Semana Santa in Andalucia - Part One

April 5 - Malaga: Andalucia laid on a welcome for us from the opening day. Coming in from the airport, our taxi was diverted as the centre of Malaga was thronged with onlookers for a military parade. We dismounted and made our way on foot through the sunshine. The main street, the Alameda, was packed with people standing up on dusty folding chairs under the palm leaves, craning for a viewpoint. Andrea stood up on a lamppost for a better view and looked adorable as an eight year old as the soldiers marched quickly by in ranks, followed by buglers who twirled their instruments expertly - and blew sweet, shrill, soulful notes out into the cool sunshine.

  When the parade had passed, the crowds broke up quickly and we pulled our suitcases through the narrow streets to our hotel, close to the broad, pale open space of the Plaza de Merced. The hotel is an oasis of cool, tiled calm, a maze of corridors and shuttered windows.

  We dumped our bags and headed out for lunch, eating under the shade of a beautiful bougainvillea by the church at San Augustin. We were serenaded by a beautiful player – a Peruvian who sang and played for tips as ordered lunch. As we ate, we could hear the approach of drums and cornets – playing the most beautiful, mournful music. And here through the narrow streets in the afternoon sunshine came the wooden icons of Joseph and Mary, both riding donkeys, which were carried into the grounds of the church while the band, dressed in black with vintage German style helmets with points, played outside.

  We went back to the hotel for a siesta, and awaited Julia’s arrival. After a long catch-up, we ventured out around 7.30pm. As we arrived at the cathedral, more crowds were gathering, and soon another icon was carried into the street, flanked by penitents wearing the pointed black hoods and carrying black candles.

  We went for dinner at Il Jardin restaurant, and when we emerged, another icon of the virgin was being carried back in, this time in darkness, very dramatic.  I managed to squeeze off one shot above the heads of the crowd, and caught this amazing image of the rows of faces of the carriers as they brought the icon back to the cathedral. The accompanying music was heartstopping – beautiful and moving, sad and complex, lots of shifting, deep harmonies in minor keys. As we made our way back to the hotel on the pavement of the Calle Madre de Dios there were rose petals dropped earlier in the evening from one of the many processions making their way across the town that night.

  The first day in Andalucia left my head swimming with impressions that reeled over and over in my head as I tried to sleep: The ringing of the bells. The sound of the bugles in the open air. The rich and glamorous people gliding around the back of the cathedral. Now and then, the heartbreakingly beautiful little Spanish girls. The smell of incense in the street. The shimmering icons carried aloft. The little shot glasses of sweet sherry offered up by our waiter after we tipped him. The sparrows twittering in terror by the church of San Augustin, as the bugles and drums started up.