Isidre kept laughing as we wound through the narrow streets of Cadaqués, kept waving and calling out to almost every person we passed with a greeting that sounded like déu, god. A policeman, a construction worker, a fisherman — todos se conocen in this little seaside town, he told me, talking to me in patient Spanish I was surprised to learn I could actually keep up with.
Tucked in Spain’s easternmost peninsula just shy of the French border, Cadaqués is accessible from Barcelona via a two-hour, 24-euro bus trip whose final leg takes you through a stunning mountain pass — a ride serpentine enough to make even the strongest of stomach turn green, but so brainshatteringly beautiful it doesn’t matter.
I’d made the trek specifically to see Dalí’s home in the neighboring village of Port Lligat, where he’d lived and worked the majority of his years. And to be sure, visiting that space — and furtively popping an olive from one of his grove’s trees in my mouth, so green it made me grimace — was incredible, but it was far from the best thing I found there.
I guess this is the part where I admit I haven’t actually fallen in love with Barcelona.
I always thought I wanted to live in a big city, to spend every day writing and wistfully watching passers-by from my shoebox apartment. I was deeply enamored with the idea of commuting by metro.
Maybe I haven’t found the right city yet; maybe I outgrew the desire. But I think it might also be possible that the city life I’m imagining doesn’t really exist anymore. Everything’s priced out of reach, crammed with tourists, and not-so-slowly succumbing to gentrification. Last I heard, die-hard Portlanders are moving to Boise, for god’s sake, and surely even Idaho won’t ultimately evade modern-day Americana’s kombucha-and-Anthropologie clutches.
Don’t get me wrong: Barcelona has so much to offer, and I’ve discovered more than my fair share of joy here. And it’s not as if the entire Cap de Creus peninsula isn’t replete with tourism — the pedestrian map of town even shared the same font as the one in St. Augustine. Maybe, in the end, there are only a few types of places, different iterations of the same theme: beach towns, metropoleis, the stacked safeguards of suburbs.
But Cadaqués, whose clear, clean water broke my heart; Cadaqués, where an off-duty waitress grabbed me by the arm to gush over my tattoo and also — I use this word as generously as possible; she was unforgettably sweet — to drag me over to show her boyfriend. She was the one who urged me to go up to Cap de Creus, saying it was “truly magic” (so many of the best people I’ve met talk unironically about magic), and she was already making plans for my return when I revealed I’d only be there for two nights. We spoke in a mish-mash of half-languages after she exhausted all the possible fluency options: “Do you speak German? French? Italian?” She was the first person to ever call me out for my American accent.
Cadaqués, where I listened to the chef in a deserted restaurant help her son with his homework while I ate what she’d just made in silence; after, the boy approached me and asked me if I had a daughter because a girl in his class looks just like me, as if I’d been preceded to this place by my ghost. Cadaqués, where I watched the sun rise at the edge of the world and, for the first time in years, sat there long after it was full-bore in the sky, not wanting to be anywhere else. Where I found, if only briefly, whatever it is I always seem to be looking for.