Me Vuelves Lorca
I consider myself to be extremely fortunate. In fact, I think we both know we are very lucky to be living in this beautiful country working on projects that excite us and that we were unable to do in the UK for any number of reasons. It’s a good job that we do feel this way, otherwise it rather negates the purpose of our move!
Anyway, as many of you will know, I present a radio programme here in Spain, for Talk Radio Europe. The programme is entitled ‘Life Stories’ and involves my driving around Andalucia and chatting to non-Spanish people who have made Spain their home. It’s such a hard life!
In the course of my travels I have met some lovely and inspiring people from all walks of life. For example, I have met a rapper from New York City who now lives in La Herradura - a rather well-heeled town nestled around a lovely bay on the Costa Tropical. Not the place you’d expect to find a rapper. I met a delightful woman who is rebuilding her life here having been stabbed 35 times in her own home in the UK, and who is now creating a musical based on the book of her experiences. I have met artists, philanthropists, writers and musicians, and I love every part of the job. Through my guests, I get to see parts of Andalucia that I would probably never get to see - beautiful gardens that contain works of art, gorgeous cortijos deep in the countryside, towns and villages off the beaten track.
Last week, Andrew and I got to drive deep into Las Alpujarras, one of our favourite parts of southern Spain. We came here previously, in our quest to find the village where Gerald Brenan lived, some 90 years or so ago, and whose book, ‘South from Granada’ inspired this blog (read that post here). Coincidentally, the same book was part of the reason why my radio guest bought a house in Laroles, in Las Alpujarras, as she was working at the time on the film of Brenan’s book.
Anna Kemp, the radio guest in question, has also set up an open air theatre in Laroles, and has established an annual drama festival, Me Vuelves Lorca. The name reflects Anna’s aim of bringing exceptional theatre to rural communities, in the same way that Federico García Lorca did with his own theatre company. We, Andrew and I, are fairly ardent lovers of theatre, so when I first heard about this particular theatre, modelled in some part on the gorgeous Minack Theatre in Cornwall, we had to go and see it.
Laroles, as a location, would not be the first place that would come to mind when thinking ‘quality drama’. This is a small village, similar to many of the other villages that you will find spread across Las Alpujarras, the region that runs east to west along the southern edge of the high Sierra Nevada, and before you get to the coast. The further east you travel, the more remote the area becomes. This is a very rural area, not easy to reach as the roads are windy and, in many parts, steep. The rewards for journeying eastwards away from the motorway that cuts from Granada down to Motríl are many: stunning landscapes where layers of mountain and valley frequently give way to a backdrop of the highest peaks of the Sierra Nevada; fertile river beds are awash with crops; grapevines carpet hillsides in this productive wine region.
On the drive to Laroles, we follow the southern-most route into the valley, towards Torvizcón, thereby avoiding Órgiva. Yellow ochre cliffs and green pine trees remind us very of the landscapes we love in the Tramuntana mountains of Mallorca. Torvizcón is a quiet and pretty village, tucked well away in the crook of a valley, and where we have had, on two occasions, the best Tostada con tomate, and that is saying something. Tostada con tomate is a simple affair, and a staple part of the breakfast and mid-morning snack. It is, as the name implies, toasted bread with tomato. However, the tomatoes are grated, taste delicious, and the bread is normally a split baguette baked freshly that same day and then lightly toasted. At this particular bar, Bar la Parada, in Torvizcón, the outside of which is singularly unglamorous, everything is just delicious. The bread is so fresh, the grated tomatoes come in their own little bowl, and I could eat them by the pound! The olive oil, to drizzle on the bread, is of such a pale golden colour that it is a joy to behold. You spread the tomato on the bread, drizzle on some oil, sprinkle with a liberal dose of salt and then eat. Heaven! The cafe host knows that this is something special….
Laroles is one of the last villages in Las Alpujarras before the road leads up and over the Sierra Nevada at Puerta de la Ragua, a hidden saddle in the mountains with great hiking in the summer and cross-country skiing in the winter. With only 600 inhabitants, Laroles is not a large place and as we followed the instructions given by Anna, we eventually pitched up to meet her, standing a few metres from her creation.
The theatre was built using one of the old (protected) threshing circles. Gerald Brenan mentions these often in his book as having some supernatural power; a favoured haunt of the witches, for which this particular part of Spain is renowned. The area in Laroles is a seemingly natural amphitheatre - the threshing circle is the stage and then stepping up the hillside, dry-stone tiers follow the contours of the land. Plaques bear the names of benefactors who supported this place during its initial construction, including the name of Leonard Cohen! Standing on the tier, it seems that the view beyond the stage could go on forever; it is an astounding setting and a magical place.
Every year, Anna and her team of technicians and the local population, put on the Me Vuelves Lorca festival, a 3 week run of top quality drama - this is paramount in Anna’s view, and the reason she established the festival in the first place. This type of specialist ‘tourism’ is needed in Andalucia. Spain is a country that relies on tourism and last year attracted in the region of 75 million visitors. However, there is now a slightly uncomfortable shift as some of the main cities are becoming saturated with these visitors and the local residents are finding the resultant high property rental prices to be a disadvantage; that, as well as the crowded summer streets. Barcelona has seen a murmuring of discontent this year, just prior to the horrific terrorist attack of this last weekend. Devastating for such a beautiful city in such a glorious country.
Visitors to this country need to be shown that Spain is so much more than the main cities and the coast. This is a stunning country, with vast expanses of magical landscape and towns and cities bursting with history and culture. Just take a look at some of the locations used for Game of Thrones and you will see one or two examples of the rich architectural heritage waiting to be discovered. A 3 week drama festival in a mountain village might not sound like the panacea, but it is exactly this kind of initiative that will reap rewards. Visitors from both Spain and abroad come to this charmed place, and witness great theatre, and they understand what Spain is about. Tourism that demonstrates the rich culture, the history, the people, the food and wines; travel experiences that enrich and educate - this, to me, is what Spain is about and can offer. This delightful project, driven by a passionate woman, is a part of that transformation and must be supported as Spain tackles this seemingly contradictory issue. Tourism represents around 11% of Spain’s GDP, but it now needs to be managed effectively to relieve the hotspot cities with their spiralling accommodation costs. Travel 20 minutes inland from the costas and you find the true heart of Spain.
Go to the Me Vuelves Lorca Festival next July and August and you will undoubtedly meet Andrew and I there, as we have offered our services as volunteers!
For more information visit Me Vuelves Lorca.
You can hear Ian's chat with Anna Kemp on Talk Radio Europe on Sunday 27th August at 1pm CET (Midday BST) and then again on Saturday 2nd September at midday CET (11am BST).