After all this time, I’ve finally had my first look at the Mediterranean Sea.
Well, the, uhhh… the photo doesn’t exactly do it justice BUT it was there and I did see it. I stood on the salty sidewalk, peeped over the brown sand and tried to picture the total weight of that water, that sea of great importance filled with history, battle, blood, sun, little-tiny-cocktail-umbrellas that blew away.
And then I realised how hard it was to actually believe I was there. It was just a sea, right? I mean, some of the beaches around Adelaide are just as, if not more pretty (ooh, controversy). But it’s the weight of it that struck me. I couldn’t lift it for more than a couple of seconds at a time. This was the famous Mediterranean.
Bonica and I had travelled to Málaga for a retrospective exhibition from one of my all time favourite artists and to meet up with amigos from her under-graduate days. For two days we soaked up the sun, ducked and dodged crowds of sunburned Germans and English and ate even more than we had already.
The journey itself was long and cramped in the front of an Alsa bus. The pay-off to taking a bus at 4am is, of course, that middle-of-nowhere sunrise. We watched, stretching our necks, as the gold began to break over Sierra Nevada. We breathed in deep the stinging cold of the mountains at a retro-futuristic rest-stop. We watched the landscape undulate and transform from crackling desert to rolling green hills dotted with olive trees. Spain is really beautiful if you know where to look. Hell, you don’t even have to look that hard.
Like the work of the city’s most famous son, Málaga is a fractured, cubist sort of place that is fascinating to explore. It’s a layered cake of city upon city upon town upon council flat block upon beach. On one side of the river there is comfortable squalor, affordable housing and small, Virgin-covered churches. On the other side there is luxury shopping and restaurants with “special” English menus (read: more expensive than the Castellano ones). There are glittery walkways, blocks of tall apartments and cathedral gardens. And it’s all split in two by a dry river bed decorated with miles of vibrant street art.
So one can’t really travel to Málaga expecting nothing but sand, seafood and cocktails. Sure, I’m sure you could get a tan there in summer, but unless you leave the city centre you’re unlikely to find the pristine white sand you might crave.
Instead, Málaga is a stylish port city. Between the ancient Roman ampi-theatre and the port itself is a long, illuminated spine, connecting the old town to a strip of modern shopping and yacht parking. Near that is a long strip of green fronds and palm trees. To see the city from above would be an artwork in itself.
The Mark Ryden exhibition, at CAC Málaga until March, was a sight to behold. His captivating and slightly troubling paintings kept us locked in place and hypnotised for ages, and when we broke away from the giant baby-doll eyes and esoteric symbology of his work, we didn’t even feel quite real. Finally seeing some of my favourite contemporary artworks “in the flesh” for the first time was an experience worth the 12 hours of bus-riding.
And what sort of trip to Málaga would it be without honouring Picasso’s place with a visit? Though his House was closed and the museum partly shut for renovation, we were let into see 38 of his most important works. But it was Picasso’s words, not his paintings, struck me most deeply. He writes like he paints, full of freedom and unabashed romance for life.
“Yo he nacido de un padre blanco y de un pequeño vaso de agua de vida andaluza. Yo he nacido de una madre hija de una hija de quince años nacida en Málaga en los Percheles el hermoso toro que me engendra la frente corona de jazmines” – Pablo Picasso: ‘La llave de su ojo malagueño’. Antología de textos (1935-1959)
“I was born of a white father and a small glass of Andalusian water of life. I was born to a mother of a daughter of a fifteen-year-old girl born in the Percheles of Málaga the handsome bull who sired me with his forehead crowned with jasmine”
Picasso’s automatic drawing and writing is beautiful because it is free from the constraints that society places on us. Picasso was born of a small glass of Andalusian water of life to teach us to paint like children when we are told to paint like Dutch masters (or at least strive to). Picasso’s work reminds us to embrace the flow and the internal and, in a way, so does Málaga. It’s a lot more beautiful if you avoid the tourist traps and flow through the city on a whim.