That Time We Popped into France for Dinner

In Sketchbook, Travel by Chris FoleyLeave a Comment

Episode 4 : Europe 2016 - We Popped into France for Dinner
This is the fourth post in a series chronicling my 2016 summer photography project through Spain, France, Poland, and the Czech Republic. Click on this TAG to view all of the articles in this series. If you want to skip all the text, you can scroll all the way down to a gallery of my favorite images from Céret 2016.

I lived for two years in a little town called Céret, just a few kilometers over the French/Spanish border. Since Barcelona is only about an 80-90 minute drive, it stood to reason that we'd take a day out of this vacation and head up into "Catalonia Nord" which is the bit of Catalonia that extends up into France.

The cérétans (people of Céret), like the barceloní, also identify very strongly with their Catalan heritage, despite being French.

My plan was to visit Céret, see some friends, and make some photographs that I regretted not making when I lived there. I'd also planned to hit some other towns along the way, including Cadaqués and Figueres (both in Spain) and Collioure and Argeles sur mer (both in France.)

Alas, renting a car that Saturday was just not going to happen as none of the car rental agencies who advertised being open on Saturday actually were.

Pro Tip: In Europe, services such as Yelp and Trip Advisor are to be taken with a nice heavy grain of skepticism. Posted store hours are always wrong. Such profiles are unmanaged by the business owner if in fact they are even aware of the profile. Do not rely on Yelp.

After a bunch of wandering around in the blistering sun we finally found a car rental agency who was actually open and whose posted hours stated that they'd be open on Sunday morning as well. We'd already killed too much time in searching for a car to rent, so we decided to go up into France on Sunday instead. Reservations were made and we went about our day on the Barcelona waterfront.

It turns out that this Sunday in question was the last day of La Fête de la Cerise et Céret, which while being quaint and mildly entertaining, is a really big deal for the people of Céret. We knew that we could expect a very crowded little town and full restaurants.

The day was warm and brilliantly sunny, though the forecast called for heavy rains. We hit the road early, and drove up into France without incident or border delays of any sort.

One truly amazing component to living in Catalonia was the near-constant exposure to the artistic energy of the area. It's in the air, in the water, baked into the very fabric of the area. Goudí, Matisse, Soutine, Picasso, Dalí. These folks all lived and worked in Catalonia. This energy is inescapable and both Pausha and I credit this near-constant exposure to extremely cool art for awakening our inner artists.

There's a special helping of this Catalan art ethos in Céret:

From Wikipedia: Le Musée d'Art Moderne de Céret is a modern art museum in Céret, Pyrénées-Orientales, France, created by Pierre Brune and Frank Burty Haviland in 1950 with the personal support of their friends Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse who were involved in its creation.

Picasso's Céret atelier is of course no longer his, though the tenant card still bears his name.

Picasso's Name still at the door

Picasso's former workshop in Céret, France.

Picasso's former workshop in Céret, France.

We decided to hit Figueres on the way to Céret.

Figueres, Spain and some Dalí for my baby

Figueres is a small Spanish town near to the border. This is where Salvador Dalí was born, and it's where the Dalí Museum and Theater can be found. In fact, Dalí spent his last few years living in his museum.

Our first destination was the Dalí Museum and Theater gift shop, to pick up a souvenir for Pausha, in the form of one Dali elephant sculpture. She's always been partial to these, since we first saw them, plucked out of Dali's "the Elephants" painting and made 3 dimensional. I was very pleased with this purchase. So pleased in fact, that later I left it behind in my hotel room in Poland. Luckily Pausha's mother lives next to the hotel and was able to swing by and rescue the elephant, whose name is Clarise, and ship it to us.

Figueres, Spain

Meet Clarice the Elephant.

After an hour in Figueres, it was time to challenge the border.

Well then, no big deal. Upon arriving in Céret, it was clear that a storm was indeed coming, though it seemed that we'd be safe for an hour or two. We therefore decided to go shooting first while we had the sun, and then eat dinner. This is when we hit snag #1.

My favorite restaurant, Café de France was full to the gills. I hadn't told anyone there that I was coming and waltzed in with the intention of surprising the owner Pierre, and our good friend Marie, who runs the waitstaff there. In that I was not disappointed. I received a wonderfully ecstatic welcome and began to negotiate a table.

This is where I ran into snag #2. See, my French sucks. I can get by okay, but I have a lot of trouble with tenses. I thought that I had communicated pretty effectively that we were going to take some photos and that we'd be back at 3pm to eat. Everyone seemed quite amenable to this arrangement and so we went off to shoot up the town.

It turns out that Pierre was telling me that they were going to CLOSE DOWN that day at 3pm, because of the Cherry Festival and he was telling me to be back before then. Yeah.

Lost in Translation. My miserable command of the French language almost cost us our dinner!

Whoops. Luckily, we arrived at 2:55pm and after some frantic and hilarious back and forth, he was able to keep the chef in the kitchen for a few extra minutes and they provided us with a meal to remember, as is the norm for Café de France in little Céret.

Magret de canard

Céret, France - Café de France

Céret, France - Café de France

The storm arrived as we were finishing up our bottle of wine, and so we met up with a friend for more wine.

Raining like hell, might as well go home.

By the time we hit the highway south, the rain was coming down in sheets, sideways. This was the heaviest rainstorm I'd seen since we moved back to the States. We definitely don't have rains like this in Southern California, though I sure wish we did. We ended up missing out on seeing (and shooting) in Collioure, Banyuls, and it was with a heavy heart that we decided to abandon the nightcap we'd planned in Cadaqués. That was a bit sad, but we did Céret, saw friends, had an excellent meal, and got some really nice shots of the town I used to know as home.

I thought that it would feel very weird to be back in Céret, and what was very weird about it is that it wasn't weird at all. I didn't feel like a tourist there, and I didn't have any anxiety around it. It was just a familiar place. What did strike me as strange was the radio; hearing familiar radio station's call letters and programming as we drove from Barcelona up into France and back. Otherwise, it was a perfectly normal day and I'm very glad that we went out of our way.

Here are some of the shots I got in Céret and Figueres.

A Céret Image Gallery.

Click on any image to open the gallery up into a Lightbox. Also, a few of these images were taken in Figueres, Spain.


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