The Tramontana wind

May 28th, 2008 | by nick |

I enjoyed reading this piece on the Tramontana wind written for Iberianature by Francis Barrett as part of his Guide to the Ampurdan. In Spain, Tramontana refers to the wind which blows NE-SW across the Ampurdan region of Girona. (Painting above by Fransesc Gimeno: An Ampordan village. Note Montgrí in the background – 1918)

…. the strong Tramontana wind is a fairly regular feature of the region in all seasons except summer. This variant of the French Mistral wind blows NE-SW across the landscape for 3-12 days at a time, and can be bitter when the Pyranees are covered in snow and ice. Taking shelter indoors avoids the icy blast, but not the shrill moan as the wind swirls around corners and down chimneys to make fireplace flames flicker and die. The English proverb “red sky at night – shepherds’ delight; red sky in the morning – sailors’ warning” is reversed in the Ampurdan; glorious sunsets signal the imminence of the Tramontana, whereas beautiful dawns are the norm.

The influence of the Tramontana can be seen in the rural landscape and architecture, with walls and lines of beech (sic) trees designed as windbreaks, and open arches at the top level of old farmhouses to dry stored crops. The people of the region tend to live in harmony with the local climactic vagaries, but the Tramontana affects their behaviour most of all, making the children giddy on the first day and rendering everybody depressed when it blows for a week. After 10 days of Tramontana, the murder rate goes up and both people and animals have been known to commit suicide. Catalonia celebrates eight traditional winds, but only the people of the Ampurdan, or Empordanesos, are said to be tocats per al vent – “touched”or mentally affected by the wind.

Elsewhere is this excellent piece by Ian Gibson in the New York Times on the tramontana wind from his Shameful Life of Salvador Dalí

Around 1881 Gal Dali moved to Barcelona. According to family tradition the main reason for this decision was that he found he could no longer stand the tramuntana. This fierce north wind, as integral a part of life in the Upper Emporda as the rain in London, has to be experienced to be believed. Dry and bitterly cold in winter, it roars and blasts its way down through the passes of the Pyrenees (hence tramuntana, `from across the mountains’), sweeping the sky clear of clouds, and, hitting the Emporda, forces the cypresses almost to their knees, smashes flowerpots, snaps television masts and coats the cliffs of Cape Creus white with salt lashed from the waves. The tramuntana blows regularly at over 130 kilometres an hour, and has been known to overturn railway carriages and hurl cars into the sea. At Port-Bou, on the French frontier, it can be so violent that the paramilitary Civil Guard used to enjoy a special dispensation allowing them to climb to their quarters upstairs on all-fours: a position that would normally have been considered undignified in the extreme for a force of law and order famed for its machismo.

Gibson continues:

The tramuntana can affect the emotions as brutally as it does the sea and countryside, and is a constant topic of conversation in this region. The Empordanese are known for their intransigence (the Dalis were no exception), and one authority on the area has attributed this to their having to push constantly against the wind. Anyone a little dotty in these parts, or with a tendency suddenly to flare up, is likely to be labelled atramuntanat (`touched by the tramuntana’), and in the past crimes passionnels committed when the wind was raging were half-way to being condoned. As for depressives, they can be driven to absolute despair by a prolonged bout of the wind–and the bouts may last for eight or ten days, especially in winter. It is even alleged that the tramuntana is responsible for suicides, especially in Cadaques. The protagonist of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s short story, `Tramuntana’, is such a victim. It may well be that Gal Dali feared that, if he stayed on in the village, he was in mortal danger.

Notes:

  • The wind also lends its name to the Serra de Tramuntana in Mallorca.
  • According to Wikipedia. the word tramontana comes from the Latin “transmontanus” and the Italian “tramontana,” meaning not just “across the mountains” but also “The North Star” (literally the star “above the mountains,”)