Archive for September, 2013

28 Sep 2013

Same, Same, But Different

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All photos above: Alcazaba and views across Malaga.

At the risk of repeating myself, Malaga is yet another Spanish town that is instantly likeable. Is there one I don't like? It was a quick hop flight (1hr 15min) from Mallorca to Malaga. Our room was 50 metres from Plaza Uncibay which bustles day and night. It is still Spain, however Andalucia is very different from the rest of Spain. For starters the volume is upped several notches. Then there is the thick unmistakeable Andalucian accent where words are cut and slashed and tortured, and all those Spanish lessons seemed to have been in vain. There is also a vibrancy. It usually starts quite late and ends the next morning at sunrise. The voices carry and from our third floor room, I was woken by someone singing a beautiful (though rough) soulful Spanish rendition of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah at 4.00am. I thought he was actually in the room. I wasn't sure whether to applaud at the end but was then blissfully lulled back to sleep by the brief silence that followed.

In the morning we stepped into Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso's house. Why? Because the door was open, of course. We were expecting to be redeemed after the disappointing ceramic plate exhibition in Mallorca, but that wasn't to be the case. Don't get me wrong, I love Picasso. Just show me some art. Fifteen minutes later we were out in the street headed for the Alcazaba. The Alcazaba was wonderful, not quite the Alhambra but not far behind. Moorish architecture is entrancing. At the time they were far ahead of any other civilisation. The Moorish geometry, planned gardens, water courses and fountains were a pleasing way to while away a couple of hours.

And now magically we are in Granada. Gillian has arrived. And it is the same, same, but different. We are tourists now, not locals, treading the same old well worn paths.


$140 a night luxury accommodation!


We get off to a bad start. Our first bad experience renting through AirBNB. The apartment we have paid for is a crumbling ruin, less than 20sqm in size and without a double bed. It is covered on two sides by scaffolding and netting and inside reeking of a strong oil-based paint from a newly replaced roof. We check out the next morning into a swanky hotel (a converted palace) on the River Darro. Unfortunately the owner of the apartment insists the apartment is as advertised and is perfectly habitable — for a rat perhaps — and we will not be getting any money back (we shall see if my gypsy curse works).

By chance we overhear a conversation in a cafe at breakfast. The woman's voice is unmistakably Australian. She is talking about Julie Bishop and her role as chairperson at the United Nations Security Council meeting in New York. Can you keep it down please, we ask? You are spoiling our breakfast. And we begin talking and realise the woman concerned is living a mirror of our lives a few years earlier. She has upped stumps with her family and moved to Granada. She has even enrolled in the same quirky language school and fills us in on all the latest comings and goings, personalities and mishaps at the school. It is very strange to be an outsider looking in. We are more than a bit jealous.


It's always good to catch up with old friends and not so old friends. Alena who is almost two and Alex and Katrin's pride and joy


View of the Alhambra through the scaffolding




23 Sep 2013

Paella, Palaces and Past Participles

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Paul reckons I am looking more and more Spanish every day. What a load of bull.

The last five days in school were tough. In class on Monday there were five of us. On Tueaday there were four, then three (the two Russian girls look like they might like to party hard) and finally on our last day it was only Paul and I — four intense hours with just Paul and the Profesora, lots of frowning, pen chewing, sweat dripping, confusing his preterites from his imperfect, mixing up past participles and gerunds, until at the end of it all, all he could utter was cerveza.

It was a cultural week too. Exploring the small villages (on the way into school) with their rustic charm and ancient dry-stone walls, old wooden windmills everywhere, all the while trying not to panic while riding pillion on Juan's motorcycle while he chooses to take phone calls mid-ride. It wouldn't be so bad, but the country roads are narrow, barely wide enough for a car let alone a distracted motorcyclist.

On foot it was easier and safer too. The Almudaina Royal Palace and later in the week, the Baluard modern art gallery. The Baluard is impressive architecturally. It is a modern plate-concrete structure built in to the ruins of an 11th century Arab tower and later fortifications. You climb up through the levels on a series of ramps, with galleries on each level, until you reach the roof. It has the most impressive views of over the harbour. There was also a small collection of Picassos, ceramic dishes mainly, created at a time when he must have been considering alternate careers — kitchenware perhaps, Greek weddings — and it was not that impressive. It was the only disappointment because the rest of the art was impressive. I suppose there can only be so many excellent Picassos to spread around; someone has to get the duds.


Almudaina 12th century Arabic ceilings


Who needs Picasso when you can make your own wall art


Last view of that magnificent mountain from the finca


We had to say goodbye to Juan and Maria (and the canine). It was like saying goodbye to old friends. They offered us a lift to the train station. I had to share the back seat with a very large paella pan. They were making lunch and they were late; so very Spanish — nothing changes.


What'll it be Al, the dog or the paella pan?



18 Sep 2013

The Getting Of Wisdom

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Venga Satie venga


Satie (the Alsatian) and I have developed a mutual respect for each other. The first night we slept with the door out to the garden wide open and at 4:00am Satie decided it was time to play, bounding into the room enthusiastically and launching himself onto the bed. I think I may have dropped a stitch, Paul too. The next night the door was closed, however the low window wasn't. In the pitch black of night Satie has decided the open window (which he has never climbed through before) was absolutely irresistible and again he leapt in — 40 kilos of pure animal, damp grubby paws all over the sheets — another dropped stitch.

But it's better now. We have sorted it out. We have worked out our differences.

After spending a few days with Juan and Maria at their wonderful house, they have invited us to spend a few more at their even more wonderful 1820s finca (farm). During the day Satie is allowed to roam free. At night it is a different story. Satie, because he has an attraction to sheep — and Alpacas — gets tethered by a long chain to a tree. The sheep bells are clanging; only the occasional bleat. It is a beautiful crisp and still Mallorcan night. The swimming pool with its magnificent mountain backdrop beckons. I smile at Satie as I walk past, teasing him a bit, egging him on, begging him to inch forwards venga Satie venga — those Spanish lessons are paying off — watching him bare his teeth, tuck his head down low … and launch, all the while knowing I am just out of reach.





14 Sep 2013

Studious Moments Revisited

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It's easy to get your bearings in Palma - look for the cathedral


It may not be Perth or Granada or Peru however it is coming a tie for third. Palma de Mallorca puts on the charm, the good weather, the happy go lucky vibe and the beautiful people — what's not to like? Spirits are particularly high this week with Rafa (a Mallorquino) slamming Novak in the US Open finals.

We are back at same language school in the centre of Palma. It is a good school, organised and with excellent teachers. The familiarity is nice too. Some of the same faces, learning the same things over and over, ad infinitum, and still forgetting them the very next day. Will he ever learn? Nothing changes.

The social aspect of school is always fun. We had a tapas night-cum-bar crawl that went on way too long, and then just to prove you can have too much of a good thing, a repeat performance with Paul and the two Stefano's a couple of nights later. The thing about Spain is time really isn't important. (I know I have said this before — its like my Spanish, I find I am constantly repeating myself). It is simply as if someone turned out the lights; otherwise it's business as usual. There we were at 6:00 am — nine hours later —sitting outside (practically stone cold sober), chatting to strangers out on the street, eating a tapa of jamon y queso. The first joggers are already out exercising. Some of us are going home to sleep, others are waking up. It doesn't seem to matter.

We also visited Castle Bellver with the school. The tour was in Spanish por supuesto, so in true form we will be paying another visit sometime soon and taking the English tour. Its all in the detail. The castle is impressive, as much for being only the second circular castle I have seen (the other being Palacio Carlos V in Granada), and for the view from the top, as for anything else.

Sadly we had to leave our nice lodgings in Porto Pi and say goodbye to the lovely Timy. It's not that I don't like moving, it's simply that I don't like being left behind. Shit Al, did I forget you again? Sorry. How many times have I heard that before? Our new place is nice though, sumptuous even. It is right next to the funky bohemian Santa Catalina district. It is a fusion of old (1916) and new and complete with its own tower, mini-orchard and private pool. It sure beats those early morning beach jogs and swims; that end with sand in every crevice, mouthfuls of salty sea water, avoiding the odd Portuguese Man o' War jellyfish, and all that bare flesh. Juan (of course) and Maria are likewise nice. They have a giant Alsatian that bounds towards me like it is going to eat me alive but it turns out he is just a big sooky-la-la.


Say 'patatas' and smile for the camera


Central courtyard Bellver castle


Stefano takes a stroll with a friend


Jellyfish free zone


The tower - only if you are bad






10 Sep 2013

Art imitates art

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It was back in 2009 on a cold Granada morning. The Spanish language professor had interrupted the class because of something Paul had said; he pulled us aside and said repetir después de mí (repeat after me). Hwahn (the correct pronunciation for JOAN and JUAN) not Won (the correct pronunciation for ONE). He repeated it again and again, over and over, hwahn not won, leaning in closer and closer, listening for the subtleties in pronunciation. What's that smell? Garlic? is that garlic? Garlic for breakfast. No way. There it is again. Garlic. Urghhh! My eyes were stinging, burning in fact. Every time he pushed out hwahn inches from my face, there it was, a tiny eye-watering acrid puff of garlic, his pungent breath assaulting my senses. Even now I can not say Joan or Juan without thinking about it, and as an added bonus I have mastered the pronunciation.
After our compulsory early morning swim, we set off on foot to discover the Joan Miro Foundation. My eyes watering at the thought. Joan is fun — there that rhymes. Well he is! His art is whimsical, childlike even. The foundation is located high on a hill in the middle of a residential suburb. It comprises several buildings; old and new studios and a modern gallery with ponds, cafe and a sculpture garden. From the grounds the views across Cala Major bay are superb.
And then I discovered something very interesting and ever so slightly sinister — a Michael Leunig original. High in a corner of the gallery, there it was, definitely a Michael Leunig, except it wasn't a Leunig, it was a Miro painted decades earlier. Very cheeky Mr Leunig. And then I walked over to the new studio and lo and behold the very building painted by Mr Miro is a 100% Piet Mondrian ripoff. Very cheeky Mr Miro.

Miro's studio imitates Mondrian


Ahem ... Mr Leunig


Parky you never mentioned you modelled


Something's fishy

Walking back down the hill after the great Miro-Leunig-Mondrian revelation, there was a strange house all gated up. I almost walked right past it but something caught my eye. I did a double take, turned back and went to explore. It appeared to be a shrine to Amadeus, created sometime in the past and looking unloved. Awkward, ugly sculptures, amateurishly done. It was bizarre and not exactly art imitating art, merely kitsch.
Today, it's back in Spanish school. More torture. Guaranteed. Some last minute brush ups: Hola soy Al.
So what do I care if it is Juan, or Joan or Hwahn or One or Won — they are all imitations of the one and the same. Just don't breath on me please professor!

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery