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An American in the French Languedoc

South of the Border to Daliland


When we speak of going south of the border in the Languedoc-Roussillon, we refer to Spain, a scant hour away from Fabrezan by freeway. The Roussillon component represents the northern divide of the ancient kingdom of Catalan severed by the Pyrenees Mountains. The Pyrenees trace the border between France and Spain.

Catalan is a substantially rooted culture with a distinct dialect and is the birthplace of 20 th century art masters including Joan Miro and Salvador Dali. The most celebrated within Catalan is Dali.

A visit to Cadaqués, a home base of Salvador Dali for nearly fifty years is incomplete without a stroll into the famous L’Hostal bar, located amidst the strand of restaurants, hotels, art galleries and boutiques lining the village’s Mediterranean shoreline.

One needn’t worry about reservations or protocol to visit in the afternoon. There are no coiffured hostesses or waiters in evidence to greet or serve. There are also no concessions of licensed Dali merchandise.

The bar, like Cadaqués is a shrine to Dalism. Countless mementos of his frequent visits adorn the walls. These include poorly framed napkin doodles, inebriated signatures with indecipherable messages and numerous faded magazine articles. There is a discreetly mounted melted plastic clock above the bar reminiscent of his painting Persistence of Memory.

Several stained photographs portray a lecherous appearing Dali presiding over drinks with a carnival of fawners including would-be bohemians, wealthy Barcelona weekenders and aspiring celebrities. The bar’s inaccessible second floor is a reputed setting for the 1960’s La Dolce Vita crowd. Ones fantasy is tainted by the evident decrepit and stained furniture, cigarette burns and residue of too many spilled drinks. Littered throughout the bottom floor are several conical shaped candles (created by large volumes of dripped wax) as large as tree stumps. Perhaps this represents management’s take on the genius of Salvador Dali and Surrealism.

For villages like Cadaqués, a vertex of the reputed Dali triangle, promoting Dali becomes its principle source of visitation. The geographical triangle encompasses a wide spectrum of Daliland including Girona (the provincial capital), Pubol (decadent, crumbling palace Dali bought for his Russian wife Gala), Selva de Mar (Dali’s Mansion) and Figueres (the ultimate Dali alter: birthplace, museum, scattered public art and his buried body).

There is nothing superior to a sustained marketing presence to maintain a genius’ reputation. These Catalonian cities and villages recognize their essential dependence on his continued prominence, so they promote lavishly. The direct returns are evidence by the prosperity, real estate appreciation, hotel rates and expansive ambitions of the region.

Dali worship is linked irrevocably to the Surrealism movement, a philosophical branch of writing and the arts flourishing within France between the two 20 th-century Great Wars. Dali’s contribution was relatively minor. In fact, founder Andre Breton ridiculed and expelled the enigmatic Dali from the movement for excessive self-promotion.

No matter, Dali enjoyed the ultimate triumph. Breton’s achievements today are marginalized and generally ignored. Dali conversely is lionized and Surrealism has morphed into Dalism. Talk about strange twists of fate.

This is the essence of Dali’s appeal. He was strange, eccentric and absurd. He offered no apologies, explanations and an array of cryptic utterances confounding his listeners. His personal amusement stemmed from initiating public scandal, actual, accidental or imagined and viewing the spectacle of an enraged public furor from behind his moustache-mask. Dali remains a perfect fit within today’s celebrity deity culture, despite attempts from the art world to discredit his work due to suspect business ethics.

Dali and his art are extravagant, playful and irreverent. He becomes a mirror of our decidedly mixed tastes, ethics and incongruities. We remain piqued by the reflection.

Marques Vickers

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