By the seaside: Vinaròs

Playa del Fortí Beach

After many years of seeing it as just another stop on the train journey between Barcelona and Valencia, I finally had the opportunity to spend a few days in Vinaròs. The friendliness of the people, the wonderful seafood, the absence of a crushing number of tourists and a truly relaxed atmosphere were welcome discoveries in a town only 90 minutes south of Barcelona.

Sculpture on the Promenade

Located on northernmost part of the Mediterranean Costa del Azahar, the town is known for its fishing harbor, canning industry and as an agricultural center. Vinaròs is on a plain at the northern end of the province of Castellón, on the border with Catalonia.

Painting: The Expulsion of the Moriscos from Vinaròs by Pere Oromig y Francisco Peralta, 1613

Vinaròs was first mentioned in a historical record in 1233 as Moorish town. It was under the rule of the Knights Templar order between 1294 and 1311 and had one the most important ports in the Mediterranean, with impressive shipyards. A large part of the more than 15,000 Moriscos expelled from the Kingdom in 1609 embarked on ships at the port of Vinaròs.

Sculptural and Comfortable Seats on the Promenade

More Comfortable Seats along the Promenade

The promenade in Vinaròs town center, alongside the Playa del Fortí beach, has an outstanding design. It is a lengthy promenade is filled with comfortable and cleverly designed seats and lined with many welcoming bars, cafés and restaurants.

Café Mozart

Café Mozart, located between the promenade and the market square, quickly became my favorite seaside spot for evening drinks and tapas.

The Municipal Market (Mercat)

The market square, Plaza de San Agustín, is very busy. The Municipal Market (Mercat), designed by Francisco Tomás Traver, was built in 1928. It is filled with local produce and has an especially impressive selection of fish and famous local prawns.

Casa Giner (detail)

Two of the oldest and most interesting streets, Carrer Major and Carrer Sant Tomas, meet at Plaza de San Agustín. Full of small shops, these streets contain examples of architecture from centuries of history, including the striking Giner house (Casa Giner), located at number 4 Carrer Major. It is a private residence in the Valencian Modernist Style, built in 1914.

The Church of Our Lady of the Assumption (detail)

Located in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento (Town Hall Square) the church of Our Lady of the Assumption (Arcipestral de la Asunción de Nuestra Señora) is an excellent example of Valencian Gothic-Renaissance architecture. Construction started in March 1586 and finished on 24th December 1597.

Playa del Fortí Beach in February

Vinaròs is an off-the-beaten-path destination worth visiting any time of year.

12 Favorite Photos from 2018

2018 was another busy year for my camera. Here are my 12 favorite photos:

Mural, Dénia

Dénia is a coastal city on the Costa Blanca halfway between Valencia and Alicante. I was there during a record-breaking winter wave of deep cold and, somehow, this bright mural made me feel a bit warmer!

Photo taken in February 2018

Bicycle, Valencia

Thanks to an initiative from the local government, Valencia has quickly become one of Spain’s best urban areas for cycling.

Photo taken in April 2018

Street Art Fallera, Valencia

A little different from most street art in Valencia, this is a creative representation of a fallera, an essential part of the Fallas Festival.

Photo taken in April 2018

Giant Eggplant, Valencia

One morning in early June, a giant eggplant (!) appeared in my neighborhood plaza as part of a celebration of Valencian fruits and vegetables.

Photo taken in June 2018

Shrine to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Bisbat de Girona, Palafrugell

While wandering around Palafrugell trying to figure out directions to the town center, I came upon this small shine in the courtyard of the local parish house.

Photo taken in August 2018

Catalan Curtain, Palafrugrell

In small towns or old neighborhoods in Catalonia, simple linen curtains with a touch of lace adorn many windows.

Photo taken in August 2018

Blue Lights and a Guardian Angel, Girona

The first word that always comes to mind when describing Girona is “bohemian”. The pace of the city is relaxed but at the same time full of creative energy. Distinctly Catalan in style and spirit, I never lack inspiration in Girona.

Photo taken in September 2018

Door, Girona

Doors are practical, but they’re also there to be admired. This door, just around the corner from in Girona’s city hall (ajuntament), caught my eye.

Photo taken in September 2018

Lion, cloister tomb, Girona Cathedral

The Girona Cathedral (in Catalan: Catedral de Girona) includes the widest Gothic nave in the world, with a width of 22 metres (72 ft), and the second-widest of any church after that of St. Peter’s Basilica. Its construction was begun in the 11th century. The Romanesque cloister’s columns depict fantastic figures, animals and plant motifs. The cloister has tombs of prominent members of the monastery, dating back to the 14th century.

Photo taken in October 2018

End of Season, Girona

Autumn is always bittersweet on the Costa Brava. As the tourist season ends, it always feels abrupt, and a bit melancholy, with the cold north wind (Catalan: tramuntanya) bringing an end to long nights on la terraza.

Photo taken November 2018

Window, Casa Sensat, El Masnou, el Maresme

The beautiful county of the Maresme stretches along the Mediterranean coast just north of Barcelona. It has long, sandy beaches, pine forests, and towns with Catalan Indiano mansions where the nouveaux riche used to spend the summer. They are called Indianos, or Americanos because the mansions celebrated the newfound wealth a lucky few locals found in Latin America and the Caribbean. The lavish mansions are a mixture of styles inspired by the architectural fashions of the day – mostly modernist (Catalan art nouveau) and neoclassical.

Casa Sensat, located on the Passeig de Prat de la Riba in the town of El Masnou, was built in 1901 as a summer residence for the  Sensat-Pagès family, whose fortune was made in Argentina.

Photo taken in November 2018

Modernist (Catalan Art Nouveau) Door, Palamós

Located on the narrow main street (Carrer Major) of Palamós, this door is very familiar to me. It reflects the Catalan prosperity of the early 1900’s — missing some hardware, now a bit neglected but still beautiful.

Photo taken in December 2018

Spanish Pop Culture Icon: Miguel Bosé

Music gives everything, to express yourself with your language, to paint landscapes, so that others enter the private prism of your world, but above all to touch the deepest fibers…Miguel Bosé

Miguel Bosé is Spanish Pop Culture Royalty and I am a devoted fan. Through following his career over the years, I have learned much about Spanish media (which he has been relentlessly hounded by) and Bosé was, in fact, my introduction to Spanish pop culture and music history. When the film Billy Elliot was released, the gossip in Spain circulated that it was based on the early life of Bosé. While there is no evidence to prove this, certainly Bosé’s own story has a few points in common with the fictional Billy Elliot — except instead of being the son of a coal miner, he was raised as the privileged only son of a renowned Spanish bullfighter, Miguel Dominguín. His mother is Italian actress Lucia Bosè. Born in 1956, Miguel Bosé decided to pursue a dance career in the early 1970s, taking classes in London with Lindsay Kemp, in Paris with Martha Graham and with Alvin Ailey in New York.

Trivia: In Dario Argento’s Italian horror masterpiece Susperia, Bosé has a small part as one of the ballet students.

His music career began in the late 70’s with catchy if not very memorable pop songs. By the early 1980’s, the Movida Madrileña — the counterculture creative movement begun in the first years after the death of Franco — had rapidly changed the landscape of Spanish Pop Culture. Movida Madrileña helped prompt Bosé to create a more experimental, mature sound which has allowed his music to keep evolving and, at its best, is filled with imagination, profound romanticism, social reflection and even playfulness.

Trivia:  Movida Madrileña icon, director Pedro Almodóvar, featured Bosé in one of his most eccentric films, Tacones Lejanos (1991), translated as High Heels. The male lead was difficult to cast, as the actor had to be believable as both a drag queen and as an investigating court judge. The casting of Bosé gave the film a boost in publicity long before its release.

While he still tours widely — with quite a global large fan base — Bosé is not one of the Nostalgia Acts.  I have selected eight songs (in order of release, though some videos are later versions) that are very well-known including a few that are an essential part of the Spanish pop music history.

Linda (Beautiful) 1977

Linda is a song from Bosé’s early pop music career that has had long-lasting (just over 40 years!) success —and this version, recorded as a duet in 2012 with Spanish singer Malú, demonstrates the creative way Bosé can successfully revive an old hit without even a hint of nostalgia.

Amante Bandido (Bandit Lover) 1980

The first Bosé song I ever heard, Amante Bandido is a wildly popular, enduring pop hit that elevated him to super-stardom in Spain, and beyond.

The music video, filmed in Italy, is a classic itself.

Como un Lobo (Like a Wolf) 1980

Another well-known pop song  that gained even more popularity when it was revived in 2007 as a playful, upbeat version featuring a duet with Bosé’s niece, Bimba. When Bimba Bosé died of cancer in 2017, this duet version was once again heard on the airwaves here as a tribute.

Sevilla (Seville)1984

Sevilla is one of Bosè’s best-known songs, with an enduring popularity due to its subject: the city of Sevilla (Seville). It is brimming with romantic imagery associated with the Andalusian city. Interestingly, the typical music of Sevilla, flamenco, is not incorporated into the production — this is a personal, unique love song to a city. My favorite version of the song is from Bosé’s 2005 concert in Mexico City, with orchestra and chorus.

Aire Soy (I am Air)1986

A great example of Bosé elevating a simple love song into a hauntingly memorable pop masterpiece. The glimpses of Madrid and his dance mirroring the moves of a bullfighter make the video memorable.

Gulliver (2001)

A powerful song, despairing of an indifferent, dystopian world — with this, Bosé expands his musical horizon once more.

Verde Canalla (Young Scoundrel) 2005

Verde Canalla is from my favorite Bosé album to date, Velvetina, which he has called his most personal work. A mixture of pop, electronica and chill-out, it was critically acclaimed and even controversial for its social/sexual openness.

Encanto (Enchantment) 2014

I spent Christmas 2014 in Cordoba and Encanto was all over the airwaves there — no, it is not a holiday song, but it seemed to blend well with the historic city. A beautiful production.

 

For more information about Miguel Bosé, visit his website.

The photo of Miguel Bosé is from his Facebook page.

Literary Travel Part 2: Non-Fiction about Spain

I’m not a fan of general guidebooks about Spain but immersing myself in books about history and culture is always a pleasure, delving deeper into this beautiful and complex land. With that in mind, here is a (highly) subjective list of my favorite non-fiction to date:

 

Arts in Spain: From Prehistory to Postmodernism (World of Art) / John F Moffitt

Spain has been an important contributor to Western art, producing many famous and influential artists. This book encompasses the vast span of the Spanish artistic panorama — a good companion for a cultural tour.

 

The Basque History of the World / Mark Kurlansky

An enlightening and engaging history of the Basque region and its people, fusing political and economic history with cultural and culinary traditions — recipes included!

 

The Borgias: The Hidden History / G. J. Meyer

The history of Valencia is inextricably linked to the Borgia family (or Borja as they are known in Spain), the greatest Valencian dynasty. As popes, statesmen and soldiers they were at the center of the Italian Renaissance, becoming symbols of ruthless ambition and evil deeds — but is their infamous legend based on actual historic facts? The Borgias: The Hidden History offers new insight into the lives of the mythic Borgias. A fascinating must-read before a visit to the province of Valencia.

Note: In Valencia there is a cultural Route of the Borgias that brings to life the history of the dynasty.

 

Duende: A Journey into the Heart of FlamencoJason Webster

Journey with Webster as he learns the complexities of flamenco and searches for duende, an untranslatable word that refers to the feeling that is the essence of flamenco. If you are interested in flamenco music and culture, this is an excellent, engaging introduction.

 

Gaudi: A BiographyGijs van Hensbergen

Gaudi’s work is marketed as the center of Barcelona tourism, making this excellent biography of the elusive architect essential reading for anyone interested in visiting the city. Written in the context of Antoni Gaudi’s Catalan nationalism and Catholicism, the book also provides a history of turn-of-the-century Barcelona and leads the reader through the design and construction of Gaudí’s most significant buildings.

 

¡Guerra! /Jason Webster

Another great read by Jason Webster. There are many (many) books available in English about the Spanish Civil War, but this is a unique approach to the subject that has left an lasting impression on me. Webster travels across Spain, exploring the lasting impact of the Spanish Civil War and the divisions that led to the war that are still be smoldering below the surface.

 

 Homage to Catalonia / George Orwell

A classic. The first book I read about the Spanish Civil War that sparked for me a serious interest in Spain. Orwell writes a compelling account of his experiences in the Spanish Civil War fighting Franco’s fascists. A recommended read before a visit Barcelona.

Note: If you’re visiting Barcelona, you can stop by the Plaça de George Orwell in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter dedicated to the writer.

 

Madrid: A Cultural and Literary Companion (Cities of the Imagination) /  Elizabeth Nash 

A wonderfully well-written exploration of exuberant Madrid, which boasts a very rich creative pedigree. An essential guide.

 

The Ornament of the WorldMaría Rosa Menocal

There was a period of over 500 years when Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived together in harmony in Spain. The Ornament of the World explores the time of al-Andalus, the Islamic dynasty that still profoundly influences Spain today. For anyone planning a visit to Toledo, Granada, Seville, and/or Cordoba, reading this will put the Islamic art and Mudejar architecture into its historical context.

 

Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939 / Adam Hochschild

For three decisive years in the late 1930s, volunteers from the United States arrived in Spain to help its democratic government fight off a fascist uprising led by Francisco Franco (aided by Hitler and Mussolini). Spain in Our Hearts introduces compelling stories of Americans who fought in the Spanish Civil War.

 

The Story of Spain: The Dramatic History of Europe’s Most Fascinating Country / Mark R. Williams

An essential history of Spain and the Spanish Empire from prehistoric times to the present day. It provides description and analysis of political, social, economic and cultural events which have shaped the history of Spain. The book includes lists of historic places to visit at the end of each chapter.

 

Valencia Noir – The Beautiful, the Fantastic and the Grotesque of Valencia, Spain / Isis Sousa and Ove Neshaug

“City of bats, dragons and gods. City of artistic daring over the centuries of history.” A wonderfully creative exploration of Valencia through its architecture, sculpture and painting that hopefully will inspire travelers to visit one of my favorite cities.

A Costa Brava Summer: 24 Hours in Palafrugell

The patio bar of Hostel L’Estrella

In summer, just north of Palamós, the Costa Brava turns a bit quiet thanks to an absence of big hotels and mass tourism. Palafrugell, located a few miles inland, is in a privileged location at the heart of this part of the Costa Brava — a place I always wanted to visit. Finally, I had the opportunity. Palafrugell is well below the radar for most tourists. Calella de Palafrugell, a very upmarket coastal destination — and one of three coastal towns (the others being Llafranc and Tamariu) belonging to the municipality of Palafrugell — gets all the “buzz” in travel and food guides. But “buzz” is not everything.

Centre Fraternal, Plaça Nova

Palafrugell, with a population of 23,000, is the largest town in the region (Baix Empordà) and, as I discovered, has a lot to offer, beginning with a busy central square (Plaça Nova), where the locals gather in the early evening. With no traffic, and at least a half-dozen cafés, it is a great place to order a drink, have a few tapas, and people watch in the cool air. The Centre Fraternal, with its large windows opening on to Plaça Nova, is a cultural center active since 1887. It has a restaurant and great atmosphere. There’s a sizable market (one of the best I have seen) in the town center selling fish, meat, fruits and vegetables every day except Monday. On Sunday the market triples its size to sell other products, from clothes to kitchenware.

Modernisme Door, Cork Museum

Carving of cork cutters, Cork Museum

The cork industry determined the town’s development. Thanks to an abundance of cork oak trees, Palafrugell was famous for its cork manufacturing in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. The largest factory closed in the 1970s, leading to harsh unemployment. There is a small but impressive museum (Museo del Suro) commemorating the history and heritage linked to the Catalan cork industry. The museum building itself is an old cork factory in a Modernisme (Catalan Art Nouveau) design. It is in the town center.

“Kouros” by Manuel Solà, Can Mario Museum

Sharing the old cork factory complex is the Can Mario Museum, a contemporary sculpture museum which was inaugurated in 2004. It houses more than 200 sculptures from the 1960s to the present, created by various artists who were either born in or are residents of Catalonia.

Facade, Sant Martí church

The parish church of Sant Martí is definitely worth a visit. Constructed between the 16th and 18th centuries its nave and side-chapels are in the Gothic style. It was badly damaged in 1936, at the beginning of the Civil War.

Mural: Baptism of Jesus, Sant Martí church

In 1939 restoration of Sant Martí began. Guillem Soler, a Catalan painter who specialized in frescoes, designed and painted murals for the church between 1942 and 1948. They are genuinely impressive.

View of Sant Martí church from L’Estrella Guesthouse

Summer in Palafrugell brings the sounds of havaneres, Catalan sea shanties rooted in the songs sung in local taverns. The songs relate Caribbean travels in the 19th century, a time when many Catalans sought their fortune there — especially in Cuba, which explains the songs being called haveneres: “of Havana”. Outdoor concerts featuring groups who perform havaneres are frequent events — in fact, I enjoyed a concert havaneres at the Plaça Nova during my stay. Here is an example, sung (in Catalan) by Sílvia Pérez Cruz, native of Palafrugell, and her father, Càstor Pérez:

Near Plaça Nova

I could have spent more than 24 hours in Palafrugell and want to return to this peaceful, friendly place. Hostel L’Estrella is recommended as a great place to stay and restaurant L’Arc offers wonderful local cuisine.

All photos © La Gringa Ibérica

My Summer (sometimes Autumn, Winter or Spring) Place: Sant Feliu de Guíxols

View from my apartment

Sant Feliu de Guíxols is a small Catalan Mediterranean port town, about an hour north of Barcelona, with a long history. At present it is my home for 4-6 months each year. It has all the qualities that make it a great place if you are an artist, writer, photographer or poet. But because Dalí never stayed here, it is not known as an artists’ colony.

The town was named for the Carthaginian Saint Felix (Sant Feliu in Catalan), martyred in Girona during the last great persecution of Christians by Roman authorities in 304. The Romanesque Basilica of San Feliu was constructed in Girona to honor him. Guíxols is a bit of a mystery — it appears to be derived from the word iecsalis, found in a 10th century document, that seems to mean “rope-maker”.

Sant Feliu de Guíxols grew around a 10th century Benedictine monastery. The fortified monastery has been rebuilt many times, and now has an art museum as well as a parish church and a restaurant under its roof.

Sant Feliu beach in winter

These days, the town is relatively active throughout the year — emphasis on relatively. November, January and February are particularly quiet and despite what the local tourism office promotes, the weather year-round is not an idyllic eternal summer: winter brings cold rain with the tramuntanya (Catalan name for the northern wind) and summer, when tourism takes over, can be uncomfortably (and at times unbearably) humid.

Downtown Sant Felíu

Sant Feliu de Guíxols has a small historic center, with narrow streets and architecture spanning centuries. A market hall, on the Plaça del Mercat, was constructed in 1929. A local farmers’ market is held here every Sunday morning.

Local cliffs

The town was once an important centre for cork manufacturing and, in fact, it was economically prosperous for decades thanks to the cork wine and champagne stoppers produced here. Small abandoned or redeveloped (parking lots a favorite) cork factories can be seen in just about every neighborhood as well as cork oak trees, endemic to southwestern Europe and northern Africa.

The port of Sant Feliu

Fishing is a tradition here but has never had the importance it has in neighboring Palamós. Some small boats are still active today, with blue fish (primarily sardines) the main catch. In late spring a month-long blue fish festival (Campanya gastronòmica del Peix Blau Ganxó) is held. During the festival many local restaurants offer menu selections featuring blue fish. The smell of grilled sardines are a sign to me that summer has arrived here.

Spring in Sant Feliu – the best season to visit!

Beginning in the 1950s, Sant Feliu de Guíxols, like the rest of the Costa Brava, began to be developed as a center of tourism. Though high-rise tourist apartments and hotels line the seafront, it avoided the worst excesses of package tourism. The near-by town of Platja d’Aro has the nightlife, the multiplex, and chain stores, leaving Sant Feliu de Guíxols with a slower pace. The Festival de la Porta Ferrada — Catalonia’s oldest music festival — began here in 1958, and is a very diverse summer festival that attracts large crowds in July and August.

7 things to see/do in Sant Feliu de Guíxols:

The Monastery

Monastery/Thyssen Museum: The Benedictine monastery is the most important heritage site in town. Mare de Déu dels Àngels church, the History Museum of San Feliu and the Summer-Autumn exhibition space of the Thyssen Museum are all located in the monastery.

Sant Elm

The Hermitage of Sant Elm: In 1203 the monks received royal authorization to fortify a cliff  that would warn them of attacks from the sea. In 1452 they built the hermitage of Sant Elm, dedicated to La nostra Senyora del Bon Viatge (Our Lady of the Good Journey). From Sant Elm, the bay and the city of Sant Feliu de Guíxols as well as the dramatic coast can be seen. It was from this spot that journalist Ferran Agulló had the idea, in 1908, of christening the coast with the name of Costa Brava (“wild coast”).

The Casino (detail)

Casino La Constancia: Designed in the modernista mozárabe style by Barcelona architect General Guitart i Lostaló, it was inaugurated in 1889. It is located on the Rambla del Portalet. Despite being called a casino, it was never a place of gambling but the headquarters of a working and labor society founded in 1851. It was a place of  cultural activities (including popular dances), discussion forums, and a library. Today it is a restaurant.

Rescue Station

The Maritime Rescue Museum: A museum located in the town’s rescue station (built in 1890) dedicated to the history of local maritime rescue operations. The view of the harbor from here is beautiful.

Sant Feliu Cemetary

Town Cemetery:The Sant Feliu de Guíxols cemetery, established in the 19th century, contains some remarkable tombs in the Catalan Modernist style which reflect the opulent good-fortune of some during the height of cork manufacture and maritime trade here. It is small enough to explore in less than an hour.

Camí de Ronda

Camí de Ronda – Sant Feliu to Sant Pol: This coastal path (Cami de Ronda)begins in downtown Sant Feliu de Guíxols and is an easy hike crossing a pine grove near cliffs and the sea. At the end of the path is Sant Pol, the most northern of Sant Feliu’s neighborhoods.

Casa Estrada: , the “house of 9 towers”, Sant Pol

The beach at Sant Pol: Located on a large bay, Sant Pol is a long family beach, complete with boardwalk and a protected area of dunes. Among its attractions is its architectural heritage. The best-known house on the beach is Casa Estrada, the “house of 9 towers”, built at the end of the 19th century.

Literary travel through Spain: Summer 2018

Spain is a vast literary landscape, the birthplace of the novel. I believe that to understand a country, you must read its writers (Hemingway was not a Spanish writer). Here a few novels — all well-known and many best sellers — available in English translation that give some insights into Spanish life. Note: some of my favorite novels by Spanish authors have not been translated.

 

Don Quixote /Miguel de Cervantes

Published in two volumes, in 1605 and 1615, Don Quixote is considered the most influential work of literature from the Spanish literary canon and it regularly appears high on lists of the best literary works ever written. Credited as the first modern novel, it is heart-breaking,  humorous and timeless.

Cervantes drew on his own life — exiled from Madrid, he became a chamber assistant to a cardinal in Rome, then a soldier in the Spanish navy. After being captured by pirates he was a galley slave for five years until a ransom was paid for his freedom.

 

Blood and Sand / Vicente Blasco Ibáñez

Born in Valencia, Vicente Blasco Ibáñez (29 January 1867 – 28 January 1928) was a journalist, politician and best-selling Spanish novelist. There is a timeless quality about his work and Blood and Sand creates an engaging portrayal of Spanish life and traditions, something that distinguishes all of the author’s writing. The novel tells the story of Juan Gallardo, a bull fighter who rises from poverty to unprecedented heights of riches and fame. As a reader you can enter the bullring with Juan, with his wounds, conflicts and superstitions.

Note: Casa-Museo de Blasco Ibáñez (Museum and House of Blasco Ibáñez) is located on Carrer Isabel de Villena in the city of Valencia. It is a beautiful Greek Revival house, once owned by  Blasco Ibáñez, facing the Mediterranean.

 

The Time of the Doves /Mercè Rodoreda

Mercè Rodoreda (10 October 1908 – 13 April 1983) has been called the most important Catalan novelist of the postwar period. A classic of modern Catalan literature, The Time of the Doves is considered by many critics as one of the greatest novels written about the Spanish Civil War — it is the story of Natalia, whose personal history mirrors that of many living and dealing with the Second Spanish Republic and the Spanish Civil War in Barcelona. Gabriel García Márquez called The Time of the Doves: “The most beautiful novel published in Spain since the Civil War.”

The original Catalan title for the book, La plaça del Diamant, is named after a square in Barcelona’s Gràcia district.

 

Southern Seas/ Manuel Vázquez Montalbán

Barcelona detective Pepe Carvalho investigates the death of a powerful businessman, found stabbed to death at a construction site after missing for a year. The mystery takes place during Spain’s Transición—the post-Franco transition to democracy—on the eve of Barcelona’s first municipal elections and detective Carvalho travels through the criminal underbelly of Barcelona to find the killer.

 

The Shadow of the Wind / Carlos Ruiz Zafón

A literary thriller that has gained an international audience, In The Shadow of the Wind centers around the discovery of a forgotten book that leads to a hunt for an elusive author who may or may not still be alive.

A follow-up, The Angel’s Game, is a prequel to The Shadow of the Wind. The Angel’s Game is set in Barcelona during the 1920s and 1930s and follows a writer who is approached by a mysterious figure to write a book.

 

Cathedral of the Sea / Ildefonso Falcones

A epic of 14th-century Barcelona where its poorest inhabitants are building, stone by stone, a magnificent church to overlook their harbor during the worst days of the Inquisition. This is the “Cathedral of the Sea”, Santa Maria del Mar: a church to be built for the people by the people.

No visit to Barcelona is complete without a visit to the inspiration for the novel, the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar in the Ribera district. Built between 1329 and 1383, it is an outstanding example of Catalan Gothic.

 

The Time in Between / María Dueñas

The story begins in 1936, just before the Spanish Civil War. Seamstress Sira Quiroga is left abandoned and penniless by her lover in Morocco. Gifted and determined, she becomes a successful couture designer, sought-after by the wives of German Nazi officers. Sira becomes involved in a dangerous political conspiracy, passing information to the British Secret Service through a code stitched into the hems of her dresses.

 

Death On A Galician Shore / Domingo Villar

The body of a sailor washes up in the harbor of a small fishing port in the northwestern province of Galicia. Detective Inspector Leo Caldas from police headquarters in Vigo is sent to sign off on what appears to be a suicide. But soon things come to light that turn this into a complicated murder case.

The Frozen Heart / Almudena Grandes

A sweeping epic saga about the Spanish Civil War. The Frozen Heart is a journey through the war that tore Spain apart and how it still haunts the Spanish today.

 

The Siege/ Arturo Perez-Reverte

Set in Cádiz, 1811. While the city is under siege from the marauding French army, a serial killer is on the loose. Each murder takes place near where a French bomb has just fallen and police commissioner Rogelio Tizon tries to predict the killer’s next move.

I admit I was especially interested in this novel because of the setting: Cádiz is one of my favorite cities.

12 Favorite Photos From 2017

I take a lot of photos here in Spain — the 12 selected represent what (and where) inspired me the most in 2017.

...Gothic Spiral Staircase, el Museo de la Seda (The Silk Museum), Valencia…

El Museo de la Seda (The Silk Museum) is one of the most important buildings in Valencia. There are many spectacular features, including a Gothic spiral staircase, which remained hidden for centuries behind a wall until restoration of the building began in 2014.

Photo taken January, 2017.

Classics, Valencia…

The window of an abandoned workshop I pass on a weekly basis.

Photo taken February, 2017.

 …Moon Boat, La Vila Joiosa…

I wrote a blog entry about La Vila Joiosa last year. It is a place I enjoy visiting as often as I can and, back in “La Vila” (as the locals call it) in early February of this year, I came across  an abandoned boat on the beach.  Must be a story there.

Photo taken February, 2017.

…Hanging plants and Our Lady, Star of the Sea, La Vila Joiosa…

In the old neighborhoods of La Vila Joiosa, many houses are decorated with hanging plants and images of saints or the Virgin Mary.  The image in this photo is of the Virgin Mary, Star of the Sea — a guide and protector of seafarers.

Plaça del Mercat, Xàtiva…

Xàtiva, about 40 minutes south of the city of Valencia by train, has been inhabited continuously since Iberian times. Tourists visit the city to see its (very) impressive, mountain-hugging castle. Xàtiva also has an atmospheric, well-preserved historic city centre with a charming Market Plaza (Plaça del Mercat). This photo is captures a small corner of it, on a quiet afternoon in early March.

Photo taken March, 2017.

Falla del Pilar (detail), Fallas Festival, Valencia…

The Falla del Pilar this year was designed by local artist Paco Torres. The title of the Falla: Que li tallen el cap (“Cut Off his Head”) reflects its theme of class struggle. This detail is part a carriage carrying aristocrats.  As always, the Fallas festival in Valencia was spectacular!

Faces on Pipes, Xàtiva…

I have discovered (and photographed) many iron pipes with faces in the city of Valencia and this year was surprised to discover more fascinating and mysterious faces in Xàtiva’s historic center…

Photo taken April, 2017.

…Monumento a la Vaquilla (Monument to the Cowboy), Teruel…

The work is a composition of welded iron sheet, integrating three important figures in the history and celebrations of Teruel: an angel, a bull and a cowboy. Crowning the sculpture, a star — the symbol of the city. I took the photo in the late afternoon on the kind of beautiful day that makes Teruel special.  José Gonzalvo Vives was the designer and sculptor  of the monument.

Photo taken May, 2017.

Borja Palace Chapel Ceiling (detail), Gandía…

The Ducal Palace of Gandía was the residence of the Royal Dukes of Gandía, and from 1485, the historically controversial Borgia (spelled Borja in Catalan and Spanish) family held the title. It is also the birthplace of Saint Francis Borja. The 15th century Palace is in the Valencian Gothic style, with a remarkable interior, including the chapel, with a ceiling that captivated me.

Photo taken June, 2017.

Estelada Blava (white-starred flag), Girona…

In Catalonia, Estelada Blava (white-starred flag), the pro-independence flag, has a ubiquitous presence — in fact, I think many non-Spanish visitors mistakenly think it is the official flag of Catalonia.

Photo taken August, 2017.

…Olive Tree (detail), Palamós…

Olive trees are often found in old town squares here — this one is in Palamós, providing shade for a patrons, including myself, of a small café in the center of town. The olive tree arrived in the Iberian peninsula with the Phoenicians approximately 2,700 years ago and, aside from producing wonderful olives and olive oil, olive trees have inspired some fine Spanish poetry including: Antonio Machado (Olivo del Camino), Federico García Lorca (Arbolé, Arbolé), Miguel Hernández (170 Aceituneros).

Photo taken September, 2017.

Teixits, Palamós…

This is a little fabric store just off the main shopping street(Carrer Major) in Palamós — I seems to be from another time, before the shopping became impersonal.

Photo taken September, 2017.

All photos © La Gringa Ibérica

Palamós, Costa Brava: Sun, Sea and “The Man in the Silk Pajamas”

___a street in the old town, with L’Església de Santa Maria del Mar in the distance___

Palamós is my favorite city on the Costa Brava. It does not receive the publicity of its northern neighbor Cadaqués — probably the  most over-hyped city in Catalonia after Barcelona —  but what Palamós lacks in trendy “buzz” it abundantly makes up for in the genuine local charm of a place not entirely given over to tourism.  It is the perfect place to relax and mingle with the locals.

___the architectural remains of the convent of the Augustinians (1568-1835) located in  Parc del Convent dels Agustins, overing looking the marina___

Founded as a village in 1279, Palamós is located at the northern end of a large bay and is a major port with one of the last remaining fishing fleets on this part of the Mediterranean coast. It is famous for the locally caught  gamba de Palamós (Palamós prawn).

___a green grocer on the Carrer Mayor___

Palamós’ walled old town (Catalan = barri antic ) dates back to the mid-15th century — it is a maze of narrow steep streets, originally designed to protect the villagers from strong Costa Brava winds, pirates and foreign military invasions. Today it is the commercial heart of the city, with many restaurants, cafés, bakeries, small green grocers, wine shops and even an excellent bookshop, Llibreria Gavina along the Carrer Mayor (Main Street), a long pedestrian street at the heart of the old town.

___“flower power”crêpes to go___

One of the great advantages of exploring a town not rated as a “must visit” is that great local food and drink are much more affordable here than just about any other place on the Costa Brava.

Fishing was the major economic activity in Palamós until the second half of the 20th century. Today it is still a major port and the only remaining commercial harbor in the Province of Girona with one of the last remaining fishing fleets on the northern Mediterranean coast. Fishermen come back into port each afternoon and their catch is sold on the dockside, not far from the bottom of Carrer Mayor.  The Museu de la Pesca (Fishing Museum) — also located dockside —  is the first of its kind along the Mediterranean coast and (surprisingly) interesting. Very well-designed,  it gives insight into the challenging life of the local fisherman.

Playa Gran de Palamós is the main city beach.  It has fine sand and clear water,  with all the amenities:  lifeguard towers, showers, hammocks and parasols, WC — even an ATM machine. There are good chiringuitos (beach bars) and a very local, family atmosphere.

___traditional boats beside the seaside promenade___

The promenade that runs along the beach is great for walking and cycling — in fact, it is my favorite place to walk when I visit. The seaside promenade connects Palamós and Sant Antoni de Calonge, above the rocky coastline. Sant Antoni de Calonge is just to the south of Palamós — once a small fishing village, now a very (over) developed holiday destination.

___early 20th century Modernisme door (detail)___

The city has a wide variety of architectural styles. In the 1960’s, just like so many Costa Brava towns, Palamós was rapidly developed as a tourist destination. Unlike most Costa Brava towns, the architecture of Palamós  has remained relatively unchanged — most development was focused to the south in Sant Antoni de Calonge.

Frequent buses to Palamós operate from both Barcelona and Girona year-round, making getting to Palamós easy — and the bus station is located in the center of the city. Travel time from Barcelona to Palamós is just under 2 hours, from Girona just over an hour.

“The Man in the Silk Pajamas”

The gift shop of the Palamós Fishing Museum offers one item for sale that seems puzzlingly out of place: the paperback edition of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (translated into Catalan as A Sang Freda). Why is this, of all books, sharing space with a selection of tourist guides and books about Costa Brava fishing history? Because the 20th century true crime classic was written in Palamós.

The cover of L’home dels pijames de seda: Tres estius de Truman Capote a Palamós, featuring Capote (lower left) with the town of Palamós in the background.

As described by Catalan author Màrius Carol in his book L’home dels pijames de seda: Tres estius de Truman Capote a Palamós  (“The Man in the Silk Pajamas: Three Summers of Truman Capote in Palamós”):

“On April 26, 1960, Truman Capote arrived in Palamós in a fully loaded Chevrolet. He was accompanied by his partner Jack Dunphy, an old bulldog, a blind poodle, a Siamese cat and 25 bags, just five months after the chilling murder of the Clutter family had occurred in Kansas. Capote brought over four thousand pages of notes about the crime with the intention of  working on what would be his masterpiece, In Cold Blood, which would also become a reference for modern American journalism.”

Every summer Palamós celebrates its connection to Capote by offering a literary route of the places he frequented during the 18 months of his stay in the town, which were divided into three long summers.

The first stop on the route is the Hotel Trias, overlooking  the boardwalk of the city beach (Playa Gran de Palamós). Capote’s room was number 705. The owners of the hotel, Josep and Ana Maria Colomer, developed a great affection for him, and found Capote a house to rent on the Plaza de la Catifa (this would be the first of many), overlooking the fishing port. In a letter to a friend in New York Capote wrote: “This is a fishing village, the water is so clear and blue as the eye of a siren. I get up early because fishermen set sail at five in the morning and assemble so loudly even Rip Van Winkle could not sleep!”

Capote had decided he needed to distance himself from the excesses of his New York party life in order to write what would become In Cold Blood — Palamós was recommended by writer Robert Ruark, a columnist for The Washington Post, who had lived near-by in the town of Sant Antoni de Calonge since the mid-fifties. Ruark in turn had arrived on the recommendation of British actress Madeleine Carroll, but it was Ava Gardner who made the Costa Brava famous while filming Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951).

Truman Capote gave the locals some vivid anecdotes. The day Marilyn Monroe died, Capote was heading to the Samsó bakery on Carrer Mayor to buy his usual bottle of gin and bottle of stuffed olives. He went to the Cervantes bookstore to purchase The Herald Tribune, but foreign newspapers had not yet arrived that morning. On the cover of La Vanguardia (a Catalan newspaper) he saw the news that Monroe had been found dead at her home in Brentwood, Los Angeles, due to an overdose of barbiturates. “My friend is dead! My friend has it dead!” he cried disconsolately in the middle of the street in his shaky Spanish.

By all accounts, Truman Capote enjoyed the quiet life of Palamós. He even thought about buying the last house where he lived (and finished In Cold Blood) in the summer of 1962, but his partner Jack did not agree with the plan and convinced Capote to buy a chalet in Verbier, Switzerland.  Capote never returned to Palamós. Josep Colomer, co-owner of the Hotel Trias, lamented: “It was a shame because the tranquillity and warmth of the Costa Brava was very good for his physical and emotional health. Perhaps if he [Capote] had bought a house here he would not have had such a sad end.”

Truman Capote died from an overdose at age 59 in August 1984. One of my favorite American authors, he is always in my thoughts every time I visit Palamós, following his footsteps on the Carrer Mayor.

Sources:                                                                                                                                                           Capote, Palamós y la habitación 705 del Trias (La Vanguardia, Agosto 23, 2016)                         Truman Capote en Palamós (elcorreo.com, Julio 24, 2010)

A Cookbook Guide to Spain

Spain has one of the most fascinating and diverse culinary landscapes in Europe. Reading a few good cookbooks before traveling here will really enhance the experience of eating in restaurants and shopping in the local food markets. Here are a few of my favorite cookbooks — plus one book of unique Spanish food traditions — that I reach for  frequently when planning a meal or a trip around the peninsula.

 

The Food of Spain                                                                                                                                                            Claudia Roden                                                                                                                                            Publisher: Michael Joseph

The Food of Spain is a comprehensive and beautifully designed cookbook, featuring hundreds of recipes plus engaging essays on the history of Spain and its people, culture, and food. Claudia Roden writes about the rich heritage of Spanish cuisine, beginning with the influence of the Celts, Romans, Moors, Jews and Christians plus a guide to the food of the autonomous regions, including Galicia, Andalucía, Catalonia and Valencia. The recipes are easy to follow and Roden gives the Spanish names of dishes, making menus easier to understand when visiting Spain.

Paella!: Spectacular Rice Dishes From Spain                                                                                        Penelope Casas                                                                                                                                        Publisher: Henry Holt and Co

This is a favorite! The book offers sixty different  recipes, some traditional, some contemporary — all delicious. If you have always wanted to learn to cook paella, or are looking for some new rice dishes,  this is the perfect book .

A note about the author: beginning in the 1980s, Penelope Casas wrote a number of cookbooks (all of them excellent) focused on Spanish cuisine, including Tapas: The Little Dishes of Spain and The Foods and Wines of Spain. She is credited with introducing Americans to Spain’s culinary heritage.

The Basque Book: A Love Letter in Recipes from the Kitchen of Txikito                                     Alexandra Raij, Eder Montero, Rebecca Flint Marx                                                                   Publisher: Ten Speed Press

The Basque Country (Euskadi in Basque and el Pais Vasco in Spanish) is located in northern Spain, bordering France and the Cantabric Sea. The Basque people are an ancient culture, pre-dating the Roman Empire, unrelated to other Europeans — and their cuisine is considered as one of the best in the world, with recipes being passed down generation to generation with great respect. The Basque Book: A Love Letter in Recipes from the Kitchen of Txikito, with a collection of 116 Basque recipes plus photos and stories of Basque cooking and culture, is a wonderful introduction to a rich and unique culinary heritage.

Catalan Cuisine: Europe’s Last Great Culinary Secret                                                               Colman Andrews                                                                                                                                           Publisher: Grub Street

One of the best cookbooks I have ever purchased — my copy is well-worn from much use in my kitchen!  More than a cookbook, this is a guide to the history, culture, and cuisine of the Catalan Lands — autonomous provinces that until Spanish conquest in the18th century formed the Kingdom of Aragon. Discover the basics of Catalan cooking from its French, Roman and Moorish roots thorough many traditional recipes. Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, Valencia, Murcia, Aragon, the region of France known as Roussillon, and a single city, Alghero, on the island of Sardinia — Colman Andrews explores the Catalan culinary culture that links them all.

The Desserts of Jordi Roca: Over 80 Dessert Recipes Conceived in El Celler de Can Roca    Jordi Roca                                                                                                                                                            Peter Pauper Press, Inc.

Jordi Roca is the pastry chef of the award-winning restaurant El Celler de Can Roca, in Girona, Catalonia, and this cookbook is an attempt to bring his imagination into the home kitchen. His dessert recipes are truly amazing — and there are more than 80 in the book to try, with gorgeously tempting photos. Highly recommended!

Here is a short video (with English subtitles) that gives an introduction to what makes El Celler de Can Roca a unique experience. Joan Roca, the head chief is seen preparing Pálamos prawns and Jordi Roca prepares his version of  a roast apple dessert:

Grape, Olive, Pig: Deep Travels Through Spain’s Food Culture                                                          Matt Goulding                                                                                                                                          Publisher: Harper Wave/Anthony Bourdain

Grape, Olive, Pig is not a cookbook but a celebration of Spanish food traditions featuring great photographs. Matt Goulding fell in love with Spain, its people, and its food, and through his journeys shares insights that most tourists (and published tourist guides) miss, describing meals and sharing uniquely Spanish culinary history and vocabulary as he travels from Barcelona to Salamanca, Valencia, the Basque Country, Cádiz, Asturias, Galicia, Madrid, and Granada.  A unique book I never tire of re-reading.