Crumbs and Crikey!

‘That’s a bit more like it’ I thought as I opened my curtains on Sunday morning. That’s why I’m in Spain for Christmas – clear blue skies and already 16 degrees. What a great day to drive to Torrox for the Fiesta de Migas. Because of the weather and for nostalgia’s sake, I decided to take the trusty N340 along the coast rather than the motorway. We stayed once in Velez Malaga in the mid 1970s and driving along to see the caves at Nerja involved large stretches of driving over compacted stone clippings that were the basis for a road later – much later I suspect – to be tarmaced. It weaves along now through waterside developments that weren’t there 40 years ago. It’s still a nice drive with frequent glimpses of sea to the right and brought me in timely fashion to a small bar in Torrox Costa in time for a quick coffee before seeking the bus up to join in the festivities to which I’d been invited by Loz Blume a fellow Watford fan who relocated to Spain four years ago.

I asked the proprietor where buses departed for Torrox Pueblo and was advised to leave my car where it was and walk five minutes up the road. I came to a Lidl where the checkout lady explained that the bus stop was just opposite and a few metres back. I’d walked past it! By the way there are now almost as many Lidl and Aldi stores in Spain as there are Chinese Bazaars. Fortunately a bus arrived within a few minutes and I was soon climbing the narrow streets to the main square. As a WhatsApp from Loz confirmed – just follow the noise. As I entered the square arms shot up in greeting and beckoned me over to the front of the stage where three young ladies, a percussionist and a guitarist were performing very catchily such that all the local ladies of a certain age were dancing enthusiastically. Hugs and kissed all round as Loz and I reintroduced ourselves after first meeting at a Watford City Orns outing to a T20 cricket match at Hove probably about eight years ago. The kisses were for his sister Michelle and other female friends. Beers were nobly produced and Loz seemed genuinely delighted to have the copy of the book I wrote for the club’s charity’s 25th anniversary – it had just been his birthday so it had to double as that and a Christmas gift. The music stopped, beers were finished and we began the further climb up to the car park at the top of the village which is where free wine and migas were on offer.

Loz and Michelle with a sample of rather sweet Malaga wine

We walked through the market stalls and looked (Loz’s experience of four Migas tells) for the shortest queue to wait for our dish of migas which are bread crumbs fried in olive oil served with a tomato, orange and onion salad. They are prepared in wok-like pans over a wood fire:

And then dished up on plastic plates with a spoon like this:

It’s a hark back to field labourers’ lunches and the Fiesta in in its 38th iteration so I guess that’s what they used to have back then. They were very tasty and filling – exactly their original purpose. We then move off to Loz’s house to catch the day’s main event Watford v Manchester United which I was missing because they changed the game to Sunday for TV – a blessing as it transpired. As we moved off from the car park the crowds were swelling so I think we had made excellent queuing time – we did notice that our came from the Gluten Free line so that may have accounted for the smaller queue.

And then Crickey! We only went and won! Watford 2-0 Manchester United. First home win of the season! Only the second three points. Total jubilation in the Blume house saluted with beer and tortilla before I then took Michelle back to Malaga Airport as she was due to fly back to Edinburgh that evening. She had arranged a ride with Mark, a neighbour who does occasional taxi runs, but as a Spurs fan he was pleased to be able to stay with Loz and watch the second match after running us down to my car in Torrox Costa. He won’t have been quite as excited about the result and may have preferred to be on the road to Malaga. Tottenham 0-2 Chelsea. We whizzed back along the motorway in the setting sun – why are my sunglasses in the desk by the front door? – getting to know each other and hoping that our paths will cross again. After three fairly hectic days and the prospect of highlights on Match of the Day later on, I went from the airport back to the Parador, wrote the previous blog, had a fine plate of jamon y queso and a glass or two of rioja watching the twinkling lights of Malaga by night. Once again I had confirmation about why I was here.

Malaga Day 2 – art, cars, lights and music

I had a bit of a lie in this morning and decided to take the car since I was going to visit the Automobile Museum which I thought would be interesting after seeing Cars at the V&A earlier this month. By a miracle my worst fears about parking the car on arrival were swept away by the fact that it has free parking in front – well I suppose they are all about cars. But first I went to see the other collection on the same site in a disused tobacco factory – an even more impressive building than Carmen’s in Seville. This was the Russian Museum which had three exhibitions. The first was devoted to the depiction of women in Russian art over the last two centuries and was more interesting for the social observation of costumes and customs than for the intrinsic merit of the canvases displayed – far too many in my humble opinion. Eyes started glazing over by room 5, beautifully displayed and labelled though they were. Given some of the obvious disparities between the have and have not classes it was pretty obvious why the Revolution happened. The next exhibit was the work of Nicholas Roehrich of whom I’d never heard. There were some amazing landscapes and allegorical paintings in alternately sombre and vibrant colours. He travelled a lot and ended his life in India where a wall full of square oils showed the Himalayas in all the variety of lighting stages that mountains pass through. He was a revelation but cars called so I’m afraid I skipped the third show featuring the life and works of the poet Anna Akhmatova.

The Automobile Museum was just fabulous, charting the history of vehicles from earliest steam driven carriages through the vintage cars from the USA and Europe to future concept studies. It’s massive but very engaging as the official title is Museum of Automobiles and Fashion and beside each vehicle was a designer dress or outfit from the era so you could imagine these elegant folk installed behind their chauffeurs or later taking the wheel themselves. One car reminded me of Peter Blake’s painted Mersey Ferry, Everybody Razzle Dazzle, that I’d seen last week only to discover that it was painted by Sonia Delaunay in 1928.

P1010096

There were a lot of very sleek and beautiful beasts on show but I was left feeling very proud of Jaguar’s contribution to motor car design. And they had some funny ideas at Rolls-Royce too!

I then stopped off at the bus station to get a ticket for tomorrow’s planned trip to Torrox to share the Fiesta de Migas and watch Watford v Man United with an expat Watford friend. Sadly the first bus on a Sunday was at one and takes an hour and a half which would leave no time for fiesta and the last one back was at five which would leave no time after football so after a WhatsApp exchange I concluded that I’d do abstemious fiesta-ing and drive for convenience. Thence to my next port of call which was the outpost of the Paris Centre Pompidou which opened here last March. It’s an underground structure with a glitzy glazed Rubik’s cube on top. I can see it clearly from my balcony and thought it would be worth a visit.

Inside it’s a vast space with equally vast canvases and installations which appealed in varying measure. The highlights for me were a massive Miro and an equally large scale Peter Doig but I was also amused by the sheep installation that filled the first room. Sadly they wouldn’t let us sit on them despite their destiny as stools.

When I got back outside I could see my balcony up on the Gibralfaro Hill, providing a nice symmetry. The Centre is on a newish (2011) development of the waterfront in Malaga called Muelle Uno. It has trendy shops and restaurants – chain and individual and I decided it was time for some seafood and a glass of Verdejo a favourite white from next to La Rioja (will that count Les?).

My room second floor just right of the tree.

I retrieved the car from the parking under Centre Pompidou with some distress. As I descended in the lift I saw no pay station and assumed it would be near the exit. It wasn’t so I had a stream of three needing to reverse so that I could go back to the machine – hidden behind the lift – and then emerge. Much tooting and muttering about Los Ingleses – expect more in future. I returned to the hotel and parked up and then started the walk back down when a convenient bus arrived to save me the trouble. However I very nearly had to arm wrestle a huge French woman to get on board. She was determined to be first despite her lowly rank in the queue and had the bulk to determine the outcome. At the city centre bus stop I walked to the Museo Carmen Thyssen to admire the work of Spain’s eighteenth and nineteenth century painters. I recognised two or three from the recent Sorolla exhibition in London now back home and was struck by how art movements seemed to move across countries with similar preoccupations in Russia and Spain in the same periods. I was warned on entry that there was to be a concert at 19.00 so my visit was enhanced by the sound check for the orchestra and warm up exercises of the choir. I didn’t stay as there were few tickets left.

My friend Graham was in Malaga a few weeks ago and had recommended the restaurant Batik – if I could find it. I wandered through a few streets, stopping for the occasional beer in the odd neighbourhood bar and discovered that Batik was close to the Plaza de la Merced and the Teatro Romano. It was great recommendation with super carpaccio de jurado and tuna tatziki all washed down by a good Marques de Riscal. While I was there a couple of young ladies asked me to take their photo and we then got chatting. One of them worked in PR for Malaga Tourism so I offered my services should they need English copywriting or proofing. While we were conversing (pitching?) the most spectacular light show took place against the backdrop of the Alcazaba which in one sequence appeared to be self-destructing stone by stone. Something similar happens every year it seems. My homeward saunter was enlivened by superb temporary Christmas light displays:

and groups of musicians at seemingly every corner. One of them appeared to me to be the Andaluz equivalent of Morris (pace Pete and Richard) while another was an energetic jazz group none of whom could have been more than twenty five, a promising sign for live music in the south. Then it was a taxi up the hill, a glass of brandy and some light blogging.

Malaga Morris?
Young jazzers giving it some wellie

Boas Festas, Bon Natal

After the quickest taxi journey to Stansted ever, I breezed through security and went to the Escape Lounge for a hearty breakfast and a thorough read of the Observer. After a leisurely hour I made my way to the gate to find that the Priority Boarding queue is twice as long as the non-Priority. That’s because Ryanair make you buy Priority is you want to take a cabin wheelie case on board. I didn’t want to check baggage for just a week away so I joined the end of the line and waited, and waited. The incoming flight was delayed and so boarding for us was delayed. Standing in the airbridge to the stairs that would take us to the plane – how much extra does it cost in airport fees to push the bridge to the door and avoid all that up and down with luggage that could be wheeled not carried? – a fellow traveller spotted my Watford FC lapel badge and offered, pointing at my chest, “Good result for you yesterday!” “Indeed” I replied “and in all honesty I didn’t expect it. West Ham have been on a great run and we’ve been playing well but not getting the results.” It transpired that he is a Man United fan and would have been in Cardiff but for the lack of trains to get him back to ensure catching this flight today. We chatted a little more about the beautiful game, managers and player commitment and then they actually put us on board but rows apart so the conversation ended there. I’ve always said that if someone finds that you are a football fan you’ll never be short of a conversation – sometimes enjoyable, sometimes rather boring. This could have gone on happily for the entire flight I suspect.

So having taken a cab to the airport, gone in a posh lounge, paid for priority boarding, when I get to Lisbon I decide to take the pauper’s option to get to the hotel. This involved walking a very short distance to the Metro station, buying a rechargeable Via Viagem card and taking the Red Line (actually called Linea Vermelha which struck a chord as one of the pieces in my Japan book is about Vermillion) to Saldanha which looked the nearest station on the map. It wasn’t as I learnt after finally making it through a maze of hilly streets to be told I should have gone to the end of the line at Sao Sebastiao which is five minutes closer. Also Lisbon’s streets are paved with annoying small squares of stone which wreak havoc on the wheels of your suitcase.

I checked in to a surprisingly large room and went for a quick orientation ramble around the neighbourhood, finding the Blue Line station for tomorrow’s outing and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation for Boxing Day. Back at the hotel for a beer (two actually as it was happy hour and they twisted my arm) I caught the end of Everton going down 2-6 to Spurs and then watched as local side Benfica put in 6 again to Braga’s 2. How often do you witness two 6-2 score lines on the same day?

It was Sunday night and the restaurant options were limited but the suggestion of Miguel at reception that I walk to the other end of the street (not very long) to Colina was a great choice. It’s a neighbourhood locale filled with families, some of whom I followed down the road from church, with a buzzing atmosphere and very tasty food.

I had a fish soup with four huge prawns and then a speciality from the area of spiced pork with clams which went down well. Having recently discovered in the UK a Portuguese grape called Alicante Bouschet at my local Laithwaites, I asked if they had one and the best they could do was a blend with Cab Sauv. It slid down very nicely anyway. A brisk walk through a cool evening – down to 8 degrees – and the sleep of the traveller.