Sunday, 23 July 2017

Another up-country visit

This morning, I collected the car from St George's cemetery and drove out of town towards Granada for my second visit to celebrate the Eucharist for the Salinas congregation. I made sure I was early enough to get a drink in one of the village hostelries beforehand, and take a stroll around the place with my camera. I discovered there's a working train line running through the place, that connects Cordoba with Granada, although Salinas station is no longer operational, so it's necessary to drive 18km to Loja for a train.

There were fourteen of us for a Sung Mass, with eight in the choir. Once again I enjoyed the quiet and reflective nature of the occasion. It was great to have such a good sing. We met at Bar Manolo for a drink afterwards. Curate Doreen soon arrived from taking the service and Velez Malaga so that we could have lunch together, and spend the afternoon discussing ministry and the chaplaincy. It was something we'd promised ourselves we'd do during my stay, as we did during last September's locum duty here.

It was six by the time I drove back to Malaga. The countryside of the Comarc de Noroma on the plateau 600m up behind the coastal sierras is heartbreakingly beautiful. Heartbreaking, because it's impossible to stop and take pictures where the views are best. It's so photogenic in the warmth of early evening light, richly green, but with darker greens than we get further north. The slopes grow olive and almond trees. 

The rolling plains grow cereals and have recently been harvested, leaving swathes of bright golden stubble tinted red, grey or white, depending on the underlying soil. That palette of yellows and greens is so exquisite it almost moves me to tears. I can't even gaze at it on the move, as I must keep my eyes on the road! I could do with a few days to wander the back roads and capture this landscape at different times of day. Villages and farms are relatively few and far between. Three small towns along this route have Villanueva as their first name. But, it's the open rolling countryside that captures the eye.

I can see what draws painters to Spain, like Provence. I wish I could paint, not just take travel snaps. But that requires the kind of time and patience as well as vantage points I don't have. Well, at least I can talk about it!

Memorable Magdalene's Day

This morning, Bishop June Osborne was being enthroned in Llandaff Cathedral, and remembering her with thanksgiving prayer was a duty happily done. Later, it was good to see photos on social media and quotes from her address. I'd really like to read the whole thing, but haven't been able to find it on-line so far. It's great that she chose the Feast of St Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles for this landmark occasion in Llandaff diocesan history. Celebration of Mary Magdalene's feast day disappeared from the Book of Common Prayer in 1552, only to reappear in subsequent 19th and 20th century revisions across the Anglican Communion. Recently the Pope has upgraded the festive status of Mary Madgalene to the same rank as that of the Apostles, and the Roman Church has adopted her Orthodox title 'Apostle to the Apostles'. About time too, and the same about the ministry and leadership of women in the church. 'In Christ there is no male nor female'. Funny how that has been ignored for so long.

I was amused to see that a small group of fans camped on the pavement overnight outside the Plaza de Toros, in anticipation of this evening's concert by Vanessa Martin. I wondered where they came from for this ordeal, and why. It's something I've seen often enough outside the Cardiff Motorpoint Arena before a celebrity gig, and it's hard to see the point of it. From mid morning, the sound and stage crew were in evidence, along with some members of the band, testing and balancing their equipment. Occasionally there's be a burst of song, whether live or rehearsed, it was hard to tell. It was just loud. By the time I went for a walk around town, the fast food stalls were setting up to feed people queuing to be let in.

I walked to the far side of the old town, and took some photographs of the barrio where the church of Nuestra Señora de la Peña is located, closest to the Rio Guadalmedina (which our guide at the Flamenco Museum told me means 'City River' in Arabic. What's left of the northern aspect of the mediaeval town wall is in the sector also. In this barrio there's an interesting number of modern buildings, discrete, minimalist in their appearance, some apartments, others business or artistic workshops by the looks of it. Some remaining older tenement buildings are ripe for renovation, some being worked on to retain the facades and make entirely new interiors.

It's as if there's an architectural debate going on about here what can be done to make something different of a decaying area. There are some striking contrasts between plain modern facades and those which are a century or two older. It's different from the nearby Lagunas barrio where a rearguard action seems to be taking place between grass roots conservationists and enterprising modernisers.. Well, that's my impression. How it all holds together in the grand city centre plan I have no idea. So much depends on who owns what, and who in power can be persuaded to do what.

On this excursion, I took some photos of the Interactive Music and Flamenco Museums that I failed to get on the day we visited them. Before returning to the apartment, I walked up the Gibralfaro to the mirador to get a few photos of stage arrangements in the Plaza de Toros. The music was audible loud and clear from on high.

Concert goers were filing into the arena to grab their places as I called at SuperSol for a few last minute weekend purchases. I noticed in the arena bull-pen a couple of dozen back-clad security officials assembled for a briefing before the action started. At this point, all was quiet, preparations concluded. Shortly after sunset the support band struck up. An hour later the main act began. It wasn't as loud as the Queen concert, and it was only as loud as anticipated, until just after midnight, when the volume was turned down. Soon after this, it was all over, and by then I was nearly asleep, thankfully.

The irritating part for me was that the star singer wasn't, to my ear, pitch accurate against the backing band. This could be due to the acoustic impact of being in a circular building framed by tower blocs affecting the sound emanating from the building, as opposed to what's heard on stage. But, it's not unusual at really loud concerts, or in a studio setting, where performers can hear each other is through ear pieces, channelling their microphone output through a mixing desk. It's a distressing experience for a performer to listen to a recording of themselves in these conditions after the event. Anyway, glad it's all over now. It could have been worse.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Malaga Summer Festival Movies

I had two loads of washing to do this morning, a sermon to complete, and a couple of documents to prepare. Also I had a brief video chat with grand daughter Jasmine, who is over from Arizona for holiday travel in France and Britain with her Dad and Stepmother. She had not long arrived to stay with Clare in Cardiff, before going together to Kenilworth, so that cousins Rhiannon and Jasmine can spend the weekend together. They get on so well together. It's sad that they live so far apart.

Apart from shopping, I didn't get out of the apartment for a walk to the port until sunset. An event was just concluding on the Artsenal stage, and a setup crew was struggling to erect and secure a large inflatable cinema screen on the open patio above. Rows of white plastic chairs, seating for a couple of hundred was already laid out, and were rapidly being occupied. 

Tonight is the first of a series of free open air movies to be screened at different venues around the city under the title 'Cine abierto'. The movie? 'Hunger Games: Sinsajo Part 2', a fantasy genre of which I know nothing. Spanish subtitles accompanied Spanish dialogue, to compensate for lack of acoustic enclosure plus background noise from traffic and distant muzak from shops. Perhaps it would have done me good to stop and watch, but the first few minutes seen failed to arouse interest, so I strolled back to the apartment, and settled for an early bed time instead.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Night music

I didn't sleep much. Clare's alarm went off well before mine, so I cancelled it. We left the apartment to retrieve the car from the cemetery at four fifteen, and by twenty to five, after driving through empty streets with most traffic lights showing green, we were hastily kissing goodbye, whilst coping with new drop off parking arrangements I wasn't prepared for. 

Very short stay cars must now take a ticket and get corralled into the multi storey parking complex, level with the departure hall, and you get fifteen minutes for free, though the system isn't clear as to whether you must validate your ticket before leaving within the free time, as you must when you need to pay. I was able to drop Clare off as close as possible to the entry where Terminals Two and Three meet. This is convenient, as Vueling check-in desks are opposite this entrance. She had all the time to spare she needed, and texted me progress reports until she arrived in Cardiff.

As I drove back, still two hours before dawn, the new moon was rising over the horizon, an orange sliver of light in dust laden darkness, hanging above the Avenida de Andalusia as I drove eastwards back into the city centre. A wondrous sight. I went back to bed and made up some of the sleep I'd lost, though not enough, and passed the day pottering about until it was cool enough in the evening to do some food shopping, and then go far a stroll along the Palmeria de las Sopresas.

A bassist and a singing electric guitar player were busking at the start of the open air sculpture display. I think they were singing in Portuguese. On the open air stage of the 'Artsenal' art-space, a jazz quartet was busy re-creating the music and ethos of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grapelly in the 1930s Hot Club de Paris quintet. The violinist, apparently classically trained, learning how to swing, was using sheet music when she wasn't improvising. The two guitarists and bassist were using tablets showing chord sequences for tunes. It sounded pretty authentic, despite lacking the third guitarist. Each evening I go down there, something different is happening live. What a treat.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

A flamenco day to remember

I said Morning Prayer in St George's at the appointed hour, as nobody came for the Eucharist. There were signs the church yard hadn't been opened to the public yesterday or today. Once duty was done, Clare and I walked into the Old Town to visit the Flamenco Museum just around the corner from the Museum of Interactive Music we went to yesterday. 

The museum occupies the second and third floors of the Casa de la Peña Juan Breva. The word peña translates as 'rock' or 'crag' in English as in the dedication Nuestra Señora de la Peña, which shows up in Marian mountain sanctuaries. I came across this first in the parish of Mijas, not too far from Malaga. The word is, however, also used to describe a circle of friends who form an association, so, peña flamenca, are to be found all over Spain. These are associations of people who sing, play or dance flamenco, and enthusiastic supporters and promoters who want not just to preserve but also to promote this performing art.

The ground floor of the Casa de la Peña is a clubroom bar and restaurant. I think the courtyard area is a performance space., but we didn't see that. We paid one euro each and were taken upstairs and shown around by one of the peña stalwarts, a man about our age. He spoke some English, perhaps an assortment of other European language phrases as well, but was pleased that we made an effort not just to listen but to converse with him about every aspect of the material on display. He spent an hour with us, explaining, telling stories at a pace we could manage, with such enthusiasm, it was a real delight, and not difficult to keep up with him either, when he speeded up.

The museum has artifacts belonging to the history of 19th-20th century Malaguenian flamenco heroes - photos, portraits, sketches, engravings, publicity posters, clothing, flamenco dancers' shoes, percussion instruments, and best of all, a dozen well worn twentieth century guitars, played by one or other of los maestros. The one that caught my attention quickly was a 1930s Valencian guitar, by Vicente Tatay. My first Spanish guitar was a 1960's instrument by the same luthier, so it thrilled me to observe the likeness, although worn and aged, I think mine is more worn, given so much less than expert use over the past 54 years. 

Enthusing about this in Spanish with our guide at the start really boosted my confidence for this little extra curricular learning exercise. I learned, however, that for the past 54 years I have been pronouncing the maker's name incorrectly. 'Tatay', sounds like Tat-ae (as in och'ae). I never knew, but won't forget what I've discovered in this amazing encounter.

We left the peña and went for a drink on one of the nearby plazas, discussing what we should do next. Clare was keen to see a flamenco show, and regretted that tonight's performance at the peña would start too late for it to be possible to attend with an airport departure at four in the morning. On our Museum of Interactive Music visit yesterday, people were queuing as we departed for an in house flamenco show. Clare thought it was a one-off show, but agreed we should return and check. Happily, we discovered it happens most days, and seems to make use of performers from an escuela flamenca in the city, and, the show was just about to start. Well, after fifteen minutes waiting in a chilly air conditioned performance studio, along with a couple of dozen others.

The forty minute show featured three high quality artists; a virtuoso guitarist, a singer, and a dancer. The studio has room for about thirty, so everyone sits close to the performers. It must be quite hard for them, as it's hard to draw in a formal audience of inhibited strangers, conditioned to watch, and not to join in, with no alcohol or camaraderie to help generate an atmosphere. I noticed advertising for the evening show at Peña Juan Breva, stated that the price included tapas and a glass of vino malagueño. That would do the trick for sure. Still, the lunchtime performance was excellent, well worthwhile, and it put us in the mood for lunching while we were out.

Just off the east side of the Plaza de la Constitución is a famous alley - paisaje de Chinitas, where there was once a coffee house frequented by artists and intellectuals, among them, the poet Federico Garcia Lorca. He immortalised the place with a verse which is displayed on a panel of tiles high above the fish restuarant which now occupies the buildings. Here we dined well, with fresh fired berenjenas Andalusian style with cane sugar garnish, a marvellous sopa de mariscos, followed by pascadito and salmonillas. It was quite hot in the alley, although we were shielded from the sun by a toldo, but we ate unhurriedly and made the most of this last opportunity to feast together.

We returned at tea time so Clare could pack her case, then walked to the cemetery to check that the church car parked there hadn't been blocked in by some unannounced vehicle arrival. Then we went to the beach, so she could have a paddle in the sea at sunset, before retiring early to bed, before the inevitable three thirty wake up call, heading for a six forty Vueling flight back to Cardiff. Once more my life will change its pace tomorrow, returning to solitude for the last eleven days of my sojourn in the wonderful city. 

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Ten second wisdom

We walked into town after breakfast this morning and visited Malaga's Interactive Music Museum. It has a great collection of instruments of all kinds from Western Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia, including a remarkable number of 19th and early 20th century European pianos, all in beautiful condition. It has a section dedicated to modern hearing tests, and several booths where one can try out different kinds of instruments, percussion, stringed and wind. 

I was tempted to try out the hearing test section, as I've had troubles lately with ear wax blockage due to the heat, an annual summer nightmare for me these days. Then I realised the impairment has diminished over the past couple of days due to anointing my ear cavities with a smidgeon of olive oil. For the moment, I can hear almost equally well with both ears. So I skipped that section, and went on to look at the amazing collection of traditional and hybrid stringed instruments. 

Tow large adjacent houses in the same block have been given over to this museum, and transformed by renovation to accommodate the museum. The ground floor of the second building is paved with glass for visitors to be able to look down at a section of the mediaeval city walls which, I guess at one time would have formed the boundary to the basement of the property. Such a delightful place to visit.

From there we wove our way through the back streets to find a vegetarian restaurant for lunch which was in the same street as La Casa Invisible which we visited last week, called Vegetariano El Calafate. We enjoyed a high quality menu del dia for just under 10 euros in a pleasant back street environment. This is just close to a residential Old Town barrio which is undergoing a measure of regeneration, with the church of Nuestra Señora de la Peña at its heart. It's an area I've not noticed hitherto. 

One of its local characteristics is writing on the walls - not graffiti, though there's a certain amount of that as well - but rather, cleanly stencilled aphorisms from poets and philosophers, four metres above the pavement on surfaces freshly rendered and painted. Is this the thinking man's barrio, I wonder? In Germany and Austria, quotations from scripture or devotional hymns or poetry are commonplace traditional forms of domestic decor. Then I remembered how often in cafes, here in Malaga, and elsewhere in Spain for that matter, the little packets of sugar you're served with have a quotation on the side without advertising on it. It can be an aphorism, or a joke. Great practice to decode when you're learning a language. This is probably not unique to Spain, but here is where I have noticed and appreciated the proliferation of ten second wisdom. I wonder where this began?

We returned to the apartment for a siesta, and afterwards, as Clare didn't want to go for a swim, we walked out on the eastern quay of the port to inspect the most recent cruise liner to arrive. All three seen on Sunday afternoon were long gone. The Royal Caribbean Line's Bahamas registered MV Navigator of the Seas was docked at Terminal one. Although it's not as big as the Celebrity Reflection, docked on Sunday, it carries ten per cent more passengers. It's fascinating to see these giants of the sea coming and going, but I find it hard to imagine taking a holiday on what is, in effect, a floating city.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Competa re-visited

We were invited by Mike and Patricia to visit them at their mountainside finca outside of one of the regions best known and much loved (especially by ex-pats) pueblos blancos, Competa. They've been living there for twenty two years, and crafted gardens out of the hillside and tended orchards of olive, fruit and nut trees, as well as making their simple ancient stone cottage into a home with all mod cons. The sixteen kilometer drive from sea level up to 600 meters is on a well maintained road with countless hairpin bends and views you'd really like to stop and gawp at. 

With the Sierra La Maroma at the head of the deep wide valley is over 2,000 meters, and can be snow capped in winter. The water captured by the high mountains makes the valley unusually green, good for growing fruit and olives. On the ascent, Sayalonga is the largest village, straddled along a promontory on the side of the valley. There are other pueblos blancos on the valley slopes too, and farms, perched remotely on places seemingly hard to access. It's easy to imagine how much tougher and slower life must have been before the advent of motor transport and metalled roads.

We received a warm welcome and showed around the place, before we set off for lunch in Competa at the Restaurante Perico in the main village square, Plaza Almihara, owned and run by the same extended family for several generations. We ate very well indeed, and enjoyed the company and conversation of Mike and Patricia's student grand daughter, who joined us for lunch. We arrived just before two. I noted the door of the nearby parish church was not yet shut for siesta, so I was able to slip in a take a photo of the interior, something I'd been unable to do on our last visit in 2011.
Looking back at the photos taken back then, there's one of stone masons at work in the Plaza Almihara, laying an image of the town's heraldic shield in coloured pebbles and fragments of rock in the middle of the square. I'd forgotten that happened while we were there, during a programme of improvements to the town's public realm, designed to make it more appealing to visitors and boost civic pride, no doubt.

After lunch we returned to Finca Patricia and continued talking for another hour, and then began our return journey, this time with Clare taking photos from the car window with my Sony HX300, and me driving slowly, for comfort as much as anything. She doesn't use a camera much, so it took her a
while to get to grips with it on the move, but it was still worthwhile. It's a valley I wouldn't mind visiting again for a lengthy stop start photo opportunity, to satiate my curiosity.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Mad dogs and ship spotters

This morning we drove to Velez-Malaga for the celebration of the Eucharist with a congregation of seventeen people. I was please to have an opportunity for Clare to meet the congregation here, in such a different environment from Malaga, yet with the same open, warm welcoming spirit. After, we joined the majority of worshippers for coffee and churros at Cafe el Tomate just along the street, before driving back to Malaga for lunch at the apartment.

On the last stretch of the drive along the Paseo Maritime, I noticed three large cruise ships docked in the port, as well as the usual Malaga-Melilla ferry. While Clare had a siesta, I walked out along the eastern quay to take photos. TUI Discovery 2 was docked at Terminal One, she's visited Malaga several times during my stay so far. At Terminal Two, Celebrity Reflection was docked - nearly a quarter of a mile long with 2300 passengers and 1200 crew. It's one of the giants of Mediterranean cruise ships.The area was a hive of activity with shuttle buses plying to and fro, taking visitors into the city.  

Moored at the quay further away from the terminals, in isolation and apparent inactivity behind locked security gates was Europa 2. I think it may be in between cruises, changing crew, re-stocking for its next voyage. This is one of the newest, most luxurious vessels of German Hapag Lloyd Line, taking just over five hundred passengers, all over the world. I think I may have seen it docked here before.

I got back to the apartment just as Clare was waking from her siesta, so then we went down to the beach for her afternoon swim. By suppertime, I was beginning to feel a little over-cooked. Although I am quite used to being outdoors in a hot and sunny climate, I have to be very careful, and avoid as much direct sun as possible. Already, I have an embarrassingly well tanned face, for someone who always wears a sun hat and stays in the shadows as much as possible.