Tuesday, 24 November 2009

This tour of mine is different. It’s musical. So I followed the tunes, as if in a trance. I rode across Benamocarra mounting an andante or a miserere. I stepped on the notes as if they belonged to the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Benamocarra was the hometown of one of the greatest classical music composers born in Málaga: Eduardo Ocón Rivas, who lived in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. So there’s a special soundtrack to this tour. And it’s just one click away (PLAY).

(Special Lent Concert at the Málaga Cathedral by the Málaga Town Band and the choir Coral Carmina Nova on Sunday, March 22nd, 2009. Miserere (Benigne Fac Domine) by Eduardo Ocón Rivas. Arranger: Juan Carlos Díaz Campello. Conductor: Francisco Vallejo.)

Getting Closer, Getting There

The road connecting Vélez-Málaga with Benamocarra is lined with reeds, orange trees, and lemon trees. This landscape isn’t typical of Axarquía: no deep ravines or gorges; instead, mildly rolling hills, licked by the neighbouring sea and brushed by the breeze from the fields. Squat mountains that make a friendly landscape peppered with cortijos, whitewashed houses, farmyards, farmsteads… The streets in the town centre are narrow and zigzagging. Leave your car in the first spot you find; you’ll need to get to the heart of town. The town centre isn’t big, so every sight can be reached on foot. So be ready to get lost.

The Tour

My tour began in the higher part of town –maybe one of the oldest ones, too–, in Barrio Nuevo. I had no route to follow; only instinct, a desire to catch the sensations produced by Benamocarra, take everything in, walk in search of the town’s essence –always pursuing Ocón Rivas’s sounds. One of the first things that caught my attention was the archways connecting the walls, which hid streets, little squares, landings, fortress walls, flights of steps. They don’t seem to be architecturally functional but they add beauty to the town. The streets, mostly covered in cobblestones, outline a geometrical layout that highlights the bright walls. The houses have something genuine about them: small windows, doors with knockers hanging from lintels, interior courtyards, exquisite corners –all in all, a patchwork of landscapes and passageways that inevitable remind you of the Arab world. I was seized by smells of traditional food: stewpots, pucheros… The ancient and authentic atmosphere was brought out by the ceramic tiles on the walls. Some of them gave information on old local traditions: “During summer months, families and neighbours get together in the evening to sing coplas and romances around the zambombas. These drums were made with jars or tubes and animal hide, and a reed tied in the middle. Their hoarse, monotonous sound served as a rhythmic accompaniment to old town stories passed down from parents to children in the form of simple songs.” I couldn’t help imagining little Ocón Rivas sitting on the floor in the shadow, listening to these popular tunes and turning them into scores that would then be his own. But it was just a figment of my imagination. Locals are talkative. They stand chatting in front of their homes, sharing opinions on the last fair or morning mandaos (errands). I’d gone so deep into town that I literally got lost when trying to find my way to the Church of Santa Ana. In fact, getting lost is quite easy here, given the narrowness of criss-crossing streets. I asked for directions. “Well, like this, to the left, a long street, then the kiosk, and then like this and like this (gestures), then to the left again along the same street, and then ask for directions again.” That’s exactly what I did. Getting lost was good. I had the chance to see more streets and more boards like the one that read: “During carnival, in spring, or during the long summer nights, the meceor (hammock) hanging from some carob tree or enramá (arbour) was the nerve centre of youth meetings, as the rocking combined with humorous and flattering songs. ‘A la niña del meceor/ se le ha caído el volante/ y no lo puede recoger/porque está el novio delante’ (The girl on the hammock rocking/ has dropped her cap/ and she can’t get it back/ for her boyfriend is just looking)…”. Flowers, flowerpots, and flowerbeds decorate most walls and corners, turning their whiteness colourful. Some houses looked like real gardens. With the help of Benamocarreños, I finally came to the Church of Santa Ana. It’s a sixteenth-century Gothic-Mudéjar temple, the only one with a chamfered nave. It also has a minaret. Inside, the church was simple, brimming with flowers: wooden benches, the Cristo de la Salud float, and the altar, which is… empty! I was then told that the Benamocarra Fair had taken place the week before, so the Christ had been taken down for a procession along the town streets. So now He was sitting on a float rather than being in his usual place. “He has many devotees. Many out-of-towners come to His procession,” they explained. Cristo de la Salud is said to be a miracle worker. They ascribed the salvation of Benamocarra from the terrible cholera outbreak that devastated the area two hundred years ago. Locals gave me a programme of the fair so that I could come next year. Mark these days on your calendar: October 15-18. I walked out. Behind the church there’s the town’s monument to Eduardo Ocón Rivas: a muse-inspired, laurel-crowned lyre standing against the bright blue sky. The composer’s birthplace used to be on a nearby street; now there’s just a sign in its stead. I could hear his music again:

(A bolero by Ocón Rivas and paintings by Málaga-born artist Félix Revello de Toro. Source: tuandaluza’s Channel, YouTube.)

With the bolero still echoing in my mind, I continued walking –a quiet, relaxed stroll. Suddenly, I felt hungry. I went to Bar del Parque, next to Plaza del Calvario. It’s a typical town bar where seniors were having their last coffees and first beers or sodas of the day. I ordered two sodas and a cheese snack, which was in fact a full sandwich, dripping with oil. A comforting, replenishing snack. The bill = €3.20.

Bidding Farewell

I walked back to where my car was parked and got on. I inserted a CD and let the music flow. Opening my window, I heard let echoes of Ocón Rivas out will driving along the final winding streets that took me out of Benamocarra and into the reed bed. La-la-la, la-la-la…

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to learn: Eduardo Ocón Rivas: The genius of this Málaga-born musician is undeniable. You can read about them on many websites; for instance, Wikipedia, the Juan March Foundation, or OpusMúsica. A study of one of his most celebrated works, Miserere, can be found at Ommalaga.
Useful links: Once again, I’ve relied on my usual reference points for this tour, namely, the websites of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board and the Benamocarra Town Hall.

Comments, suggestions, and opinions from travellers/ visitors to this blog are very welcome. This is intended to be an open door, so the more things shown and said, the better. See you under the Bright Blue Sky.