Saturday, July 12, 2014

Málaga, Part I

Málaga was full of pleasant surprises. It's a port town with aspects of a beach resort. The beautiful old central city is mostly closed to traffic. The result is a great town for strolling, with a wide main drag that resembles an upscale shopping mall, surrounded by a warren of windy narrow old streets in all directions. Tourists mingle with locals in the tapas bars and shops. Near downtown is an excellent covered marketplace with an amazing array of fishmongers selling everything you could imagine or hope for in a Mediterranean port. If you'd rather let someone else do the cooking, you can head down to the beach and buy a skewer of sardines, fresh off the charcoal. A medieval Moorish fortification, the Alcazaba, rises on the hilltop above the ruins of a Roman theatre (more on that in Part II).

We were in Málaga just in time for two different Catholic/solstice festivals: Corpus Christi and the festival of San Juan. These events made for a nice contrast. As in other towns, Corpus Christi here culminates in a procession through town with the Eucharist carried in an enormous ornate monstrance past elaborate temporary shrines. A noisy drum and bugle corps leads the front, and an equally loud marching band brings up the rear. The streets are lined with folks greeting their friends and kin in the procession. The demographic for Corpus Christi is decidedly weighted toward the older set, although a little batch of first communion kids dressed to the nines takes pride of place near the rear.

The monstrance is partly protected in shrink-wrap while it sits in the back of the cathedral, waiting for the procession.

The procession passes what I came to think of as "my" shrine (at the end of the alley to my hotel, a handy landmark until they took it down after the procession)...

We were told that the festival of San Juan in Málaga would involve lighting a bonfire on the beach and jumping over it for good luck. But the festival has been partly commercialized and has become a huge all-night beach party replete with a stage and (to my ear) pretty bad electronic dance music. Not surprisingly, the demographic tilts heavily toward teenagers and young adults. The whiff of pot smoke competes with the bonfires. But there was also a decent representation of oldsters and families with little kids. Setting off little hot-air balloons around midnight is a popular activity, and the effect of the reddish globes floating on the breeze above the bay is magical, if not exactly ecologically correct...

Picasso was born in Málaga, although he left as a child and apparently never looked back. Nevertheless, one can visit his home as well as the city's Picasso museum, which apparently houses some of his lesser works from various periods. Not the biggest fan even of many of his best-known works, I visited neither, but several of my students did and reportedly enjoyed both. For my art fix I visited the Museo Carmen Thyssen, which has a large collection of 19th-Century Spanish art (not really my cup of tea either), and the excellent Contemporary Art Museum... more on that in Part II as well.

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