Today we set out at the crack of sparrows to reach the small fishing village of Port Lligat, where we were booked into an early tour of the home that Salvador Dalí had shared with his wife Gala for many years. It was a short journey but involved a trip over the coastal range and some extremely bendy roads. As we travelled over the mountains we were greeted with spectacular views, but I had to keep one eye on the crazy drivers and brave cyclists. We arrived in plenty of time, so we decided to stop in the neighbouring town of Cadequés. This is a very quaint town hidden in a peaceful bay, well away from the main tourist traps of the Costa Brava, and being so early in the morning it was completely dead … except for few keen tourists and a convoy of trucks delivering to the cafes that lined the seafront.
After taking a few pictures we settled down for some breakfast in one of the cafes, where we got talking to an American gentleman on a business trip to Barcelona. He had dropped by Cadequés to meet a friend. The only other customers were a French woman and her daughter, who provided some entertainment when their illegally parked car attracted the attention of the police. The woman was quick to leap up and go and remonstrate with the local constabulary, but to no avail … there is a lot of love lost between the Spanish and French so her requests for leniency fell on deaf ears.
Powered by ham filled croissants and strong coffee we completed our short journey to the village of Port Lligat.
Dalí was born in nearby Figueres and first visited Cadaqués as a child during family holidays. The area later provided inspiration for some of his most famous works. In 1929 Dalí met his muse and future wife Gala (real name Elena Ivanovna Diakonova). Apparently, his father didn’t approve of their relationship and following an argument, contacted local hoteliers to ensure that none of them would rent a room to his son.
Because of this in 1930 Salvador Dalí purchased a small “barraca” (fisherman’s hut) in nearby Port Lligat where he and Gala lived for more than 40 years. Little by little the couple enlarged and extended the house, adding a second floor and purchasing 6 adjacent cottages, which they annexed, to create the unique rambling property which can be seen today. Dalí lived in Port Lligat until Gala’s death in 1982 and the house is maintained exactly as it was when the couple lived there. Many of their personal belongings are on display as well as magazine cuttings and photographs with famous people including Coco Channel, Ingrid Bergman and Walt Disney.
Despite the quirky interior design features; including stuffed swans, a bejewelled polar bear and the famous phallic-shaped swimming pool, we were surprised by the simplicity of the house. With someone as creative as Dalí, you might have expected something more grandiose. Most of the small whitewashed rooms were decorated with large bunches of Gala’s favourite yellow Sempervivum flowers. Light flooded the house, especially at the time of the day we were visiting. It was easy to see why Dalí found the house and its’ setting so inspirational.
Dalí was a colourful character and his early years coincided with a very unstable political dynamic in Europe. He spent time initially in Madrid and later, during the 1920s, in Paris where he met up with fellow artists including Picasso, Magritte and Miró, who influenced his direction towards Surrealism. With the approach of war in Europe, Dalí clashed with members of the Surrealist movement and was expelled from their group. During World War II, Dalí and his wife moved to the United States. They remained there until 1948. The last years of his life were marred with sadness, with illness preventing him from painting and then in 1982 the passing of his beloved wife and friend Dala. He shuffled off this mortal coil in 1989 and was buried in a crypt at the Teatro-Museo in Figueres.
The relationship between Gala and Dalí was deep and profound and he used her image in many of his works – but it was an unusual relationship. According to most accounts, Gala had a strong sex drive and throughout her life had numerous extramarital affairs (among them with her former husband Paul Éluard), which Dalí encouraged, since he was a practitioner of candaulism. Salvador Dalí claimed to be a virgin, completely impotent and afraid of women’s anatomy.
The tour of the house at Port Lligat was inspiring and the setting was remarkable, with panoramic views across the port and bay, and the rugged coastline in the distance. In one of the small outbuilding there were a series of films about Dalí, including some incredible footage of the man himself creating works on the very terrace outside where were sitting! It was stiflingly hot inside the small rooms, so it was a relief to get back outside. The only thing that tarnished the tour were the other tourists – the worst being one British couple, from South London judging by their accent, that I found particularly irritating. I try not to be a snob, but some people are so uncouth and ignorant. Bah!