Our landlords in Barcelona gave us a special gift – a certificate for an evening of regional treats at Quimet & Quimet, a local bar/bodega. We decided to go there on our return from Bilbao.
The minute we walked in, we felt a great sense of camaraderie. A tiny, one room space, Quimet & Quimet has been going since 1914 passing from one generation to the next and currently run by a brother and sister team. The small room is filled with bottles of wine and spirits floor to ceiling (some, perhaps, that have been there since the bodega opened). There is a long prep counter along one wall, where the owners were busily working.
The place felt full with only 14 customers. There were no chairs and only two tables to stand at, so we parked ourselves beside a long refrigerator filled with wine bottles. When the owners understood that we had been given a gift certificate, they filled our glasses with Cave, put the remainder of the bottle in the fridge beside us, and told us to fill our glasses whenever we needed. Then, over the course of the next hour and a half, they treated us with 16 different montaditos – little cold tapas creations on crusty breads.
The montaditos are improvised every night, depending on the fresh ingredients at hand. We explained that we were eating pescatarian/vegetarian and were presented with assemblages of fish, shellfish, roe, beans, cheeses, fruits and vegetables. We set them out along the top of the refrigerator and shared them amongst the four of us, only regretting that we didn’t know what most of the ingredients were. Joana, one of the owners, told us what she could, but between her Spanish, and our ignorance, we were not always sure of what we were eating. However, they were exciting and unique tastes, lovingly and individually created.
Because there were no tables, we felt as though we were in someone’s home, at a great party. The hosts were creating food, non-stop, but also chatting with people and keeping the “party” going. Soon we had met and had great conversations with almost everyone in the place.
Quimet & Quimet specialize in local cheeses. Someone told us about Cabrallas, “the strongest sheep’s milk cheese”, made in the north of Spain. It is wrapped in “vegetable matter”, buried in the ground under cow manure and left to age for a couple of years. Apparently, the homemade version is eaten with the worms that gather around the edges. The commercial version, we were assured is worm free.
Of course we had to try some. It was that kind of a place, that kind of evening. (It was a very strong cheese. A little went a long way)
We finished the evening with Portado Miso, a chilled herbal digestif from Galicia. We walked back to the apartment feeling really lucky to have been invited and wishing that we could spend a lot more time there.
We spent the next day walking along the harbor and visiting galleries. We went to the Joan Miro gallery on Muntanya de Montjuic overlooking the city, and to the Picasso museum in Gothic palaces in the centre of the old city. Both gave us insights into the artists’ connection to their Catalan childhoods and the influence that they had on each other’s work. Inspired, we decided to go to see the work of the third great Catalan artist of the twentieth century. We went to the small town of Figueres, about 60 miles away, to experience the Dali museum.
Dali created his museum in a renovated theatre in his hometown. He knew it would put the town on the map as a tourist destination and it certainly has. Figueres is a pretty little Spanish town, quite ordinary, except for the fact that it houses the world’s most elaborately eccentric gallery.
The Dali museum is totally fun. It is arranged randomly, although there are arrows to guide you so that you don’t get too lost. It is filled with whimsical things that Dali made specifically for the museum. He also built it knowing it would also be his “final resting place”. His tomb is in the middle of the gallery, in a surprisingly conservative setting, surrounded by his gold jewelry creations, turning him into a kind of Faberge icon.
The central courtyard of the gallery is filled with a sculpture based on an old car.
When you look inside the car, the driver is being consumed by ivy.
For one euro, you can make it rain inside the car.
The “Face of Mae West which can be used as an apartment” installation is an apartment size recreation of a Dali painting.
By looking through a concave glass, the three-dimensional pieces come together to reproduce the painting.
Throughout the gallery there are wonderful drawings and paintings, reminding you how technically accomplished Dali was. Because we had spent the previous day with Miro and Picasso, we saw connections – a Dali hologram with elements of the same Velazquez painting that we had seen recreated as a cubist painting by Picasso. A mannequin leg sculpture almost identical to one of Miro’s sculptures we’d seen.
The gallery became greater than the sum of its parts. Politics, art, environment. Food and wine. All in the eye of the beholder, and we had beheld a lot.
Visiting this surreal gallery in the midst of a very ordinary, but lovely little town, made Dali’s work seem even more startling. We sat outside at a café in the main street of Figueres to soak up the sun and the juxtaposition. It was a fitting farewell to our time in Spain, a land of many surprises.