Apologies to those of you expecting the usual image of Ledbury from Bradlow Hill. We’ve been away, you see. A gathering of the clan took place this month in the small town of Tamariu on the Costa Brava. The nearest anyone got to trudging up Bradlow Hill was getting down to Cala Xellida and back, which was done by car anyway – it was a holiday after all. It consisted of swimming early in the morning in this beautiful little bay, consorting with octopuses and watching cormorants diving alongside, or simply floating on your back (like a pale plump starfish on an azure sea) mindful of not brushing up against a sea urchin – one of their sharp needles in a vulnerable spot would spoil the day. I thought the sea urchin was a friend, but it was anemone.
The name Tamariu derives from the tamarisk trees along the promenade, which separates the beach from the narrow streets and whitewashed buildings of the town. It was, like most settlements along the Costa Brava, a small fishing village, and fishing boats are still to be seen up on the beach. Nowadays there are a few hotels, along with seafood restaurants, cafes and bars. It is set amongst rugged pine-covered cliffs flanking the sea.
A few days beforehand, we had stayed with friends in a small village outside Vic, the ancient capital of the region of Osona. Set among lush green hills, from here you can see in the distance the highest peaks of the Pyrenees that border with France. The main square, where most of the town’s social and cultural life takes place, is a large square area surrounded on all sides by beautiful old buildings, some dating from the late 14th century.
Whilst there, a trip uphill to the hermitage of Sant Sebastiá, long abandoned. It stands as a reminder of Albion’s perfidy and of the ongoing struggle for Catalan independence because it was here that the decision was taken to send an emissary to the British, which led to an agreement of support in 1705 during the war of Spanish Succession. Alas, Britain let them down by signing the Treaty of Utrech in 1713. Long story, with little obvious link to ceramics, but complex and interesting. Great views of the valley below.
Catalans and ceramics? Yes. The best-known source of pottery is La Bisbal which has been producing pots for centuries, and uses the typical blue, red and yellow tones associated with it in the numerous artisan studios along the town’s main drag. But pottery here is also associated with the great names of Catalan art: Gaudí, Miró, Dalí and, though born in Malaga, Picasso.
Of the four, Gaudí did not actually make any ceramics, rather he smashed them up and incorporated it into his facades and rounded architecture, as can be seen on the benches in Parc Guell where one can sit and look down on the city of Barcelona.
In 1976 Dali was seeking a buyer for a collection of tiles known as the Suite Catalan that he had produced in Spain two decades previously. From the original run of 100,000 tiles 60,000 remained. A German lawyer bought them all. The remaining tiles from the original run have sold in private sales and auctions over the years, fetching as much as $2,300 for a set of six, and over €500 for just one.
Picasso and Miró are better known than the other two for their ceramic work and made extraordinary pieces which nowadays are seen in museums around the world. Picasso moved to Barcelona with his family at 13, in 1895, when the city was full of political and artistic ferment. It was politics that turned his visits to Paris into permanent French exile, but before that, his artistic early artistic formation developed in Barcelona. His Blue Period is Catalan.
Peter Arscott Ceramics would like to emulate them one day and, in a fit of creativity, inspiration has nudged this piece out of the studio.
These few days on the Mediterranean were not only about swimming, eating, and drinking. Oh no. There was a quick cultural visit to Gerona. We wanted to see the cathedral’s interior, which includes the widest Gothic nave in the world, with a width of 23 metres (75 ft), and the second widest of any church after that of St Peter’s Basilica. When we finally made it, the huge West door was being shut to visitors by a stern-faced porter.
Defeated in our cultural pursuits, we could only drown our sorrows with more food and drink. Here is a picture of tapas: anchovies and olives.
In deference to the octopus we met daily at Aigua Xellida (there may have been two, but if so, they were hard to tell apart; they were i-tentacle), we tried not to eat any cephalopods. But we did eat fish, and many sausages along with barbecued red peppers and aubergines, and a lot of cheese and ham eaten on local bread rubbed with tomato. And more sausages. They know their food, those Catalans.
Back home, and the call of the clay was loud and enticing, tempting hands into making new shapes and forms, and perhaps influenced by the happy use of colour in the pots and dishes seen in La Bisbal, an orange-red tone crept into one of the more devilish vases that popped out of the kiln today.
Enjoy the rest of Summer.