Monday, 26 June 2017

Whirlwind Tour

After a huge snack supper in the hotel bar, washed down with a bottle of cheap Rioja from a nearby gas station shop, we touched base with home, thanks to the excellent in house wi-fi network, with its rigorous security protocols (one device only per user). Then we turned in, coping with the heat of the night, rather than the noise and chill of the zealous air conditioning system. We were up at dawn and heading out into the rush hour traffic for the last 11km stretch into Granada, by 8.30am, making for the Alhambra's hillside car park. By 9.10am we were walking down the tree shaded path below the Palace walls, enjoying the cool mist from irrigation system sprinklers which bathe the trees with water during the day. A very special way to start and finish a walking tour around Granada, where summer temperatures of 35-40C are considered normal.

We followed the road up the side of the Darro river which flows through the valley below the walls of the Alhambra Palace, then climbed up through the Albayzin barrio for a beer and a tapa in the Plaza Larga, before visiting the Mirador San Nicolas to take a selfie or two to send to the family. Owain is the only one not to have been with us on various previous outings to Granada. I was so glad at last to put this right.

Work on San Nicholas church has progressed somewhat since I was here this time last year. The chancel rood has been removed entirely and reconstructive work on the top of the walls goes on before a new beams and tiling can be added. Before making our way down to the city through the back streets of the barrio, I took Owain to show him the new Granada mosque which is quite near the Mirador. It's not open to the public at the moment, only at the prescribed times for prayer for Eid el Fitr. 

Outside there was a young woman, plainly dressed, wearing a hijab, engaging three girls in English whom I think were American or maybe Spanish tourists, dressed down, as westerners do, for the heat, reliant on the mercy of sun-cream to compensate for their lack clothing. It was, apparently, a dialogue of the deaf, which left the young muslim woman with a look of exasperation on her face.

I wished her 'Eid Mubarak' and we chatted with her for a while. From her speech, she might have been an English speaking Swiss German or Austrian convert, in search of a new authentic way of life, and eager to give an account of her new lifestyle choices to anyone willing to take her on. It's one of those cases of learning by doing. She had a lot to say, overlaid with presumptions about the nature of others' faith, but wasn't too good at listening, yet. 

After a while we parted company, with a mutual blessing. I wondered about her journey of faith and who was helping her on her way. Owain and I spoke about spiritual struggle in Christian spirituality and jihad in Islam, as we wound our way down steep narrow streets to the main street. From there we made a brief excursion into the old town area where the Cathedral and Chapel Royal of Los Reyes Catolicos are situated, but as it was getting really hot we decided this was enough of a taster visit for Owain, and headed back up to the car park.

On the way there, I found an open door in a gateway which gave us access into the area in between the Alhambra Palace and the Alcazaba fortress known as the Patio de Machuca. I recognised where we were, but had forgotten this part was open to the public without the need for booking tickets. This enabled Owain to have a glimpse at the domain from the inside, which was most pleasing to be able to share. By 1.30pm we were on our way out of Granada, heading for the autovia that would take us back to Salobrenia on the coast, and on to Nerja. It's such a spectacular journey to share. We parked in the main surface car park in Nerja, walked about and saw something of the beaches and the Balcon de Europa, before lunching on beer and tapas at Biznaga in the Plaza El Salvador, which is a favourite place for Clare and I.

Suitably refreshed we headed back to Malaga, at a lazy pace alone the coast road all the way. We ended up hunting for petrol in rush hour traffic, having missed an opportunity to refuel on our way into town, and this took us all over the inner city, nearly on empty. It was gone six when we reached the apartment. Owain went for a swim while I did some Monday shopping, then later we ventured out in the cool of the evening to eat at the Cafeteria Flor across the street. The food was excellent. It was a little too noisy for eating out doors for my comfort. Owain was happy however, tucking into a generous portion of pez espada, one of our family favourites - swordfish. A nice memory to take with him back to Bristol. It's been lovely to have quality time together. More of the same would do us both good, I reckon.
  
  

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Historic stopover at the gates of Granada

We set out before ten to collect the car and my alb and stole from St George's churchyard, and I was pleased to find a couple of Nigerian church congregation members were already busy preparing to welcome those who would be coming for worship at eleven. Another new experience for Owain of Dad's workplace.

The hour long drive to Salinas gave us enough time to have a coffee in Manolo's Bar before going to the capilla and joining the congregation. The local parish congregation was just finishing, and I was introduced to their young assistant priest, who originated from Mexico. The now elderly and infirm senior cleric had been a missionary there, and encouraged the vocation of a local boy, who has now ended up working in this rural community with four congregations to look after. 

I was delighted to find that I could converse a little with him in Spanish, and he clearly enjoys being able to speak English in return. Relationships between the two congregations are very warm and hospitable, and people are wonderfully open to the ministry of women clergy, I heard, not for the first time, and that's despite the evident conservatism of some traditionalists.

Salinas Anglican congregation members John and Val have developed a community choir that sings concerts in the region. As many people as can make it come together to sing for Sunday services fortnightly. The capilla has no organ or keyboard but does have an excellent acoustic, so the singing is 'a capella'  led by the choir. It's an arrangement which I appreciate and enjoy. It helps to build a worshipping community in a special way, as they gain confidence in each other by singing together, or if worshippers are not particularly musical, they can relax and enjoy listening contemplatively. 

There were nineteen of us present, and after the service the congregation retired to Manolo's Bar to socialise over a drink. John and Val kindly treated us to lunch and some interesting talk about life in deepest rural Andalusia. We heard a couple of stories about how people had come to the region for a month's holiday, and ended by exchanging contracts on a house to live in for other holidays, or for impending retirement. A place and way of life which people can grow to love very quickly it seems.

When we parted company, Owain and I drove on the A92 to the town of Sta Fe, in suburbs adjacent to Granada's small airport. Using Booking dotcom, Owain found a room for €36 to stop the night, a roadside Hotel called BS Capitulaciones, on of two with the BS prefix in Granada, thought I have been unable to find out what BS stands for. Identifying the place wasn't difficult, but finding out how to reach it from the highway was less than easy. 

Coming into Granada from out of town, we had to go under the motorway and around a narrow back street, then turn on to the highway going in the other direction for the length of a large car sales compound and exit immediately right, with no slip road or signage to give safe passage. The hotel is a well appointed modern building with a large forecourt, secure indoor parking, a restaurant plus a bar with its own breakfast and snack menu. I couldn't help wondering if the owners were in dispute with city planners and lawyers about safe and proper site access. It's clearly well used, being close to the airport, but not being well served by municipal authorities in my opinion.

What a strange name for a hotel, we both thought - was this anything to do with what we'd noticed about site access and location? Very soon we discovered that the town of Sta Fe had been the place where the forces of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella had been garrisoned before the final assault and siege of Granada in 1481, one of the great prizes of their Andalusian reconquista campaign. The camp rapidly turned into a fortified town. The outcome was the negotiated withdrawal from Granada by the outnumbered Muslim armies of Bobadil the city ruler in 1492. He chose loss of honour and status rather than loss of blood, and has been sneered at by historians of the victorious for his weakness, rather than his humane common sense. Sta Fe was where withdrawal agreements of safe passage were signed and labelled 'Capitulaciones', and henceforth remembered.

After unpacking, we walked into the town centre, which is still defined by the four substantial gates which mark the four points of the compass, and commemorate 'Los Reyes Catolicos', as does the large 18th century neo-classical parish church of the Incarnation. The original church, constructed when the town was first built, was destroyed in an earthquake. The town was named Sta Fe (Holy Faith) because it was the dwelling place of the armies of Los Reyes Catolicos. It's a place of great significance for the whole of Spain because of the story it tells. It it seemed to Owain and I that it looked a little in need of care and attention, a coat of paint, better signage, despite banners hanging from lamp posts declaring the 425th anniversary of Capitulaciones. Perhaps it's part of the fate of any place which finds itself under the flight path of the local airport. Too easily overlooked.
  

Saturday, 24 June 2017

St John Baptist's Day

I had to content myself with reading the office of the day on this fiesta, and not go looking for a Mass to attend at the Iglesia San Juan in the Old Town, as I had Owain to attend to. I wasn't sure if there's be anything out of the ordinary which would interest him, in the wake of last weekend's liturgical busyness in the ancient barrios. The place is so full of visitors from near and far away, as European school summer holidaymakers arrive, and there is only so much that local police and security services can handle. 

After Owain enjoyed another swim, mid-morning while it was still cool, with the promise of yet another spell of 35 degree C  heat later on, we went to the Alcazaba Palace, a first for him. As a visit to the Alhambra Palace in Granada is impossible on this visit, it's a fair consolation. Malaga's Alcazaba with its garden fountains, court yard pools and stream running down the main path, is a very pleasant place to be. 

Being early meant it wasn't crowded. Rather than climb to the Gibralfaro fortress with the sun high in the sky, we returned for lunch and a siesta, then made the ascent early evening before Owain's second swim of the day and supper at the Chirunguito Cachalote on the Playa la Malagueta. This was a pleasant place to eat, cooling down earlier along this stretch, as the sun gets masked by sea front high rise blocks. We drank a decent Rosado house wine and ate a dozen and a half grilled sardinas between us. plus a big bowl of salad. A good place to take Mum when she comes in ten days time, Owain remarked.
   

Friday, 23 June 2017

Noche de San Juan in Malaga

After a good long night's sleep and slow start, adjusting to the increasing hear, Owain and I took the bus from outside the apartment door to Atarazanas market again and bought a few gourmet delights, olives, ham, cheese to last us the weekend. After lunch we made our way on foot to La Merced and sought out the Picasso Museum. 

Pablo Picasso was born in a house on the corner of Plaza de la Merced nearest to the market hall, but the museum in his honour is establisehd in a classical Andaluz palacio a few hundred meters beyond the barrio parish church of Santiago where he was baptized in 1881. There's a collection of his work from each of the eighty decades of his life as an artist, including childhood works. The admission ticket includes use of an audio commentary on each room of exhibits and each period of his life as an artist. It was a remarkable educational experience, well thought out and full of insight to reflect upon. We were both mightily impressed.

In the evening we set out on foot to dine at a Guardian recommended restaurant, a little way out of town to the east at El Palo. Being the 'noche de san Juan', every beach and every restaurant along the N340 coadt road was crowded and busy. We were astonished to find the restuarant we sought was closed, and less astonished to realise that on such a night, every place was fully booked. So, we got on a very crowded bus back to La Malagueta, full of young people going in search of their mates for a night of partying, and ate an emergency supper, quickly assembled at home.

We then returned to Playa La Malagueta, which was thronged with people of all ages, gathering to celebrate the midsummer fiesta, and maybe get in a paddle or a swim, in between eating barbecue food and drinking, as is customary on this night. At the and of the beach nearest the port of stage was set up, for a big disco with light show for an audience of many tens of thousands. Hard to guess just how many people were there for fireworks at midnight, or camping around a fire on the beach to watch the sun rise. We didn't stay up to watch. Today, Owain managed a morning and afternoon swim. One way or another, a very full day.
  

Thursday, 22 June 2017

A visit from my son

Yesterday, there were three of us for the the midweek Eucharist at St George's, honouring various British martyrs commemorated this week - St Alban, proto-martyr of England, Sts Julius and Aaron the Welsh proto-martyrs of Caerleon, all pre-Constantinian witnesses to Christ during the decline of the Roman Empire. After this the days was occupied with more shopping to get ready for Owain's arrival, and some evening exercise, walking east up the Malagueta promenade to the next barrio, a two miles there and back.

This morning, I walked to the Cercania terminus at the top end of the Alameda and caught the train out to the airport to meet Owain arriving from Bristol, just after ten. We took the train back to the Alameda, then walked the last mile back to the apartment, as he'd only brought a shoulder bag with him for his four day stay. 

 lunch, we walked into the Old Town for an initial exploration with commentary from Dad, going first to La Merced market, then to Atarazanas market. We then returned to La Malagueta so Owain could go for a swim before we had supper. It's great to have his company. It may be as long as 25 years since we last spent time on our own together - we're still trying to work it out.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Solidarity revealed

It's getting noticeably hotter by day this week, not only here, but in Britain. Clare has been making the most of her time with Ann in Pembrokeshire, and fine weather, to visit a different beach every day and post photos of them, on Instagram and Viber. She's in her element. I'm not that comfortable sunning myself on sand, though I love to walk along the promenade and sea shore, day or night. 

Monday was a day with no appointment, just clothes to wash and a visit to local food shops, notably an eco-tienda, the other side of the Bull Ring plaza, to purchase a jar of Tahini using my best Spanish with complete success. But, most of the day I lay low in the apartment avoiding the intense heat, venturing out to the Old Town in the late afternoon as it was cooling down, to get some exercise. Having done a lot of walking over the weekend, my legs were quite tired. I'm walking at least 3-5km a day, but I'd like to build up to 5-7km a day every day, to get back to the fitness level I had last autumn in Mojácar.

Tuesday was also a day with no appointments, but a day of preparation for Owain's visit, and a day to draft a sermon for next Sunday's first visit to the Salinas congregation to celebrate the Eucharist. I found myself drawn to the Genesis lesson about Abraham and Ishmael and its relation to Islam.

More information is emerging today about the attack on worshippers at a Finsbury Park Mosque in London, by an assailant from Pentwyn, Cardiff, who seems to be a loner filled with hatred for Muslims. The impact of this act of terrorism, like the London Bridge incident last month, has been a defiant expression of solidarity by people of all faiths and none at every level, both the leaders and the led. 

'Live and let live' has been a default expression of tolerance in British urban society for generations, despite politics, despite local difficulties and compatibility tensions between communities with different lifestyles. It's not always comfortable, but people get used to it, make it work, as much by passive acceptance as through active community relations. There are more ways for people from different backgrounds to get used to each other than we realise. But, when there's an external threat to the natural balancing act going on in every kind of living community, there's a most remarkable reaction from within. 

People who've been muddling along start taking notice, and stop taking peace and stability for granted. Crisis pushes them out of passive acceptance of each other into a defensive affirmation of a diverse common life together. A sense of human solidarity becomes more conscious. It breaks down barriers of race, language and culture in public. What may have occurred when near neighbours had something to celebrate or grieve about, is revealed by harsh circumstances to be an experience shared by the larger community, which just wants freedom to continue muddling along, putting up with each other and living with differences.

Memories are awakened of my time as Team Rector of St Paul's Area Parish, Bristol at the time of the 1980 riots. That was a place where many poor people of different races and cultures muddled along together. Rioting broke out as a result of a bungled operation by poorly briefed police officers unaquainted with the area, without consulting police working there day by day. It was an expression of utter frustration by local young black people with far reaching consequences, and it attracted global attention for a while. 

There were unaddressed social problems as well, that's for sure, and a great need for British public bodies to re-examine their attitudes toward those who were of a non-British culture, in order to find out what all had in common, and what differences there were which called for respect. There were many top level enquiries, and a few changes, though never enough to make a major difference. Even then, as the crisis passed, all who lived in an area subject to intense scrutiny soon wanted just to be left alone to get on with a struggle to survive which no media or political intrusion could ever make a real difference to. 

Young rioters effectively said: 'Stop messing with us' to police with no idea how to administer law and order worthy of respect, as local Bobbies could. Hit a community with an islamophobic attack, or an islamist attack and we can label them politically any way we desire, but when the people of a place bond together in mutual respect to support each other, they may simply be saying: 'Let us be. Let us deal with this as best we can.' Whoever suffers, whoever is the victim, the community feels it's an assault on them and their effort to live together. It's almost like a revelation, this discovery that, as St Paul tells us "We are members of one another."
   

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Festal Weekend, Day Two

All went to plan going to Velez Malaga this morning. I was there by ten but overshot my destination and had to double back. Finding a parking place nearby without disorientating myself in streets still unfamiliar gave me some trouble, so I lost twenty minutes finding a place, but arrived with enough time in hand to start punctually.

There were twenty two present, an enthusiastic and cheerful gathering, attentive and enjoying the singing. Three people shared in leading the intercessions, which was unusual, but it worked. I couldn't help noticing that the lady who read the Hospitality of Abraham story expressively did so using her hands as she spoke. It was far from being a mannerism, the story-teller's instinct was in evidence here. That takes confidence, but also calls for finding a certain pleasure in valuing the story element in reading scripture.

The little bar where we gathered for coffee and fellowship after the service when I was here last September has now closed, due to lease expiry, so we had to walk a few extra pace to the Bar El Tomate on the corner of the block. It's full of light and has simple modern decor. It was crowded and busy, clearly a well used Sunday meeting place in this barrio

After a drink and a chat, I drove back to Malaga, cooked lunch and had a siesta before making my way to the Cathedral for the evening's Blessed Sacrament procession. On any evening the streets are crowded with walkers and diners, but tonight an even greater crowd, as people from parishes across the city converged on the Cathedral. Diocesan clergy, Cathedral Canons, seminarians, and various guilds formed the main body of the procession, with some lay people following and more watching, taking photos from the side. It must have been quite difficult for tourists going against the flow of the procession, and perhaps not rally understanding what was going on. I noticed uncomfortable and awkward looks on the faces of some passing by in the opposite direction.

The silver clad flower bedecked trona carrying the Holy Sacrament in a large golden monstrance was not borne by a squad of portadores on this occasion. It was mounted on wheels and pushed by a handful of people. I'd love to know the reason why. Street altars were set up outside the Cathedral, in the Calle Marquesa de Larios, the main luxury shopping area and at a junction of several streets in between. Apparently the number of altars has been reduced in recent years. It it for convenience, faced with the dominant demands made on these streets by visitors? Or is it for practical reasons? 

The custom used to be to stop at a street altar for prayers. Nowadays, prayers and devotional songs go on throughout the time of the procession, aided by a portable public address system using a wireless microphone for the prayer leader. Songs were familiar and sung unaccompanied by heart as we processed slowly. There were a couple of bands, which played intermittently, but accompanying a walking singing crowd would not come naturally to their performance style. I imagine change of this nature doesn't come easy to cofradias that invest such time and energy in maintaining their tradition. What's impressive is the degree of participation by local people. It doesn't feel like a show but a genuine expressing of religious life which succeeds in binding people together.

The procession ended with the Archbishop receiving the Holy Sacrament from the Trona to carry into the Cathedral through the great west door. After leading the final devotions and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament at the high altar, for the first time since the procession began, Don Jesus Catala donned his episcopal mitre to deliver a brief address to the multitude filling the nave. In the procession he walked bareheaded like all the other clergy, behind the Trona, holding his episcopal crozier, symbol of his pastoral authority in the church and in the wider community. Having the last word, as a preacher of the Gospel in the Apostles' succession, he puts on his teacher's hat. Nice and simple. I wish more Anglican bishops would take note, and parade their mitres in public less often.

It was hot. It was tiring. But joining in the procession, not as a robed cleric but among the people took me back to my young, and reminded me what pilgrimage feels like at the grass roots. It's quite possible to miss out on that experience when you're organising or overseeing a liturgical occasion. So grateful I don't have to undertake those kind of duties any longer.
  

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Festal Weekend, Day One

This morning, I completed my Sunday sermon, and found liturgical material in my web archive to send to a couple whose wedding blessing at Verbier in September I have to prepare for by email. It is never possible to know until there's a meeting how much understanding a couple may have of the church wedding ceremony in order to select readings and music. When they work with a wedding arranger there's always a risk that they will be sold a pre-conceived notion of what is the right thing to do, which can sometimes devalue the nature of the ceremony and undermine its dignity. 

Having said that, the earlier the preparation process is fully informed by a copy of the authorised liturgy and the texts of scripture readings to choose from, the better it works out on the day. There are suitable pieces of poetry that can be read, but there's also stuff devised by a relative or a friend that's more appropriate for the wedding reception than the ceremony. Devising the explanatory email to accompany liturgical attachments took a lot longer than tracking down material to send.

During the day, I could hear the sound of un-amplified live music and conversation rising from the alley next to the apartment block. When I went out to do some weekend food shopping, I noticed a small blackboard with a notice handwritten in chalk declaring 'La Rueda Morada Festa', and could see several people standing around eating and drinking outside the front door of a house in the Calle Girona. A quick Google search took me to a Facebook page of the same name. 

This informed me that it's part of a series of open house alternative grassroots cultural events held in the city which are advertised by social networking. The music I could hear was a guitar and 'cello duo improvising in flamenco fusion mode. Delightful. I suppose I could have dropped in as a vecino, and tried out my Spanish, but most of the people at the gathering were less than half my age, and knowing where to start a conversation and what to talk about would not be easy, even if I had the words. It's not just the generation gap, but also the manner of speech, plus the likelihood that some would be only too willing to practice their English on me! So, call me a coward if you must, but I just stayed in and enjoyed the music through the open window while I worked instead. 

After shopping, cooking lunch and a siesta, I walked to the Old Town in search of what promised to be a big religious procession, or two. This weekend is the Fiesta of Malaga's two patron saints, the martys Cirico and Paula, as well as the deferred observance of Corpus Christi. Finding out what happens when was initially difficult, the information in the media was a bit vague, although the Archdiocesan website led me in the right direction. Dos Santos is an important civic occasion, thus attended by city processional guilds, and marching bands. A Corpus Christi procession around the streets of the Old Town, centering on the Cathedral is bound to be a diocesan event. Therein lies a conflict of interest for many of the processional guilds, I suspect, and a need for diplomacy to sort out who does what. I was amused to learn on-line that the Dos Santos procession has to start half an hour later than advertised due to a wedding booking which escaped the information loop.

It took me a little while to recall exactly where the Iglesia de los Dos Santos is located in the warren of Old Town back streets, which I visited only a few days ago. Tonight all streets were crowded with smartly dressed people, making their paseo, going out to dine or headed for church, and everywhere looks different when it's full of people. Eventually I heard the sound of a band down a streets with a gathering crowd. The procession had just begun to leave the church, and it involved hundred of people dressed in their Sunday best, or in uniforms or vestments, many were carry staves of office holders in their various guilds. 

When the huge trona, bearing the image of the two Martyrs emerged from the church, carried by a squad of fifty white shirted men, there was a loud fanfare of trumpets and applause from onlookers. A group of women of a certain age in white dresses with fragrant white flowers in their hair sang a traditional cancion in honour of the saints and the city, and one of them danced with great pride and elegance. It was a moment of great joy and delight. I stayed until the church doors were shut behind the procession, then made my way back to the Cathedral, as I'd read about the Corpus Christi Festa starting at nine this evening in a special way.

Shortly after the appointed hour a team of trumpeters in old style uniforms with plumed hats began to appear from a door on a balcony at the corner of the south west tower (the one never completed), and one by one, they gingerly made their way to the central part of the balcony, some thirty metres up on the facade of the Cathedral west front. A dizzy height from which to play a series of fanfares to announce the start of the Blessed Sacrament vigil, which concludes with tomorrow evening's procession. I'm not surprised that the playing exhibited a certain nervousness. The Cathedral west plaza is another five metres down steps below the west door. An ordeal for the inexperienced.

After this, I realised I hadn't eaten enough, and was tired after several hours of walking, so I headed slowly back to the apartment, starting to think about the logistics of the trip to Velez Malaga to celebrate the Eucharist tomorrow. The Festa in Calle Girona must have finished on time, as all was as quiet as usual when I got back.
      

Friday, 16 June 2017

Twilight concert delight

Another hot day today, spent lying low until early evening, when I went to St George's to help with the preparations for the evening's piano recital by Thomas Kaurich, held outdoors on the patio in front of the building. It was mainly a question of setting up tables and laying out rows of chairs. Thankfully, the sun sinks behind the Gibralfaro fairly early, making it possible for the specialist piano transporter to bring in his van - a tight squeeze on the narrow path up the hill to the church - and then unload from the van and assemble a Steinway baby grand paino single-handedly. It was a remarkable feat of skill, as it weighs several hundred kilos.

There were about fifty people for the concert, not quite as many as had been hoped for. Something was amiss with the advance publicity apparently. Thomas played with passion and sensitivity works by Beethoven, Schumann and Chopin. Some I was familiar with, others not. Earlier in life, Thomas was a recitalist on the world touring circuit. Then he went into the organisation and management side of the music business. Then seven years ago he and his partner decided on a change of career direction for them both and took on a guest house in the mountains beyond Velez-Malaga. Now he's returned to giving piano recitals as well, much to everyone's delight. He was very well received.

Sitting in the fragrant churchyard garden at twilight, with blackbirds singing in the background, and little evidence of traffic on the road nearby was a sublime setting for listening to great classical romantic music. Just imagine, Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, one piece everyone present will have known, as darkness descends. Sadly the moon is one the wane and had not yet appeared in the sky, in apparently in the past there have been full moon concert nights at St George's. What an asset! I'd love to see a small but intimate festival in this setting - several nights of lieder singing, string quartets, wind ensemble, piano and harpsichord music. It would need a small team of professionals to run. I've seen how much hard work went into this event by a handful of church members. One can but dream.
   

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Not yet Corpus Christi

Apart from shopping and cooking, I spent much time reading through news articles learning about events in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire in London. The compassionate response of many people to the plight of survivors has been remarkable, likewise the differing responses of political leaders, now being scrutinised carefully, while they try to figure out what to do for the best. I still cannot fathom why a composite building material was permitted with flammable components. 

The finger has already been pointed at a hydrocarbon based material melting and catching fire. It may be 51 years since I graduated in Chemistry, but I recall that the aluminium used in the skin of the composite is also combustible if it reaches a high enough temperature, so it doesn't just buckle, but burns at around its melting point, 2200C. In the context of a fire in vertical cladding, updraughts of air speeding the spread of the fire might push temperatures higher than expected, and make it just about impossible to halt. 

But, there are so many interlocking factors which combined perversely to produce this catastrophe. Failures in regulatory oversight, housing policy, cost saving measures due to spending cuts, all providing a backdrop of circumstances vulnerable to precipitate a crisis from what might have started as a relatively minor incident or accident. Now everyone is left wondering where else might be equally vulnerable, what is going to be done about it and how soon. Added to uncertainty coming from the election outcome and the imminent start of brexit negotiations, which process seems to be losing public support and credibility, these are troubling times for Britain..

Daytime temperatures here are starting to climb now, so I am grateful the apartment doesn't heat up, standing, as it does, in the shade for much of the day. I went for a walk in the hours before sunset, through the old town, and called in to the local parish church of St Gabriel in time for the evening Mass, and today is Corpus Christi. In fact, I was early enough to be present with 30-40 others for half an hour of devotion before the Blessed Sacrament exposed. To my surprise, the Mass following was that of the day in Ordinary Time, not the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, which I think is deferred until the weekend. Certainly, Malaga Cathedral's procession is Sunday evening, and there's another on Saturday too, in honour of Los Dos Santos Martires, Patrons of the city. A far cry from British soul searching at this time. But this is a city which has known war, and destructive earthquakes over the centuries. Their fiestas defy the darkness in life with joy and dignity.
  

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Malaga praying

I woke up early and was shocked to hear news of the fire in Grenfell Tower, West London. It didn't take long to learn of the concerns expressed by a local residents group before and after a recent multi million pound renovation, about the safety issues. This is going to turn into a colossal tragedy with ramifications for high rise accommodation, both public and private all over Britain. There have been other apartment block fires abroad, indicating flaws in safety design and materials used. It seems lessons from those incidents have not been heeded or applied. It's another toxic outcome of a decade of austerity which has seen major cuts in public service expenditure. To judge from other recent tragedies, there will follow a wave of compassion and generosity, as the country as well as the neighbourhood rallies around the survivors. And there'll be another public enquiry of some kind. But how will collective indignation at the scale of a preventable disaster of this kind in public service provision affect the body politic?

As I arrived at the churchyard gate to celebrate the midweek Eucharist, a group of four youngsters, English speaking, late teens, early twenties were leaving. One of them accosted me, seeing that I was wearing my cross and a black shirt and asked in halting Spanish who I was, and was relieved when I replied in English. She asked me if there was anything I wanted her and her friends to pray about. I asked her to explain, as usually people ask me if I'll pray for them! She explained that her group had been sent as pilgrims on a mission to pray for people in Malaga. 

It transpired that they'd been given plane tickets, and left to their own devices to find their way about, meet people and to seek hospitality from people. They had no money, and had spent the previous night sleeping on the beach. It seemed that they'd been sent to experiment with the biblical idea of trusting in Providence, although I was offered no idea, apart from the fact that they were from Cheshire, who had paid their fares and sent them off without any briefing or local contacts.

I spoke about this later with the three women who came to the service, and they said they'd had a similar instance of this six months ago. It seems there's an organisation out there which funds this kind of youth initiative with plane tickets, but nothing more was known. How very strange! It's not as if it's hard to find out about ecumenical youth contact networks via the internet, it you want to set up a simple experience of mission in another country. To me this approach is potentially very risky, if the youngsters have no prior knowledge of the situations they were entering. I've not been here long enough to have any idea about how to connect with grass roots Christian communities. I'm sure it would be possible through Lux Mundi in Fuengirola or Torre del Mar, but as for this city, I have no idea, and couldn't help them. And that had me worrying about them for the rest of the day.

Late afternoon, I went out exploring parts of the Old Town, and as it was gone five, churches were opening for the evening after siesta, and I was able to take a look inside several I'd never seen inside before - San Joan, Los Dos Martires, both rebuilt after the 1680 earthquake, and El Sagrado Corazón the 1920's Gothic revival building belonging to the Jesuits, who have a substantial commitment to education locally. I went to the port on the way back, to check out new arrivals and found one large ordinary cruise ship, Panama registered MV Aegean Odessy at one end of the Palmeria de las Sorpresas and the MV Turama huge Super-yacht registered in Saudi Arabia at the other. The latter has sixty staff and luxury accomodation suites, catering for 70 passengers. It can be chartered for cruise parties at the rate of €90,000 a day, I discovered with a little on-line research. It was almost as big as the other cruise ship, carrying 300.

Coming back into the Barrio de la Malagueta, I realised that people were entering the Parish Church of St Gabriel, so I went to have a look inside. Mass was about half way through, and I stayed and prayed. It's a brick building of the 70's or 80's, vast and cavernous, seating 500+ at a guess. There were about 50 people of all ages in the congregation, including a few parents with children. Earlier at St Joan, I'd seen 20 people assembled with an elderly priest before the Blessed Sacrament praying the rosary. And, it was a layman seated at the back who was leading. Sometimes it's a woman who leads, not necessarily a nun. The priest plays his part, but the enterprise of prayer is owned by the community of the faithful. I find this inspiring and encouraging.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Unusual port visitor

With nothing planned to do today, I started work on next Sunday's sermon, wrote a few emails and did domestic chores until well into the afternoon. When I finally set my mind on walking over to El Corte Ingles, I noticed from the end of the street the five masts of a big sailing ship above the trees along the sea front, so climbed the steep path up the Gibralfaro for a better view and a photograph. It's a luxury cruise liner which supplements its ship's engines with sails when weather permits, the largest of a series built in France for Club Med in the late 1980s, but now run by Windstar Cruises.
I then continued walking to El Corte Ingles, through the back streets of the Old Town. Much of this is now quite familiar from spending time here last autumn. It takes under half an hour on foot to reach here from the apartment, which is what Clare wanted me to find out.

I visited the store's electronic gadget department, and was mildly disappointed to see very little that was different from what's on offer in John Lewis and PC World back home. Sometimes in the past I've seen new products brought to market in Spain well before the UK, and things brought to market there which are never seen in a British High Street. Demand for new domestic computers, whether desktop or portable, has levelled off in recent years with the rise of tablets and smartphones, and with the latest arrival of voice activated devices delivering information services into the home. It's no something which interests me much. 

No matter how clever it all is, it's potentially intrusive, and may prevent users from making an effort to find out things for themselves rather than wait for the helpful suggestion from a worktop device. I feel the same about SatNavs too. I'd rather learn for myself how to find my way around a place or around a map, by observation, and only use a location sensing device in support, if needed.

The return trip took me to the Palmeria de las Sorpresas quay to inspect the ship I'd seen from afar. It's the MVY Wind Surf, with room for over 300 passengers in spacious accommodation. There are cruise ships which take 5-10 times that number of passengers, catering for the mass market with high standards, in not so much private space, and these are extremely popular for those who cannot afford premium prices. These ships are all interesting from an architectural perspective, but for my own needs, I happy with river cruising on an altogether much smaller scale.

While I was there, I took photographs of the fourteen 'Caminantes en el Puerto' sculptures by Elena Laverón on display as part of the 200th anniversary celebrations for La Farola, now destined to become a maritime museum, walking past them in both directions. The results are here.

It's unlikely I'll be about when Wind Surf leaves harbour, or that I'll see it with its sails unfurled. That would just be too lucky on my part.
   
  

Monday, 12 June 2017

From Rincon by bus

This morning, with enough dirty clothes to make up half a load, it was time to figure out how the washing machine works. It's a different model from ones I've been used to in other places, so I had to read the instruction booklet. Thankfully, once I'd mastered its language of logos and symbols, it was straightforward enough for a quick wash cycle. Not being sure if it was such a good idea to put an airer full of washing out on a street side balcony, I made use of a spare bedroom on the sunny side, with the window open, which did the trick nicely. 

Then it was time to do the rest of the week's shopping, cook lunch and have a siesta before driving out to Rincon del la Victoria to rendezvous with Rosella at the Tamoil Gasolinera just above the autovia junction. When I put this in my Google calendar and typed in 'Tamoil', I was surprised to see that it immediately suggested the correct one at Rincon, 15km away, even though I had not yet typed in 'Rincon'. Rosella said that there are few Tamoil stations around the area, so all Google was doing was helpfully suggesting the nearest one to me. Which, as luck would have it, was correct.

After meeting up, we drove to an auto service garage a kilometre away and left the car. Rosella then dropped me, as planned in Rincon, so that I could catch the bus back to Malaga. This gave me an opportunity to purchase my own Tarjeta Consorcio - a fare card to use in paying for rides at a discount on the ticket cash price. It's still €1.07 for the half hour journey. The rechargeable card costs €1.80, and you need to put a minimum of €5.00 on it to start with. I now have the means to get on one of the buses which stops outside the apartment and see where it takes me.

I got off the bus at the hospital stop, ten minutes walk from St George's, rather than go all the way to the terminus next to the Muelle heredia, in the port which is twenty minutes walk to St George's. I needed to go back there to retrieve my outdoor specs with added shades from the sacristy table, where I left them. I can see well enough to drive without them, but it's hardly a pleasant experience. I turned out into the traffic by the time I realised my omission. Finding a short way back to collect them would certainly have made me late. I was so annoyed with myself. Will I ever get really used to wearing specs, I wonder?

When I finally got back to the apartment, I had a phone call from Curate Doreen, asking how the weekend had been, and it gave me an opportunity to solicit her help in finding a place to stay in or near Salinas when Owain comes for the weekend, since I'm up there celebrating the Eucharist on the weekend he's with me. We have plans to visit Nerja, and then drive up to Granada on the spectacular A44 autovia, which runs for part of its length on viaducts through a valley with a succession of lakes. It'll be great to have someone with me who is happy taking photographs. I've done the trip now several times and never been free to take pictures which do justice to the scenery.

Clare and I had a long conversation later, with both of us using phone headsets, which gave both of us far better reception than when using speaker boost. It's taken a long while for us to realise this. Before turning in for the night, I walked along the east arm of the port to savour the beauty of the port and city skyline at twilight. La Farinola is floodlit, and changes from blue to green at frequent intervals. Curiously, I didn't notice if its was performing its designated duty. Much check tomorrow.
   

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Celebrating the Trinity in Malaga

What a delight it was to walk the three hundred metres along the Paseo de Reding to celebrate the Eucharist this morning, in fine bright warm weather. After all the many Sundays at home or abroad when I've had to drive to church, it was a real pleasure. There were thirty of us in the congregation to celebrate the Feast of the Holy Trinity, and I reminded everyone of how important a dedication this is in the history of European chaplaincies. Both the Gibraltar Cathedral and the pro-Cathedral in Brussels are dedicated to the Holy Trinity, so naturally we prayed for them.

St George's has a marvellously mixed congregation, Brits, Irish, Spanish, American, Iranian, Sierra Leonian and Nigerian among the regulars. It's impossible for me not to feel at home with this mix. After the service there was a little reception to welcome me on the church forecourt, with a glass of bubbly and some nibbles. It was most unexpected and prolonged the pleasure of fellowship longer than usual.

After lunch and a siesta, I walked to the port. All along the quay with the designer shops for almost half a kilometer there were market stalls selling hats, jewellery or summer dresses, there must have been fifty of them, that weren't there yesterday. I saw a new cruise ship was docked at terminal A. Yesterday's ship had already slipped away to another destination. The regular ferry to Melilla was also docked, and while I was watching a ferry arrived from the Balearic Islands up north. This must provide a quicker service for people and goods from way down south to Mallorca, Menorca or Ibiza, than a day's travel on the autovia, plus ferry from Valencia. Where there's a will, there's a way when it comes to economic efficiency, I guess.

Then I wandered down the Alameda, over the bridge as far as El Corte Ingles which was closed, but the point was to time the walk from the apartment. On the way back, the sound of bells from La Manquita drew me to the Cathedral in time for the Sunday evening Mass. Several hundred people attended, and a goodly number of the received Communion. Yet, the service, with homily and some singing too just forty minutes and didn't feel at all hurried. 

That's just over half the length of our Eucharist this morning with a fifth of the communicants. But, we had a longer set of readings, longer intercessions and sermon, four hymns and a sung setting of the Mass Ordinary. There's so much in common in the content of our liturgies, yet the culture that interprets how they are performed is remarkably different. The Anglican approach to timing and singing in worship is closer to Eastern Orthodoxy than it is to the Western Latin Church.

Co-incidental to this last thought, I learned from Facebook of the death of the previous Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, Geoffrey Rowell, just three years after his retirement, taken by cancer. He came into post just as I was getting into difficulties with a rebellion against the diocese by certain people in the leadership of the chaplaincy in Monaco, when I had to step aside to allow him to make a formal troubleshooting Visitation and sort things out. I hated failure of this kind and having to quit the diocese, but it did lead to eight wonderful final years of public ministry at St John's City Parish Church. 

+Geoffrey was an outstanding scholar of Anglicanism, and enthusiast for ecumenical relations with Orthodox and Oriental Churches. Being Euro-bishop was a suitable platform for bridge-building in the territory he governed, but it's amazing to think how his ability to build friendships contributed to the development of a dimension of ecumenical relationships that couldn't have been foreseen, with the exodus of oriental Christians fleeing war and persecution from North East Africa, Iraq and Syria into Europe over the past decade. He will be missed by people of all Christian traditions. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.
     
  

Saturday, 10 June 2017

View from above

Looking out from the balcony window this morning, I could see market stalls being set up on the opposite side of the road on the tree covered pavement. When I went out to do the weekend grocery shopping I discovered it's a Bio market - organic farmers selling their produce direct to the public. There were mostly fruit and vegetable stalls, with one bread and one cheese and one herb stall, almost a dozen altogether. The Asociación Guadalhorce Ecológico promotes a weekly farmers' market in a variety of locations in and around Malaga, advertising through its own Facebook page. I do hope the market returns to La Malagueta again while Clare is with me. She'll love it.

After lunch and a siesta, I walked up the steep winding well appointed footpath which mounts the hillside behind the Paseo de Reding to the summit of the Gibralfaro. The views across the city and port are glorious, and the path is constantly busy with tourists taking selfies, or athletes testing their stamina. It's a tough climb, but one which I'll be repeating when I run out of new places to satiate my curiosity and my camera.

Having taken photos from on high, I then walked down to the port to visit a large cruise ship stopping here this weekend. It's the Silver Spirit, registered in Nassau in the Bahamas, according to the Maritime Traffic website. It's docked, not out at Terminals A or B, but in the prestigious quay nearest the city, along which runs the Palmeria de Sopresas, rows of Palm trees enclosing the main cruise ship reception centre, several restaurants and gardens. The quayside is enclosed by glass walls, allowing for non cruising visitors to stand and stare safely at this giant of a seven story hotel afloat. I don't think I've been this close to such a huge ship since I was a child and visited HMS Vanguard with my father.

Then, back to the apartment for another quiet evening, writing and uploading photos. I am learning that Google Photos, though not as versatile as using desktop Picasa then uploading to the web,  now works better than Google Chromebook's basic photo editing function. This is prone to crash while editing large pictures, perhaps because it's under powered or lacking in usable spare memory. I am impressed by the upload speed for the chaplain's broadband connection, far quicker than anything I am used to in other places, or at home. It actually makes using on-line apps a congenial experience. I'd still prefer using a device that wasn't so totally dependent on internet connectivity. I fear that we may live to regret this strategic decision taken by the tech giants on our behalf.
   

Friday, 9 June 2017

Day of election surprises, obsequies and city culture

This morning I woke up to discover Britain has a hung parliament. Although the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn didn't overwhelm the Tories, neither was it routed by a landslide as predicted by many wishful thinking pollsters, pundits and disgracefully biassed BBC reporters, and panel game comedians. Serves them right. They all humiliated themselves by showing how much they haven't listened properly to what was happening at the grass roots, especially among young voters. Despite his double rejection by the Parlimentary Labour Party, his patient listening and dialoguing with potential voters has regained support for a economical credible set of policies, which are more representative of pre-Blairite British socialism. Shame on all of them too. Labour has a modest man with moral integrity in charge, who has ignored every attempt at character assassination and isn't a self promoting egomaniac. Such a pity he's not at the helm right now, but he has re-introduced hope into political discourse when it was most needed.

It's not enough however to be nearly, but the challenge of building majority support, despite the lies of the right wing British press, can continue until the next electoral opportunity arrives. The Tories can cling to a slender majority with the support of the even more right wing Democratic Unionist Party, founded by Ian Paisley. It still espouses policies worthy of American fundamentalists. Whether this marriage of convenience is viable or sustainable remains to be seen. It casts another shadow of uncertainty over forthcoming brexit negotiations. How long before we wake up from this bizarre nightmare?

I spent most of the morning preparing a Sunday sermon, editing and uploading photos, finalising the liturgy for this afternoon's funeral. For some reason I can't fathom, I felt apprehensive about doing this. There's nothing new I haven't done before. I know and have driven the route to Velez-Malaga's  'La Esperanza crematorium before. I've prepared and taken services there before. I kept checking things before leaving, and came to the conclusion that I was nervous about omitting something or getting it wrong. Perhaps it's down to the experience of my first contact with the funeral director. 

I explained in my best Spanish that I had been asked to take this funeral by my colleague Doreen. It wasn't that he didn't understand my language, but rather didn't understand who I was and why I was contacting him about this funeral which as far as he was concerned was taken care of. It turned out that he spoke enough English for us to untangle things, but I still didn't understand why he referred to Doreen as 'Roy'. Moreover, neither did she when I asked her. My best guess if that he has 'Roy' as the reference name attached to that particular contact number on his phone. I'm used to muddling through in all sorts of odd situations, but 'unknown unknowns' can rattle the cage of my confidence.

I arrived at 'La Esperanza', short for Nuestra Senora de la Esperanza, with a good half hour to spare, checked in with the staff, and was shown the chapel. It was the one I used before, big enough for a congregation of a hundred, and all the wherewithall to celebrate a Requiem Mass, ready prepared in the sacristy. I wonder how many funerals here are in the setting of a Mass nowadays, compared to the turn of the century? The attendant who looked after me said that only four people had come for a viewing of the body earlier in the day, and wondered if that was the expected number, I explained that people were arriving from UK flights earlier in the day.

There were thirteen mourners for the service, just family and close friends, so they packed into the row of three pews nearest the coffin. The attendant looked after the recorded music, which meant he spent the service at a low cupboard door behind the altar, to control the CD player. Could he not find the remote control device? I wondered. Normally, I guess the officiating priest would stand up there and deejay for himself. The service proceeded as simply and quietly as intended with no surprises, thankfully. The family was appreciative, but with a lot of catching up to do with those who'd just arrived, there was nothing more to ask of me, so I took my leave of them, and returned to Malaga, feeling pleased that I'd spoken only Spanish with the crematorium staff throughout, and had been understood.

After supper, as the sun was setting, I walked through the big noisy road tunnel under the Alcazaba Palace into the Old Town. It lands you close to the historic Plaza del la Merced, whose trees were alight with reddish pink blossom, a delight to behold. The inside edges of the square were lined with matching booths, backs to the road, populated by book sellers and publishing houses. Malaga's Feria del Libro is happening from the 2nd to the 11th of June. In the middle of the Plaza there's a pavilion hosting a children's play and reading area, such as I've seen on the beach at Vinaros. There's another pavilion equipped for literary lectures and discussion. 

In the nearby back streets beyond the Mercado de la Merced, I found a church dedicated to Sta Cruz and St Philip Nerii, founder of the 16th century religious community of the Oratorian Fathers. Also the Iglesia del dos Martires, San Ciriaco y Sta Paula, young Christian converts said to have been martyred in Malaga under the third century persecution of Diocletian. Of them, nothing is known for sure but their names. They are honoured as patron saints of the city. Returning to La Malagueta I walked towards the sea front, along Clle Marquesa de Lario, the heartland of the city's luxury retail outlets, always busy with people strolling, meeting and greeting, hustling, day and night. It's a wonderfully convivial sort of place, all year round.

Walking then along the Parque del Paseo, I heard the sound of voices emanating from loudspeakers at the open air auditorium in the middle. A couple of hundred people were seated therein, and were being addressed by an erudite young man in smart casual clothes. He was accompanied by a screen with a Powerpoint display, and although he spoke quickly, I was able to gather that he was talking about consumer branding and marketing, and how these things work to capture our attention, sell us what we didn't know we needed earning fortunes for digital marketeers. Altogether very interesting, but too near bed time for me to want to stay and learn more. I don't know what sort of enterprise put on this kind of educational event, but I do know that are number of Malaga university buildings are on the edge of the Old Town nearest to here. It's lovely to be within walking distance of a lively city centre, full of people having a good time, that's not plagued by drunken louts and uncollected litter.
  

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Walk in the port

A second full night's sleep in a row for me! The neighbourhood and the apartment is remarkably quiet for the center of a city. I pottered around all morning, listening to UK election day news on the radio, wondering what the outcome will be, but I have no intention of staying up to hear the results tonight. The apartment has good broadband, although the solid construction of this sixties building does curb the reach of the signal at the far end, in the kitchen, where I often listen while I cook or eat at home. No two electronic devices have exactly the same capacity to fix on a weak signal, so I have to try them out in turn to see which gives the best results on wi-fi, to save using up data on a 4G phone account. 

A visit to the El Corte Ingles electronic gadget store to buy a wi-fi signal relay device is possible. Finding the right place to plug it in where it can best transmit and receive is another issue. As the first inhabitant of a newly purchased Fuengirola Chaplain's house three years ago, this was the solution to the same problem. Being a more modern house, however, it had a much better distribution of power sockets to make use of. Always best to make use of what's given, if you can.

After quite a late lunch, I went out for my first longish walk of my stay, starting on the Paseo de la Malagueta and making my way to the furthest extent of the eastern arm of the port. The sun was thinly veiled in mist, so I didn't suffer from over exposure. Once you leave the Paseo, there's almost no shade to be had until you reach the two huge Cruise ship terminal buildings. It's the first time I've seen these structures and their accompanying docking facilities. There are no cruise ships in port right now, only an assortment of container ships, bulk carriers and the odd goods vehicle ferry that transports stuff to and from North African ports.

At the town end of the harbour, there's a 300m double deck promenade. The quay level features restaurants and luxury designer retail outlets aimed at cruise clientele. The upper level has a few open air bars and some small gardens, but is mostly open for ship spotters to stand and stare and walkers to promenade in style. Towering over the promenade is 'El Farino' a substantial lighthouse which celebrates the 200th anniversary of its construction this year. 

At the town end is a stylishly constructed modern art gallery called the Pompidou Centre. I found it quite irritating that it was necessary to enquire on-line what the function of this building was, as no information was readily visible to indicate this externally, unless you went inside. I think it's pretentious to trade on having a universal public reputation. It's like meeting some grandee who states emphatically: "Surely you know who I am."

The top level promenade crosses over a bridge beside the art gallery. You can walk through this to access La Malagueta barrio. This has a history board relating to the coastal railway which once ran from Malaga to Velez Malaga. The bridge pays homage to the tunnel through which the train ran into the port. The line closed in the sixties. Most of its railway artifacts soon disappeared, except tunnels along the route, some of which are still in use as part of the coastal footpath running along the old track-bed. The great tourism development started in the same era as the railway disappeared. I imagine some developers and planners may look back with regret at losing such an asset for both mass tourism and local transport. Road traffic congestion however well managed, is a liability and a burden to bear for the foreseeable future. 

In the evening, I re-established my acquaintance with the main maritime traffic website, to see if would be possible to work out which ships I'd seen in dock - as ever, a fascinating exploration. Just as well too, there's no telly here, and it's impossible to watch UK TV channels on my devices, due to digital rights management controls. So much for freedom of information!

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Costa drive

A long night of undisturbed sleep did me a power of good after yesterday's early start. I walked to St George's for the midweek Eucharist, aware that two regulars would not be there, but a third did arrive, and we were able to celebrate together. While I was putting things away after the service, I had a phone call from Doreen the curate, asking if I could take a funeral on Friday, as it was set to take place in Velez Malaga, and it would take me a third of the travel time that it would take her. 

She'd been contacted by Nigel, the Chaplain in Nerja, who'd first been contacted about the funeral, as the family live in his pastoral area, but he's already booked for a wedding blessing that afternoon and so rang Doreen, not knowing I've just arrived and could provide cover. I contacted the bereaved family and arranged to visit them later in the day and was given travel instructions to find their apartment in Mesquitilla, a coastal resort about 9km east of Torre del Mar.

I returned, cooked lunch and had a siesta, then drove along the coast road to Mezquitilla. It takes twice as long due to traffic and speed restrictions, but the route is familiar from the time I spent last year, living in Rincon de la Victoria, and I needed an opportunity to stop at a Chinese Market store I know near there, to buy a coffee filter funnel, as I've not seen such a shop in the local barrio. It was also my first outing in a left hand drive car for six months, and gave me a chance to get used to local urban traffic and lower speed limits again.

It took me over an hour to reach Mezquitilla, and despite receiving good instructions to reach the destination apartment block, it took me a while to find the urbanizacion, due to lack of street signs, and knowing where to look to identify which apartment block it was out of several identical ones. Google Maps made up for lack of street signs, while being unable to provide the latter detail, so I had to call, to be met on the street and accompanied to the apartment.

After an hour's conversation and service planning, I returned to Malaga using the autovia as far as Benagalbon, then dropping down to the coast road to reach the Chinese store and buy the necessary filter funnel. It was gone nine by the time I parked at St George's and walked home after stopping off to get some milk. I had to repeat the walk to St George's to retrieve my earlier purchase, but the additional exercise did me good, as spending a total of two and a half hours in the car today. And now looking forward to another good night's sleep.
   

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Another locum adventure begins

I didn't go out at all yesterday, but spent much of the day packing my case and checking I had just the right things I need for spending time in Spain. It rained anyway, so I had no  motivation to take exercise. I got to bed by eleven, however, and was up and breakfasting by five after a fitful night's sleep, then on my way to Cowbridge Road for a bus to town to catch the airport shuttle by quarter to six. I was so grateful to see that normality had been restored to the city centre after the weekend's lock-down, so the T9 collected me at 06.20, as usual. Fifty people were already queuing to check in at 06.45 when I arrived. Not late home-bound hung-over footie fans, but families with pre-school children, and frail elderlies heading for a place in the sun, all suffused with holiday good cheer.

By 07.15 I was through security and doing my Duo Lingo daily drill in the departure area, quite badly, under the effect of a  poor night's sleep. The flight left a little late but arrived on time. For a change, I had an aisle seat, so couldn't gaze out of the window at the landscape from 35,000 feet as a usually do in between bouts of dozing. This time I read 'Ling' the airline magazine, produced in English and Spanish, but this time I read only in Spanish, only occasionally checking expression and words that were new to me. It's a lot easier since I last tried to do that, six months ago. Maybe it's a sign of improvement, despite memory lapses on bad days.

Rosella was there to meet me, and drive me into Malaga to the chaplaincy apartment, where I'll be staying, in La Malagueta barrio, 300m from St George's Church. It's on the second floor opposite the Plaza de Toros, overlooking a busy thoroughfare. It's a 1960's building in good condition, with high ceilinged rooms in a spacious apartment. It took me a while to find the kitchen, as I had quite forgotten that the layout of some older apartments puts the kitchen by the front door - from where a maid or housekeeper might run the place. 

I decided not wait for the starter food supply ran out to stock up, so walked to a Mercdona 500m away. In fact, I did the trip twice as I couldn't carry everything I knew I'd need first time around. I certainly needed the exercise after travelling early in the day. On one trip I popped into the church to chat with Rosella, who was hunting through old legal documents to do with the church. Given the chaplaincy's unusual history, I imagine there's a fascinating collection of material relating to it in the archives of the Diocese of London, of which European chaplaincies were part, under the former suffragan see of Fulham and Gibraltar, before the formation of the Diocese in Europe.

After supper I walked around the barrio and along the promenade of Playa la Malagueta, busier with joggers than with strollers, it seemed. I found the modern Parish Church and was surprised not to find an external notice board telling anything about it. Google Maps informs me that it's the Parish Church of San Gabriel. I wonder when it's open?

After Skyping Clare, I was ready for bed, surprised by how quiet the street below had become after the evening rush hour, and quieter still in the bedroom furthest away from the street.
  

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Letting go at Pentecost

This morning, a double portion of the Pentecost mystery, with a celebration at St John's Canton, then another at St German's. The road across the city centre was still closed, with pedestrian check-points all around as UEFA cup security arrangements are still in place for 24 hours after the match is over, to allow visitors to celebrate and then leave for home in safety. Heaven knows what this has cost to arrange, and what it has cost to retailers in reduced income, with many regular shoppers and visitors reluctant to travel in from the valley and further afield for weekend retail therapy. Restaurants pubs, clubs and hotels will have profited no doubt, but I suspect many rate-paying citizens feel frustrated and alienated by such disruption to their habitual work and leisure.

Fortunately traffic on my route to Adamsdown around the back of Cardiff Central station and through Newtown was flowing freely, so I arrived at St German's in good time. The congregation here and in St John's was smaller than usual. Travel anxiety about traffic restrictions, and the last weekend of half term may well have encouraged some people to go away for the weekend. Strange to think this would be my last weekend as locum pastor at St German's, having been there for half of the Sundays over the past two years, in which a third of the rest were on duty in different Spanish chaplaincies. It's been wonderful to have the constancy of this connection with one 'home' parish and its marvellous people. When I return home in the autumn, unless there's a surprise appointment, I'll be helping out in Canton, filling the gao left by Fr Phelim's appointment to St German's and St Saviour's Parishes,

After the service, the congregation gave an impromptu send-off party in the church hall, a pre lunch apertif, and the gift of of a unique custom photo album of action photos taken during Parish services and events over the past two years. I found this very touching indeed, as it gives me something to show guests who ask me what being a locum pastor is all about. These are memories to treasure.

On my return journey from church I  forgot to re-trace my route in reverse, and out of habit made for the city centre route, only to discover Cowbridge Road East road bridge was still closed. I had to do a U-turn in front of the Castle to avoid diversion down Westgate street to Callaghan Square, as traffic including several buses was backed up into Castle Street. Instead I had to drive up North Road to Gabalfa and return along Western Avenue to Llandaff, and get to Pontcanna a very long way around, but at least traffic was free flowing. Clare had by this time gone for an early siesta, and left a meal on the table for me. 

There was just enough time for me to eat, before setting out to seek a route to the Millennium Centre, aware that many roads into Cardiff Bay were still closed due to the continuing UEFA cup fiesta in Roald Dahl Plass. We got there by going west along Penarth Road, and then taking the A4232 bypass road across the Bay, to access the multi-storey car park on the east side of the Millennium Centre. This proved trouble free, apart from having to drive up seven level to find a parking place, but we got there in good time for our first experience of 'Der Rosenkavalier' by Richard Strauss. This matinee performance was the first of this new WNO production, a rich musical and emotional experience.

The music of Richard Strauss is similar in character to that of Mahler who lived in the same era. Both were influenced by the music of Wagner, a generation earlier. His writing requires a huge orchestra and variety of instruments. We certainly felt this with our bargain front row seats. The disadvantage is that when the main singers are on the same side of the stage towards the front of house, their sound is somewhat masked by the orchestra when it's playing at full blast, although this is less of a problem if singers are elsewhere on stage, strangely enough. The singing and the acting was just wonderful, and the entire opera was presented through the eyes of its central character the Marschallin in her old age. In each scene a frail elderly woman appeared and would move about, sit among the actors or observe them silently, occasionally making a gesture, never speaking or singing, just seeing. Very powerful.

During the overture, a translucent veil hanging from the proscenium arch covered the stage, and was used as a screen for image projection. It showed the date of the first production in Leipzig in 1911 and the 1946, some 35 years later. It also showed lines from the German poet Rilke reflecting upon the passage of time, like sand running through the fingers. It was a puzzle at first, but it then became clear that the silent woman was the heroine looking back at her former self from the perspective of old age. I don't know if this was in the composer's stage notes or not, but it's a brilliant idea, and so simply done. Lighting effects were used to convey the impression of grains of sand falling from the sky at various times, and at each scene change, increasing piles of sand seemed to appear around the periphery of the stage set. This felt a little contrived, but point taken.

Three women occupied the leading roles, Rebecca Evans, singing the Marschallin, and Lucia Cervoni singing the young Count Octavian's part. I think it would have been too high for a tenor, perhaps too exacting for a counter-tenor too. Louise Alder played Sophie, a marriageable teenager. The story tells of the changing relationship between the three, impacted by an odious predatory middle aged Baron, sung brilliantly by Brindley Sherratt. Above an beyond this it's a work that reflects on the changes of the era as they are about to happen. Rather than time seeming to stand still, as historic events unfold and Europe moves to the breakup of empires into world war, it seems to slip away like sand through the fingers, in Rilke's poetic imagery. The music is harmonically rich and varied, and occasionally it breaks into dissonances that aren't resolved, giving the impression of things falling apart, as does the evolution of the stage set from scene to scene. By the last act it seems to be actually collapsing. What a powerful theatrical experience!

There was romance and enchantment, degeneration disillusionment, reflecting the changing of the old imperial social order, but for me it was this idea of time slipping away out of control which really moved me to tears, capturing an experience I feel more keenly now in old age than I did during my mid-life crisis. It takes a work of art of this majestic quality to draw out such deep emotion, and shed light across a lifetime. A worthy conclusion to a memorable Pentecost Sunday.





Saturday, 3 June 2017

Weekend goings and comings

Saralee's London bound coach was due to leave at eleven this morning. We learned from her ticket email notification that the Sophia Gardens coach station was closed and that coaches would start their journey out in nearby Cathedral Road, although the email map was imprecise about the actual location of the temporary coach stop. We took her in the car down to the side street by the Church in Wales Representative Body buildings, and walked her and her case the last 250m to where a line of departing coaches were parked, accompanied by a host of National Express uniformed staff, helping travellers to find their coaches.. 

This was well organised and worked well, although no signage was visible for people to identify from a distances that they were in the right place. Walking back to the car, after saying our farewells, I noticed a road sweeping vehicle patrolling the street, which was notably clear of cars in the vicinity of the coach stops. There wasn't much for it to sweep up. On the other hand, litter was abundant on the pavements occupied by pedestrians getting on to buses, therefore a zone which the vehicle could not enter to perform its designated function. If only someone in Cardiff Council has the imagination to employ a few people to walk around as litter pickers, on a busy day like this. What must visitors think of our dirty city?

After lunch we went over to Bristol to see Amanda, and for once the travel weather was bright and clear. We were delighted to find that James was also there, on his weekend visit home to Mum. It was good to catch up with the two of them, and find them both in good spirits. Our return journey was surprising. Traffic on the M4 throughout the journey was lighter than at any time I've travelled on it during the daytime lately. With the UEFA Cup match being sold out in advance, and with the added security precautions surrounding Cardiff city centre, I suspect many casual weekend visitors may have been deterred from making the trip. The shopping centre was very quiet yesterday when I visited. The weekend may be good for hotels and pubs, but I doubt whether retailers will have much to rejoice over due to this world sporting event in the city.

In the BBC Four prime time crime drama slot this evening, the start of a Canadian series entitled 'Cardinal', named after its leading detective. It makes a change to have a New World series that's in English which isn't American English, and doesn't need subtitles. I find the similarities with Euro-crime film noir interesting to observe, for example, the sound track music, and the use of winter landscape and townscape shots as mis-en-scene. For once, however the environment portrayed looks different from that of Europe, and that's somewhat refreshing. The double episodes are half an hour shorter than usual, and from my viewpoint that's no bad thing, as it means I get to bed earlier. Will I be able to watch on line next week when I'm in Malaga, I wonder?
   

Friday, 2 June 2017

St Fagan's outing and Chapter Arts performance

Today, we took Saralee for a walk around the Museum of Welsh History at St Fagan's. The place is in the throes of a major makeover, thanks to new funding from the Heritage Lottery fund and the Welsh Assembly Government. It's six years since we last visited there with Kath and Rhiannon, so a few more old buildings have been added to the collection apart from the current refurbishment of the main entrance and welcome area.

After a siesta and early supper we walked to Chapter Arts Centre for a performance in the Seligman Studio of a play by final year students from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama called 'Three Days in the Country' by Patrick Marber. It re-tells in condensed form the Russian classic comedy by Turgenev called a 'A month in the Country'. It was very well presented by the company of young actors, not an easy thing to achieve, given the age generation differences between several of the key characters in the drama.

The theatre space is usually a gallery, long and narrow, adapted on this occasion with a long central stage with the audience on each extended side of the oblong, accommodating about sixty people. An interesting arrangement which brought the audience right into the heart of the dramatic action. A challenge the players succeeded in rising to.
 






Thursday, 1 June 2017

Visitor time

Tuesday afternoon, our friend Saralee arrived from Seattle to stay. Autumn, two years ago, she and her husband Mark came over and we spent a week together in the Llyn peninsula. This week Mark is lecturing in Vienna, and next week, he's at a conference in London, a good enough reason for both to make the trip to Europe. After she'd settled in, we walked around Pontcanna Fields. The village of tents to accommodate surplus visitors for this weekend's UEFA Champion's Cup final continues to grow, and the physical security cordon around the city centre and even across Bute Park speaks volumes about the disruption to come this weekend for pediestrians and car drivers alike. When did citizens ever get to vote on things like this?

Wednesday morning, I slipped away to St German's for a couple of hours to celebrate the weekday Mass for the last time before the interregnum ends. As it's half term, there were no children in church yesterday morning, so I celebrated in the Lady Chapel with half a dozen regulars - quite appropriate as today is the feast of the Visitation of the BVM to Elizabeth. Afterwards, we walked the Taff Trail to Llandaff Cathedral and had lunch in a cafe in the village. It's always a pleasure to take visitors there, and share the experience of a place which has so much meaning for me, from teenage years through to ordination and beyond. 

Thursday morning, I walked to St John's to celebrate the Eucharist for half a dozen people. Clare took Saralee to Dyffryn Gardens after lunch. I walked to Llandaff North for a dental check up, and returned home with an unexpected new filling, having met Pavel the newest member of the practice dental team. As I stood at the bus stop opposite the surgery, I was surprised to be hailed by Paul, the driver of one of Pidgeon's funeral limos, on his return trip from the cremation ceremony for ex-First Minister Rhodri Morgan, whose public funeral was held yesterday at the Senedd in Cardiff Bay. AS he was on his way back to the funeral home at the top end of the Parish, he gave me a lift to Canton Cross, enabling me to go straight into the city centre from there to meet Ashley for an update on all the security preparations for the weekend's big game. As ever, it seems that information distribution is patchy and not all those recruited to keep the city centre safe and secure are adequately briefed. Sadly, that's nothing new.