‘Madrid has a lot to offer to culture workers’

In the latest instalment of my Spanish career, The Local speaks to Émilie Emond, a 25-year-old French woman who just landed her first job in Madrid after an internship with the French culture and language foundation, the Alliance Française.

'Madrid has a lot to offer to culture workers'

So Émilie, how did you end up working in Madrid?

I studied a Master’s Degree in Art History at La Sorbonne, in Paris. As part of my courses, I did an Erasmus year in Madrid two years ago and fell in love with the city.

I had to complete an internship to obtain my second Master’s Degree in Management of Cultural Institutions and decided to come back to Spain. I want to work within the intercultural exchange field and Madrid offers a lot of interesting opportunities.

In your opinion, what makes Madrid special when it comes to culture?

There’s a real sense of innovation here and a lot of exciting projects in terms of photography and contemporary arts. Madrid is a modern, dynamic and open city, with plenty of rapidly changing institutions. I sensed this when I studied here and this is the reason why I decided to come back. Spain is slowly recovering from the crisis and the cultural field is quickly evolving.

Could you tell us a bit more about the Alliance Française?

Our mission is to promote French language and culture around the world. The first Alliance Française (AF) opened 130 years ago – we now have offices in 137 countries. In Spain, there are 20 Alliance Française centres spread throughout the country., and we are about to celebrate the 30th anniversary of our centre here in Madrid.

French classes form our main activity, they are open to companies and to the general Spanish public. We also offer cultural exchange programs, sending Spanish youngsters to host families in France.  

The AF network mainly targets Spanish citizens rather than French expats, but we also collaborate with expats willing to set up cultural projects in Spain for instance.

What does your job at the Alliance Française in Madrid involve?

Starting in September I will work as a cultural coordinator, developing the AF brand and overseeing our different projects throughout the country.

For now, I am still interning within the department for culture and communication in our Madrid agency. My job mainly consists in working with Spanish institutional and cultural partners to set up different cultural projects.

The other aspect of my work includes advertising the AF’s events and activities internally and externally.

What sort of cultural events does the AF organize in Madrid?

For the past four years, we have been holding an annual international photography competition, together with the Pilar Citoler foundation. This year, a retrospective exhibition was set up to honour the past winners, as part of the PhotoEspaña Festival.

We are also working on a new exhibition for September, entitled Les murs entre les hommes (The Walls between people). It will take place at El Matadero (on Madrid’s Manzares River) and feature the work of a photographer who travelled the world, focusing on the notion of 'walls' – be they geographical, social or political ones.

We hold many other cultural events highlighting music, cinema or even comic strips. The Alliance Française in Madrid is part of the European Union National Institute of Culture, which enables us to collaborate with several other European cultural institutions in Spain.

Has the economic situation in Spain affected the AF’s work over the past years?

We have witnessed an evolution in the profile of Spanish people willing to take French classes. The French language has a certain prestige which makes it attractive to the public, but now more and more people want to learn French for professional purposes.  

What advice would you give to expats willing to move to Spain?

English isn't that common here so I think speaking Spanish is crucial. It depends which sector you would like to work in. We have 57 people working in our offices, and there's a mix of native Spanish speakers and native French speakers but most of us are bilingual.

Human contact is crucial in Spain, thus speaking the language is really important, as is taking initiative.

How big is the expat community in Madrid and do you think there is some sort of "expat bubble" here?

The French community expat community is really large. People are attracted to the Spanish way of life and living environment. It is the top destination for Erasmus students and it looks like a lot of individuals who come here either stay or return later, as I did.

What are the striking differences with France in your opinion?

At work, the organisation of the day is different and it has been a bit difficult to adapt myself. The working days are quite long, lunch break isn't until two or three in the afternoon and it lasts for quite a while.

Otherwise, I find that working in Spain is more relaxed, less oppressive. For instance, collaborating with cultural institutions has always been easy and fruitful.

Are you thinking of going back to France in the future?

At the moment, I can really see myself settling in Spain in the long-term. My main objective is to gain some useful experience here, get some training and obtain some interesting opportunities to evolve professionally.

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Following the Dalí trail around Spain’s Costa Brava

Catalonia-based travel writer Esme Fox embarks on a voyage into the mind of Salvador Dalí, visiting various locations and landmarks that the Spanish surrealist created or made his own around Spain's Costa Brava.

Following the Dalí trail around Spain's Costa Brava

Surrealist painter Salvador Dalí is perhaps one of Spain’s most famous and loved 20th-century artists. He is known for his quirky images of melting clocks, elephants with long spindly legs and the portraits of his wife, Gala.

Dalí was born in the town of Figueres in 1904, which is located in northern Catalonia, approximately 50km north of the city of Girona. This is the best place to begin your Dalí tour of the region.

Figueres Day 1  

Arriving in Figueres your first stop should be the Salvador Dalí Theatre-Museum, this is where some of the artist’s most important works are held. The museum was in fact created by Dalí himself when he was still alive and was inaugurated in 1974. It’s housed in an old theatre, hence the name. Everything in it was designed by Dalí to offer visitors a real experience and draw them into his world.

It’s eye-catching even from the outside – pink in colour and studded with yellow plaster croissants, and on the walls sit golden statues and his iconic large white eggs – a symbol which you’ll see repeated on your journey.

Salvador Dalí Theatre Museum in Figueres. Photo: Julia Casado / Pixabay

The museum is filled with 1,500 pieces including his sketches, paintings and sculptures. It also houses the remains of Dalí himself, down in the crypt, where you can pay your respects to the artist.

Next door to the museum is a permanent exhibition dedicated to the exquisite jewellery Dalí designed, which shouldn’t be missed. 

Afterward, you can go and see the house where Dalí was born at number 6 on Carrer Monturiol. It’s not currently an attraction, however there are renovation works underway to turn it into a new museum about the artist’s childhood. It was due to open in 2020, but there were significant delays because of the pandemic and it is still nowhere near finished.

Spend the night at the Hotel Duran, where Salvador Dalí and his wife Gala in fact lived while they were renovating the theatre. The hotel restaurant even has a special Dalí room, filled with images of Dalí and all his friends, as well as objects belonging to the artist.

Cadaqués Days 2 and 3

After a winding and hairpin turn journey west, you’ll find yourself at one of the eastern-most points in Spain – the town of Cadaqués. One of the most attractive towns on the Costa Brava, its white-washed buildings gleam against the cerulean blue bay and pink bougainvillea decorates its tiny interior cobbled streets.

In summer in particular, this place gets very busy, so make sure you’ve booked well in advance for your accommodation.

Dalí loved this area in summer too and built his summer house in the tiny neighbouring village of Portlligat. The house is now a museum, but as it’s quite small, booking tickets several weeks or even months ahead of time is essential.

Dalí’s house in Portlligat. Photo: Esme Fox

Dalí designed the house himself, which was created from several fisherman’s cottages joined together and is topped with his iconic white eggs.

Inside, you’ll see the artist’s studio, where many of his most famous works were created, including two unfinished pieces which still sit on the easels. You can also see Dalí and Gala’s bedroom where they kept canaries to wake them up in the morning and crickets to send them off to sleep at night. There’s also an angled mirror ready to catch the sun, ensuring that Dalí was one of the first people in the whole of Spain to see the sunrise each morning.

The highlight of the visit however is the vast garden, which even features a replica of the lion fountain in Granada’s Alhambra palace as well as his famous sofa in the shape of a pair of pink lips. The views from the top part of his garden above the olive grove are so stunning that it’s no wonder Dalí was inspired by the landscapes here.

There’s a replica of Alhambra’s lion fountain in Dalí’s garden. Photo: Esme Fox

On your second day in Cadaqués, head north to Paratge de Tudela located in the Cap de Creus Natural Park. You’ll need a car or taxi to get here. Here, you can hike among the very same landscape that Dalí painted in some of his most celebrated works. Look carefully or take a tour to see the same rock formations featured in his paintings.

For dinner, book a table at El Barroco, a traditional Lebanese restaurant and one of Dalí’s favourites when he lived there. He ate there at least twice a week in summer and it’s said that whenever he had famous guests he would meet them there instead of inviting them into his home. Dalí’s face adorns the door and inside it’s just as surreal with colourful plants, quirky statues and mirrors hanging in the courtyard. And inside it’s like a museum itself, filled with glass cases of bizarre objects and old musical instruments. There are even some photos of Dalí and Gala.

Book a table at El Barroco in Cadaqués. Photo: Esme Fox

Day 4

Make your way 60km south of Cadaques to the tiny charming villages of inland Costa Brava and specifically the village of Púbol. It’s here that Dalí bought an old castle in 1969 and renovated it from 1982 to 1984 for his wife Gala to live in.

Although the castle dates back to the 12th century, Dalí modernised it and added his creative and whimsical touches. It was a kind of love letter to his wife.

Dalí said of the castle: “Everything celebrates the cult of Gala, even the round room, with its perfect echo that crowns the building as a whole and which is like a dome of this Galactic cathedral… I needed to offer Gala a case more solemnly worthy of our love. That is why I gave her a mansion built on the remains of a 12th-century castle: the old castle of Púbol in La Bisbal, where she would reign like an absolute sovereign, right up to the point that I could visit her only by hand-written invitation from her. I limited myself to the pleasure of decorating her ceilings so that when she raised her eyes, she would always find me in her sky”.

Visit Gala’s castle in Púbol. Photo: Enric / WikiCommons

When Gala died in 1982, the castle became her mausoleum and she is still buried there today.

The castle is now a museum where you can tour each of the grand rooms, serene gardens, as well as spot Dalí’s whacky touches. Gala for example asked Dalí to cover up the radiators because she didn’t like to look at them, so as a joke, Dalí covered them with paintings of yet more radiators. 

Day four completes your Dalí trail around the Costa Brava. Go ahead and immerse yourself in the whimsical world of Dalí.