Catalan Country

France is very diverse, both in terms of its geography and the history of the people who have created it. Over time, various groups blended together into what is now referred to as the Hexagon including the Bretons, Alsatians, and Basques, to name but three. As current residents of Collioure, we have seen several vestiges of the Catalan heritage which made me curious to learn more about the area’s past. 

The founder of Catalunya, as it is called in Catalan, was granted the inglorious moniker of Wilfred the Hairy, Guifré el Pelós. Although this 9th century count apparently truly merited his furry nickname right down to the bottom of his feet, he was also quite the clever guy. To build his empire, he was somehow able to seize land from noblemen along the Mediterranean coast without angering the French king. And besides, ole Wilfred had the brilliant idea of giving financial support to local monks who chronicled his bravery in written accounts and in songs, forever preserving his name. Even his death entered into the history books in a powerful way. While defending his capital at Barcelona, Wilfred was killed and his four bloody fingers were streaked across his gold shield, creating the striking image prevalent on many area flags of today.

As in many other regions of France, the native language is quickly disappearing. Street signs in our town are nearly all in both French and Catalan. And there is, somewhat surprisingly, a short newscast in the language on TV every Saturday evening. Otherwise, traces of the past are primarily cultural. One afternoon we saw a performance of the sardana, a typical traditional dance with a live band. To begin with, a single person raises his hands and begins dancing to the music; gradually others, many wearing espadrilles, join in, forming large circles of men and women holding hands. It all seemed kind of mystifying to us outsiders about when the different parts of the dance change. I have since learned that the original person is counting the steps and directs the others…kind of like a caller in square dancing, I suppose.


Probably the main link to the culture is in the cuisine. Many Catalan dishes are highly prized and can be found on restaurant menus. Inland areas use a lot of pork and beans such as in the salpiquet or the ouillade. Along the coast, of course, fish is the principal ingredient with Collioure being the anchovy capital. We are here for the Easter season when local folks prepare a fried dough dessert spelled in many different ways but called bugnette. We went to the cultural center the other day where elementary school kids were frying and eating the sweet treat. And we were even given a sample.

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