There is a village. The beaches are beautiful. The sea is magical. And most people come, see, swim and return home with summer tans and summer stories and strappy shoes made for the Cadaqués stones, they will likely never walk on again. But some are fortunate. They are the ones who know where the air smells most fresh and most like sweet rotting grapes and most like mint leaves caught in a humid sea wind. They are the ones who the village keeps: the artists and the writers and the travelers- lost and wandering, who stumbled onto a place that gave them a home.
But now their home is an endangered place, its rarity threatened by bulldozers and dollar signs, wanting to stamp their mark on a story that never invited them in. You cannot assault a place with houses that will never be homes, killing trees that have lived there longer than the life you’ve known. You cannot obliterate history to occupy beauty.
The beautiful seaside town of Cadaqués on the Costa Brava. Photo: AFP
But, this is exactly what Barcelona-based fashion business, Custo wants to do with their grand hotel and swank houses. Despite the moratorium set by the Catalan Parliament on new building, developers have begun clearing trees to make roads at Sa Guarda, a Unesco world heritage site in the Catalan village. The Parliament says it is up to the regional government to defend their home. While we wait, bulldozers do not.
In Cadaqués, an artist sits, bouncing his flip flop at the edge of his toes, his shorts always torn in places, his shirt reads, “I am Catalan.” He sits at Bar Boia, next to the wife he never married who left Prague for Sweden and Sweden for Barcelona where she met the artist who she built a home with in Cadaqués, years before there was a road that cut into the mountain’s curves. With them, sits their daughter whose first language was Czech and is now teaching that to her new son, whose father is Moroccan and speaks to him in Arabic. The sun touches the sea before touching their faces, softening years of travel and years of living. Next to them, a French woman, always in yellow, always in love. Next to them a Swedish couple, he a writer, she an actress. In their country they are famous, in Cadaqués, it does not matter.
At the Casino, The man who owns the boat that gives tours to Dali’s house, and never wears shoes, is sitting outside, drinking a beer and watching the water with a calm most will never know. Next to him is Marc, born in Cadaqués, always somewhere in the village, dreads of hair covering the chest a shirt does not. And then there is the Swiss man, who worked with the UN doing something important. No one knows what, it does not matter here. Marsha is sitting at her table inside, near the window that is always open so the breeze can blow curls of her brown hair around blue eyes that seem to change to match the color of the Cadaqués sea. She is old-Cadaqués, the town still whispers stories of her meetings with Dali.
There is a showing at Patrick’s gallery in the evening. They will all be there, drinking wine and eating the cheese that Patrick always serves, never asking for anything in return. We will stand in the street and drink and speak until it is time to eat, in each other’s homes and in the restaurants that stay open during winter, when Tramuntana rules the village. The sea is always there, the sea is everything; everyone who knows Cadaqués knows this.
The first time I arrived in Cadaqués was an accident, but my return was quite purposeful; an intent to live my own life, beyond the restrictions and suggestions of the world I'd previously known. And if my first meeting with the Catalan village was a flash of romance, the second was nothing less. As much as I tried to see the rocky beaches and white-washed homes with sobriety, I was too enamored with the flooding of the sensual. I still am. I’m not wrong.
Old narrow streets in Cadaqués on the Costa Brava. Photo: AFP
Cadaqués gave me a home when I had no other; I am an American from Pittsburgh who has no right to spend her nights watching stars fall over the sea with new friends all around me. You can love Cadaqués for the beauty; it is impossible not to. But for me, the beauty of Cadaqués is more than white houses built into the mountainside and pink petals that fall on the narrow streets. For me, the beauty of Cadaqués is watching Tito play with his cat, while I eat the lemon cake he made and write about a village in a world I never dreamed of knowing.
Fashion designers want to bring hotels and houses that are not homes, to a village built for bare feet and bare skin and people who can know nothing but understand everything. They want to make room where room does not want to be made, so visitors can wobble through stone streets on heels made for cities far from there. They want to own what they do not take the time to know.
Maybe, this is just another story of another town fighting the inevitable development of million dollar homes that will stay more months empty than full.
Or maybe, this can be a different story. Two groups are currently fighting to protect the Cadaqués, SOS Costa Brava and Salvem l’Empordà. They ask the Custo brothers to reinvest in the preservation of Cadaqués; rather than its destruction.
Perhaps these brothers don’t know Cadaqués like I do, and cannot love it the same. But perhaps, they have known some other place that they call home. Perhaps, they too have been invited by strangers to stay a day and then a week and then a life. Perhaps this can be a different story, the story of a village saved.
Jennifer Lutz is a travel writer and essayist who covers politics, culture and health. She has written for New York Daily News, BuzzFeed, Thrive Global, and a variety of peer-reviewed medical journals. Jennifer studied creative writing at Columbia University in New York.