Tag Archives Malaga

The cathedral with only one arm

Malaga Cathedral

[Malaga, March]

I took a long time to see the cathedral was lop-sided, even if at one point I lived opposite. I have some excuses. For most hours of the day, the winding streets of the old city are closed to cars. These streets disobey any expectation of straight, parallel or perpendicular planning. Surrounding apartment blocks stand close to each other so it’s easy to lose sense of which direction you’re facing. There’s a lot going on at street level. Tourists and locals weave between the other sketchers, almond roasters or craftspeople, twisting insects and trees out of wire to sell. There’s the guy who plays the pink panther theme on the saxophone and the guitarist who strums out Eric Clapton songs.

So I admit, it’s still kind of embarrassing that it took me so long to work out where the front of the cathedral was. The visitor entrance was large, decorative and surrounded by the cathedral garden (garden shown in the bottom picture). I just assumed it was THE entrance. Here, women sat on the ground, wrapped in shawls holding out an empty paper cup for a couple of coins. This wasn’t however the main entrance. That’s around the corner, fenced off. If the great gates were to open, people would walk out onto a large square (above) where I sat and drank cafe con leche and ate salty popcorn which failed to persuade this stingy sketcher to buy more drinks.

Malaga CathedralWhen you climb up to the top walls of the Alcazaba, the Moorish palace, there’s an excellent view of the city, this includes the odd, single cathedral tower. Like all normal cathedrals the architectural plans ask for symmetry. In the case of the Malaga cathedral this would mean a second tower. The architect planned it, but nobody ever built it.

Unlike the Sagrada Familia, here in Barcelona, which is moving towards completion, the cathedral in Malaga is an unfinished project. There’s little hope of continuation. The citizens of the city, and the tourist industry’s marketing people, affectionately call the cathedral ‘La Manquita’ or ‘the one-armed one’.

Building a cathedral is an expensive undertaking. The sort of project that historically took lifetimes. Sometimes when it comes to such big projects people become distracted and spend their money elsewhere. The Malaga people however donated the money for the second tower to the British colonies in America. They supported the fight for independence (according to the sign in the cathedral). And possibly, less excitingly, also on building a road (according to Wikipedia).

Maybe, if it had been completed, I might have forgotten visiting. It would be easy the blend it with all the other cathedrals and churches I’ve visited. There needs to be something striking about the experience to make it memorable.

Yet in March when I was living beside it, I felt a strange fondness for the building. Can you empathise with a building? I don’t know. I can’t forget it. Its asymmetry and story make me smile because it’s imperfect, just like all of us.

Malaga Cathedral


Sketching at the Teatro Romano Malaga

Teatro Romano Malaga

There’s a spot  where you can sit on a wall at the edge of a vibrant piazza, overlooking the remains of the Teatro Romano Malaga. The towers of Alcazaba look down at the commotion on the ground. Small children run giddy as their parents natter unconcerned. Quite often from the far side of the piazza you can hear the street sellers laugh. They’re working with their hands, making jewellery or bending and snapping wire into the shapes of trees and small animals.

Teatro Romano MalagaSometimes there’s a man who’s Michael Jackson puppet dances to Billy Jean, amusing the people pouring out of the narrow alley that leads away from the Picasso museum. Or other times a group of musicians playing, including a rich saxophone which makes me smile every time I hear it. They laugh at each other, not worrying when one stops playing to talk to a passer-by. The music flows.

I sketch. The sun is warm. I have strawberries (which I share with a passing homeless chap), a carton of orange juice and just perhaps a handful of chocolate digestive biscuits.

In the evening, slightly further down the street another man plays the saxophone alone. When I’m walking (or running) home from the port or the beach, he’s always there, always playing the Pink Panther as I pass.

The restaurants overflow. It’s February, but people huddle together outside, comfortable in the glow of the electric heater. Large, round wine glasses kiss with a chime. Hours slip by unnoticed.

It’s the sort of place where it’s easy to practice living in the moment.

Skip, hop and jump through Malaga to the sound of Rock and Roll.

Chicken, Malaga, Spain

Thoughts on food

There’s a tiny shop on the corner of my street that sells fruit and vegetables. For breakfast I buy a handful of strawberries, frescas, and then a baguette from another shop a few doors down. The ladies who work behind the counter are friendly and helpful, despite my lack of Spanish, and assist me to count out the right change from my handful of shrapnel.

There’s certainly an advantage to living in the centre of a city. I’ve become used to a ten, or fifteen, minute drive to the supermarket, whereas here I can pick up an apple whilst the kettle boils for a cup of tea. There’s no need to plan one day to the next, or even one meal to the next.

Turn in the opposite direction as you leave my apartment building and you come across signs for paella, tapas and deals for coffee and crepes. There’s also Japanese sushi, pizzerias and down by the port an American diner. Should you want a full English breakfast, there’s a place for that too, all though it’s a different place to the ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ restaurant with its iconic pictures of Audrey Hepburn.

The cafe’s are busy, despite it being only February. People sitting in the street lick their ice-cream or munch handfuls of roasted almonds.

For lunch I choose a ripe avocado, aguacate, and a tomato, tomate, to put with the remaining baguette. Simple, but delightful.

Thoughts on exercise

When I wander through the city, which I do each day, taking in new streets, finding statues and piazzas a fresh, I think about where I will run. In the afternoon sunshine there are numerous cyclists and joggers who dodge between the photographers, pushchairs and couples holding hands as they make their way along the port.

It was down by the port I ran for the first time.

Parallel to the route along the port is a long garden, with twisting paths, water features and that tambourine man. It’s a garden of orange flowers and deep green trees. Its smell is so distinct, so strong that it takes me back to wandering around the Eden Project in Cornwall with my friends, or to the Botanical Gardens of Aswan in Egypt. It’s this smell that when I leave I will associate with Malaga. It makes for a delicious place to run.

The paths are softer on your joints in this tropical paradise whereas along the port everything is clean and strong. Or maybe everything seems to sparkle like an advert for a kitchen cleaner, because I’m comparing it to Cairo?

During the final stretch back to the apartment, I pass the Roman amphitheater beneath the castle. It’s hot. I’m sweating and my face is typically as pink as beetroot, but I’m almost laughing as I sprint up the street home.

Thoughts on rock and roll

It starts with being asked if later, perhaps, I want to get a ‘small beer’. It’s not like the said ‘small beer’ will be more than a few minutes’ walk from the house and this isn’t an area where you feel you have to worry all that much. Plus, it’s an opportunity to discover the place and make friends. The Belgium couple sharing the apartment only stayed the weekend and the Japanese guy (who can cook) is studying for exams.

This is Spain, so later really means half eleven, which becomes more of midnight. I expect this to bother me, but it doesn’t. Bed by ten in Spain is like being sent to bed without any supper. It’s just not going to happen.

We go to a small place, amusingly named ‘zz pub’. People hang their coats under the bar on hooks. I learn that it’s common knowledge that Londoners here drink vodka with lemon. I point out that I’ve never lived in London and that a Yorkshire lass ain’t quite the same as a southern city dweller, but this doesn’t compute. I drink my vodka.

I’m amused every time I recognise music abroad. I shouldn’t be because wherever I go the radio plays English songs. It’s like being surprised that people abroad have heard of English football teams. Just silly.

The singer of the band that plays is a local Spanish guy, but every time he starts talking to the audience in Spanish I’m surprised because of how English he sounds when he sings. Somehow, accents are more fluid when people sing. When he sings an Arctic Monkeys song I declare that I’m from near where they’re from which is definitely not London.

Later in the evening, another band take the stage. We’re blessed with ‘Spanish rock’. I don’t understand a word being sung, but it’s music so the message is bigger than just the words. A friend explains that he prefers the earlier more upbeat songs, these are more (Google Translate is checked) ‘desperate’.

I think of a certain someone’s descriptions of Coldplay.

Finally, at some ridiculous hour in the morning I finally collapse on my bed, and as the sun rises, I am yet again appreciative of the window shutters.

‘Just arrived’ travel anxieties…

…and an irrational battle with the contents of the suitcase, in which there was no clear champion

Street art, Malaga, Spain

Time to take a deep breath.

I’m many miles from where I woke up this morning. After a bout of being home in England, and feeling comfortable in my surroundings, I find myself face to face with a large mirror I’ve never seen before reflecting back a room which until a couple of hours ago, I’d never entered.

The clothes are the same. They’re flung haphazardly across an unfamiliar bed as if war broke out of the suitcase. It’s the electric plug converter’s fault. It was hiding. Then it took me so long to find the light switch I started to worry I was going mad.

What sort of room has it’s only light switch nowhere near the door?

All at once the strange environment (which really isn’t all that strange) seemed overwhelming. Everyone is far away and I am alone. I want to tell the cheerful Brazilian chap, who’s helpfully pointing out great places for tapas on the map, to please shut up.

I don’t. I want to know where he recommends and I’m curious to understand his adopted city. Plus, he seems lovely.

Part of my grouchiness is a lack of sleep. It’s very rare I cannot sleep, but the night before I fly it’s guaranteed. I keep on waking and prodding my phone to see the clock, paranoid that I’m going to miss my flight. You would have thought with the amount of flying I’ve done recently I’d get over this.

It’s ironic that the time I came closest to missing the flight I actually arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare. So much time that I treated my sister to a proper breakfast. We relaxed, started chatting about our plans and lo and behold when we finally thought to look at the screen our flight to Vienna was being boarded.

None of my many alarms failed me this morning, but it was still dark and cold outside all the same and I still awoke, worrying, many times throughout the night.

It’s hard to remember that worry is entirely internally generated and unnecessary once when there’s a multitude of different alarms on different devices all set.

Arriving in Malaga, making sure the Internet works on my phone, finding an ATM and cursing as it’s stingy about the ratio of paper to Euros was all fine.

As a side note, I listened to a podcast the other day that pointed out that just because you arrive at an airport you don’t have to rush through it, you can sit down and catch your breath for a while. You don’t have to leap right into the stream of people amassed outside of the arrivals hall. I consider this wise advice.

I was also fine getting the bus and even in hopping off at the right stop. A version of ‘fine’ from the newer version of the Italian Job.

John Bridger: Fine? You know what “fine” stands for, don’t you?

Charlie Croker: Yeah, unfortunately.

John Bridger: Freaked out…

Charlie Croker: Insecure…

John Bridger: Neurotic…

Charlie Croker: And Emotional.

John Bridger: You see those columns behind you?

(Columns of San Marco and San Theodoro, St. Mark’s Square, Venice)

Charlie Croker: What about them?

John Bridger: That’s where they used to string up thieves who felt fine.

Charlie Croker: After you.

A few hours later I’m in a different state of mind.

The most important stuff has been extracted from the suitcase. I’ve had a cup of tea (there’s a packet of PG Tips here?). And taken a wander outside without following the commands of Google Maps around each corner or dragging my suitcase behind me.  I find a statue of a friendly chap playing what looks to me like a tambourine. He seems ever so jolly.

chap playing tamborine, Malaga

It feels like someone caring put together this place. Someone with an eye for detail. There are random bits of coloured tiles mashed together. It is beautiful. Floral decorations accentuate balconies and I can’t help but think that Cairo could learn a lot from the brightly coloured shutters.

I like shutters. Places with sunshine have shutters. It’s a promising sign.

Big paintings on public walls draw your eye. But so do the small flourishes on signs and doorways. Minor amusements, like the clinic for bicycles amuse me. Cambridge has one of these and both the one here and the one there have half a bicycle stuck up on the wall. Spain isn’t that far away really.

Picasso was born here.

I’m excited to step outside with my sketchbook and grateful for my paints. But not tonight.

I’m feeling happier by the time I’ve bought pasta. I shocked myself by understanding that the woman at the till was asking if I wanted a carrier bag ‘bolsa’, because it’s so similar to the Italian ‘borsa’, even without her pointing or holding out a bag (yes I know it’s a guessable question at the check-out, but still, you’ve got to appreciate the little achievements).

My spoken Spanish is non-existent, but how much I can read is a pleasant surprise. Context of course is everything.

I buy vegetables in the greengrocers. I stare at the courgette and the cucumber wondering which is which before making a random choice. I get back to the apartment in time to Skype my sister and tell her I’m well. I discover it is indeed a courgette as I hoped.

This span of traveling comes with a purpose. I’m in the city centre. My room is spacious, indeed is contains a substantive desk at which I now sit and a double bed where I shall sleep. I have books, my notebooks and a clear plan for writing. To find restaurants and bars, or a plaza with sculptures, benches and coffee shops takes no more than a minute or two, it’s all just outside my front door.

Malaga is a different colour to England. More tints than tones. Travel pours images and characters into my imagination, without which there would be no stories begging to be written. A woman harvesting herbs from her balcony. A child with his whole body pressed up against a glass pyramid twice his height, staring down through it into the roman remains below the street.

What’s more, I’m not rushed. I’ve got plenty of time to explore my surroundings, and plenty of time to sit still.

Sitting still is important too. It’s easy to talk about writing without actually putting a pen to paper, or to put a pen to paper and be prolific with the word count but stingy with the produce or quality. Well-meaning isn’t enough in practice. You can be well-meaning and still wreak havoc.

If you can’t read what I write, it doesn’t count.

My routine is broken. I’m here, free, and that means there can be no excuses and no complaints. I’ve got pages and pages of draft material that deserves a second look. My job here is to refine it and learn something from it. There’s space in my mind. Everything slows down to accommodate this shift of pace and I stare around me with wonder.

The slower pace suits my writing.

The to-do list doesn’t matter.