Thursday, 30 September 2010

They sing and improvise, and with the words they build castles, construct stories, blend real life with fiction. Villanueva de Tapia sings and improvises, versifies the best verses and creates new stanzas that fly across the olive groves. Villanueva de Tapia has been designated as the World Capital of Oral Poetry, and the title seems to polish its streets with great verse.


Villanueva de Tapia is perched on a hill that rolls mildly down into an undulated valley peppered with olives. Where in the neighbour “new village” Villanueva de Algaidas the earth was reddish or brownish, here it’s white, incredibly white. All the fields within its boundaries make a huge olive grove, where younger specimens –straight and stiff, in lines arranged for better mechanical pick-up– grow side by side with older trees, knotty and gnarled, enduring the weight of years on their backs and therefore sagging and stunted, giving rise to more irregular, less clear, not-so-rectilinear layouts.


I parked in Plaza de España, in front of the Church of San Pedro Apóstol. It was an austere, modern-looking, red-brick temple which nevertheless had been built in the seventeenth century and renovated twice in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when it got a new façade. Inside, a detailed account of the history of Villanueva de Tapia in the shape of a well-kept archive of registers of births, marriages and deaths since 1626. The town itself was a bunch of straight and slightly winding streets. Two or three parallel thoroughfares make the backbone; the rest seem to come out of them. The homes are built in the typical Antequera style: two storeys, high roofs, colourful hallways, shady patios, windows and balconies behind bars. Some of the frontages date back to the eighteenth century –traces of the economic boom. I sauntered along Avenida de Andalucía, the main thoroughfare, where most services can be found: shops, bars and coffee houses, ATMs, the market, the Town Hall building, a healthcare centre, and more.

Singing Poets

Before plunging into my tour, I read a plate on the corner of Plaza de España and Avenida de Andalucía: “In this square, the 10th Ibero American Décima Meeting and Festival was held, coinciding with the 2nd International Festival of Oral Poetry. As a result of this, Villanueva de Tapia was designated as the World Capital of Improvised Poetry. July 12, 2002.” I wanted to know more about this, so I checked the Internet. The website gave me the information I needed: “Experts in poetic improvisation have identified an ‘oral poetry area’ in Málaga, Córdoba, and Granada. This area includes towns with centuries-old poetic traditions like Priego, Loja, Iznájar, Villanueva de Algaidas, and Villanueva de Tapia, which has been the World Capital of Improvised Poetry for a magical weekend every year in July since 2001. How did Villanueva de Tapia earned a household name as the centre of oral poetry? It was a long process, seasoned with art, tradition, and a name: Gerardo Páez, a.k.a. ‘El Carpintero.’ Considered by some to be the poet of the people and the representative of Villanueva de Tapia in the world of poetry, El Carpintero is a symbol of this town. His career as a troubadour, an improviser and a poet is well-known. An indefatigable traveller across Andalusia, in 1993 he met the best of Cuban trova in Adra, Almeria. The Cubans invited him to come to their homeland and take part in the Ibero American Décima Festival in Las Tunas in 1997. One year later, a new trip, with a stop at Grand Canary. And then again in 1999, Páez travelled across the pond to get to San Luis Potosí, México. Those were decisive encounters that led to an idea: holding an international festival of oral poetry in his homeland. El Carpintero is thus thought to be the driving force behind this art, and a reference to oral poets and improvisers around the world.” The first International Festival of Oral Poetry was held in July 2001. The website I referred to above contains photographs and videos of the festival, for visitors who want to learn more about the art of improvised poetry.

To the Fountain Past the Chapel

Down Avenida de la Constitución I reached the park, a meeting point for all tapienses thanks to the shadow afforded by its leafy trees. A group of old men where chatting; you could hear football- and politics-related words and comments on TV celebrities, the weather, and the country. They talked quietly, slowly, with an accent from Córdoba in some cases. They were sitting on the benches, side by side with a group of teenagers who’d also gathered there. In the upper part of the park there’s a simple, tiny and secluded building dedicated to Virgen de Gracia, illuminated by lit candles and containing a few votive offerings. Back on Avenida de la Constitución, I took a look at the Fountain of Los Allalantes. It was a humble three-spout fountain with an interesting history, for it was the first fountain built in town, “supplying local dwellers with water. In 1795, a flood destroyed the bridge leading to the fountain, which was later fixed by master builder Juan García. Villanueva de Tapia. 400th anniversary, 1602-2002.” There was a washing place in the upper part of town whose low architectural value is made up for by its great social importance, for here the murmur of water going down the spouts is the voice of Villanueva de Tapia telling its history.


I stopped and went out of the car. I could only hear the rustle of olive branches and an old voice in the distance. Murmurs of poetry and singing, voices that carry verses and stanzas, voices with various accents, voices speaking of everyday things, voices telling of extraordinary events, voices of poets, voices improvising…

Travel Tips and Useful Links

When to come: Local fiestas: If you need an excuse to come to Villanueva de Tapia, get a big calendar, for the 1,700 tapienses have lots of reasons to celebrate throughout the year. To the International Festival of Oral Poetry, on the third weekend of July, we can add the following events:
Royal Cattle Fair: Held since 1869, it’s been designated as a Fiesta of Provincial Tourist Singularity. Work is being done to revamp the fair, which includes a traditional cattle market with a great variety of breeds, an ox and donkey exhibition, and a goat competition. Also, locally- and regionally-produced farm products are sold at the fair.
Málaga Suckling Kid Competition: Part of the Royal Cattle Fair, this culinary competition invites participants to cook kid in different ways. Participants can be ordinary men and women, restaurants, or students of Málaga cooking schools.
Salmorejo Day: In mid-August, Villanueva de Tapia pays tribute to this typical dish with a cookout in Plaza de la Iglesia. Over 250 kilos of salmorejo and 2,000 kilos of roast chorizo are made. Afterwards, there’s music and dance.
Useful links: To read more about Villanueva de Tapia, check the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Villanueva de Tapia Town Hall. The above-mentioned is the official site of the festival.

Comments, suggestions, and opinions from travellers/ visitors to this blog are very welcome. See you under the Bright Blue Sky.