Wednesday, January 28, 2015

McCarthy's Casbah - Part VII

One of the curious features of Spanish  life is that people have 2 last names. Whereas in most of the world you are given one last name, typically your father’s, the Spanish have adopted the custom of honoring both your parents so if your father is called Butragueno and your mother’s name is Rincon, your last name will be Butragueno-Rincon. Combine this with the fact that many people still insist on naming their children after grandparents, aunts etc. and give them multiple first names, and you can see where this might get confusing at times.

If you look at Pablo Picasso’s life story, you will see his parents took this to a whole different level. His full name is.. Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Martyr Patricio Clito Ruiz Picasso. Try fitting that on a business card.

Picasso’s  father was an art professor at a local college as well as the curator at a local museum and in his free time he was also a painter himself.  Young Pablo had art and creativity thrown at him from the word go.
An often quoted ‘fact’ is that his first word was ‘Pencil’ and while this may or may not be true, it certainly is a nice annecdote to illustrate his aptitude for art. When Pablo was young still, his family moved around Spain, first to La Coruna and then Barcelona, where his father took up positions of increasing importance with art colleges. It is often mentioned that Barcelona is where Picasso really got into his art, and later in life he would often say that Barcelona was his spiritual home- a quote, I’m sure, the people at the Picasso Museum would rather see buried and forgotten.

He attended art school in both Barcelona and Madrid but he hated being told what to do so he spent most his time observing the city and going to museums.(I’d say me and Ol’ Pablo would have gotten along just fine)
As is par for the course in the life of an artist, he also spent prolongued periods in Paris. I won’t bore you with all the details about his various artistic periods or influences, because you can Google that yourself if you’re interested in that.
I looked up the Picasso museum online and found, to my surprise, that there are 2 in Malaga. The most famous one is the Museo Picasso Malaga, which has many of his works on display, and the lesser known one is the Museo Picasso Casa Natal. The art museum is where all the tourists go to see his works, so I decided to leave that until my next visit to Malaga and first get to know the man a little better by visiting the house where he was born and spent his early years.

On the ground floor, you can walk around an expo of some of his early work, mostly pen drawings and sketches. I was given a sort of remote control type device that, so I found after entering, you were supposed to hold to your ear and then press the corresponding button for each display you got to. The remote control would then tell you a little story about the display and what was happening in it, when it was made etc. There were some really cool weird drawings, but unfortunately you were not allowed to take pictures. I spent about half an hour walking around the room and when I got to the end, I noticed that the guard was explaining something to another visitor so I shot a couple of pictures with my phone.

Next up was the first floor, which was the actual house the family lived in, late in the 19th century. I often find it just as interesting as art or other exhibits to walk around the place where people actually lived. The first time I was in New York, I visited an original Dutch farmhouse from the colonial days. This was, obviously, now also decked out as a museum, but it was the same building the family had lived in all those years ago, and it was much in the original state. I found it incredibly interesting to walk around the old farm where people had lived their lives and had gone about their daily business.
So it was now, walking around Picasso’s old living room, his father’s atelier and the family room. To walk in the rooms where one of the great artists of the 20th century set his first steps, ate his dinners and arguably spoke his first words was a special experience that I’m not sure any number of paintings could have surpassed.  What made it even better,was what I found out at the end of the tour: Picasso had died only about a year before I was born.
This was an exciting new experience for me. Growing up in Holland, I was raised with art from famous Dutch painters and nearly all of them lived in the 17th and 18th centuries. While their art was admirable, their life stories were as much ancient history to me as the Roman empire or the march of Ghengis Kahn.
Keith Haring apart, I had never admired art from someone who had been alive at the time of the moon landing. With newfound admiration for Picasso, I now decided to have a look at his grave but was disappointed when the girl at reception told me that he was buried somewhere near Aix-en-Provence in Southern France. I walked back onto the sunny square and sat down next to Picasso.
Or, well, his statue because there is a statue in front of the museum of him sitting on a bench, looking out over the square, as he would have when he was a little kid. I decided to have some lunch and went in search of a nice spot in the sun, wondering why Picasso never returned to Malaga.

[Author’s note: I did some research into this later and found that Picasso never returned to Malaga for a good reason. Picasso moved to France early in the 20th century (most sources place this event around 1904) and pretty much enjoyed himself. If he ever considered moving back to Spain, this was prevented by 2 events: First, the Spanish civil war broke out in 1936, and the country was split in 2 factions: the Nationalists, who wanted to overthrow the government and install a fascist state, and the Republicans who wanted to keep the situation as it was (democracy and all that). As time progressed, most of the country came under control of the fascist Nationalists, with the exception of some major cities (among them, interestingly, Malaga). With both sides bogged down in a turf war and no clear winner, something else happened: the Second World War.
Just before, and during, the second world war, the Nationalists, under command of one Francisco Franco, were backed by the fascist governments of Germany and Italy and, when the war ended, Franco and his boys came out on top. (The Republicans had been backed by Russia and, for some reason, Mexico)
As Picasso had politely rejected to join either side during the civil war, he could be quite sure that moving back to Spain would result in him being arrested, imprisoned and possibly executed for being an enemy of the state or whatever oppressive governments call people who refuse to do as they’re told. As you may know, Franco was finally overthrown in 1976 and normal order was restored in Spain. By this time, ofcourse, Picasso had died.]

I had an excellent lunch of tiny sandwiches with sliced fish and sundried tomatoes, and made my way back to the hostel by finding a shortcut through the North of the city centre and 4 bars with sunny patios. Back at the hostel I found an English guy I had been talking to the night before who was just about to go out for a drink with a couple of others. He asked me if I wanted to come along and ofcourse I did because beer, so I went to my room to re-apply my sunscreen and hobbled back downstairs.
When I arrived at reception, I found to my shock that Rottweiler would be among those in the touring party. In fact, apart from the other English guy, he was the only one in the party. Ah well, maybe he wasn’t as obnoxious when he got out of the hostel.

Rottweiler said he knew a great Irish pub, so we made our way into the city and, after passing 3 other pubs that could not bear his sign of approval, I found myself back on Plaza Merced, about 20 yards from the door of the museum I had visited earlier in the day. The English guy (not Rottweiler, the other one) was in need of a job and money so he spent some time discussing his CV with a manager. He ensured her that his family was originally Irish and from Cavan, a feature that probably meant as much to her as if he had said that he had relatives in Iryan Jaya, and eventually sat down in the sun with me and Rottweiler. To open conversation, I thought I’d tell them about the museum next to the pub but it soon became apparent that they weren't interested. The English/Irish guy was fine with talking about travel,  Ireland and football so found a willing conversational partner in me. Rottweiler only wanted to talk about England. No matter what subject came up, he managed to turn it into something that was better in England, better because England didn’t have it or worse because it wasn’t English. After I finished my pint, I escaped by saying that I was going to the beach. The English/Irish guy apologised later that night for Rottweiler’s behaviour, which was unnecessary because he had been fun to talk to and needn’t issue apologies.

That evening,  I walked into the common room and heard Rottweiler barking at the receptionist on duty. People in the room looked at each other in annoyance and incredulity. Would this guy never stop? His next sentence answered that.
I’m not going to exaggerate here by saying that people fell into each other’s arms as if they were East Berliners crossing into the West for the first time, or war veterans reunited with their families after a long and dangerous tour of duty, but there were definitely a couple of fist bumps, one high five and the hiss of a beer can opened in celebration.
Yes, the beer can was mine.
The next day was the last full day in Malaga for both me and my new Dutch friends. While I had a comfortable afternoon flight back to Dublin, they had to be at the airport at 5.30 or some such so had to get up, well, even before that. We agreed to go out for dinner that night and then went our separate ways for the day. I spent my last day in Malaga in the way I like the place most: Doing nothing much. I sauntered the sunny streets and squares of the city centre. I had an ice cream at Casa Mira, and then another one. I had some tapas at a place near the Museo Picasso and then retired to the garden of El Pimpi, just around the corner, where I spent an hour in the sun, drinking cold beer and eating olives. I went to Plaza Uncibay and sat outside the place that sells 5 bottles of beer for 3 Euros. I lazily whiled the day away and absolutely loved it.
Dinner that night added to my feelings that Malaga was a great place. We had dinner at a restaurant just off Plaza de la Constitucion and I had some of the best paella I ever ate. Combined with 2 pints of San Miguel and a rum for dessert that was so generous I thought I’d be charged for a triple, my total bill came to about 15 Euros. What an amazing place!

We went back to the hostel and had a couple of beers in the garden. My friends went to bed around midnight so as to catch a couple of hours of sleep before going to the airport so we said our goodbyes. Just as they left, some others came back, so I continued the conversation with them, and when they left, I decided I’d have one more beer and then go to bed.

I woke up because I heard muffled conversation and people walking by with luggage. I opened my eyes and found my friends were back in the garden. Why were they back in the garden?
Why was I STILL in the garden? What time was it?
It turned out that I had dozed off during my final beer and had slept on a couch in the garden for a couple of hours, and my friends were now ready for departure to the airport. Hmm, okay then. Good thing it was still 24 degrees outside.
We said goodbye again and I retired, this time to my bed.

I reluctantly packed my bag for the final time at around 10, said my goodbyes to the staff, promising to come back soon, and then departed.
I don’t want to leave.

Towards the end of any trip, I always start to reminisce about the places I went, the things I saw and the experiences gained. 
As I sat on the train to the airport, I thought about Gibraltar, and what a strange place it is. Their weird money, their monkeys, their rock and the surreal experience of feeling you’re in England while you’re 20 miles from Africa. What a strange geographical oddity and anachronistic left over from colonial days.
The train pulled into the Aeropuerto station and I emerged from the airconditioned underground station into the warm Mediterranean air. I looked back at the city and saw its modest skyline in the distance.
I don’t want to go.

After customs and security, I planted myself at the bar of O’Leary’s, one of the best airport bars in Europe. For no reason that is apparent to me, they decided to deck out the main airport bar here as an American sportsbar. More specifically, a Boston sports bar. The whole place looks like your less than 2 blocks away from Fenway Park or the Boston Garden. Not an inch of wall space is left untouched. Between the pennants, banners and flags, you stare into the eyes of Larry Bird, Tim Wakefield and Tom Brady. There are Stanley Cup ornaments, Red Sox bats and a wall chart detailing when exactly trophies were won and why Boston is the greatest sporting city in the world. As you walk out (or in) you are greeted by the broad, cigar-filled smile of the inevitable Red Auerbach.
As I took all this in, my mind drifted back to Tangier.  I had no idea what Tangier was going to bring and, to be honest, I was sort of overwhelmed by it. Pete McCarthy said that after a week there, the city had grown on him and, by the end, he actually started to enjoy it.  Tangier was a great experience but I’m not sure if it is a city that I would actually start to enjoy fully at some point, in the way I enjoy Boston or Lubljana or Melbourne. I had seen what I wanted to see, experienced the city for 2 days and that was pretty much it for me. I can’t see myself returning to Tangier in a hurry. The poverty, dirt and especially the incessant approach from guides, beggars and other people out to get your money had become a bit irritating towards the end. Still, I am intrigued by the Arab world for some reason, and I want to see more of it. Which I find strange, to be honest.
The things that mostly come to mind when thinking about the Arab world are that they take religion very serious, they generally have a somewhat strange view on the rights of women, and they don’t drink.
If you asked me to make a list of things that I dislike most, this is pretty much the list I would come up with. Still, I want to see more of it. But what part? I ordered another beer so that I could properly contemplate this.  I went over a map of the Arab world in my head and found that travelling in this part of the world can be something of a challenge. I have always been fascinated by Lebanon, somehow. Maybe it’s because they were constantly in the news for all the wrong reasons in my early childhood, like Ireland. Going East from Morocco, you cross the following countries: Algeria (civil war, extremism and agression against westerners) Tunisia (extremism) Libya (civil war) and Egypt(civil unrest, political instability and extremism) are too dangerous and all off-limits. Jordan and Lebanon are stable and open to tourism, but given the fact that they are surrounded by the horrendous war currently raging in Iraq and Syria, I think I’ll pass on those too for the moment. In Saudi Arabia and Iran, alcohol is illegal. Not frowned upon, like in Morocco, or “Just go to the bar in the basement and we’ll pretend that you’re sober” easygoing like Dubai- ILLEGAL. As in drink-a-brandy-and-end-up-in-jail illegal.
I ended up with the consideration that it would have to be the United Arab Emirates or Turkey.

[Author’s Note: When back home, I discussed this with my cousin Raymond, whom I consider to be a bit of an expert on the subject as his wife is Turkish, and he recommended me to go to Istanbul]

I was woken from my Arabian Nights by a loud ping on the PA system and one of those announcements that you can never understand, which reminded me that I had a plain to catch. I drowned the last of my pint and headed for the gate.
I want to stay.

As the plane taxied to its take off position, my mind was elsewhere. It was not in the plane on the runway. It was on a sunny terrace on the Plaza Merced with a cold beer in its hand.
With the city fading below me, my considerations reached the final stage of travel evaluation, something I always ask myself;  The Big Question- Could you live there?
For Gibraltar and Tangier, this was a resounding No.

Gibraltar is too small and isolated. It would be like living in small town or on an outlying island. I would get incredibly bored within a couple of weeks.
Tangier, as I said, is a bit too chaotic, poverty stricken and unregulated for me.  That, and the absence of pubs, would drive me insane.

I looked out the window one more time, to catch a last glimpse of Malaga before it disappeared from sight. I love the place. It’s such an easy going city. The people are friendly, the food is fantastic and they have great beaches that you can use year round because it’s always sunny and warm. On top of all that, it’s dirt cheap. You can have a great lunch for 5 Euros, beer costs next to nothing and you can rent an appartment for the price of a room in Dublin.
Could I live there?


And at some point I actually might.

The reason I’m not moving there now is not Malaga. It’s Dublin.
I’m still too hooked on Dublin to leave. I’m at home in Dublin, more than I have ever felt at home in Holland. I could not say goodbye to the city and the friendly people. I couldn’t bear watching the Dublin football team on a laptop screen rather than from the stands in Croke Park. And I definitely couldn’t walk away from
my favorite restaurants, all those great pubs, and the friends I made.
I couldn’t leave that all behind.

Not now.

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