Hilly and I had a privileged trip to the little village of Collieure on the Mediteranean, right next to Spain. An old fishing village (anchovies and sardines) turned tourist town,we stayed with wonderful local pals who own one of the two anchovy packing companies in the town. It seems like a modest business but they have an awfully neat house in the town. The business has been handed from father to son etc for over a hundred years. Papa was on the national rugby team and (in his 80’s) he is still in great shape. So was his father before him. The kids – our pals – speak good English but not the older generation. Papa (Robert) and his wife have enormous energy and charm but no English, just French and Catalan (huge Catalan community here) and our French is awful.But we managed to communicate pretty well after a while. He was such a good guy, it was worth the trouble. Olive the dog loves it here. At the end, old Robert got his car out of a huge garage under the house to drive us to the station. It turned out – astonishingly – to be a very fancy Jaguar. He patted the dash-board, gave me a little smile and said, “Anchovies.” They live simply but they have sold lots and lots of anchovies. Their store is a tourist destination.
Learned on the last day that Patrick OBrien (of the superb Aubrey/Maturin Napoleonic War novels) lived here – in penury until the end when he suddenly made a good many millions – for 50 years. He and his wife are buried here too. Also Matisse got his color sense here in 1904 or so. Not hard to believe. Fellow “fauve” (wild beast) Derain, said that the colors here struck them like dynamite. Changed the way they painted… the way everyone painted. And it all started in this little town. Picasso was here too.
Europe is so different. After the Spanish Civil War (1939) 400,000 refugees came over the mountains from Barcelona through this region, trying to escape Franco and the Fascists. They did not prosper. During WW II, the Germans occupied the town… built breakwaters for their patrol boats… chased spies, escaping fliers. The history of this tiny town in the last 100 years alone… amazing.