Ever since we arrived in Andalucia, we’ve come across signs by the side of the road saying ‘Ruta de Washington Irving’. In Loja, the plot thickens and a big ‘Ruta de Washington Irving’ sign outside the tourist office finally reminds us to enquire about this. He was an American traveller, diplomat and writer, who wrote various famous accounts about his journey from Sevilla to Granada, which he undertook in the early 19th century together with a Russian friend. He also spent several months living in the Alhambra in Granada, compiling a book of tales – but more of that when we are there…
We follow the ‘Ruta’, which leads us up the hill to Loja’s museum. On the way, by means of iron statues, we are introduced to Boabdil’s wife Morayma, who sits on a ledge, her head bent, waiting for her husband, unsure if he is still alive or not, as well as Morayma’s father who by all accounts was a fierce warrior.
The museum at the top has some interesting items across the ages, including a big projector which used to show films of Tango orchestras in the 1930’s for people to dance to.
The town is gearing up for Easter: One night there is a grand tambour rehearsal just outside our Emma: About 40 people of all ages playing big sonorous drums, with three players taking turns to lead on the snare drum. The rhythms are exquisite – maybe coming from Flamenco? I can’t quite count the time signatures; one of them seems to have 12.5 beats to it??? Or maybe there is a little fermata at the end of each cycle of beats. In any case, they sound sombre and a little eerie, especially when the group changes the dynamics from a loud rumble to the tiniest of sounds and back to full volume. It’s seems a mixture of religion and battlecry, with a sprinkling of Flamenco.
Another musical venture leads us to a garage next to a church at midnight. A group of eight men each swinging censers stand in two lines facing each other. They look a bit like outgrown altar boys who’ve made up an obscure dance involving Morrisdance-like movements as well as complicated handling of the censers, jumping in and out of cruciforms, accompanied by genuflections. In between, they stand still and take turns in an apparently random manner, singing flamenco-like lines with religious content. Each time a new person starts, he sings a little higher than the one before, until someone starts again way down below. Some people are watching – children and women – and after a while other men come in and throw in the odd musical line. Cigarette smoke hangs thick and beer is flowing, and there is a right cacophony because a background tape is running, providing marching band music and the audience is talking loudly. The whole thing seems like a rehearsal for the Easter processions. After an hour or so, the group breaks up and seriously gets going on the beverages. We are shown another ‘cueva’ (cave) in the neighbourhood where another group is practising. The walls are adorned with religious posters and photos of previous processions; groups in costumes of different colours, with pointed hats darkly reminiscent of the Klu-Klux Klan. They are private events, but it seems the people are proud to show this unique custom to passing travellers. We dive into the next cloud of smoke but after 10 minutes decide we cannot take anymore poisoning, so we have to leave. We actually cough and retch most of the way back down to Emma, we are just not used to smoky environments anymore!
The following day, while Frank is involved in Welsh tribal activities watching 6 Nations Rugby, I discover another rehearsal for Easter – this time it is a marching band of about 60 young people, half of them on drums and half of them playing impossibly high trumpets with a twist valve. It is the most beautiful, haunting music – again with underlying rhythms that defy my way of counting, and with exquisite, non-western scales.
The music forms the backdrop for the floats, big metal constructions carried by 40 or more young men and women in a strange slow dance. Some of the steps mean that the whole thing (about 8 metres long and 3 metres wide) suddenly charges forward at twice the speed, or deftly moves to the side and back. I imagine huge effigies on top of the float, and how this would make the figures sway in a slightly threatening dance. There is an unstopability to a float carried by so many people, which makes me see how constructions like this would have also been used to ram the doors of fortresses and castles.
For three nights, we stay in the car park at the bottom of the hill across the river. At other times, there is an outdoor market here during the week. It’s the weekend, so no-one is here, but still, we have a group of pensioners passing the van every morning, discussing something to do with the demarcations of the market stalls, pointing this way and that while eyeing up our Emma who is firmly planted on lot number 13 and greatly confusing them.
One day, when we come back to Emma, we see a man looking official, typing something into his mobile phone. But it turns out, he just wanted to know what ‘Just Married’ means – we still have the banner hanging in our back window. It is a great conversation opener. We’ll leave it there for the rest of the journey J.
Loja is famous for its rich supply of water. There are many fountains all across the town and the river Genil runs through it too. The water for the fountains comes from the nearby hills. One fountain has 25 spouts and is said to be one of the favourite places for town inhabitants on a hot summer’s evening, and the wash house just below was the traditional meeting place for women during the day.
For more photos, go to flikr
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