dense with pines, in a fierce breath-catching seascape that is far and away the fiercest thing to look at on the tired southern shore of Europe. The road picks its way, one switchback after another that almost twists the steering wheel right out of the car, along these cliffs for thirty miles to San Feliu dc Guixols. Here it passes an intimate bull ring, w'herc the doubtless pleased customers are so close to the picador they can almost get their arms into the hole he is boring in the bull’s back, and a hotel called the Gavina that was built in the days of traveling royalty and still looks the part, then the road flattens out and runs through mannerly farmland, past a dozen more resort towns where stark white

hotels are popping out of the sand like bolls on a cotton plantation. The plumbing fixtures come off in your hand in all of these new hotels, and they're all jammed to the rafters.

A hundred miles from Barcelona the road starts to climb again, but this escarpment is bare rock with a wiry beard of scrub. Along the ridges run stone fences piled up by what desperate devils scraping what crop from the shale, God alone knows. Salvador Dali, whose house is on a headland just up the road, once told L.ep Ortuna, the man-in-the-middle in Cadaqués, that these hills remind him of the bones of a dead donkey. He says he lives there because he can’t stand the color green, and if that is actually the case, he knows what he’s doing.

Cadaqués is on a bight the sea takes out of these bluffs. The road that drops into town is almost the only one in Cadaqués that isn’t cut in steps out of the rock. The architecture is more or less Moorish, with arched windows and the kind of roof-top balconies where Pépé le Moko spent a lot of time, if my memory of movies about the Casbah is clear, singing For Every Man There’s A Woman. Not in Cadaqués, there isn’t, but it doesn’t matter — only a madman would come to an escape town and start worrying about the relative supply of men and women. For myself, I pass the days there eating and drinking, practising the art of the siesta, swimming, getting out on the fishing boats at night, watching the tourists cut up during the day, leaning on the bar at L.ep Ortuna’s place, shooting the breeze.

"What happens after Franco, L.ep?” L said one day.

“Probably the king." he said. “Not the old one. The young one, his son. They’re both a little weak in the head, but Franco sent the young one to school. Anyway, what does it matter?”

"What does it matter?” L said.

“What does it matter?” Lep said. “Whoever looks like he’s running Spain, there’s got to be some kind of a strong man w'ho’s really telling the Spaniards what to do. You give two Spaniards a chance to start an argument, and there’s one murder.”

This is the half-bravo, half despairing answer that almost every male Spaniard gives a stranger when he asks a question about Spanish politics, it’s impossible to tell whether they believe it, or whether it's the brush-off. "Maybe,” I said, “you guys just think you’ve got all that moxie.”

"Maybe,” l.ep said. "I'll tell you. You watch the tourist buses pull into the square. They all get out. The driver tells them where to go, what to do. and when to get back so they can get to the next place on time.

"I watch them all the time. The English listen to the driver. They go where he tells them. They do what he tells them. Half an hour early, they come back to the bus so they won’t miss it, walking like this.” He jigged a few steps in a style that was an exact imitation, although he’s never seen it done, of the cat in the animated cartoons who is always tiptoeing from tree to tree, sneaking up on birds.

"The Germans,” l.ep said. “They listen to what the driver says. Then they go off in a bunch and do what the hell they want to. Nobody sees them. At the precise moment when the bus is supposed to leave, they come back in a bunch and climb aboard. The bus goes.

“But the Spanish? They’re out the door before the driver stops the motor. Half the time they never do get back to catch the bus. They catch another one three or four days later.”

I’m like the Spaniards. Three or four days late, 1 pack up and start down the road that runs back from the escape town.

I don't expect the world to be sane when 1 get back, but 1 expect to stay sane a little longer myself. ^