My twelfth consecutive year of visiting the Costa del Sol. Slowly, and I do mean at a glacial pace, things are changing; and I should say for the better on the whole. Despite the complete lack of a tradition of cultural participation in the artistic scenes, the Arts are now alive here, if not truly flourishing. Younger generations and tourists seem to maintain this still nascent change; older folk seem to eye their taxes being spent on such fripperies as begrudgingly necessary to hold on to tourists and their Euros, the staple of the modern Spanish economy since the collapse of the construction industry.
In Benalmádena, my resort of choice due to its affable inhabitants, they now produce a guide to their cultural events. For several years the local council has organised a weekly event at the Castillo Bil-Bil. I have been witness to some wonderful classical music performances by young musicians unafraid of playing in front of we plebeians and thrilled by their receptive welcome. It should however be noted that musical events have also included inter alia flamenco, pop and rock. This very evening I am off to a jazz concert. If one can cope with the Spanish language, whether understood or simply to listen to it, one can attend poetry and literary readings or even theatrical shows. From my personal perspective I am excited to come each year and discover what the current profferings are. Benalmádena seems not to try to repeat itself but root out new and fresh offerings. I am advised that a previous gay mayor is very much responsible for the cultural stimulus. I do not know whether this is true: whatever the facts, the move was and has proven to be inspirational. Long may it continue!
[Image description: front aspect of Castillo Bil-Bil lit up at night]
Torremolinos, the next town along the coast from Benalmádena, heading to Málaga the capital of the Málagueño region, has long put on events to lure in the tourists. Nearly a decade ago, I recall attending a concert at their cultural centre Pablo Ruiz Picasso. The emcée made the introductions in English, French, German and Finnish, but not rather notably in Spanish: there simply was not a single Spaniard in the audience.
Last week I was again in Torremolinos for a modern interpretation of The Nutcracker, El Cascanueces. This time, apart from the foreign tourists, the auditorium was packed with Spanish. The performances included bangra, hip-hop, belly-dancing, flamenco, Bollywood-style, street-funky, contemporary dance as well as traditional classical ballet. Given all the dancers were amateurs, some of the pieces were more professionally executed than dance I have paid large sums of money to attend - I think especially of some dire performances by Ballet Rambert and Royal Northern Ballet. To be sure, I left the Torremolinesian venue with my spirits totally uplifted. My Spanish companion thoroughly enjoyed herself also, to her great surprise.
[Image description: the adertisement for El Cascanueces in Spanish]
Even as I type I am horripilating at the thought of so much talent here on the Costas; how much more is yet to be discovered?
Without the investment of local councils here in Spain in classes, supporting and investing in current and future talent, this new-found cultural growth would wilt and die. Culture has to be one of the avenues exploited here in Andalusia in a multi-pronged approach to hanging on to and expanding tourist numbers. And the penny-pinching local authorities back in the UK could learn a thing or two about investing to reap future rewards. This is definitely one aspect that Spain does better! %)