Málaga at Easter, I had a purpose to my trip this time, to photograph and document the Semana Santa processions beginning on Domingo de Ramos. There were eight processions on Palm Sunday the first starting at ten in the morning and the last finishing at one thirty the following morning. The number over the whole Easter period numbered 42. Needing stamina for the hectic day ahead, I set off in search of somewhere to eat. I had long since burnt up the calories from my FlyBe snack pack.
My hotel was in the Trinidad Grund next to the Plaza de la Marina, very central and one street away from the Alameda Principal. This and the Calle Marques de Larios were the common points for all the processions. I also wanted a central hotel as I didn't want to hire a car, driving not being on my list of favourite pastimes. I am not a good driver. Whenever I hire a car I always make certain that they have a 24 hour drop off policy. I find it good practice to take them back under the cover of darkness. It makes my handiwork less obvious.
I would be seeing enough of these two locations in the coming days, so I headed for the playa. Although Easter 2008 was in March, people were swimming. Six days later an unseasonal temperature inversion in the stratosphere caused a bombardment of large hailstones over southern Spain. I found an inviting café where I seated myself at a table. El Gallo Rojo was the name above the menu, the Red Rooster.
The proprietors had a slightly different translation, but as that sounded like a social disease I will stick to my construction. After an atún and pimiento baguette for my hunger, a cold beer for my thirst, and two glasses of wine for my soul I began to feel human again. I noticed that my skill in Spanish was proportional to my intake of alcohol. A secret I am considering sharing with Linguaphone, at a price of course.
Street musicians in the form of an accordion player and his sidekick, a guitarist accosted me.
Why do they make a bee-line for me?
I didn't want Spanish café music, they ignored a couple holding hands and headed for me.
Don't believe the films. These people aren't interested in serenading courting couples, they're heading for the cash. Unfortunately for them they made a mistake in my case, but this is their modus operandi. Either they belong to a large and closely related family of street musicians or this pair thought it their civic duty to 'entertain' me.
To relieve me of my loose change every time I sat down to eat. They were omnipresent. I would hear the strains of some much altered flamenco piece and my unshaven duo would heave into view. They would greet me with twitching fingers and sickly anticipatory grins.
Back at the hotel, I charged my camera batteries, cleaned my lenses and studied the route for the first Palm Sunday procession the following morning. As I have no religion, I approached the whole observance with an open mind. The Spanish church doesn't have the power perceived by us outsiders.
Since it led the uprising against Napoleon in 1808 it had been in a general state of decline. However since the death of Franco it has been seen less of a tool of the rich and powerful. Though the people have always remained intensely religious, it was an interesting paradox.
The first procession was due to start at ten at the Casa Hermandad. There was no need to consult my map I just followed the crowds, the uniformed musicians and children carrying their 'capirotes'. Women walking straight backed trying not to dislodge their high mantillas, the whole picturesque throng was as if heading for some mythical but elusive refuge. Then there was me, a puffing panting middle-aged wreck rattling alone with camera equipment stuffed into every pocket. I probably need go for a check-up.
On my last visit for an insurance medical the doctor said, consulting his clipboard "Question one, do you suffer from blackouts.....question number 5". He thought this was hilarious, it was only with great strength of character that I stopped myself from hitting him.
A mingling, relaxed but noisy throng gathered outside the Casa. There was no one in charge and no obvious organisation, typical Spanish anarchy. Suddenly, the amorphous mass of humanity acted as one and the procession started to move off. I swung into action, if swing is the right word to describe my lumberings. I went down onto one knee for a low angle shot. I shout "Your photograph please".
The use of English is different from the other photographers who are predominantly Spanish, so the subject naturally looks my way. In the UK I shout "Su fotografía, por favor", it has the same effect.
Controlling the procession is a system of hand bells, allowing the costaleros carrying the 'thrones' to rest every 50 metres or so without any disruptions. Years of experience have made the whole exercise faultless. La compás, the beat rung out on dozens of drums, brings unity, making the whole parade move as one.
The throne of María Santísima del Amparo brings the most reaction. This is the first procession and the first time the effigy of María Santísima has been seen this year. It first brings applause, then the more pious of the women folk shed tears. The spectacle is quite moving even to a heathen such as myself.
As the procession moves concerned mothers dash in from the sidelines to check on their precious off-springs. How they know which is which is beyond me. The hoods are all encompassing it must be in their shoes? Stalls selling toy drums and trumpets line the route, food vendors sell everything from grapefruit to cured hams.
Others make the delicious almond toffee, fresh as you wait. As the procession approached the Alameda Principal the crowds become thicker. Pre-booked seating now lines the route and it becomes more difficult for reportage photography. I reluctantly put my lens cap on and head for a hostelry, to eat, have a drink and put my notes in order.
While enjoying a glass of chilled Fino in the Plaza del Obispo opposite Málaga Cathedral, I saw a British family.
Tourists rather than residents over exposure to the sun testified to this, taking photographs of Málaga Cathedral. The patriarch placed his overweight sun blotched wife and his two reluctant offspring in front of the Cathedral before proceeding to take pictures. Now Málaga Cathedral for those who are unfamiliar with it is a wonderful example of 16th century baroque architecture. It has the classification of Málaga Baroque.
Why this chap wanted to include his motley spouse and their hideous progenies in the shot is beyond me. The Cathedral's guardians shouldn't feel too hard done by. Tourists do the same with that Mughal wonder the Taj Mahal and even the Pyramids.
The next few days I repeated the procedure of first, locating, following and photographing the forty-two processions. It became harrowing. I was beginning to think that tap-dancing in boiling oil (olive of course) was a good alternative. I needed a diversion. I visited the English Cemetery the graveyard of St George's Anglican Church to the east of the city. I wanted to see Gerald Brenan's and Robert Boyd's head stones, it was also the last place I expected to see a procession.
The caretaker John Halybone welcomed me, "Watch out for the processional caterpillars" he said, they are poisonous.