Saturday, 13 January 2018

A CITY OF CONTRASTS


Almeria is one of my favourite cities but there is nothing obvious about it - to many people, it would seem a bit of a dump but that is precisely why I love it. It is an earthy, real city where people live and work and struggle to survive, as they have done for hundreds of years.  Ever since the Moors were driven out and the Christians took over, the region has been one of the poorest and most neglected corners of Spain.  
There is a lot of poverty and ugliness in Almeria but there are stunningly beautiful corners waiting to be discovered.


 





ANDALUCIAN RAP AND FLAMENCO

The other night we watched a documentary about rap poetry in Andalucia which gave a very different picture of the region to the one the tourist centres try to create. 
These rap artists are performing on the streets of the poorest neighbourhoods of the cities of the south.  Their rap poetry is unique to Andalucia, for the rhythm and beat of flamenco are clearly recognisable within it.  In fact, as one young man performed on the street and a crowd of local residents gathered round, two older women spontaneously started clapping and dancing flamenco-style to the singing of the young rapper.  These two art forms are born out of the same cultural tradition - the same vitality, poverty, alienation and pride.
Even where we live in East London, an area so diverse and multicultural, I can’t imagine women my age dancing in the street like that.

There is no doubt that Andalucians are a lot less self-conscious than we Northern Europeans, possibly because of the climate.  When it can get so hot, everyone strips off no matter what their body size or shape.  They have a far more healthy attitude to the body - a far less sexualised one.  The more a culture hides the body, the more hung-up they seem to become about it and the more they fetishize it in a harmful, damaging way.


Sunday, 7 January 2018



CABALGATA CONTROVERSIES!
Drag Queens, Kings or Buddhist monks?

The 6th January, the feast of Epiphany when the three Magi arrived bearing gifts for the infant Jesus, has special significance here.  It’s the day when children traditionally receive their presents - from the Magi instead of Santa Claus – and every city, town, and even many villages stage a Cabalgata, a carnival procession with colourful decorated floats. 

In the cities and large towns the parades are stunning, full of noise and drama.  There will be bands and dancers, trapeze artists, jugglers and acrobats, as well as a large number of floats – one for each of the Magi (Caspar, Balthazar and Melchior) and their pages or attendants, as well as floats representing all manner of things, often weird and wonderful with little relevance to the Christmas story.  As the floats go by, their occupants throw handfuls of sweets to the watching crowds.

This winter Spain has been buffeted by storms.  “Eleanor” is the latest to sweep through bringing snow and freezing conditions.  In an effort to avoid the worst of the weather, most places staged their Cabalgata on the 5th instead of the 6th January.  Rodalquilar, although it’s such a tiny village, once again had its own Cabalgata on the 5th – just one float with all three wise men squeezed in together.

This year the Cabalgata has also been troubled with controversy as well as the weather.  It began with the news that a float in Madrid intended to have a drag queen as one of its Magi.  This was declared irreligious by the political right.  It was pointed out in return that many floats and parades have bizarre fictional characters, e.g. a robot from Star Wars, who have no connection whatsoever to Christianity or to the Christmas story.  Also, most “Balthazars” across Spain are white men blacked-up, surely far more offensive and false!

As for me, I have never come across any place in the Bible where we are told who the Magi were; what they looked like, what their names were, or where they came from.  As far as I can remember, all we read is that “wise men from the East” came bearing gifts.  So they could have been Chinese astronomers, or Tibetan monks looking for the new Dalai Lama!

Saturday, 6 January 2018

IN A LAND OF LIGHT



The Cabo de Gata has a light so unique it has attracted a large number of artists to live and work here. It's a light made up of dazzling sun and a glittering sea that can be such a vivid blue it shocks you with its intensity.



There are dunes made up of tiny broken fossils, black volcanic hills with voluptuous curves and sharper volcanic cones; vast volcanic craters full of wildflowers that bloom in spite of the poor soil, nourished by the heavy dews at night and the glorious sunshine by day. 

After days of radiant sunshine, dark clouds hide the hills or an eerie sea mist blows in, as if the land were being invaded by wraiths.  But, although the wind can be cold here in winter, the sun is never gone for long and the extraordinary light makes the most ordinary objects seem beautiful. The light changes at different times of day, my favourite time is just before sunset when the light becomes softer and turns everything a golden honey colour.


 The way people live here varies as much as the light.  The fishermen and the artists both struggle to make a living, heavily relying on the brief tourist season.

The shepherds and goatherds both live in a way that hasn't changed for hundreds of years, wandering the hillsides and the dunes with their dogs and their herds, just like the shepherd portrayed in the Christmas Belen in Almeria, leading his sheep beneath the walls of the Alcazabar.


 The Alcazabar still dominates the city, it's the largest Arabic fort in Andalucia.  Here are photos of Almeria taken from the Alcazabar, looking towards the port where ferries sail to and from North Africa, just as the Moors did when Andalucia was an important part of the Moorish Empire:



As with almost anywhere you go on the Cabo, there are a multitude of cats wandering the Alcazabar.  This one adopted us, determined to sit on us and pin us down!




Thursday, 28 December 2017

FELIZ NAVIDAD!

Christmas lights in the little village of Pozo de los Frailes:


It is traditional here for each parish and each local municipality to create a nativity scene called a Belén. However, these are not nativity scenes such as we have in the UK because they don't only tell the Christmas story but include local buildings and places, even local people.

Yesterday we visited Almeria, my favourite city. I love its shabby charm and its atmosphere full of a lost elegance of past years. And it has some of the best graffiti I've ever seen!

Its municipal Belén was vast, filling a hall in the Museo de la Guitarra.  In it we found buildings from Almeria and its surrounding area, such as the Alcazabar (the old Moorish fort), the Cathedral, and the iconic church from the salt works near the salinas (salt marshes) on the Cabo de Gata. Here are some photos, first of a market scene just as you can find in any village here on market day:

I loved this little cat curled up asleep!


The church at the salinas with a pile of salt next to it:
Finally, a shepherd with the Alcazabar up above him:
We visited the Alcazabar yesterday but more on that in my next post!