Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Convent discovery

This morning's news brought the announcement of Professor Stephen Hawking's death at 76, living longer and more creatively, thanks to modern medical medicine and technologies, than any other sufferer of motor neurone disease, fifty five years since diagnosis in fact. Truly one of the greatest creative minds of the twentieth century, trapped in a paralysed body, yet remaining capable to the end of his life of participation in scientific and social life, thanks to a high level of personal care and support. He has inspired several generations of young people to consider the universe with curiosity awe, wonder. There was no room for God in his world of theorisation, but he was never the kind of thinker to discourage others from being curious about the subject, and to think for themselves. What a wonderful legacy.

There were just four of us for the midweek Eucharist this morning, I prayed for Ken Dodd, conveyor of joy and laughter (a churchgoer apparently) and Stephen Hawking communicator of awe and wonder, ( yet an atheist), giving God thanks for two such remarkably different twentieth century lives. We were four for the bible study following the service, but the conversation still made it well worthwhile. When we finished, I went to the bank nearby to cash my cheque al portador for the locum duty fee. It comes in handy as I was just about to run out of the euros I brought with me. I had a long wait to be seen, not because there was a queue, as on other occasions there has been, but because the cajera disappeared with another client, so I had to wait until a colleague noticed my plight and came over to attend to me. As banks here shut at two, it was a relief to me as the hour was far approaching after my wait.

It was decided not to hold a bible study in Velez Malaga this afternoon, as too many of those hoping to come were away this week, or had other urgent duties to perform. I didn't mind, as took time to draft a Sunday sermon, and then take a walk around town with my camera, and see how much more work has been started to erect Semana Santa spectator ranks of seating. I found that work has also started on some sections of the Alameda, and that must be a complex segregation task, given that bus stops in both directions and still operational, not to mention the area cordoned off for Metro line construction.

Scaffolding topped by a platform has been erected in the narrow street between the Cathedral and the Bishop's Palace. It's not for spectator seating, as processions will have to pass beneath it, to enter through the north central doors. Most likely it's for television cameras, given that Semana Santa in Malaga is broadcasted live on a local TV channel.

In a side street between the Cathedral and the Alcazaba, I found open for the first time the 17th century Cistercian Abbey of Sta Ana. There's a Museum of Sacred Art, but the entrance was closed for building work, but the late 19th century church was open. It's a plain small building with grill enclosed west gallery and loft in the south wall above the chancel, for nuns keeping vigil over the Blessed Sacrament, when exposed for adoration. Above the aumbry lies the recumbent image of the dead Christ, before burial, and Mary looking down on him distraught. In its simplicity, it's a powerful image for contemplation. 
Sta Ana closed as a convent in 2009, but is still used as a place of worship. During restoration work, it was discovered that the Abbey had been built on top of the city's ancient Roman baths. Not surprising really, as the remains of the first century Roman theatre are nearby.

Since I've been here, I've put the telly on once to find out how it works. It's attached to a digi-box but I have yet to figure out if it does programmes in any other language than Spanish. Somehow the evenings slip by quickly, listening to or reading the news, editing photos, making a meal. There's no time to get bored.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Sad and worrying news

This morning's news announced the death of comedian Ken Dodd at ninety, perhaps the last great all round music hall entertainment star and hilariously surreal stand-up comic. The British Parliament has been told that investigations into the poisoning of a Russian ex-spy and his daughter reveal the use of a military grade nerve agent produced by the Russians at some time in the past. got. However this has got out into the wild, deliberately with authorisation or inadvertently due to poor security, it represents a disturbing turn of events with very serious consequences. 

Another walk this afternoon along the Palmeria de las Sorpresas, watching ferries and cruise ships come and go, then wandering randomly through the Old Town, just enjoying the place. Since the weekend, the first ranks of spectator seating for Semana Santa have been erected, filling two thirds of the Plaza de la Constitución. Also deliveries have been made of construction packs, either for seating or safety barriers at roundabout where the Alamada and Calle de Marquesa de Lario meet. Processions went around this roundabout when I was last here in 2014.

Things may not be quite the same this year as the right hand side of the Alameda is now enclosed by heras fencing to contain the new metro line building site. I'm fascinated by the logistics surrounding this week of processions, which calls for bus stops to be relocated, roads closed and seating for thousands constructed, and crowd safety measures put in place, while the city centre continues its business as usual. 

Monday, 12 March 2018

Shopping mission

Despite occasional rain and clouds, there's little wind now, daytime temperatures are around 18-20C, and there's the scent of orange blossom in the air, here and there. I had a lie-in and de-stressed after the craziness of yesterday's journey to Salinas. After lunch, I walked through the road tunnel to the Plaza de la Merced, aiming to see if I could trace on foot the proper route for getting out to the autovia following the rio Guadalmedina. 

I wandered briefly around the Mercado de La Merced. It's had a modern makeover, with half of it now being dedicated to specialist bars and restaurants and the other to traditional food stalls. I have yet to visit and find it bustling with activity, and I've been there at several different times. Once I'd walked in the right direction, I was able to join the dots in my mental road map. I then wandered up side streets, and discovered where some of the modern university buildings are. 

I called in a Chinese store near the much busier Mercado Atarazana to buy some replacement light bulbs, then crossed the river to reach El Corte Ingles, to see if could get a motion activated light to install above the door outside the apartment. It's terribly dark there, as the landing light has a time switch. The switches are hard to see in the dark because of their positioning, and the tell-tale light in one of them by the stairwell doesn't work. It's irritating and just a little risky, so I decided the best thing to do was find and install something suitable. Better to light a candle than curse the darkness, as the saying goes. First, I had to work out the right thing to ask for - una luz con interruptor de detección de movimiento would do the job, in the absence of a slang term or brand name to quote. Before I had a chance to ask someone, I found the shelf in a corner of the hardware basement, and instantly identified what I needed. And reasonably priced too.

From there, I went up to the computer department and bought a Devolo wi-fi network booster plug for the apartment. I meant to do this on my last visit but didn't. Given the L shaped layout, and the amount of steel in the apartment framework, it's no wonder that kitchen, hallway and side room have no signal at all.  I just hoped it would be the simple solution needed.

Setting up the booster for use later on, I didn't succeed using the router's WPS button to broadcast the access code to handshake with the plug's WPS. There are no instructions for the the route to tell how long the WPS button has to be pressed for its signal to be picked up - if it works at all. I was, however, able to use the manual setup option, and key in the passcode. I used the office Windows 7 computer to do this, as I couldn't find out how to access the setup routine using my Chromebook. In the course of trial and error obtaining a WPS signal, the router lost its internet connection. I had to switch it on and off several times before connection was re-established, and each time the reboot was slow. Never mind. It took half an hour instead of five minutes, but it makes such a difference being able to listen to Radio Four news on a phone while I cook or eat a meal in the small dining room next door to the kitchen. NOw I need to borrow a drill and install that light!

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Salinas, in a roundabout way

As I set off from church for the drive to Salinas this morning, I found that the police had temporarily closed the road due to the passage of a fun run. Fortunately I'd left exceptionally early to enjoy the journey, and stop if I fancied, en route. Disconcertingly traffic cones were still blocking the route I wanted to take to get to the main route out of town, through the Alameda to get to the autovia, so I opted for another route which I'd taken before, running around the back of the old town, to a point where the road follows the rio Guadalmedina out of town, past the football stadium to the junction of the A45 autovia, running up the river gorge towards Antequera.

I checked Google Maps, and this gave me a second longer alternative route out through Limonar, for no reason I could understand. I tried to follow it, but soon ran out of motorway signs, and got totally lost in narrow winding hilly back roads and one way streets, in which I became disoriented trying to extricate myself. I found a main road uphill, with almost no signposts. The took me up and over a bridge that crossed the autovia, but offered no side roads to follow and reach a junction. 

There was one signpost only. I said 'Colmenar', which I knew was somewhere up the Guadalmedina Valley, so should be the right direction. Google Maps was again unhelpful, and I need to see the landscape a map refers to, rather than be subject to a barrage of verbal instructions I am reluctant to trust in case they are not up to date, or don't make sense of what I can see. So, I drove on. The next sign I saw said 'Montes de Malaga Parque Natural', and 30km to Colmenar. 

The road climbed 300m from autovia level before dropping down into Colmenar. It ascends and descends in following the ancient ridge road. The views are spectacular, but with a noon deadline, I had no idea how long this detour would add to my journey and if I'd be there before the service started. Also a number of Sunday motorists were out driving at a leisurely pace, as they sought a hostelry for Sunday lunch, plus cyclists, slowing down the park crossing.

I stopped and asked directions to the autovia in Colmenar and was directed to Casabermeja about 15km away. Then there was another half hours journey in haste, plagued by bursts of heavy rain. But, I made it to Salinas by noon. The choir was singing, but they were still rehearsing, strange I thought, why haven't they started the service? 

Then I realised my rush and panic was all in vain, as the service actually starts at 12.30. The journey is only fifty five kilometers by the correct route. I'd done at least seventy by failing to find it. I always allow two hours for a 45 minute trip, just in case there are motorway delays and diversions, but this morning's disorientation was both in time and direction.

There was a congregation of eighteen. The choir sang beautifully, and afterwards most people went to Manolo's to eat and drink. Doreen arrived from Velez Malaga at the end of the service, and after half an hour of socialising, we went into the restaurant for a working lunch, which was nearly as busy as the bar. As it was cold and pouring with rain, the veranda tables outside weren't in use, the reason why it was so crowded inside. It was good for the two of us to catch up, though there wasn't enough time to start planning our post Easter adult confirmation sessions. That'll have to wait until next Sunday when we meet for lunch after our respective celebrations in Malaga and Velez.

The return journey was much more straightforward, following the rio Guadalmedina down to the edge of the old town, then realising why I'd been misled when leaving this morning. What I needed to do was circumnavigate the Plaza de la Merced to get myself in the right direction through the back streets to the road along the river. I know now. I'll have to practice this route at leisure, and not wait until next time I have to travel again up-country.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

A suprise visitor

I drove to Velez Malaga's La Esperanza Funerarias Tanatorios this morning for an eleven o'clock start. It's an old municipal cemetery with a smallish traditionally ornate Catholic chapel, not much used these days, as a modern funeral complex has been built next it, with a downstairs chapel that can hold more than a hundred, and viewing rooms. At ground level, there's a spacious reception area a cafe bar, toilets of offices. We were assigned an hour slot, with large funerals before and after, and crowds of people coming, going, lingering, the space immediately outside the entrance doors think with smokers. Not the best planned arrangements to cater for all needs, but a tastefully furnished and well maintained semi-public space.

I arrived ahead of time, as did the widow and her sons and daughters in law. The coffin had already been installed, and several people wanted to view the deceased. By ten past eleven, grandchildren, neighbours and friends entered, so the service could then begin. I was asked to read the widow's tribute to her husband, five grandchildren between them read a farewell poem, and one daughter in law bravely read the scriptures she'd chosen the night before, her voice cracking at the final verse of Roman's eight 'Nothing can separate us from the love of God'. I persuaded the family to let me lead unaccompanied singing, which went well for two of the three hymns, but the final one turned out to be less familiar to more people than anticipated, so it wasn't so lustily sung, despite my best efforts. 

I joined the mourners for a drink and a generous supply of tapas after the service before returning to Malaga. This meant I didn't have to prepare lunch, which I was glad about, as the funeral had left me feeling somewhat drained, and needed a siesta on the sofa. In the past 24 hours I've driven over two hundred kilometres, that's as far as going to Kenilworth. In fact, the last time I drove a car was to make the trip there for Rhiannon's birthday three weeks ago. I don't mind driving, but only do so if I can't use public transport. It's one of the few ways I can reduce my carbon footprint.

In the evening I had a surprise social visit from a visiting priest and his wife were spending the weekend in Malaga, someone whose name I knew but hadn't met. We've both done locum duties in the same Spanish chaplaincies since retirement. It was delightful to have someone to compare notes with. It's rare that locums get to meet or contact one another. It would be good if the diocese put on a conference for locum pastors. There's a largeish group that may do several weeks a year, but I find there are others like me, pleased to occupy several months a year offering this ministry in different contexts. The diocese now has a trained group of interim chaplains, intended for long spells of duty, one to two years, managing a period of change. It's a great move, but doesn't involve the itinerants, who could help inform an interim chaplain's mission. Well, maybe that'll come as well eventually. It certainly was a pleasure to spend an evening chatting with a kindred spirit.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Digital discovery

Yesterday I had a call from Doreen about a bereavement in Nerja and a funeral in Velez Malaga on Saturday, which Fr Nigel couldn't do, due to his existing commitments. I agreed to do this, which meant a journey there by car this morning to meet the family.

I was given an address, for which Google Maps provided me with a one location when in fact there were two, answering to the same search key word, within half a kilometre of each other in different urbanizaciones in different hilly locations. Consequently, I went to the wrong one first. As I sought to extricate myself from a complex internal one way system, the car signalled that it was running out of petrol, and although it may have had enough fuel, I couldn't take the risk of the engine conking out somewhere on a steep gradient, so I had to divert and get petrol first, making me even later than planned. Not that this was of concern to those waiting for me, as time seems to stand still when you have just lost someone unexpectedly.

Anyway, eventually I arrived. It was already four days since the sudden death. The funeral director had been engaged, but finding an English speaking priest had taken longer than usual. This is one of the unforeseen hazards of expat life, until it happens close to you. It turned out that one of the three daughter-in-laws works as a church administrator back in Britain, used to preparing funeral orders of service. This proved to be very helpful in these circumstances, and she was keen to offer her services in honour of her father-in-law.

As I was in Nerja, I went to Maro and had a pub lunch with Judith, formerly churchwarden of Nerja, who'd seen the chaplaincy there through a demanding two year interregnum, and then after stepping down at the end of an eight year term of office, needed a hip replacement operation, from which she is now recovering well, and in good spirits. Over the course of the Nerja interregnum, I was locum chaplain there for several months in a couple of stints. Judith is one of those people who have a gift for making friends, a memorable church welcomer with a reputation far and wide. It was good to see her face free from lines of pain caused by coping with a deteriorating hip joint. It won't be that long before she's walking again without a stick.

After my return to Malaga, I was sent the agreed draft funeral service order for final scrutiny. Then, half an hour after approving this, a panic call to say that due to a lack of ink, printing was proving impossible. The chaplaincy office printer wasn't up to the job, but it occurred to me that further down the same block in the street is a digital print shop. I went out to check opening hours, and it was still open.

Under instruction from the shop assistant who dealt with me, I emailed the print ready file from my phone to the print shop address, and returned to the apartment ten minutes later with the forty copies requested. The ease and simplicity of this astounded me, as I am prone to getting into a mess when working on rendering a document file into a booklet. It's been possible to achieve this degree of accuracy and simplicity where documents are concerned for the past decade at least, where there are compatible systems. But, with the advent of new mobile technologies, what matters most is that files can be reproduced accurately on any system. Add to this the potential of mobile phones and tablets to work in exactly as desktop computers have done for much longer and you have the latest kind of revolution. I don't need a printer in my workspace for sophisticated tasks any more. I just need a suitably equipped print shop near to where I live or work.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

A striking difference

A mild day, with clouds and sunshine, good for walking, and after a housekeeping morning, I did a circuit of the port and the Old Town, and simply enjoyed being back in this wonderful city, with so much happening to notice.

The quayside Palmeria de Sorpresas seems strangely empty now last summer's exhibition of thirty odd life size bronze sculptures by Elena Laverón under the banner Caminantes en el Puerto has moved on. They attracted a great deal of positive attention from passers-by who now can only walk, and pause less often to take pictures with the life sized oeuvres. Back last summer, I walked that route several times a week. Their absence has given me a far better idea of both the social impact and the value of good public art. How will the cultural commissars of the Ajuntamiento de Málaga follow on from this, I wonder?

International Women's Day is being celebrated today, I don't know about elsewhere, but here it's accompanied by advocating a 'Huelga Feminista' - women on strike, refusing to go shopping, and conform to the common stereotype.
It made me smile, then laugh out loud. Listening to the early news, we were reminded of the many outstanding achievements of women in our time, and how far from genuinely equal opportunity we still are, but, as ever in the mass media, it was all talk within the media bubble about the educated privileged elites of society.

Women worldwide still take most responsibility for obtaining everyday food provisions, and home making. Shopping in all its forms, whether for basic essentials or for rare luxuries is part of a woman's daily routine. The notion of a shopping strike is quixotic, whimsically comic, but makes the point about something all too easily taken for granted, a systemic part of existing inequality. Thank heavens for a little anarchic provocation! But can we think of what a world would look like where all women and men have, make use of equal opportunities, while at the same time valuing the different approaches and priorities women and men have in life? This isn't impossible, but essential to my mind. In every generations, women and men have so much to learn from each other about how to address the issues threatening our very existence today.