There’s a disease that’s rampant on mobile dating apps. You’re guessing syphilis and you’re probably right.... but I’m talking Pen-Pal Syndrome. You match with a guy, he gives good text, but you never meet. You even suggest something like, “Hey want to grab a drink this week?” and get excuses. But text-wise he stays very present, checks in and is pleasant enough to have a conversation with.
I matched with Carlos in Madrid. I’ll admit I have a weakness for Spanish men, so we were already off to a promising start. From Barcelona, Carlos had just returned to Spain after years in LA (we're gonna get married!!!) so we had a lot to text about. And text we did. Exclusively. Turns out Carlos was a Pen Pal-er (who wants love anyway?). A hot Pen Pal-er, which are absolutely the worst kind. I’m sure there’s some psychology behind these no-shows: catfishing, guys with girlfriends who want you to want them, who the hell knows. Just because these guys are pulling their profile pics off Google Image doesn't mean they can't have some real travel advice. In the course of our conversation I mentioned I’d be heading up north to Cadaqués to see if he’d heard of it and had anything for me.
Cadaqués is a small fishing village a couple of hours from Barcelona. It’s where the Costa Brava meets the Picos of Europa and is most reputable as the longtime home of Salvador Dalî. A few Spaniards I spoke with had never heard of Cadaqués so I was rolling a little low on advice. One woman, an eccentric actress in Madrid, told me it was beautiful but “the winds in Cadaqués make you crazy… crazy like Dali!” That’s what I was working with.
But Carlos was on it! When I mentioned Cadaqués he became really excited, the way you do when someone mentions something you love and you want to share it. The way I react when someone asks about old episodes of Skins.
First on Carlos’ list was a meal at Compartir, a restaurant opened by three former chefs from elBulli. “Best restaurant in the world” elBulli, so when he suggested this I definitely wanted to check it out. He warned me to make reservations in advance, even following up before I left Madrid to make sure I was in. Controlling, Carlos! But he was right, reservations aren't easy.
When I arrived in Cadaqués I found the restaurant was a quick walk from my hotel, nondescript in the town's small winding streets. It’s more casual in appearance than you may expect from fine dining: tiles, white-wash, blue-painted shutters all match the fishing village vibe. But don’t let it fool you, this is first-class dining and service. When I entered the maitre d' greeted me in English and called me by name. His familiarity before I had the chance to speak made me feel like he may have a dossier on me, like MI6 or something. And I liked it!
I’ve spent a lot of time in Spain, I love tapas and paella and everything in between, so I’m always excited by good Spanish food. But Compartir was The One. The meal that makes your head explode and you leave not knowing what just happened to your tastebuds but you’re glad it did. I’m not a foodie so won’t get heady with specifics, but here’s the insider knowledge I’ll pass on to you:
The plates are meant to be shared, so order a bunch and leave stuffed but experienced. Even if you’re full make room for the transcendent dessert and afterwards expect to want to take your pants off for a variety of reasons. Lastly, order without thinking about cost; for a restaurant of this caliber the meal was surprisingly affordable.
Carlos, I could kiss you! …but you’re a face on a screen so instead I’ll just text you a kissy face emoji of thanks.
Next was Salvador Dalí’s house, open to the public and really the only tourist attraction near Cadaqués. I had planned on just strolling up, so thank god Carlos told me I needed to make a reservation in advance; visitors are only admitted with a tour guide and, even in the off-season, getting a ticket one week ahead wasn’t easy.
Dalí’s house is must-see, it’s off the fucking rails. It’s about a half-hour walk through the back channels of Cadaqués, past larger homes and a small old mission I’m positive is haunted in a bad way. Finally you stroll down the quiet coast to nearby Port Lligat. You’ll know the house when you see it: there’s a huge plaster egg perched on top of the roof like no pasa nada. Whatever Dalí was on, it was strong.
Walking into Dalí’s home you are immediately greeted by a tall taxidermied bear wearing Native American jewelry, as dead bears are wont to do. This is your introduction to the Surrealismo, and the crazy lens through which Dalí saw the world. Your tour guide has a schpiel but really is there to answer questions as you move through each room. And there’s a lot to take in: You’ll notice massive eggs not only on the roof but built into the architecture; you’ll take in the bedroom mirror angled to perfectly reflect the sunrise breaking over the ocean so Dalí could be the first person in world to experience the start of morning; you’ll buddy up to the plastic toreros in blackface that hang beside the penis-shaped pool where Dalí hosted orgies.
I know, there was a lot to take in right there so let me slow that part down for you: POOL. Shaped like a big abstract DICK. A (not so subtle) nod to the GROUP SEX parties Dalí hosted in his home. To set the mood, he decorated with plastic RACIST BULLFIGHTERS.
I mean seriously, you can’t make this shit up. But Dalí could and did and it’s yours for the taking in Cadaqués! I don't know if the eccentric actress was right and it's the wind that makes you crazy, or if it's a legit contact high, but I left Cadaqués with pages of nonsensical musings and an idea for a new religion I'm toying with.
So did Tinder deliver a hot new Spanish guy to purr his accento into my ear? Not in Carlos. But without his Cadaqués experience and insistence on advance reservations, I definitely would have missed out. He still counts as a successful Tinder match… and zero potential of contracting syphilis! ...Except maybe from the pool.