Sunday, 23 July 2017

Another up-country visit

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

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

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

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

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

Memorable Magdalene's Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 21 July 2017

Malaga Summer Festival Movies

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

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

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

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Night music

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

A flamenco day to remember

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Ten second wisdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 17 July 2017

Competa re-visited

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

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

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

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



Sunday, 16 July 2017

Mad dogs and ship spotters

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Unexpected Windows wobbles

Late last night, we walked around the port and ended up again at 'Artsenal', where a 'Poetry Jam' was taking place. A succession of men and women of various ages came out of the audience, and spoke their own works, accompanied by two guitarists improvising a background accompaniment. It was pleasant to listen to, even if our understanding of the Spanish was limited. A gathering of this kind onm a hot summer evening, despite its contemporary setting, has a truly timeless dimension to it. This event could have occurred in any era over the past three thousand years. Wonderful.

Malaga was shrouded in sea mist with a topping of low cloud when we woke up this morning, so we made the effort to get out as soon as possible and climb up to the Gibralfaro Fortress before the sun appeared in full strength. Plenty of others were out with the same objective in mind. We toured the ramparts, and had a beer at the cafeteria before walking back down. In the largest open coutyard, a stage with sound system had been erected and couple of hundred black plastic chairs laid out, ready for a performance, probably this evening, although there was no information readily to hand to tell what this might be. 

It made me wonder if a lot more publicity, particular for nice performances here is done on line. If a ticked event was already fully booked, there'd be less need to advertise in a traditional way. This would also explain why little information in the form of posters about events is displayed in La Malagueta barrio about event in in the Plaza de Toros. Certainly any time I have sought information about the next event most likely to deliver us a reduced night's sleep, I've been directed to the ticketing website for bullring events, and more of a hunt is required to find a website delivering a full season's event diary. No information delivery system can avoid making assumptions about how best to serve its clientele, and that can lead to variations in difficulty when it comes to finding out what you need to know, when crossing boundaries of language and culture. Intriguing thought.

On our return from Gibralfaro, we walked to Mercadona to do our weekend shopping, then cooked lunch, and had a siesta. When I came to use the office computer to get my sermon printed off, it failed to start and went into repair mode. It stayed in repair mode for several hours, during which I went with Clare to the beach for her daily swim. The system seemed frozen in time, so I switched it off, a hard reset using the power button and re-started it, with the same result. I did the same again, pressing F8 at boot, to supply the various trouble shooting and repair menus. Same result each time, it was stuck somewhere in loading the Windows environment files, a repair job I could do nothing about without have possession of a Windows 7 system disk.

Having forgotten to make a copy to USB stick of my Sunday sermon, the original was inaccessible. So, I hunted down my digital toolkit, which currently includes a bootable copy of Ubuntu Studio on a Memory Stick. The PC booted this with ease. It was reassuring, as it meant the problem was not a hardware failure, but just a Windows 7 missing file. Then I was able copy the sermon file across to another flash drive, for transfer to my Chromebook. From there I could shift the file to my tablet, and read it from there tomorrow. The Bluetooth link on the Nexus 7 and Toshiba Chromebook both staid they were working, but refused to handshake properly after performing protocols correctly. If two Google devices have this kind of hassle, how useful is Bluetooth at any time. I emailed the file to myself, and got it to display satisfactorily, just before supper.

Later, I switched on the Windows 7 laptop again, and when it displayed the 'Repair' menu, I opted to go straight to normal Windows boot routine - much to  my surprise it worked normally. This meant I could print off my sermon after all, and take the machine through clean up and de-fragmentation routines, just in case.

Maybe the initialisation part of the boot routine threw up an error message calling up the 'Repair' menu because of some minute impact on the machine of heat and/or humidity. Maybe it's running too hot for its own good. It certainly gave me five hours of bother I could have done without on a Saturday. Amazing, nevertheless, how well the live boot version of Ubuntu Studio worked, to give me hope. Where it failed was in attaching the wi-fi module to the system, making it impossible to search for and download and install the Linux HPLIP driver package which so often delivers just what you need for a printer to work properly with no messing about. Ah well, nice try.

Glad that I had my little box of tricks with me to rescue the sermon file, even if, in the end, Windows 7 got around to working the way it was intended to.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

A journey through Russian art

This morning, we walked over to the Paseo del Parque to catch a number 16 bus that would take us to visit a remarkable Malaga cultural institution, housed in one third of an imposing stylish 1920s building which was once a tobacco factory. Now it houses a major automobile collection in one wing, a tech' startup incubator in another, and an amazing art gallery in the central section. It houses a permanent collection of Russian art, with fresh exhibits from St Petersburg art gallery collection of 400,000 works from the past millennium.

After we got on the bus, a young lady carrying a microphone and a man with a video camera got on the bus. I noticed they were wearing bus company authorisation badges. Once we were under way, the camera was set to work, and the young woman started to address passengers enthusiastically and loudly, inviting them to be interviewed on camera and say what they love about the city. They got an equally enthusiastic response from travellers. I believe they were on an assignment from a local cable TV channel. It certainly made the bus ride a bit more interesting than we'd expected.

The exhibition we were going to visit focuses on the art of the three centuries of the Romanov dynasty, which ended with the 1917 Russian revolution. It was a huge illustrated guide to three centuries of Russian political and cultural history. Substantial if rather heavyweight on times, but an occasion to see a remarkable variety of art works without having to travel to St Petersburg.

Alongside this was an exhibition of the earlier works of Vassily Kandinsky, a Russian artist and musician, friend of Arnold Schoenberg. Kandinsky was born and bred in Russia, and lived there until after the revolution. The exhibition demonstrated how profoundly influenced he was by the colours and forms of Russian folk art and iconography. It was an excellent essay in art history.

The vast gallery space, in the upper floor of the old factory, with bookshop and restaurant are minimally furnished, making good use of glass walls, simply images and lighting. Best of all, with our pensioners' discount, we paid just eight euros for a double ticket, plus a menu del dia for under ten euros each. A great four hour excursion, with a travel time of twenty minutes each way.

Later in the evening, after sunset, we went out for a walk around the port, and found our way to the open air contemporary art gallery and bar next to the Malaga Pompidou Centre, called 'Artsenal' - a play on the word Arsenal, written with a 'no nukes' background logo, making the point that this area is a safe place for cultural 'weapons' to be displayed and safely stored. A jazz trio with a singer in the Billie Holliday style were just finishing their gig. Many of the audience were on their feet, jiving or dancing quickstep in front of the open air stage. All part of a laid back open air night time lifestyle which comes naturally to people in this part of the world.

As we returned to the apartment, walking past the bullring, the sound of a musical performance issued from within. Italian singer song-writer Franco Battiato was on stage, thankfully not as loud as last Saturday night's Queen event. Thankfully, when there events finish, there's not much noise or rowdiness in the streets afterwards. This city, this barrio, is such a delight to be part of, even if the humidity and heat are almost unbearable on times and drive sleep away.
 
  

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Repair days

Tuesday afternoon we had a visit from a craftsman who specialises in the installation and repair of built-in shutters and window blinds, as several in the apartment no longer work. It was a good opportunity to make my Spanish work, while looking up technical words and phrases I didn't know. We had a big laugh when we discovered that the reason for the shutter in the main lounge not to work was the removal of its guide rails, and concreting over of the containing channel at the time when double glazing was fitted to the window, years ago. A historic instance of communications breakdown for this to have been done, and never noticed.

The other problem shutters were all fixable, although showing signs of their age. The man worked solidly for an hour to put them right, then cheerily went on his way, setting us free to walk to the Old Town for a visit to the Picasso Museum. Interestingly, this time we were offered pensioner discount tickets. This didn't happen when I went with Owain, perhaps because I didn't take my hat off to reveal my white hair.

On the way there, we passed Santiago Parish Church, where Picasso was baptized, and it was open, post-siesta, so we were able to look inside. It's said to be the first church to be built in 1490 after Malaga's reconquest. Its tower and west facade reflect the Andalusian mudéjar architectural style, but the rest of the building is renaissance gothic. I took a photo of the famous font, but was annoyed to discover later that it was slightly out of focus. Very unusual for my HX50. I probably didn't give it enough time to adjust to lighting condition.

This morning, we celebrated the memory of St Benedict (a day late) at the midweek Eucharist, just three of us present. Afterwards I re-parked the car away from its usual place, as building contractors are due any time this week to bring in their equipment and start work on repairing terrace walls in the cemetery, and construct new columbaria, for future interments of cremated remains. This will in effect make the small parking area on the north side of the church unusable due to contractor's equipment, but also potentially make it impossible for cars to park around the church in future. 

This is a cause of great concern, as many regulars travel great distances by car to attend worship. If they had to use public parking, this would involve several hundred metres of a walk and the last stretch steeply uphill, quite a difficulty for older churchgoers. It seems as if some elements of this plan have not been well thought through by the Fundacion which now manages the cemetery as an historic asset of the city. Archdeacon Geoff and Bishop David have been trying to engage those in authority to discuss these matters, but so far communication is not proving easy. It's not so much a matter of language difficulties as difference in perception of the part the churchyard plays in the life of a worshipping congregation.

This is a besetting problem for many churches which have ancient churchyards. They are both a big liability to maintain, but also a social, historical, cultural and spiritual resource as well as outdoor meeting place for the community, a tourism venue. Many church people fail to see the value of their 'church plant', to recall a very sixties phrase describing parochial assets, rather than starting a new mission congregation. Relationships with people are given such dominant priority that the physical social environment is under-valued. Perhaps we have simply failed in our teaching about Christian stewardship, or in helping people understand that there a practical consequences to having an incarnational spirituality. It's easy for me to be wise after the event. 

Managing buildings and land are huge worries for parish clergy, so necessary, but so difficult if few people can be bothered to take proper responsibility for them. I must say that in all my incumbency jobs, I was blessed with people who did care. It didn't mean that I never had to do any care-taking, but it could have been so much worse.

After the Eucharist, we walked into the Old Town and visited La Casa Invisible for a delightful menu del dia alumerzo. Then we visited the Cathedral, spent half an hour looking around, and paid five euros each for the privilege. You don't have to pay if you arrive in the half hour before the evening Mass, as I have several times. Then, as we were making our way home for siesta, I had a call to say we could expect to receive a visit within half an hour from the MAPFRE insurance company repair team to re-tile the bathroom floor and wall, broken into for pipe repairs Saturday last. Fortunately, we got back just ten minutes ahead of them. In two and a half hours, they were on their way home, job done, place left clean and tidy. Splendidly efficient.

We were then free to go down the beach for Clare's daily swim before supper. It hasn't been a very hot day today, but it has been humid, leaving you feeling as if you had a fever. I don't know how anyone can labour physically in heat like this, let alone sleep at night.
  

Monday, 10 July 2017

Ministry in a familiar place

This morning, we rose later than usual. I had preparations for today's funeral to complete, and some photocopies of the order of service to get done. Conveniently, there's a well equipped print shop just a few doors down from the apartment block. It's often busy, but on this occasion, I walked in and had the job done within a couple of minutes, quicker and cheaper than I could have done it in the chaplain's office if there'd been a copier or a printer to use for this purpose. That was a relief as it spared me time queuing, or delivering and collecting later.

Then I went with Clare to the beach for her daily swim, and on the return trip we did some food shopping at Mercadona, prior to lunch and an siesta, before driving to Fuengirola for the funeral. I dropped Clare off in Los Boliches, so that she could visit the small 'El Corte Ingles', to look for a few items of summer clothing she'd not been able to find in the giant store in Malaga city centre.

There were about eighty people present for the service. As ever there were problems with the chapel sound system only being able to play standard CDs, and burned CDs being the the wrong format, but one of the mourners brought an all-format player from home which worked, although it was not something I could control and conduct the service smoothly, so a member of the family helped out with this.

These days it's quite normal to have a photo of the deceased on the coffin. On this occasion, the one produced was somewhat unusual, a large A3 print of a picture taken when the man had landed a small part in a movie being made while he was working as a football coach in Alexandria, Egypt.  It was a part of the story of his life which I hadn't heard about until the photo was produced before the service, and the problem was how to display it without a frame. It ended up being Blu-tacked to the catafalque. The family would have known the story. I hope they told people about it afterwards at the wake.

As I had to collect Clare from Los Boliches, I declined the invitation to go back to Puebla Blanca to join them for a drink. Two branches of family, one from Bristol, the other from Tyneside were being united by this bereavement, some meeting again for the first time in decades. Having given them of my best, it was better to let them continue without me. On my way out several people stopped me to express their appreciation for the service. There was nothing more to be said.

Clare's shopping mission was fruitful, and she was pleased with her several purchases. I missed the entrance to the A7 autovia, leaving Los Boliches, so we followed the N340 all the way along the coast back to Malaga. The traffic wasn't too heavy, and it was relaxing to cruise through familiar places, passed through during the eight months of 2013-14 spent on locum duty for the Costa del Sol East Chaplaincy and remember good times past.
  

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Hidden spiritual treasure

Well, the streets were quiet and empty by two in the morning, but I still woke up at the usual time and found it hard to slumber on in the heat. There were thirty of us at St George's for the Eucharist including three small children, and a couple who'd arrived on one of the cruise ships which arrived overnight - two of larger regular craft which take holidaymakers around the Mediterranean and the Aegean. Afterwards we were taken out to lunch in a nearby Italian restaurant called 'Mamma Mia, to which it was possible to walk. There were seven of us. The conversation was interesting and the food was good.

After the obligatory siesta and recovery time, I went with Clare to La Malagueta beach for her daily swim. On the way there she pointed out a gateway into a hillside domain in between two apartment blocks on Paseo Reding, which I'd seen but not previously taken notice of. The marble name plate reads: 'Casa Ejercicios Villa San Pedro'. It's a retreat house for the practice of Ignatian spirituality right in the heart of the city. 

While Clare was swimming I googled the place, and was much surprised by what I discovered. It's one of a pair of places in Andalusia with this mission. The other is in Seville. A Spanish nun, Sister Nazaria Ignacia March y Mesa working in Bolivia founded a community in 1925 called 'The Missionary Crusaders of the church' with the aim of living and propagating Ignation spiritual path. 

In 1943, the Villa San Pedro, a rather grand mansion at the foot of the Gibralfaro, was acquired and became a Casa Espiritualidad. The domain and its gardens are nowadays hemmed in by apartment blocks, but at least this means it's shielded from traffic noise and so able to offer a tranquil space for individuals and groups of retreatants. Some time soon, I think I'll go and visit the place and find out more. In Britain, Ignation spirituality continues to grow n appeal, to non-Catholics as much as to Catholics, thanks to a new generation of translators and interpreters of the tradition for our time. I wonder if this is equally true, here in the land which brought St Ignatius to birth? 
  

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Upheaval day

I was delighted to see this morning the return of the organic farmers' street market across the street beneath the trees lining the pavement outside the bullring, as it gave Clare an opportunity to explore what was on offer, and buy a few extra special things to eat while she's here. After this, we went to the beach for her daily swim. Although the sun was high in the sky, there was a cool breeze which made it tolerable to spend an hour there in the shade of a tall palm tree.

On our return, the man living in the apartment underneath ours approached me and asked if I was aware of a leak, as he was trying to work out where water was coming from into his bathroom, right underneath ours. There were no surface symptoms in our bathroom, and nothing was flowing down into ours, so we closed the stop-cocks we could find, and I reported this to churchwarden Rosella, who talked with the neighbour on the phone. The building's maintenance man was summoned and expressed the view that there was most likely a problem with the supply of water to the bathroom hot water tank, as the leak was of clean water, not sewage.

Rosella sent me to the church to consult the files of essential documents kept in the sacristy, which include church and apartment insurance policies. I was able to tell her by phone from church the policy and phone help line numbers for MAPFRE, the insurance company, for her to pursue the necessary arrangements to commission an emergency plumber. By half past two, said plumber was ringing the doorbell, and after completing his diagnostic, he broke through both the wall and floor tiles in the corner where the pipes supply the heater, uncovered the source of leak and repaired it. By four, he was on his way out, repair done, hot and cold water supplies restored. Amazing, and quite a challenge for communicating with neighbours and plumber in Spanish. My new word of the day? What else but 'fontanero' - plumber. 

As I'd been due to leave for the bereavement visit to Torreblanca at four, I left later than planned. It was twenty five to six when I arrived at the house in Puebla Blanca, a charming collection of houses on a hillside, with a communal swimming pool and its own small bar. I learned that the man who died had been a footballer on a modest weekly wage from the late fifties, and had spent his working life and some of his retirement in the profession. Best of all, he'd played for Bristol City, around the time when we were at University there.

Thanks to the marvellous Cercania rail link with Malaga, I was home again by eight. Moreover, this time my tarjeta dorada worked as intended. After supper, I set about preparing the order of service for the funeral, ready for approval and printing, with the sound of the Queen Symphonic Rhapsody concert in the bullring booming all around us. This time, for real. No escape - four hours of it, with intervals.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Symphonic Rhapsody at the Bullring

A quiet uneventful day for us, until the eaerly afternoon, when I received a call about officiating at a funeral in Fuengirola Municipal Cementerio on Monday, through Gloria of Lux Mundi, the ecumenical body based there, who'd been approached to help find someone, as the St Andrew's Chaplain is away. Co-incidentally, the same thing happened when I was here last September. The bereaved family live in Torreblanca, in an area I remember from my previous long sojourn as locum Chaplain, living in neighbouring Fuengirola. The last time Gloria and I spoke, we used English. This time, Spanish. She's a capable linguist, but appreciative of my progress, willing to converse slowly and clearly, enabling me to find the right words. I'll make a pastoral visit tomorrow.

Later, we began to hear noises signifying the testing of a large sound system penetrating the usual traffic roar on the Paseo de Reding, emanating from the Plaza de Toros across the road. Later the sound of a drummer rehearsing was added to the mix. As we were preparing to go out for supper, we heard the sound of Prog Rock on a grand scale in rehearsal, and this finally prompted a little on-line research into what was going on across the road.

I discovered there's a special live performance of Queen's 'Symphonic Rhapsody' taking place there tomorrow evening, starting at 9.30pm, and finishing at heaven knows what time, with an orchestra, a rock band and star soloists, so the streets will be busy and noisy until the small hours.

We had a marvellous meal at the El Cachalote Chiruguito, where Owain and I ate two weeks ago, with an almost full moon rising above the horizon across the bay during the meal. I had sardinas again, and Clare had a huge dorada, some of which I shared as it was more than she could manage on her own. Then, back to another hour of loud rehearsal music from across the road before bed, but thankfully, quiet was restored before Friday turned into Saturday.
  

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Old town shopping expedition

We were half a dozen for Wednesday morning's midweek Eucharist at St George's, thanks to Clare being there and two passing visitors. We did some food shopping in Mercadona afterwards, then walked into the Old Town via the pedestrian tunnel which takes you to the Plaza de la Merced. This was basically a general briefing for Clare on what there is to see, and where the main streets are. It was also an opportunity for her to get used to walking about in the heat, although today hasn't been as hot as it was in my first month here.

After an hour or so of walking around, we returned to the apartment for lunch and a siesta, before another evening swim for Clare. I noticed an ocean-going rowing eight with cox and trainer on board a kilometre offshore, and wondered if it was the same crew I watched from the headland at Rincon de la Victoria last autumn. Then, after supper, a walk in the dark along the Paseo Maritime, before early bed for both of us.

Today it was overcast, relatively cool, though humid, and it spitted a little rain. It's the first day of its kind since I arrived here. Much refreshed by a good night's sleep, we went into the Old Town to look around the wonderful Mercado de Atarazanas, such a special place celebrating the rich beauty and variety of Andalusia's fresh food products, proudly displayed, and by some amazing characters among the traders. We bought marinaded Rosada pescado to cook for lunch, and half a kilo of fresh strawberries. Next time we'll return to get freshly caught fish, once we can decide which variety to buy!

Clare was pleased to find a small lightweight hair dryer at a bargain price in Chinese supermercado next to Atarazanas, and I found a wire basket which could be used for vegetable steaming. The flat is quite well equipped, considering that it's only a few months since it was re-claimed for use as a chaplain's apartment. Each occupant has their own minor equipment requirements, as well as food preferences to suit their way of life. Meeting these needs is part of the pleasure of sojourning in a new place.

We also walked across the 'German' footbridge over the rio Guadalmedina to reach El Corte Inglez, so that Clare could inspect special offers in the summer sale. She travelled light, hoping to find some lightweight clothes for the extreme heat which are not so easy to find in the UK, but there was nothing of interest. Organisation of the clothes layout for the summer sale reminded her of a jumble sale, she said. We had an over priced drink in the top floor cafeteria, then walked slowly back across the Old Town to the apartment to cook and eat half the Rosada pescado from the market for lunch. We now have a better idea of how little cooking it actually needs, for next time.

Once again, a siesta, a swim for Clare, an evening walk into the port after supper, just as the huge Valetta registered TUI Discovery cruise ship was going to sea from terminal one. Several new ships have docked in recent days. Large private luxury motor yachts, a much smaller cruise ship to carry a couple of hundred rather than thousands of passengers, a large bulk carrier, a vehicle transport ship. Proximity to North Africa makes Malaga quite a busy port, for both commerce and leisure. I find it fascinating to observe, and try to understand.
    



Tuesday, 4 July 2017

A welcome, not without travel hassles

I spent Monday getting ready for Clare to arrive, with an evening paseo to the port and back. Before bed, in case I forgot, I sent a message to Kath and Anto, to congratulate them on their 25th wedding anniversary which is tomorrow. How quickly these amazing years have passed.

Since Clare's Vueling flight from Cardiff was scheduled at 12.45, but is often early, I left much earlier than necessary, walking first to Maria Zambrano station, renew my Tarjeta Dorada train discount card. Just as well I had plenty of time in hand, as I was directed to take a ticket and wait. I took one for 'ticket to use on the day', as I intended to claim a discount on the trip to the airport. When I arrived at the desk to be dealt with 20 minutes later, I was told I had the wrong ticket, and should have taken a queuing ticket for 'advance bookings', and had to queue all over again, half an hour this time. 

Queue ticket numbers were separate numerical streams. I noticed that, depending on how busy each queue was, and how many counter clerks were on duty at the time, clerks would swap from one ticket stream to another, indicating there was no technical difference between a book on the day counter and one for advance booking. I'd received no explanation about where and how a Tarjeta Dorada should be purchased. There was no information displayed to say which queuing stream an applicant should join.

The Tarjeta Dorada, duly purchased, delivered a discount fate to get me to the airport, and I got there just at the right time to meet Clare. It wouldn't, however, deliver a discount fare for the return journey. The reason for this, I guess / I hope, is that registration took immediate effect on the computer network node at the station where it was issued. Updating data to thousands of other network nodes that serve the entire RENFE transportation system would take longer, perhaps the rest of the day. If this is the case, all that's needed would be a notification at point of sale to say 'this discount card will take effect from .... hrs, today or tomorrow. Good enough reason to inform those hunting for a Tarjeta Dorada to queue only for future tickets. 

But I still resent the way I was dealt with by an uncompromising counter clerk, who could so easily have understood and dealt with my traveller's lack of know-how, without giving me grief. In the end, discourtesy is not dependent upon the language used.

We took the train back to the terminus at the top end of the Alameda, then caught the 11 bus which stops outside the apartment. After unpacking, lunch and a siesta, we went to Playa La Malagueta for Clare to take her first swim. I don't think she really believed me how near the beach is to where we are staying, busy roads notwithstanding. After supper we walked into the port and watched the sun set over the harbour. How lovely to have my best beloved to share the experience of this special place with me at last.
   

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Sunday visiting

Over the weekend we've been enjoying a cool breeze and temperatures of 25-30C, quite a pleasant combination, which looks set to continue into the coming week. There were twenty six of us for the Eucharist at St George's, a few went to Velez Malaga today to join in the farewell to churchwarden Rebecca who is moving back to Britain to live. 

Over drinks and nibbles after the service, I was interested to meet a young woman from Sierra Leone whose family migrated to Canada when she was a child, so she'd grown up and worked there. She decided to take a year out and come to Spain for a different experience of life and work. Her third continent to live in before reaching the age of thirty. I guess that's more characteristic of today's world than it was when I was growing up, and didn't even venture out of Britain to the Continent until I was twenty.

After lunch and a siesta, I drove to Torre del Mar to visit one of the Velez Malaga congregation in the Comarcal Hospital. I had a feeling beforehand that I'd visited someone there before when I was on locum duty in Nerja, and this was confirmed as I found my way directly there from memory. At six on a Sunday evening nobody was on duty at visitor reception, so I went to a ward, which turned out to be on the wrong floor, and made enquiries. I was pleased that I made myself understood and was directed to the correct ward in Spanish. The nurse who directed me to Brian's room kindly said the number in English, so I repeated it in Spanish with a big smile. Practise, practise, all the time! 

Brian's an artist, a writer and was a lay preacher in a Congregational Church when he was younger, so we had an interesting and wide ranging conversation. He's hoping to return to the UK in the near future, so ending up in hospital has frustrated his intention for the moment. Life has this annoying habit of interfering with our plans. 

Although my return journey had me driving with the sun in my face for part of the time, it was nonetheless lovely to see the coast from the high road in a different light on a clear evening. Later, I walked along the Paseo Maritime into the port, enjoying the breeze, with hundreds of others, both holiday makers and locals, making the most of the respite before another working week begins.
    
    

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Art to make you think

My fourth weekend here, a new month, and today is Owain's 39th birthday. It's hard to believe that my youngest child was born that long ago, at home in St Agnes Vicarage, Badminton Road in those days, just a bit to the east of the St Paul's Area 'front line' in Bristol. A little over half a lifetime ago. I was fortunate to have him here with me last weekend. Tonight he'll be in Cardiff with Clare, Kath, Anto and Rhiannon for his birthday celebration, and then we'll talk as best we can for a while over any VOIP connection we can establish.

This afternoon, I went into the Old Town to hunt for a shop selling herbs, to find some nettle and mistletoe leaves, as requested by Clare. Quite close to the Cathedral I found a herbolaria called 'Escencias de Sevilla' selling a wide variety of herbal medicines, including the ortiga verde which I was after. No luck obtaining the muérdago, I also needed, although I was pleased to have conversed in Spanish and made myself understood without recourse to English - except for the one word that wouldn't stick in my memory - muérdago. Altogether I had to look it up using Google Translate no less than three times in a couple of hours. Annoyance was compounded by the fact that the phone I was carrying was down to its last 5% of battery, so I had to keep it switched off, just in case I really needed to call in an emergency. Vocabulary retention deficit is a rather humiliating crisis to keep on repeating.

I tracked down a Bio shop in the Old Town, but it was closed for siesta. Rather than return to the apartment, I used the hour and a half wait to revisit Lagunillas barrio up behind behind La Merced. Conservation measures have retained many features of the main Old Town area, with its rich architectural diversity of 17th to early 20th century dwellings. Further out, older humbler domestic and artisan dwellings have been obliterated to make way for modern apartment blocks of 5-6 stories. The ancient street plan, squares and churches are retained, but the rest has a uniformity of character, despite efforts at design variety. These dwellings haven't evolved, but were 'organised' for the good of the artisanal classes by urban planners and developers. Disappointingly.

Some older streets of Lagunillas barrio have so far survived in a state of delapidation and awaiting demolition, no doubt. Remarkable high quality artistic graffiti cover walls here and there, and there are signs of a grassroots resistance campaign to stop demolition and regenerate the older housing stock rather than destroy it. This makes a lot more sense to me now than during my visit last year, maybe because my Spanish is improving.

I also spent time in the Plaza de la Constitucion, with an open air photo exhibition entitled 'Genesis' by Sebastião Salgado, portraying some of earth's great and awesome wilderness spaces in 38 huge black and white photos, mounted in double sided iron frames. The aim is to raise environmental awareness, and to get the public to think about natural treasures we're in danger of losing for good. Quite apart from the excellent high quality photographic work and its production, the subject matter is indeed chosen to stimulate thought and reflection. For me it was an experience of the sacred right in the heart of a key public place in the city.

When the Bio shop I'd located finally opened, I had no success in obtaining muérdago. As a last resort I'll visit the Mercado de Atarazanas on Monday morning and see what hidden treasures there are among the stalls - another proper herbolaria, hopefully.

After supper I had a Viber conversation with the family, all in Meadow Street after a visit to The Conway pub for supper. I managed to give them a visual tour of the nearer reaches of the apartment using the front camera on the tablet, but it kept dropping out as the signal is poor beyond 10 metres. It's so annoying and frustrating. I thin I must splash out €30 on a wifi range extender for the place fairly soon.