Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Concert in Cartagena

Without doubt, it’s the oddest city on the Spanish mainland. Cartagena (New Carthage, Cartago Novo) is a navy city about 60 kms from Murcia.
Imagine two mountains, with the sea flowing in between them. A third mountain stops the sea’s progress further inland. This third mount has massive fortifications and is topped by a castle. Around and behind, the city stretches, in most cases old, bombed out, collapsed. Narrow streets with boarded up shops and ornate nineteenth century fronts held up by builders’ supports. Old bars – the type that looks like a garage, you can pee out the back. Arab tea-rooms (no booze, but good lamb dishes). The occasional massive colonial structure or military barracks in mothballs. We walked down one narrow street (in the Arab quarter) which decanted apologetically into the ground floor of a ruined house. Wire on the left held us from a crag with a tower on it. The track continued through the wall of a vestibule straight into a small room with a virgen in it and a dozen lit candles, and out, left, into the sunlight again.

Cartagena has a political party (currently just one councillor in the ayuntamiento) which wants independence from Spain. In 1873, The city not only had a majority for the Partido Cantonal, it actually declared UDI and, worse still, declared war on the rest of Spain. It took an incredible six months before Spain’s forces could overrun the rebel city (in January 1874). These days, they talk about leaving Murcia as, perhaps, a good place to start.
The city was an important naval port. With the end of conscription and a new professional navy on the passing of Francoism, Cartagena went downhill. Never a pretty place, with the money turned off the city took a powder. Today, European funding appears to be re-awakening the ancient city from its recent slumbers and a new (and apparently pointless) toll route is being built between Cartagena and Vera.

We were there for a concert. To get to the castle, you have to walk around the mountain from the main avenida, then, you can only climb the hill by taking a ho, in your face, modern glass zippy-lift up to the top, then along a stainless steel structure with lights… onto the castle forecourt. Dozens of peacocks were sleeping there, perched high in the pine trees or on ornamental bridges. The port far below between those two mountains, illuminated by the full moon.
The concert tonight was Abdullah Ibrahim (as Dollar Brand calls himself now). Dollar Brand – I knew him back in 1975 – is a wonderful pianist from South Africa. He led a trio with a two-hour concert in front of a narrow tower up on the high mountain. Just a piano, a double bass and percussion. And the odd cry from the peacocks…

The walk back was spooky. No one on the streets. Hardly any lights.
The hotel was modern and ho-hum. The air conditioning leaked drip, drip, every second or two. It was their carpet.

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