By: Andrew Duffy
SALVADOR DALI, the surrealist Spanish artist, painted melting watches, broken bodies propped upon crutches and swans with elephant reflections. The centrepiece at his museum in Figueres in north-east Spain is a car with a waterfall inside, which turns on every half an hour, soaking the two dummies in the seats.
So we had expected his home to be weird. Casa Dali sits by a quiet bay near the fishing village of Cadaques, two hours' drive north of Barcelona on the Spanish Costa Brava (Wild Coast). In the last 50 years, it has become a place of pilgrimage for art lovers, especially since Dali died in 1982.
|EGGSCITING VIEW: Giant egg on the roof of Dali's house
But Dali's normality eclipsed his surrealism when it came to his home. I wandered around it like a house-hunter in a showflat, thinking: 'I could live here.'
Sure, the stuffed polar bear rearing up on its hind legs in the hallway might have to be moved. The broken boat and shattered chimney pots laid out in the garden like the skeleton of a dead giant would make way for some flowers.
And the long, narrow swimming pool, which suggested that it was built in the shape of male genitalia for a laugh, might have to be changed. But the giant egg on the roof could stay. The location, too, was what anyone would want for a seaside home
Built on Cap Creus, a rocky promontory on the easternmost point of mainland Spain, Dali's house is filled with light. His bed was placed so that the artist could say he was the first person in Spain to see the sunrise.
Dali was like that: flamboyant, dramatic and full of clever ideas that didn't always stand up to scrutiny.
An exhibition of photographs of the artist's life displayed in a gallery in Cadaques was revealing. Whenever he knew the camera was on him, he widened his eyes into a wild stare to look eccentric. But photographed at rest, he had a gentle, sane face.
His house was him at rest. It started out as a fisherman's cottage on a quiet bay. But as his fame and fortune grew, he and his wife Gala added to the house and it is now a spacious white villa with ornate gardens and its own olive grove. This was Dali's studio and his refuge.
Now a town, Cadaques (pronounced caddack-haze) has become livelier since then, thanks mostly to Dali, who put it on the map. In its heyday in the 1950s and 1960, even as Hollywood stars flocked to Cannes in the south of France, artistic types were drawn to it.
Inside the old town, the streets were steep, cobbled and overhung with bougainvillaeas, filled with holidaymakers and Spaniards in those tiny cars that southern Europeans seem to favour as they are the only ones that fit the narrow streets. Boutiques sold wine and whole hams, crusty fresh bread and cheese, handmade clothes and cheerful pottery.
We stayed at a friend's house with views across the town and the sea beyond. Each evening, we joined the locals who come out for the hour before sunset to walk along the main square and to stop at one of the many bars for a glass of wine, to chat, to see each other and to be seen.
The restaurants served unusually good tourist fare - pizza and pasta, paella and seafood, big salads and carafes of wine. But our favourite eatery was up the hill in the old town, called El Balconet.
Beyond the town there are the wild rocky promontories that give the coast its name and inspired Dali with their twisted shapes, with little beaches between them. Most are rocky rather than sandy, but that does not stop people flocking to them and stripping off.
After six years of Sentosa beaches, my children couldn't deal with the nudity in Spain. My three-year-old son goggled and said in a loud, clear voice: 'Look Daddy. That woman is naked. She's got big bosoms. It's so funny!'
5 things to do
1 Do go out in a fishing boat and take your catch back to the hotel to be cooked.
2 Do take a walk along the clifftops of the Cap Creus and look down at the sparkling blue sea that crashes onto the weird, jagged rocks.
3 Do buy a whole jamon (leg of ham) and carve wafer-thin slices off it for breakfast, lunch and as a tapas (snack), washed down with a cold glass of wine or beer, before dinner.
4 Do go native and, if you dare, strip on the beach for an all-over tan. Make sure you use some sunblock, though.
5 Do spend some time in Barcelona, one of the great cities of Europe, for shopping, art and soccer.
1 Don't nap too long in the afternoon, or you'll miss that magical hour before sunset when the whole town comes out to socialise.
2 Don't bother visiting the nearby resort town of Roses. It's too touristy.
This article was first published in Life!, The Straits Times on June 10, 2008,