Truman Capote was known to travel with dogs, but the irate white Alsatian with blue eyes, untied and growling between the thin pine trees and sharp yellowing cactus, is not one of them. I knock on the green studded door and am greeted with continued barking, a louder doorbell than my knuckle could ever be.
I knock again, pushing the door slightly this time. It’s bolted shut. After walking the cliff path behind the 2-acre plot of land, a quick glance through a slit in the door’s fraying wood confirms what lies beyond: a three-story whitewashed house sinking toward the coast at the end of an unpaved driveway. After a morning scrambling along the eroded coastal path, I’ve finally found the house where Capote exiled himself for his last of three springs and summers in Spain as he finished In Cold Blood. The guard dog continues howling; I’ll have to return later.
I’ve come to explore the small fishing town of Palamós, an hour’s drive north of Barcelona, to find Cala Sanià, the grandest of the five houses that Capote rented to write the book that would define his literary legacy, and which was published in the New Yorker for the first time 50 years ago this week. For three consecutive summers, Capote swapped the skyscrapers of New York for the beach villas of Palamós to chronicle the brutal murders of the Clutter family in high wheat plains of western Kansas. As the bright-skied days turned gray and the coastal winds blew in for their annual battering of the shoreline, he left for a chalet deep in snow in a Swiss valley. But it was here, to the Catalan coast, come spring, that he kept returning, adamant that he wouldn’t return to the United States until the book was finished. So began Truman Capote’s three-year sentence on the European continent.