Sunday, 31 May 2015

Sunday Geneva connection

I didn't prepare quite well enough for today which I got home last night, perhaps because I was still bussing with the stimulus of such good company. It was only when I was packing and about to leave for Almuñecár that I realised I'd forgotten to photocopy the week's bulletin, which I'd already printed off for this purpose. In haste, the photcopier jammed when I was looking the other way. Thankfully I unjammed it and completed the print run, leaving the house ten minutes late. Driving with a little less leisure than ususal, I arrived with under ten minutes to spare. 

We started and finished on time, and a little normality was restored. When I got back to San Miguel in Nerja, I had trouble finding a parking place, and ended up a long way from the church. Not that I was late arriving, but it was rather afterwards that it took me the best part of half an hour to find the car, as I couldn't recall my route from parking place to church through side streets and alleys. When I did, I was able to drop off a crate of glasses for a social evening in the church room on Wednesday this week, and finally sit down, drink a beer and chat with visitors.

There was a woman with an older companion in the congregation, and I thought her face was familiar but couldn't figure out why. When we chatted in Bar Cuneo over a drink after the service, it turned out that Michelle spent a few months in Geneva during my time there as chaplain, and became involved with the church's women's craft group, one of the great pastoral outreach ministry groups of Holy Trinity Anglican Church there. 

I remembered that she'd trained as a commercial photographer, and indeed she talked about her work, as it has developed in the seventeen years since her sojourn in the city of Calvin. Much of it involves photographing costumed actors in stage musicals for publicity material. She showed me some of her portfolio on her iPad. It was of impressively high quality. You can get an idea of what she does from here. She'd lost contact with Ann-Marie Hester who still runs the craft group, because of a digital data loss at some stage. I was pleased to be able to provide her with an address from memory, and then later an email address and phone number, so she could get back into contact. What an amazing coincidence, that she should be here on holiday with her mother.

I didn't do much for the rest of the day. After so much intense socialising I needed some down time and was glad of it.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Saturday nuptials

This afternoon I officiated at another wedding blessing at San Miguel. Sixty friends and family members came to join them. In addition to Jo one of Nerja's organists playing hymns, they had a local classical guitarist Nicolás Leguizamón to play during the ceremony. There was a delay in getting started due to with transport problems, so the guitarist took us through some of his concert repertoire. He was very good, and I was delighted to listen to him play while we waited.

Most of the guests came from Northern Ireland, except a few from England and Scotland, and one from Canada. I'd been invited to join them for the reception afterwards, and transport to the venue was provided. We were all meant to be shipped out by coach, but it didn't turn up, so an emergency fleet of taxis was arranged instead. I was under the impression that it wasn't far from the town centre, and soon discovered it was in the hill country to the north west of Nerja. 

We went out of town, as if making for the Autovia, and then off down an old country road I didn't know, which leads to a small hill village, in order to reach a small country hotel and restaurant with an expansive terrace and a swimming pool overlooking a valley full of orchards leading down to the sea at Nerja Ouest, visible in the distance. The weather was good with a cooling breeze, a perfect late afternoon and evening for outdoor socialising and dining. I met many interesting people and had some good conversations. I got the impression they were from communities still used to having a priest in social gatherings. It's an unusual experience for me these days attending gatherings where few seem to know how to make a cleric feel included. I just enjoyed being a pastor at the party.

The guitarist showed up again and played even more of his repertoire, without repating himself during the pre-supper drinks. I was still listening with delight. The best man's speech was hilarious and had everyone in hysterics. The groom was funny and eloquent in paying tribute to his bride. He mentioned they'd received a good wishes card for the day from his beloved Nan, who died last year. She wrote them something special in advance, knowing she'd be unlikely to make it. It's the sort of thing grandmas do. There were lots of young children there, and in between eating and drinking they all played together, happily running around barefooted, mostly freeing their parents to enjoy each others' company. Both bride and groom are from large families, and this double gathering was an occasion all were enjoying.

Once the sun began to set, and the dancing started, I took my leave, having ordered a taxi to take me back to Nerja, crossing my fingers that I'd have enough cash on me to pay for an evening ride, as I'd neglected to top up my wallet. In the event, it wasn't a problem, as I got the driver to take me just as far as the bus station, so I could get some exercise walking off the fine festive food and drink. I even managed to converse with the taxi driver in Spanish without difficulty, which felt like a triumph, and arrived home before ten, in good time to ready myself for tomorrow's services.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Another Velez visit

This morning I walked into town to take a photo of the old market hall. Then on the spur of the moment, I took the bus to Velez-Malaga, as I'd promised myself that I'd take a look at the old town, going by bus rather than car to avoid navigation and parking hassles. The one way trip cost me €2.20, for an hour's journey along the coast road to Torre del Mar, then up to the Comarcal Hospital along the defunct tram route, and on to Velez bus station, next to the town's wholesale food market, part of which has been converted into a bus waiting room and ticket office. It doesn't yet seem to be functioning however. Four of the six advertising panels by the various bus shelters seemed not to be in use, and there wasn't a single bus timetable posted anywhere, even though there are a dozen buses an hour stopping there to pick up or deposit passengers. Work in progress, I guess.
In the same vicinity is the Plaza de Andalusia, a four hundred metre long avenue flanked with shady trees and benches, with both ends marked by massive baobob trees. You have to walk up the Plaza to enter the main street where the Ajuntamiento is found, and the casco antico stretches uphill behind it. To the left as you climb is the way up through ancient streets to the ramparts of the 11th century moorish citadel I visited last time I was here. Straight ahead and to your right are more old streets that date from the expansion of the town after the reconquista, with several old churches and convents.
Keep going and you come to the base of a hill. On the top, in the middle of a broad flat paved area, is the sanctuary of Nuestra Señora de los Remedios. 
The views in every direction, like those from the Castello are spectacular. The entire hill has been remodelled as a park with gardens and paths, one is wide enough to be a pilgrims' processional way. There's a tall statue of the Sacred Heart image of Jesus, with a fountain at its base that overflows into a channel that runs beside the processional way down the hill into another fountain at the park gate. 
It's such a simple and effective piece of religious symbolism fashioned into the built environment.

The largest church in the old town is dedicated to St John the Baptist, and is on the site of what was originally the main mosque, which was remodelled for Christian worship, and then extended in the nineteenth century to give it a more conventional shape. 
As I approached the church, descending from the hill, I saw three birds of prey circulating around and above the bell tower and calling out to each other. Occasionally they'd be mobbed by swallows or swifts, but they mantained their patrol regardless. Possibly they nest in the belfry, peregrines or hobbies I think, but the photos I took don't show up their true colours, as the contrast against a bright sky is too great.
After walking for several hours I had a very cheap beer and tapas lunch in a bar that wasn't on the tourist trails, then headed for the bus station, getting quite lost before finally ending up where I intended. I had a long wait for the bus. Although they are at half hour frequency morning and evening during the afternoon there is a long gap, so I waited an hour and three quarters in a bus shelter that was fortunately in the shade, exposed to a cooling breeze. It was just as well, because after a good three hours walking in Velez I was feeling fairly tired, and content to wait. 

Walking home from the bus at the other end was a bit of an effort. By this time I was ready for a full meal. I'd prepared two pieces of swordfish to cook for lunch, and ate them with new potatoes and green beans, followed by a Victoria Plum cooked in fruit juice with cinnamon and ginger. Just right, after an energetic outing to a most interesting town.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Nerja - from fishing village to prestige holiday resort

I walked to town and back this morning using a different route through the back streets interested in finding out more about the variety of shops tucked away from the main thoroughfare. There were just half a dozen regulars for the Eucharist in the church shop, no visitors. After a drink together, I walked back past the town's old covered market, now transformed into a small exhibition centre, and finally found it open at a time that was convenient for me to stop and take a look at the latest offering.
Jose Miguel Ortuño Rodriguez has published a book about how Nerja has changed in the past two centuries from a poor simple fishing village into an international holiday resort. This uses the work of an eminent local writer and historian Alejandro Bueno García (1851-1927), using quotations from his work about Nerja published in 1907, illustrated with photographs from the era.
The substance of the book is the subject of displays on a series of eight large wall mounted exhibition panels. One end of the building contains a collection of painting and furniture of the period, arranged into a writer's study, and there are display cases with artifacts from the period as well.
Now that I have come to the end of all the learning exercise  drills in the Duo Lingo language app, I thought I would make an effort to read all the texts as well as look at the many interesting pictures. This was not quite as daunting as I feared. With some gaps, I was able to follow most of the texts I read from start to finish. I still have a lot of work to do, topping up my memory and remembering verb declensions, but I begin to feel as if I have actually made some progress in learning Spanish since Kath introduced me to the app last Christmas.

Back at home, it was time to do a load of washing before lunch, but the machine wouldn't start, as there was no water supply. If it was scheduled and advertised, I hadn't noticed. Anyway, promptly at one it resumed, thoughtfully, for people starting to cook lunch. By mid afternoon the washing was done, dried and gather in, smelling all fresh and warm, baked in the bright dry heat of the backyard that gets the sun durectly above between two and six at this time of year. Then, time for a brisk walk to Mercadona to replenish some basic foods for the week. Domestic tasks complete, time to relax.

After supper I went out for a stroll around the urbanizacion, and came across a very excited white wagtail, flying around in circles, chirping madly for its mate, and returning to perch and chirp again, staying still long enough for me to get a few photos, despite fading light.
I found my way to Genesis Bar, the local hostelry in the urbanizacion, run by an English couple. It was very quiet. I had a beer and then made my way home.

Finally, I found out from a local English language website 'Nerja Today' news blog that Partido Popular's Jose Alberto Armijo Navas, el alcalde de Nerja, has been re-elected for another four years, albeit with a reduced share of the vote (42.62%), which means coalition negotiations, as elsewhere in Spain this week. He's been Mayor for the past 20 years, with a good development track record, so no doubt his team has a lot of experience of compromise as well as leadership at a local level.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Mixed memories of Ulster

After another brief early visit to the Mercadillo for fruit and veg this morning, I walked into town for a meeting at the Balcon Hotel  with a couple from Ulster due to have their marriage blessed in San Miguel on Saturday afternoon. She's a university administrator and commutes north to Belfast. He's an environmental conservationist and manages Armargh's AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty). He too commutes an hour a day to the west, so travel is something they both take in their stride. Sixty of their family and friends are coming to Nerja for their celebration. I think they'll enjoy the contrast between the spectacular beauty of their mountainous home region and that of the Andalusian sierras, just as I enjoy the contrast between here and Wales.

I discovered the couple live in Newcastle County Down. That was the first place where I ever did locum duties in 1973 and 1974, when Kath and Rachel were both under three. Fond memories of two summers there with them in a traditional resort with a golden beach for to play on. Sadly my father died back in Wales towards the end of our second stay there. He'd been so worried about our safety, going to stay in Ulster both years, because of the troubles, yet the only upsetting thing of all our time spent there was learning of his untimely death, just as he was about to have a pacemaker fitted for a heart condition caused by something undiagnosed at the time. Although he'd been unwell and had heart trouble for several years, this came as a shock. Sad to think our kids grew up knowing neither of their grandfathers, as Clare's father died just two weeks before Rachel was born.

I went to bed late last night because I started writing after I stopped watching telly, and didn't realise the impact until after lunch, when dozed off in the chair and slept there all afternoon until supper time. What a waste of outdoors time, and not the first time I've done that recently. I must be getting old.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Post election day

When I walked into town this moring, by way of Burriana beach again, for extra exercise, I noticed  that most election banners had been swiftly removed from the main streets. I visited the Ajuntamiento to see if a notice publishing the election results had been posted, but couldn't find one. All over Spain there have been upsets, with the centre right Partido Popular losing ground, if not total control, to socialist and regional interest parties. It's being commented upon as a protest vote against corruption and the austerity measures of the majority party. Spain is just emerging from recession and starting to grow again. What the impact on economic development will be of the necessity to forge political coalitions to govern locally, remains to be seen.

In the afternoon I explored a track at the top of our urbanizacion which climbs up the hillside toward the reservoir, crossing the autovia tunnel as it does. Then I found a footpath across into Capistrano and went to my usual place to see what birds I could spot. True to form, the pair of hoopoes were out of the trees where they were roosting and fleeing further away, even though I had my camera on and was ready to shoot, but just not quick or accurate enough. I always come back with extra insect bites. One of these days it's be worth the pain.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

The disturbing Spirit at work

Pentecost Sunday, and the two regular regular Eucharists to celebrate. At Almuñecár in particular we are under time pressure from the service that follows ours, to complete in  no more than an hour. I'd be happier to lose a hymn and shorten the Gradual Psalm to achieve this, but I've been asked to make my sermon shorter. That's quite a hard request, as I try to pack in as much as I can into a twelve to fifteen minute address, aware of how few other occasions there are when church goers are getting live teaching. So, I made the effort to try and reduce the length of my text from 800+ words to 600, and this means concentrating the content I have to deliver, and that means spending a good deal longer on preparation, as would be the case if writing a script for broadcasting or publication. Nothing wrong with that. It's an enjoyable challenge.

Across Spain today it's local council election day. Recently we've had our fair share of election material delivered, and much of it I've been able to read and understand, thanks to the effort I've made to cram some usable Spanish into my brain, with the commendable Duo Lingo internet app. You get to speak and type answers with this, and the voice recognition routine works well most of the time, except that occasionally it leaves you no time to respond, or fails to pick up your voice unless you shout at it. This can be very annoying, but so can typos, and I make rather of lot of them, so any learning session can be an occasion for much grumpiness and swearing. It'll be interesting to see how much election news in Spanish I'll be able to follow on tomorrow's news.

Talking of elections, yesterday's Irish referendum on incorporating gay marriage into constitutional law was an astounding outcome, when you consider how socially conservative Ireland has been until relatively recently. Nearly two thirds of those who voted have declared their desire to treat equally all couples who want to pledge their lives to each other in marriage. Some interviewed spoke seriously about respecting the ability of others to remain in permanent loving relationships, and uphold family values, recognising that the nature of family life is more diverse and complex than tradition and social convention has been prepared to admit. 

There are few clergy or church leaders who cannot know the truth of this, but the doctrinal ideal along with liturgical custom and practice, fails to reflect it. The Archbishop of Dublin said the vote challenged the church to take a reality check. But where will all the churches go from here? Both the conservative and progressive ones. Will they listen? What will they learn? 

In so many ways, the difficulty Christians have had in coming to terms with contemporary changes in understanding sexuality and relationships, has contributed to many abandoning the church. It's meant that the spread of secular thinking at grass roots level in society has led the way to a paradigm shift in thinking, and not the vision behind Christian doctrine. 

It's fascinating how often secularised societies can place high value on family life and faithful loving relationships, albeit of a much more diverse and varied nature, than the religious ideal believes possible or worthwhile. How will religious people respond? I pray we're not going to see a reactionary backlash, but a widespread change of heart. And I pray that the media will refrain from turning any kind of exchange or dialogue into confrontation or conflict, but let people use their hearts and minds to recognise each other's values and conviction, and be reconciled with each other, in order to live together well with differences.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Torrox Pueblo visit

After a morning preparing for tomorrow's services I went out for an afternoon drive to Torrox pueblo. I've driven through the seaside holiday resort of the same name a few times, but not turned inland to discover the hill town, perched on a high promontory in between a couple of steep sided valleys that merge into one wider below the town in the direction of the sea. The N340/A7 Autovia runs across the wider valley on an impressive viaduct and through tunnels either side. When you ascend to town level, you have a spectacular view of this road and the coastal plain  beyond.
As you enter the town, perched on the edge of the promontory is the Ermita de Nuestra Señora de las Nieves. A convent for Franciscan Friars was requested in 1646 by the town council, but the building, including a hospice, presumably for travellers, wasn't finished until 1710. The community seems to have been dissolved and its assets seized in 1836, but its Marian sanctuary remained as one of this region's places of pilgrimage. 
The remaining old convent buildings, behind the Ermita, overlooking the valley below have been modernised to provide an office base for sections of the town's social welfare services.

There was a Roman settlement on the coast, but the hill town developed under Moorish rule and had a key role in the silk trade between Baghdad and Granada. The large but simple 16th century main Parish Church dedicated to  Nuestra Señora de la Encarnacion sits above the spacious main square and Ajuntamento building.
There are many restaurants and small hotels, also many foreign residents and tourists, English and German, so it's all well looked after and has an air of prosperity about it. The tourism propaganda claims that it has the best climate in Spain. 

I only had time for a cursory exploration of the town and how to navigate around it. It'll be a new place to bring Clare for lunch and a leisurely walk around when she comes in a month from now. Seen from a sorts of angles, it's an real attraction  on the way up into the Sierras de Almijara on the road to Competa, another Moorish pueblo blanco.
On the return trip I bought a pack of fresh baby cod fillets at Lidl's for Sunday lunch, actually there's enough for two days meals at an excellent low price. On the whole, fresh food is that much less costly here, that I have to be careful while I'm on my own, not to buy too much, and end up wasting what I can't get through before it goes off, or over-eating. There's an art I'm still learning about how much fresh food stocked is enough. So far so good!

Friday, 22 May 2015

Open air wedding

This afternoon, the first wedding blessing ceremony of my stay, and a lovely day for it, clear skies and a pleasant cooling breeze. The blessing ceremony was held on the terrace of a restaurant with a wonderful open sea view. I arrived an hour early to look at the layout and get things arranged the way I wanted, and not even the bar staff had arrived, but after twenty minutes, they started work and let me in. Given the breeze my challenge was to conduct the ceremony without losing the liturgy leaflet (no longer a heavy old book), or my homily notes, or blessing certificate to the wind, whilst holding a cordless microphone. 

It took a great deal of added concentration to cope with these conditions. The hardest task was getting the signed certificate into a flimsy protective plastic wallet whilst both were being buffeted in different directions by the breeze. Fortunately, by this time the ceremony was over and nobody was watching. The forty strong assembly of family and friends, most of whom had flown in from Newcastle in previous days were in a happy mood, un-bothered by the wind. They evidently enjoyed the service and a number made appreciative comments afterwards. This was a relief, in the face of my uncertain coping with conditions that weren't exactly calming.

Judith came along to give me some moral support, and took a few photos for me. She reassured me that this was the only open air service I'd have to do - rather a relief. I stopped for a while afterwards to meet and greet over a beer and some generous tapas. On my way out, a lady stopped me outside in the street below, and told me she'd overheard part of the ceremony and found it moving. He son is due to get married in El Salvador tomorrow. She asked me to pray for him. I was touched by this. It'd be a rarity for something like this to happen in Britain.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Walking the beaches

During my morning walk into town today, I went down first to Burriana beach for a look around. One thing I noticed was police incident tape wound around the children's beach climbing frame.
Not so much a crime scene, as a precaution made necessary by the tilting of the structure due to subsidence. There's evidently more of a challenge to getting stable foundations on the shifting sands of  a beach than the engineers imagined. 

From there I walked to the neighbouring Playa Caribayo and up the flight of steps to the street, that runs along parallel to the cliff top. It has an assortment of houses, small hotels and restaurants, but few houses that recall a time when there would have been cottages here. There is one however, and its facade has been decorated with rather sophisticated and intriguing graffiti. I'd love to find out more about this.
The street leads to the Balcon, and from there I went down to Playa Calahonda, curious to see if any work had been done to restore the footpath at the bottom of the cliff connecting the small coves along the shore line. I recall that last time I walked down here, the far end of the path was closed off, where a small section of cliff had collapsed. Now the entire footpath is closed, doubtless for Health and Safety compliance reasons that would never have been thought of when the path was first laid out so close to the rock face some twenty off years ago. So now, if you want to explore those little coves you have to walk along the shore line, dodging the incoming waves, and scrambling over rocks. This latter, I must say, I enjoyed, as if I was a kid again. I was pleased to get this photo of an unusual piece of water eroded shore rock.

On the return walk, I stopped at a pescadaria and bought three baby merluza for lunch, which I steamed on top of the rice I was cooking. A delicious treat!

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Hoopoe hunting again

It was raining lightly when I got up this morning, the first day of rain in the month that I've been here. Too hot for a rain coat, but I remembered seeing a brightly coloured golf brolly in the house, and soon hunted it down for my walk down to the Church Shop to celebrate the midweek Eucharist for seven people. After a chat over coffee, a few special items to shop for on the walk home, this time carrying the umbrella, no longer needed.

By late afternoon, the clouds had cleared, so I walked up through the Capistrano urbanizacion to the track that goes up into the Parque Natural, to the place where I'd previously seen the hoopoes, in the hope of getting better photos. I certainly saw the pair that live in the first section of the trail up behind the houses, and watched them flee ahead of me, flying close to the ground with their evasive swooping motion. Hard for predators to grab, just has hard for camera autofocus to adjust to adapt to the background terrain quick enough. Even using the multiple shot option I was unsuccessful. 

Still, the exercise and the effort of getting there, watching and waiting, was its own reward. I saw several black caps and heard tits, backbirds, assorted doves and pigeons, and collected a good few midge bites for my trouble. The prize for waiting was the sight of a goldfinch feeding in a patch of dry grass, picking seeds out of a smallhead of dry grass.
It stayed where it was, oblivious to my presence and didn't fly away, so I was able to get close enough for some pleasing photos.
 It's great having time to do this. If only I was quicker off the mark, readying my camera for action!

When I was checking the identification of this bird on the internet, I was presented with a picture and description in Spanish, from which I learned that the Spanish for Goldfinch is Jilguero - it just happens to be the name of the street where Church House is located.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

In search of a house of grief

A few days ago I was asked if I'd help arrange a memorial service for a British man who'd recently died. Here in Spain, it's not unusual for cremation to follow within forty eight hours of death, whether or not a funeral service can be arranged. We're now planning three weeks ahead.

There are two overlapping patterns. If a burial has been planned, even within the same time-frame, it's a matter of organising a funeral service at very short notice, as I learned during my stay on the Costa del Sol. Perhaps it's because there's perceived to be a stronger connection between the actual rite of passage and interment, for historial reasons. After all, cremation has only been widely adopted in Spain in the late 20th century. Cremation was once a social statement by secularists and radical Christians, rejecting Catholic resistance to anything but burial. But times have changed. 

Cremation is more affordable than leasing or buying a space in the ground, in a vault or the ubiquitious columbaria that define southern Europeam cemeteries. Now it's possible to rent a much smaller more economic space to contain cremated remains, if required. Many people of all religous background and none exhibit a preference for scattering cremated ashes in a favourite place, rather than store them in a columbarium, disregarding traditional church teaching about this. It's impossible to ignore this. So a cremation may happen very quickly, and a funeral or memorial service will follow when it is most convenient to the bereaved, who may be scattered too far and wide to gather in haste.

In many ways it's a good compromise, because, the act of farewell, the celebation of a life can receive much more thought and preparation. Hasty disposal may not be without trauma for those who feed the need to make their goodbyes to the departed in person, so preparation of such a service cannot be a matter of routine application of best liturgical practice. It's worth the time, for all touched by the death of someone they feel close to.

So, this morning I headed east up the N340/A7 autovia toward Motril, to meet a widow and a couple of her friends living in the village of La Garnatilla, up in the sierras at nearly a thousand metres above sea level. I missed the junction, and drove as far as the A7 currently goes beyond Motril. It then drops down to sea level and becomes the N340 coast road again. Here I had to go west back to the outskirts of Motril to find the country road I needed - thanks to the mapping device on my Blackberry. If I'd been able to consult it on the move I wouldn't have missed my turning. Even so the drive on the new Autovia section was breathtaking, and worth the inevitable delay.

Descending to Calahonda on the coast road I was struck by the sight of a small coastal town, whose encircling sea plain was covered entirely by white plastic poly-tunnels. No haciendas, no trees, no visible water courses, just market garden greenhouses uninterrupted. I wish I could have stopped and taken a photo of this bizarre landscape. It so defines the economy of this extraordinary fertile region.

La Garnatilla is a hill village which boasts a plaque commemorating its many sons and daughters that have emigrated to other parts of the world over the past century. A sign that the village has not been able to develop and share the prosperity generated by horticulture lower down, nearer the sea. It's a lovely place, however, and return visits by emigrants who made it good elsewhere are a feature of local community life. It's a village where where expatriates have taken on and restored abandoned houses, and occupied them often for decades, becoming part of the community. The death of one of the long standing English residents was what took me there, the service to be arranged in the village church just up the hill from the house.

I never tire of saying what a privilege it is to be invited to share in other's lives at moments like this, to hear their stories, and help them shape what they want to do to say goodbye to a loved one. Back in Cardiff, the journey to make a visit may be a short walk or a ten minute car ride. Today, I drove for an hour along some of southern Europe's awe inspiring highways in search of a house in grief. Work begins at the destination, honouring those in sorrow who've opened their lives and their homes to this stranger, trusting they can be helped to do justice to one they have lost. I'm thankful that I have the freedom and time to continue to offer this ministry on behalf of the church.

Monday, 18 May 2015

A pastoral sort of day

This morning I have my first wedding blessing preparation session in the 'usual' place, on the terrace outside the Hotel Europa on the Balcon, with a couple from Newcastle, who'd arrived at the weekend. Their big day is Friday this week, and by then there'll be as many as fifty family and friends coming to join them. Their ceremony will take place on the terrace of a nearby restaurant which has a great view of the sea and the coast. They'd had a very quiet civil registration ceremony, wanting to put all the emphasis on the celebration with family and friends, which means so much to them. I'll enjoy giving it my best effort.

Back then for lunch and after being collected by Judith to make a second attempt at a Communion visit to a church member and her husband in a nursing home at Torre del Mar. This time all was in order, and we spent time chatting before giving the sacrament to them. It's a very comfortable and well run nursing home, but both would far rather be in their own home with carers organised, and friends not to far away to drop in. So, while they were pleased to see us, there was an inevitable tinge of sadness in the air. 

Frail people coming to the end of  their lives don't need to be away from home, where all their memories are stored with their furniture. They're in this place for respite care as much as anything, but it must feel like a prison. Despite intrusive noise from the corridor outside the room, the husband asked to keep the door open, not wanting to feel caged in. The need for freedom takes on a different character in old age. Glad we were able to go again and help them re-engage in a little normality, if only for an hour or so. It make some wonder what it'll be like for me when the time comes.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Costa re-union

After this morning's services, I set off straight away to drive to La Cala de Mijas for Peter and Linda Hammonds' joint birthday celebration at the Restaurant Olé, where I've dined with them on previous occasions. After an hour and ten minute drive in perfect conditions, I arrived just as the two dozen guests were being called to collect their first course from a huge buffet of interesting assorted tapas. This was followed by beautifully braised pork with frites or croquettes, and then a chicken paella! 

I thought it was ingenious of Juan the proprietor to issue everyone with side plates. You could take as much as you wanted of everything, and go back for more without shame as there was plenty to go around. A few confessed to running out of room before the paella arrived. I heard a rumour of paella soon after I arrived, so ate modestly in order to have room for it all. A chocolate mousse for each of them, decorated with candles seved as a birthday cake. All accompanied by a very pleasant Navarra wine, and in my case, lots of water, knowing that eventually I'd be driving back.

It was so lovely to be re-united with many of the people I'd shared life and worship with during my seven months of locum duty in Los Boliches last year, and to meet Fr Alaric the new chaplain, still finding his feet after three months, and trying to get his head around learning Spanish after a decade of Italian speaking as chaplain in Rome. For me, it was such a happy and sociable occasion, that it had me buzzing with excitement. Peter offered me a bed for a post-prandial siesta, as they live nearby but I wasn't the least bit sleepy, and enjoyed the drive back to Nerja as mich as I'd enjoyed driving there - not something I can often say. And I was back in time for the Archers.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Death in the family

I had an email from my sister this morning telling me that Brian the husband of my cousin Ros had died aged 77, after several years of heart trouble. They've lived quite close to the place where both of us was born, all her life. I'm sad I won't be able to get back for the funeral. Sustaining injuries as a miner when a young man took a physical toll on him, but he accepted his limitations philosophically, and made the most of life that he could. To my surprise he came to Kath's wedding 23 years ago with an early portable video camera and recorded some parts of it. Something now so commonplace was unusual in those days, so it sticks in my memory. I wonder what happened to the videotape?

Saturday and sermon preparation seemed to come around very quickly this week and couldn't just use again what I prepared for Wednesday. I also had to find a card and a small gift for the Hammonds, to take with me to their joint 145th birthday celebration in La Cala de Mijas tomorrow. I went for a long walk after lunch, through town, out along the coast road to Nerja Ouest, and back along the beach. It was very enjoyable because there was a brisk cooling breeze, and I took a few bird photos as well.

On the return leg, I found a suitably amusing card and a small Moroccan lacquered box which caught my eye. By the time I got home I was composing a reflective poem, just for them, which I could write out and place in the box. What with Skyping Clare and a few emails written, there was not time to sit in front of the telly. Not much on to interest me apart from repeats. Not enough energy to concentrate hard and watch Spanish telly either. That's what a good does of sunshine and fresh air does for me.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Fiesta de Sant Isidro

This morning seems to have disappeared behind a batch of work emails, and it was half past one before I ventured out to check on the progress of the romeral procession. I was just in time to see the statue of San Isidro (with his labourers hoe in hand) on a decorated cart pulled by oxen crossing the N340a roundabout at the bottom of the hill. 
It was escorted by about a hundred riders on horseback, mostly very smartly dressed. 
After the statue, came more ox-carts, a variety of horses and carriages, full of people in party clothes, then tractor driven trailers decorated like carival floats. Some had musicians and singers, others had a deejay, a few had bars on board. All were accompaned by groups of people dancing, singing along, drinking, talking excitedly.
 hile the police tried to cope with redirecting traffic that had foolisly ignored the warning signs, plus coaches coming from afar bringing more people to this festive outing, the procession made its way in fits and starts in the direction of Maro and las Cuevas de Nerja. The park surrounding the cave visitor centre is the fiesta goers destination for one of the year's grand picnic booze-ups.

I hadn't been there for more than half an hour, when my camera announced that its memory card was full. Moreover the battery was almost exhausted. Astonishing carelessness on my part. With some careful deleting of occasional missed poor photos, I made some space and came back for a late lunch with 39 pictures, from just hanging around where I did four years ago to take photos. 
Climbing the hill on my return, looking back down the main road towards the town centre, there was no end to the procession in sight, and it stretched at least a couple of kilometres towards Maro by this time. There's good reason why all shops and supermarkets close for the day. Everyone's involved, or else wants to take photos of those involved, like me.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Ascension Day realisation

When I started the iBreviary app this morning, it wouldn't give me the liturgy for Ascension Day, but St Matthias, which was rather puzzling. This date is normally that of the feast of the Apostle, but traditionally Ascension Day takes precedence as one of the twelve great feasts of the church. In my lifetime it's become commonplace to move the observance of Ascension to the Sunday following, but when I checked liturgical calendars on-line, I found that the Roman Catholics have ditched 'Holy Thursday' entirely in favour of Sunday next, whereas the Anglican calendar has retained it. I guess it's different in countries where 'Holy Thusday' is still a public holiday. But this has happened without me picking up on it from church news, or noticing it until now.

Judith came and collected me at eleven to go and take Communion to congregation member  in a care home temporarily. When we arrived, we discovered that she'd been taken off to an opthalmology appointment two hours earlier and wasn't expected back to meet with us. Something had gone wrong with the arrangements. We drank a coffee and waited for a while before deciding to head back to Nerja, and seek to make a new arrangement for next week.

The care home is very modern and well run, making use of glass walls internally and externally to get light right into the heart of the building and make it easier to staff to see what residents are doing in case they need support. While we were walking around and waiting, I couldn't help noticing myself  reflected in the glass walls, the image of an old man, no different from that of some more spritely residents.

Truth is, I don't think of myself as being that old. Because I'm fairly fit, I don't feel that old. Yes, how quickly that could change. I've certainly become more aware of the needs of older people in the last decade, and that's important. Perhaps for the first time I see the possibility of identifying with ageing and aged people, as one of them myself. Finitude, vulnerability and mortality suddenly become a disconcerting thought.  Not their problem any longer, but ours, mine!

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Going up river

I walked into town early to celebrate the midweek Eucharist for Ascension Day in the church shop a day early. There were a dozen of us present, including a couple of visitors from Aberystwyth who come here regularly every year. After coffee and a chat I did some routine food shopping on the way back. There was an email waiting for me on the Chaplain's address requesting a memorial service next month for a British expat living in a village outside Motril, about three quarters of an hour's drive from here. Plenty of time to liaise with the family and prepare for the occasion.

Late afternoon, when it was starting to cool down after 40 degree heat at midday, I went for a walk up the rio Chillar valley towards the sierras to see what birds I could see and photograph. It's my third  walk into the local parque natural in the past two years, and it won't be my last. 

Directly below our urbanizacion, from the valley floor, there were swallows, swifts and house martins hunting for insects. The neighbourhood kestrel was out and about, and I was amazed to see it being harrassed by a couple of swallows as it patrolled a few hundred feet over the valley floor. Eventually, it took advantage of evening thermals to rise a few hundred feet higher, where it could fly undisturbed. I got a fleeting glimpse of a family of siskins whizzing across the river into bamboo thickets. They always move too quickly to snap, when you see them. 

There's one stretch of river which appears to be the territory of a group of yellow wagtails. I got a few shots of one on a high tension electricity cable on the way up,
 I caught a few more of birds in the water in the same stretch on the way back down the river.
 An enjoyable outing, but somewhat tiring. I reckon I walked over eight miles altogether today.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

The old road to Maro

This morning I walked into town and visited workers in the church shop. After lunch, I walked out to the pueblo de Maro along the old N340a road. Amazing to think this was the coastal trunk road until thirty years ago. The road has been straightened and modernised with roundabouts added outside Maro. I drive this way to reach the new N340/A7 autovia to get to Almuñecár on Sunday mornings. This week I saw a small cart drawn by a pair of heifers parked on the roundabout into the village. The past is never far away from modern life in this part of the world.

It's still possible to walk down a section of the old trunk road, now by-passed that winds down past ugly market garden polytunnels to the Barranco de Maro, a steep sided verdant cultivated valley dropping down to the sea. It is crossed by a magnificent brick built bridge dating from the 1930s, when this route was first 'modernised' under dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, predecessor of Franco.
You can see the new section of the N340a leading into the village behind. The behind that is the 19th century aqueduct that irrigated the abundant sugar cane fields which once covered the lower slopes between mountains and sea. Behind that again is the N340 autovia, the most recent 'high road'. In the cliffs to the right of the ravine there are cave dwellings, some of which are still lived in. It's an amazing reflection of the past hundred and forty years of development along this part of the coast.
This is Maro's main street, with a balcony view of the sea below to the east. On the left is the church of Nuesta Señora de ls Maravillas. I'll be conducting a wedding blessing there not long before I leave, which is good, as that's likely to be the only way I'll get to see inside. It was locked when I arrived, early evening.
It's a pleasant prosperous small village, part of Nerja municipality, tastefully developed in traditional style, still surrounded by agriculture, but making room for visitors and tourists. There are modern urbanizacions up behind the village, the other side of the N340 autovia, so it is contained and defined by the agricultural land in front and on both sides.

On the way back I stopped for a while near Nerja's stadium and sports centre, where there's a small part with a skateboard and BMX ramp. I handful of young lads were there practicing their remarkable moves - no helmets, no protective gear, but impressively skilful command of their tiny bikes.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

A guitar for company

I was greeted by Ian before this morning's Eucharist at Almuñecár with a guitar to try out, which I'll be hiring from a friend of his for the duration of my stay. It's a lovely classical instrument in good condition, with what I think is a walnut body and pine soundboard. Supplied with new strings, it sounds great, and seventy five euros for ten weeks is a price I'm happy to pay.
I didn't play much while I was home, as the change in climate gave me more stiffness and joint pain, always a deterrent to picking up and playing. Since I've been back in a warmer drier climate, my finger movement is less stiff. Getting my fingers fit again will take a while, and no doubt I will still get awful cramp in my hands when I've reached the limit of what I can tackle in any session - it's a bit like running used to be. I should still be running really, rather than just walking quickly. Not infirm but definitely lazy!

There were fewer people in Almuñecár this week but more in Nerja, with several visitors. Our start there was delayed five minutes, as another batch of first Communion children with families poured slowly out of San Miguel Church.  Altogether there are six first comunion Sundays, two in April and four in May. So, when we Anglicans arrive there's a bustling festive atmosphere all around us. The long established residents cope with this more than they enjoy. I like to think it's something that visitors find a positive experience of lively local church in this barrio.  

Some are cynical about the fact that few of the families attending will ever be more than occasional church attenders as a result of this rite of passage, but the children are getting basic catechesis in church, and maybe more in school if their is a church school. They're not uncomfortable and lost as they would with no instruction. It make sit easier for them to latch on to elements of community religious ceremonies and festivities, if that has any group appeal for them.

When we were having lunch after the church AGM two weeks ago, a lady and I were chatting about cake, lamenting the shortage of decent British fruit cake in shops here. To my amazement, this week she presented me with a loaf sized fruit cake she'd baked. This will go down very nicely with a cup of coffee for merienda. Such kindness!

After the service, an hours chat in the bar Cuñeo opposite the church. It was closed last time I was here, but has now re-opened with a German proprietor. The TV on the wall showed the Spanish Grand Prix Motor race in Barelona, and the commentary was in German, reflecting the requirements of more regular clientele. The staff are keen to speak English, I try to use Spanish. Today I spoke a little German as well. All part of the social pleasure of the place.

When I was shopping yesterday, I bought a box of what I thought were apricots. The word Níspero was on the lable. I thought it was a brand name. When I opened and examined them later, the fruit was not what I was expecting and they tasted different, hardly sweet at all, and with several stones at the core instead of a single one, so I resorted to the dictionary to discover they were medlar. Clare had heard of them from Shakespeare texts, but never tasted.

I experimented with them, cooking myself a lunch of marinaded tuna poached with medlars, accompanied by broccoli and spuds, and enjoyed the result. Than a happy afternoon spent getting to know the new guitar. So much so, that I forgot to go out for my evening paseo and I didn't get around to trying out the cake, either.

Saturday, 9 May 2015


I truly enjoy being able to take as much time as I need to retrieve and print off the church bulletin for Sunday, and then sit and work at my sermon for the week. I can write something from scratch if an insight grabs me, or trawl through my web archive to see if ideas from anything I've preached and uploaded over the past twelve years will serve as a starting point.  Even if it's worth saying again, it's usually a matter of editing and re-writing to adapt the thoughts to a different context. This takes just as long as having to start from scratch. Even so, I find it's an enjoyable creative enterprise. 

Its not that much different from any artist exploring motifs and symbols through the use of a variety of physical media. My model for working on a sermon is still that of BBC's radio correspondents, whose words are models of conciseness as well as insight. Having something of value to say is one thing. Getting it across before your audience loses its concentration is another.

My afternoon outing was to Frigiliana, by car, getting petrol on the way out and food supplies from the Lidl store nearby on the way back. The last time I visited this pueblo blanco dating back to the 11th century kingdom of the Moors was four years ago at this time, with Clare. Photos I took then say it was in May, as the town was festooned as now with mayoral election banners. It's a lovely place, and it's understandable so many expats want to live there or take holidays there.
One feature of the town is street corner kiosks containing penny-in-the slot machines, than can entertain adults and children alike, with moving mechanical figures and audio soundtracks relating to the town's millennium of history. It's an ingeniously retro cut above digital tourism video, serving the same purpose in a far more engaging way, whilst earning a few euros for the town into the bargain.  

Zut! I didn't take a photo of the first slot machine on the main square which I encountered. Perhaps I remembered that I'd done so before. But this time it was algo diferente. On the table, in a domestic scene portrayed, was a little netbook. I noticed it, but didn't take a picture. When I checked my web archive from four years ago, the table was bare. Bother, I'll have to return for a photo. Not exactly a penance, as it's a place that offers so many different and attractive perspectives to visitors.

After shopping at Lidl's on the way back, it was impossible not to notice a one legged man in a wheel chair at the gate, begging. He was positioned in such a way that incomers wouldn't notice him. As for outgoers, only a car with a passenger might easily be able to stop and offer alms. I wondered how new he might be to this. I stopped, got out of the car, and gave him what spare change I had, and received a huge smile for my few words, as inadequate as my dineros.  

Yesterday, begging by the Balcon de Europa were a man missing his left arm and a girl, barely twenty by the looks of her. So many poor people here, for whatever reason falling out of the social support system, or not getting enough from it to survive. Tourists give. Rarely does anyone who give have the language ability to find out why they are there.

Back in Cardiff, I rarely give to beggars. Some in the city centre I know have been there as long as I have. Many behave and appear as if they are supporting drug habits by begging, rather than a family, not coping with serious disability the state cannot provide for. In any society there will be begging  professionals, getting a living from tourists. 

How can anyone distinguish the really needy from chancers when the circumstances of need vary so greatly? Is there an answer?

Friday, 8 May 2015

The devil you know

Polling day in the UK yesterday. Here in Nerja, the first banners are being hung and bill boards are being mounted to contain posters for the town's mayoral election. I remember this happening the first time I was here on duty. I haven't yet registered when the local election takes place.
This afternoon I walked uphill again into the San Juan deCapistrano urbanizacion, hunting for more bird photos, but was unsuccessful. I did catch sight of the remarkable pair of brightly coloured birds. I disturbed them on the ground, and they took flight before I could get my camera working, but this is supporting evidencd for the fact that these are indeed hoopoes. Maybe if I return again a little more alert, with shutter in multiple shot mode, I may get lucky next time.

I kept BBC News on after the polls closed, 23.00 here in Spain, to catch the exit polls, greeted with disbelief at the possibility of a narrow Tory victory, landslide SNP vote and collapse of the Lib Dems and near demise of the minor parties. It was grimly entertaining watching various politicians trying to talk themselves out of accepting the statistics. A subjective view of events rarely matches reality.

By 03.00, I was falling asleep, surrendered, and went to bed. By 08.00 I was up again and hunting for the results, if not waiting for them to come in. A good Lib Dem MP lost to a Tory victory in Central Cardiff, our constitutency last time around. The standing Labour MP in Cardiff West re- elected, and Cardiff North goes Tory, along with the Gower. I stuck it out with breakfast and elevenses in front of the TV, giving up only when I was satisfied that Nigel Farrage had not been elected, and UKIP had only got one seat. 

Then the victory celebrations, followed by three party leadership resignations in the same hour. At 15.00, Clegg, Milliband and Cameron were stood shoulder to shoulder at the 70th VE day anniversary ceremony at the Whitehall Cenotaph. A final public act, giving closure to a challenging era in British politics, of coalition following a hung parliament, and endless speculation that UK was becoming more like other states in Europe where coalition political brokering is the norm not the exception.

So, in effect, we're back to majority rule by virtue of an antiquated, anomaly ridden first past the post electoral system which our european partners have for the most part abandoned. Whilst I detest the policies and ideology of UKIP, across the board they got 13% of the vote on a 66% voter turnout. That equates to 8% of the total electorate. Under a proportional representation system, UKIP like other minority parties would have got more representation, like it or not, but all parties would have to engage in a conciliation process from which all would learn and realistic compromises of policy would be reachable that ultimately all but the real crazies would be able to own. It's messier and less efficient, but I believe would be more beneficial. 

So, I'm sorry the coalition has been crushed by the majority of voters, in favour of the status quo. It's what the more mature political analysts said would happen anyway. People mostly need certainty and the uncertainties of coalition are less preferable than the default first past the post position. In other words, better the devil you know than the devil you don't know.  But what happens when the devil you know betrays the confidence so anxiously imparted to it? We shall see. One can only thank God that the democratic process itself is secure, established and not subject to the kinds of threat it has to endure in so many countries around the world.
After a dozy afternoon I emerged for a stroll in the sunshine down to town and back, conscious of the need for plenty of exercise to boost my activity level, after a couple of TV couch potato days. Down in the Plaza El Salvador, I saw for the first time Nerja's shiny new tourist road train. It's electrically  powered by rooftop solar panels, so much more congenial and unpolluting than the former diesel powered one. Let's hope that the new mayoral administration doesn't decide to axe it, the way the tram got axed in Velez Malaga.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Decision time approaches

There were just seven of us for the midweek Eucharist in the church shop this morning, all regulars, no visitors. Afterwards, I explored some streets on the west side of town, where high rise buildings and newer hotels are concentrated, and found a second health food store in the same neighbourhood, indicating that there's a concentration of German and Scandinavian residents and visitors in the area, shaping the demand.

Back in our urbanizacion, I took a photograph of a house near where I'm staying which has been re-modelled somewhat drastically. The house on the left is what it originally looked like. Last time I was here, end of summer two years ago, work on renovation was under way.
My understanding is that dwellings in the new urbanizacions were constructed deliberately in the traditional Andalusian pueblo blanco style. The iron cage on the roof is, I suppose, the framework for a large canvas sun canopy. Next to it is a barbecue hearth also fabricated from sheet iron, in contrast to the colourful tiled hearths you often see in gardens or on roof terraces in this part of the world. The house is stylishly designed, but it seems so incongruous here. I'm wonder how planning permission was obtained to replace the original with a modernist building you might find in Germany or Scandinavia.

I sustained a collection of insect bites on yesterday's outing and didn't feel like venturing further than taking the rubbish out to the bins in their neat little house on the edge of the urbanizacion. I cooked a spicy chicken and potato casserole for lunch, enough for two days, as a single portion of meat is just more than I want to eat to feel comfortable these days. Later, I made some hummous, mashing and mixing chick peas with oil lemon garlic and tahini in a bowl with a fork, rather than using a blender. It takes longer and the mix is not quite as smooth, but that gives it a kind of rustic character I enjoy. So nice to have time to do things like this in a relaxed way. Insect bites notwithstanding.

It's U.K. Election Day tomorrow, and an end to six weeks of competitive posturing and pretentious political promises which have made each day's news as annoying as the previous. Disillusionment with the established forms of party politics and governance have been reported and commented upon far and wide in the press. But how far can the press be trusted to convey or interpret fluid factual reality, when they are backed by powerful people unrepresentative of mainstream electors, and with their own controlling agendas? Does this distrust of politics actually reflect a distrust of the media and marketing hype? 

No electoral candidate is perfect, yet a significant number of voters make their choice on the basis of ideology or special promises on offer, but on the basis of regard for the person, simply trusting that they'll do the best they can in whatever circumstances emerge. What's best looks different to different people, and the electorate is short on agreement about the order in which strategic priorities have to be tackled by government. It's hugely complex, yet in the long run it does boil down to simple trust, whether one ignores or heeds all that the media has to say.

Tomorrow is also the 70th anniversary of VE day and all it evokes, in memories of a nation emerging battered and exhausted by six years of conflict, yet united at least in relief at having survived before needing to ask 'Where do we go from here?' We may just be emerging from a bruising recession, yet this suffering and endurance hasn't made one nation of us. Where indeed do we go from here? Maybe these contrasting memories and experiences will help inform a nation of decision makers tomorrow.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

View from the sierra

It was mercadillo time this morning, and I went out and shopped conveniently there for fruit and veg. I was struck by the empty spaces in the lower of the two sections of the market, which is next to our urbanizacion - some stall holders not doing business? I wondered. But when I walked to the upper section, it was extended the full length of the car park, not half the length as was previously the case. Card driving visiting shoppers are now directed further uphill to where there's a field set aside for parking a couple of hundred metres beyond the upper limit of the market. Dreadful if you have heavy bags to carry back uphill in the hot sun, but then ninety percent of the market is given over to clothes shoes and bags.

Determined to do something different today, I headed uphill for my afternoon walk, through the urbanizacion de San Juan Capistrano, to take the footpath to take me up and beyond the houses into the Parque Natural de Almijara. There's a narrow wooded valley which climbs right up to a ridge, and the path continues down into the rio Chillar valley to the south. I noticed, along the path and between some of the houses several apricot trees covered in ripening fruit. There was plenty of bird life too. I came across a chaffinch feeding its young fledgling, no longer in the nest, but parked on a branch where its parents could fly to and fro more easily.

At the start of the walk I saw three brightly coloured birds, which might have been hoopoes or bee eaters, and caught just one in flight below me from where I was standing on the hillside. Without a bird book to check, this remains a mystery.
It may not be a great photo but it captured an exciting moment. There were and lots of different butterflies around too, so much easier to photograph.

I climbed for about three quarters of an hour, up the steep and narrow gully, to about 400m above sea level, before turning back. The path must carry rain water off the mountainside at other times, and would be pretty treacherous if the weather took a sudden turn for the worse. It was a very pleasant hike on this occasion, and one I'd be pleased to repeat.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Not bank holiday Monday

Today was not the Bank Holiday here, Friday, Mayday was. I lazed around until mid afternoon then walked into town, dutifully fulfilling my daily 5-6km exercise quota, toting my Sony Alpha 55 DSLR for the first time since I've been here. Two weeks unused, its battery had dropped to 70% and needed topping up. Not surprising, I didn't buy the camera new, and goodness knows how much it had seen before I acquired it, two and a half years ago. I'm still learning how to manage the Tamron 18-270 all purpose telephoto lens I bought at the end of January. For anyone used to handling a compact super zoom camera, equipment thrice the size and weight is a challenge, but worth the effort, as the quality of the photos it produces is superior to the kit lenses that came with the camera.

I re-visited the chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows on the Plaza Ermita in the Calle San Miguel and this time took some photos there.
Not only Our Lady, but also St Nicholas (with three children at his feet), Jesus Cautivo popular throughout Andlausia and Sta Teresa de Avila, honoured by the church for her spiritual teaching as a Doctora de la Iglesia, and an icon of Christian feminism, given her campaigning for reform in the sixteenth century cuonter-reformation church
I paused on my way back to take photos from the Balcon de Europa of Calahonda beach below on the north side, observing a young African street trader attempting to sell watches to sunbathers, taking time out. Such persistence, such faith! I wonder how often he makes a sale?

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Mayday weekend

More time spent yesterday working remotely, and preparing my Sunday sermon, despite the allure of warm sunny weather. In the late afternoon I went for a walk, intending to pick up a few food items. I'd quite forgotten it's the Mayday fiesta here in Spain, so most shops were shut, like on Sundays. I found a small shop open where I was able to buy some bananas and an aubergine to tide me over. The centre of Nerja was noticeably busier and more crowded than previously, suggesting that there were extra holiday visitors around, enjoying the sunshine, eating out, relaxing.

This afternoon I drove the car out along the shore road through Torrox as far as Torre del Mar. This area of coastline is known as the Costa Algorrobo, thanks to the proflieration of Carob trees in the local environment. I was surprised to discover the town was the birth place of the Andalusian sugar refining industry. Several nineteenth century buildings and power house chimneys survive as historic artifacts among modern apartment blocks. The first refinery's office building has survived and serves in part as the Mayor's office and as the town's music conservatory. Outside the entrance to the latter is a sculpture of the head of the conservatory's founding father, and next to it a tree, whose trunk has been sculpted into an art work, although it is still alive and growing.
There's a 21st century tramway linking Torre del Mar with Velez Malaga, 4km inland, but services no longer operate. It closed for business after six years of operation in 2012, following a change of regional political power. The competing bus service survives. Who benefits? One wonders.

This area of coastal plain, fringed by mountain ranges, was first settled by Pheonicians nearly 2,800 years ago. The Romans had settlements here, but Velez Malaga as a centre of regional government for the comark of Axarquia was built by the Moors in the 11-12th century, then taken over in 1487 during the reconquista.

I didn't venture into the city on this occasion, as my attention was drawn to the tower on a hilltop overlooking the old town. A by-pass road took me up to the site of the Moorish castle. 
Most of the fortifications are now ruins, but its magnificent tower is in excellent repair, framed by a landscaped garden. The view of the city from 150 metres above the coastal plain is remarkable
The ermita on the hilltop to the north of the old town is dedicated to Nuesta Señora de los Remedios. One fifteenth century church in the old town, St John the Baptist, is built on the site of the main mosque, the tower started life as a minaret.

This morning's second Sunday service started late again, as for the second week running a group of children were admitted Communion. Fifteen children each week, and on each occasion a full church, of family and friends, taking more time to empty than usual. After the Creed we had the 'swearing in' ceremony for Judith and Bill, re-elected as churchwardens last Sunday. In the Bar Cuñejo afterwards I chatted with the woman I met last week who'd grown up in my home town of Ystrad Mynach. We shared memories of growing up amongst remarkable people in a village mining community, nowadays transmuted into a up and coming suburban commuter dormitory. How the place has changed over the past half century since the pits closed.