So, I find myself this morning in a bar in Mojacar Playa with a beautiful view of the sea, with palm trees everywhere I look, the sun shining and blue skies and it’s all rather lovely.
It’s 11.20am and I’m here preparing classes and doing Spanish homework. I’d normally be listening to my own ‘soundtrack’ on headphones, but it’s so nice that even the trashy pop of the local radio station can’t spoil the moment. Or who knows, it may even be weirdly adding to it.
What this experience makes me think of is to not take things for granted. Thursday mornings in London were rarely like this. London doesn’t have the beach, sunshine and tranquility, although it does of course have countless other advantages. However, as many self-help books and the more recent ‘mindfulness’ movement suggest, I’m trying to focus more on being in the moment.
I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to living in Andalucia. Mrs Cortado and I have been here for almost 4 years and although I’m not expecting our life to disappear anytime soon, I often find myself under a strange type of self-imposed pressure to enjoy myself and make the most of being here as long as it lasts. Or maybe that’s just living wherever you are? Having said that, it is much easier to enjoy living the life we live, especially since we got a dog.
I’d never owned a dog before and never been particularly ‘dog-friendly’. However, we’ve had our rescue dog Grace for over a year and every day, she’s a lovely reminder of living in the moment. When we wake up, the most important thing in the history of everything is to go for a walk and sniff stuff.
And maybe, that’s it. The ‘answer’ if such a thing exists.
So, as Grace would no doubt recommend in her delightfully innocent, Taoist, Winnie the Pooh- type way, stop thinking about stuff, stop writing stuff, and get out there and sniff stuff.
I’ve heard a lot about the village of Sierra Alhamilla as friends have always sung its praises. It’s only a 40-minute drive from our village of Lucainena de las Torres, has been used as a location in the TV drama ‘Game of Thrones’ (see photo at the end of this post), is famed for its spa and last night, there was a flamenco festival organised by the local town hall, so I thought it was worth a trip. We were planning to leave in the car, but somebody was trying to scupper our plans to leave the village…
It’s been so hot over the last few weeks here in the south of Spain, even at night and so, I was more than happy to go to this concert which was held in the glorious gardens with views on to Almeria city itself. Spending time outside around midnight in the summer is understandably a popular pastime here and is one of my favourite things to do in Spain.
I’m not a connoisseur, by any stretch of the imagination, but I do enjoy going to see flamenco and went to a few when I lived in Granada, arguably its spiritual home. If you haven’t been by the way, visit Le Chien Andalou for fantastic performances in an intimate venue in the heart of Granada.
After eventually finding a parking space, we found seats in a beautiful setting surrounding by palm trees in the grounds of the Baños de Sierra Alhamilla and waited for things to get going, which they did at around 1030pm. By then we had also all been offered fans by the organisers which was a lovely and still quite necessary touch.
After the inevitable speeches by local dignitaries, which were mercifully not too long, singer Montse Cortés was on first with musicians on guitar, cajon (type of percussion box) and palmas (claps) and they launched into their set which was traditional and enjoyable, though at times, I admit I found her voice and the guitar a tad too abrasive for my taste.
After their show, there was an intermission where we could go for a drink and get some free soup! The event is called the ‘Caldo Minero’ flamenco festival. For those who may not know, ‘caldo’ is the Spanish word for stock, as used in cooking and ‘minero’ is Spanish for coalminer. The area used to be known for mining. And so, in addition to a much needed cold drink in the break, we could also get a small cup of Caldo Minero, hot coalminer’s soup. In August in the south of Spain. I’m going to ask some local friends to find out more, but if anybody knows the story as to why, I’d love to hear it.
This festival was offering different types of flamenco and although I’m a fan of flamenco singing and music, I’ve always thought that the dancing was just a part of it that I could take or leave. As a musician myself, I got the music elements, but I could never see why everybody raved about it so much. It had always left me cold. And then, the next group came on. With the musicians all in black and already performing with a professional subtlety lacking in the first group, you could already sense that this would be quite a different experience.
Performing the more serious ‘cante jondo’ flamenco style, the two singers (Javier Rivera and Rosario Amador) and guitarist (Miguel Pérez) were fantastic. Like many musicians in flamenco, they all had the necessary technical ability and incredible passion, yet they did it in such a beautifully understated way, which I found quite unusual when compared to previous flamenco performances I’ve seen. It wasn’t just about volume and power, you could also hear the gentle, melancholy yearning in how they played.
And then came the dancers. The incredible David Pérez (whose company it is) and the magnificent Maria José León appeared in fabulously flamboyant outfits and within seconds, the entire audience was transfixed. David and Maria José seemed so in sync with each other and I also loved how they incorporated the traditional flamenco shawl (mantón de manila), making it a fundmental element of the first song. I’d never seen that before. According to Antonio, a flamenco fan friend, he had noticed more of the ‘Stomp’-style rhythms had been included, even incorporating a bastón (walking stick) as a percussive instrument, which together with the intricate footwork, was mesmerising as an additional instrument.
For the first time, instead of the patronising insincerity of so-called professionals who turn up and seemingly phone it in , I was seeing how the passionate intensity and captivating sincerity of flamenco dancing could be integral to the performance and I loved it and I never thought I’d say that! Although the ‘stars’ of this particular set were the dancers, I loved the whole thing and how the musicians and dancers worked together. This company were on a different level to flamenco performances that I have seen before and if you haven’t seen them yet. I would highly recommend them! I’m strangely relieved that after more than 3 years living in Andalucia (two in the city of Granada and one here in Lucainena de las Torres) that I finally feel like I understand much more about flamenco and not just the music, but also the dancing.
It’s a wonderful thing that events like these are offered by the local town halls. In addition to annual ferias/fiestas, even the smallest Spanish villages have a lot of outdoor events over the summer including sporting events, processions, street theatre, concerts and outdoor cinema for everyone to enjoy. The ‘Caldo Minero flamenco festival’ has taken place every 2 years since 1990 and long may it continue. I look forward to going back to Sierra Alhamilla for the spa, to have a look around the village and also of course, to the next Caldo Minero!
I’m sitting on a lovely, ever-so-slightly battered brown sofa in my favourite bar (Cafe Cyrano) in Almería, my recently adopted ‘big city’, listening to my new favourite album (‘Hey Mr Ferryman’ by Mark Eitzel) with a cortado coffee and an orange juice.
I’ve just put my car in for a service. Not a big deal for most people, but having never owned a car until recently, it feels like a strangely grown up thing to be doing. I dropped the car off at 9.30am and am told it will be 3 hours, so I’ve popped into the city to mooch around and am really enjoying it as it’s not something I can really do in the village where I now live.
I’ve been walking around for a while enjoying the buzzy morning atmosphere of a working day here. As with many cities, there are lots of ‘things to do’ here, some of which I’ve done and others that I will do, but as is often the case, I find myself doing a similar thing ie ‘not very much’ to some people.
But the joy I get from simply sitting in a bar with a coffee, listening to music on headphones, writing, reading and reflecting on nothing in particular is immeasurable.
Some people these days might call this being mindful. I don’t know why doing this works for me and maybe it’s best I don’t know, so in the meantime, I’ll just enjoy the positive and calming energy it gives me.
I haven’t posted here for a while as we have been busy moving house and have in fact now left Granada. But why on earth you may ask, after having loved living in Granada and written about it in countless posts on this blog, would I want to leave?
We loved our time in Granada, made many fabulous friends and I would highly recommend it as a place to live in Andalucia/Spain, however after two and a half years, Mrs Cortado and our new dog Grace decided that it was time for a change and so after lots of travelling around Andalucia looking at new areas, we left Granada a month ago and now live in a small village called Lucainena de las Torres in the province of Almería.
The population of the village is around 650 and so after living in a city like Granada for more than two years and previously London for twenty years, life these days is quite different. For example, we have two bars to choose from as opposed to Granada’s I don’t know how many hundreds, a convenience store, a bakery, a church and a pharmacy and that’s about it as far as ‘stuff’ goes, however, what it does have that we have not had previously is lots of space and tranquility, although admittedly, the occasional dogs barking in the campo occasionally challenge that luxury.
The other thing that we also now have is our own house, garden and beautiful countryside views and as we have only had Grace for a few months, it’s lovely to see that she is already enjoying running around the garden and burying stuff, although it is unfortunately usually our shoes, which we can then never find.
We will of course be going back to Granada from time to time to see friends and enjoy everything which that fantastic city has to offer, but we’re also now looking forward to getting to know more people locally, especially as everybody so far has been very friendly and helpful, seeing more of the rugged and exotic landscapes of Cabo de Gata natural park, chilling out on the gorgeous beaches of San José and Agua Amarga among others, exploring the intriguing Alicante-meets-Granada feel of Almería city and generally just hanging out here, chatting to people and enjoying being in this lovely place that we are now lucky enough to call home.
As we’re based in Granada, at least once a month, Mrs Cortado and I try to visit different places in Andalucia and more recently, of the places we have really grown to like is the province of Almería as it seems to have a strange and unique character to it.
There is of course the rugged coastline with the stunning beaches of Cabo de Gata and Mojacar, but although I had obviously read up about it beforehand, what took me most by surprise was the bleak majesty of the desert spaces in the heart of the province. And although I’ve never remotely been a fan of westerns, after having visited pueblos such as Rodalquilar and Los Albaricoques, I had a look online to see in more detail which films of the spaghetti western period had been filmed where and oddly, although the infrastructure is now quite different, at first glance they seemed to have changed very little.
Since then, I have now been completely converted and think spaghetti westerns, at least the ones in the famous Sergio Leone trilogy with Clint Eastwood, are fantastic. Having said that, so far I’ve only got round to the first two ‘A Fistful OF Dollars’ and ‘For A Few Dollars More’, but I’ve just downloaded the last one in the trilogy ‘The Good, The Bad and the Ugly’ and am really looking forward to it. And as for Almería, I look forward to spending much more time discovering the province in future.
For more information on the beautiful Cortijo del Fraile that they used in ‘For A Few Dollars More’ and ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ in addition to it inspiring Lorca to write ‘Blood Wedding’, read Carol Byrne‘s excellent post Where Lorca Meets Eastwood