Our AirBnB accommodation near Castelló d'Empúries
One of the reasons we moved to the Occitanie Region of France was the attraction of its mix of languages and cultures, being near Northern Spain and Northern Italy. This last week, we made our first foray over the Pyrenees and into Catalonia, and what a cultural melting pot it is! We had found a place to stay on Airbnb, and our welcoming hosts were a Frenchman from Toulouse called Daniel and his partner Noella, born in Barcelona. Daniel's cousin was also staying there, down from Paris to oversee the opening of his new pizza restaurant in Rodes. Conversation at breakfast time consequently morphed between French and Spanish (they didn't speak English), depending on who was speaking and who was listening, with continual reference to place names in the local area in Catalan, which is itself is a blend of Occitan from Southern France and Valencian Spanish.
The Spanish term guiri
I love this kind of thing... where communication is a real joint effort between parties who are mutually curious about one another! The conversation was mostly about the local area, as they advised us where to go and what to see. But when I mentioned that we had eaten Paella in the Capitán restaurant in Empuribrava one evening, I was introduced to a word that I had not come across before. Noella smiled lightly and commented that eating Paella in the evening; "Es muy guiri" (pronounced "hiri") and explained that this is the word the Spanish use to refer to foreigners, particularly English people! I'm afraid it is slightly pejorative, but not necessarily so! We had been 'guiri' because the Spanish eat Paella at lunchtimes rather than the evenings! I won't betray my origins so innocently a second time!!
Charlando con los camareros
A useful way of finding out about the local area is to accost a chatty waiter when she/he is not attending to a busy clientele! Whilst we were enjoying the beach views at TXOTS restaurant on the sea front at Empuribrava, he explained the difference in the tourists who visit. The Germans are prominent here and tend to come for a few months at a time for their holidays. The French are the second in importance, hopping over the border for shorter periods from Southern France. Then come the English and anyone else! This would explain why all the estate agents' billboards we had seen when passing the canals on the way to the seafront had been in four languages: German, French, Spanish and English. Our waiter spoke several languages himself, as is common here,, his native one being Arabic, then Spanish, French, Catalan and some English.
Before returning home via the border town of La Jonquera, we spent the morning in Figueres with the intention of visiting the Dalí museum, its unexpected key attraction being the collection of joyería (jewellery) that he created. Despite being low season, there was unfortunately a long queue to get in and we didn't want to rush the visit with a late entry, so we've 'parked' that for our next visit, but Figueres has a pleasant feeling to it, with an abundance of pastelerías selling tempting delights, interesting shops and a wide and open central Rambla.
Look out for upcoming blog posts on the Spanish Civil War, Catalan and Occitan, the French surrealist poet Paul Éluard and his marriage to Gala Dalí, and a book by Rosemary Bailey called Love and War in the Pyrenees.