January 18th, 2010

snorkel me

New Newport News News: Pals edition

Pals is one of dozens of medieval hill towns that dot the Mediterranean Spanish and French coasts. We arrived mid-afternoon, after seeing Empúries, and found parking right away. This made us wonder if we were in the right spot, but clearly this was a tourist car park. So we began to walk uphill.
It embarrasses me to say this, but Pals is so perfect, it is like Disneyland. Everywhere you turn there is another photo begging to be taken. Utterly scenic, supremely charming, impossibly clean. It helped considerably that there was no one there but us and a few locals. We took literally hundred of photos. Having said that, there were only 2 stores open and the tourist bureau, where we got a map and met a feral cat. The cat helpfully showed us the entry gate, posed for a photo and then went about her business.
We entered the gate and were wise/lucky enough to turn back to look the other way. Above the arch, in a little nook, Mary and the Christ Child look down to bless anyone leaving the town. We walked for hours inside the tiny town—hours because we stopped every pace to take another photo.
I began a project I wanted to do since seeing such books at the FIDM [design school where I used to work in CA] library. I took photos of door and window details. It was a target rich environment, as my son Andrew likes to say. (see Livejournal link)
Meanwhile, there were other targets: a Gothic church, countryside, arrow loops, towers, laundry hanging out, mops, flower pots.
We visited both shops. Our hotel desk clerk had told us that Costa Brava is famous for its pottery and she had recommended Pals. The Ceramica Planas Marquès was amazing. With a patois of Spanglish we came to understand that the lady at the shop was a member of a family of potters who had made everything in the store by hand. There was much to covet, but we settled on 2 small, black-glazed tea cups + saucers. They are subtly different, so you can easily tell they are not molded. There was every color imaginable available [but our tea set is black and white]. While we were coveting—shopping—the lady was forming dozens of little clay balls, which she said were for “quadros”. I don’t know, squares? Maybe for mosaics? I really lusted for a series of 5” figures, hand formed and hanging from fishing line. There were acrobats, skiers, magic carpet riders, angels. But we had no idea how much stuff we were going to be buying on the cruise, plus weight considerations kept our shopping to a minimum.
At the Tabac [tobacco] store, we bought Coca Cola Light (“coke” is not used in the Med; and “diet” means “parliament” in German) and a burro sticker. I had observed many cars with the burro on them and I asked—Spanglish again—what it was. They indicated that is it the symbol of the Catalan region. You can order your own sticker at www.burrocatala.com
We went down the other side of the hill to head back to the car and chanced upon a bar open and serving. We shared a huge iron skillet of traditional Catalan rice, a paella-like dish, with whole shrimp, mussels in the shell and mild sausage, in a light brown gravy. Hot and filling, served with crusty bread and coffee con leche.
Thus fortified, and getting cold, we hastened to the car and hit the road to our hotel. Things were perking right along when we hit a traffic jam. Watching the red tail-lights ahead of us, fading off into the distance, Ron remarked it was like being in a capillary, where the corpuscles go through one at a time. The man’s a poet.
It turned out to be road construction, with flagmen letting a herd through from one direction and then the other. So it did not delay us long and we went “home” and to sleep.

[12-11-09] for photos, visit