Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Easter hols, finally

Well, this has to be the most anti-climactic web posting ever. After teasing both of my readers about some amazing account of my Easter holidays for three weeks now, I finally have to deliver and, if anybody out there is paying attention, it is inevitable that you will wonder what all the fuss was about. Meanwhile, I am sitting here holding my breath, hoping that word of the sudden passing of some major movie luminary does not come across my internet connection, causing me to put this all aside once again.

The first thing you need to know is that I was born in a warm place. Okay, it was not merely warm. The summers of my childhood were hotter than Hades. We’re talking about a place where you could literally fry an egg on the sidewalk, and you did not leave precious vinyl records in the car during the daytime. When I got old enough to have the chance to select where I was going to live and work, I made a beeline for the Pacific Northwest. After two decades of relentless sunshine, I was ready for clouds and rain. Of course, it turned out to be a case of be careful what you wish for. In truth, I was never one to complain that much about Seattle’s weather. I did it once in a while, but that was only to fit in. I repeated the usual Seattle weather jokes (people in Seattle don’t tan, they rust, yuk yuk yuk), but it was more rote than heartfelt. During two and a half decades of soggy climate, with the occasional major windstorm or snowstorm, I was surprisingly comfortable with the dark Northwest winters.

Then things took another turn. Love and fate brought me to a place I had had no intentions of visiting, let alone living in. But here I am, now well into my sixth year of full-time residency in the west of Ireland. On the surface, it isn’t much different than Seattle. Things are green, and there is a fair amount of rain. There might be a bit of snow once or twice or three times during the winter, but not enough to be a major inconvenience. The difference between the two places, in the end, is one of degrees. Both places get the odd wind storm, but the difference is that, when Seattle is battered by hurricane force winds, it is designated as a major storm, given a name (usually after a holiday, like the Columbus Day Storm or the President’s Day Storm) and is talked about for years. When Ireland is battered by hurricane force winds, it is referred to, while it is happening, as “wind” or “the weather” and then is never mentioned again.

Another difference is that Ireland is quite a bit farther north than Washington state. If you slid Ireland along its latitude line across eight times zones, it would land in southeast Alaska. To a Californian, the days may seem short in Seattle, but in Ireland in December the daylight seems to run from about 10 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon. Conversely, in June, if things are not made dark by cloud cover, the endless daylight is downright oppressive. At 1 in the morning there is still daylight on the horizon, and it is impossible to get a child to go to sleep. So maybe it is just as well that there often is quite a bit of cloud cover during the summer. I recall, in the months after we were married, we kept making outdoor plans for “when summer comes.” At some point, I realized that we were still saying “when summer comes” in late August.

Yet another difference is that Ireland seems a lot damper to me. This makes a big difference to the comfort level when things turn cold. If you hang a wet towel out on the clothes line in the dead of winter, it still won’t be dry by spring. Worse, this country is subject to major cases of depression. And I’m not talking exclusively about people’s mental health. A common pattern for Irish weather is for atmospheric depressions to come out of the Atlantic and sweep across the island, bringing wind and rain. What’s frightening is that, perhaps because of my age, I can actually feel these depressions arriving. I’ve become some sort of human barometer. I might as well hang it up and sit out on the porch (if anybody here actually had a porch) in my rocking chair with the other codgers, saying things like, “Rain’s comin’. Can feel it in m’ bones.” I know we are all supposed to be concerned about global warming, but sometimes (like when snow falls in April) that term seems like a cruel taunt.

But about once or more a year, I escape from this Emerald Isle and head somewhere farther south. And, in the process, I’ve learned something about myself. Whether I am walking out of an airport in Los Angeles, Nice, Pisa or Málaga, something makes my heart soar. It is palm trees. In my childhood, seeing a palm tree was not unusual. But now I’ve come to miss them. I like palm trees.

And this sort of leads to my obsession with Collioure. I never got to French Catalonia during my student days in France, but I read about the place a while back and saw of picture of Collioure and became consumed with the idea of going there (and not coming back! Just kidding! Well, maybe not!) and seeing the place. I even put a picture of sunset over the town’s port on my mobile phone’s screen desktop and I sneaked furtive glances at it all winter long. Finally, the Missus had heard enough about this and insisted that we go there over the Easter school break and get it out of my system. So off we went on Good Friday.

The port of Collioure

I won’t bore you with all the details of the holiday. Suffice to say, I can see what attracted the artists Henri Matisse and André Derain to the place, giving birth to the movement known as Fauvism. For those interested in art history, there is lovely museum devoted to a local artist named Etienne Terrus nearby in his native town of Elne. My dream was brought somewhat to earth by trying to visit Collioure on Holy Saturday. The place was absolutely mobbed, to a large extent by Spaniards, who had come up from Barcelona for the Easter break. On the other hand, we nearly had the place to ourselves a few days later, possibly because (sigh) it was raining.

St Cyprien
Locals in St Cyprien collect eggs on Holy Saturday, to be made into the world’s largest omelet on Easter Monday

While I hate to generalize (but, after all, every single person in the whole world does it), I found the Catalonian people extremely friendly. In every Easter festival we wandered into, we were made to feel very welome. A highlight was helping to partake of a giant omelet on Easter Monday, made from ingredients gathered from local merchants two days before, as volunteers sang traditional Catalonian songs at each place of business. Something I had not known before is that omelets go down really well at noontime when washed down with sangría.

The Festival of the Giants on Easter Sunday in Villefranche-de-Conflent

Anyway, that’s the story. We came home and are back in our routine. Now you may be wondering what any of this has to do with movies. Very little, it turns out. Given the beauty of Roussillon, the eastern Pyrenees and the Mediterranean coast around the frontier between France and Spain, I was sure that many movies over the years must have been filmed there. The place is just too photogenic. Surely, French filmmakers would have used it is a location, even in Hollywood hadn’t. But as far as I have been able to determine, only one movie has used Collioure as a location. It was the 1968 comedy Le Petit baigneur (known variously in English as The Little Bather or The Mad Adventures of the Bouncing Beauty), directed by Robert Dhéry. As a director, Dhéry mainly did silly comedies, but he also had a career as an actor, including a supporting role in Marcel Carné’s classic Children of Paradise. The star of Le Petit baigneur was the wildly popular comedic actor Louis de Funès. The storyline involved a culture clash between the urban and rustic French, making it something of a forerunner of the current French box office sensation, Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis.

It’s not clear to me how much filming for Le Petit baigneur was actually filmed in Collioure. I suspect that most of the filming was done in the other location listed by the IMDB, Béziers, further to the north.

So, did the Missus’s ruse work? Did I get Collioure out of my system? Maybe. Right now I have a photograph on the wall of my office that features the incredibly picturesque Italian coastal town, Positano.

-S.L., 17 April 2008

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