I stared, baffled and more than a little scared, at the helmet-haired lady who was shrieking at me through a thick coating of orange foundation in the Hotel Larios in Malaga. It was Easter, and I had been leaning out to watch the procession shuffling slowly up the street outside, wondering if Antonio Banderas was hidden under one of those pointed hoods – he takes part every year. The scent of rosemary rose up into the air, mixing with the smell of incense, as the penitents trod on the bed of herbs strewn on the marble paving slabs of the Calle Marques de Larios.
‘THAT is YOUR window!’ she yapped, giving me a withering look and pointing imperiously at another window, all of 10 feet away, that gave onto the Plaza de la Constitucion. I had no idea what she was on about, but was certainly not going to argue.
I slunk back to the table, which was laden with tapas and wine, that I was sharing with a group of around 20 other journalists, all of us invited by the tourist board to experience Easter in Malaga. I turned to our hosts for enlightenment, and it transpired that when you book one of these tables in the Art Deco bar on the first floor of the Hotel Larios – presumably at extortionate expense – during Semana Santa, this also gives you the rights to the window or windows adjacent to it, depending on the size of the table, thereby enabling your party to witness the various religious processions swaying through the night from an excellent vantage point without jostling with the riffraff in the street below.
As no one had explained this obviously crucial protocol to us, we were stupidly rushing over to whatever window offered the best perspective at any given time. And that, in Malaga, is a massive social faux pas, as I had just learned. Our window giving onto the square did not offer quite as good a view as those giving onto the street, which are bagged every year by the city’s great and good.
Earlier that day, we had watched the Spanish Foreign Legion as they disembarked from a battleship in the harbour. They had come from Almeria along the coast to parade one of the more prestigious figures of Jesus, the Cristo de la Buena Muerte, around the streets, as they do every year – don’t ask me why. There were hundreds of them on deck in their olive-green uniforms, many of them bearded, with beer bellies and lardy arses, singing their dirge of an anthem, ‘Soy el novio de la muerte’ – ‘I am the bridegroom of death’, accompanied by drums and trumpets. A signal was given and they all ran off, doing a sort of high-knee jog, then goosestepped along the quay, dragging two rather reluctant ceremonial goats with gold-painted horns along behind them.
Later on, we saw the legionnaires emerge into a square from the church where the figure is kept throughout the year. The goats, by now rather weary, hobbled dutifully alongside. Some of the soldiers were carrying the heavy figure aloft, the veins in their muscly arms throbbing in the intense afternoon heat, and all belting their song out again at the tops of their voices, this time accompanied by quite a lot of the huge crowd too, more than a few of whom had a tear in their eye. Suddenly, a group of the legionnaires launched into a dance routine that was very Village People circa 1979. Again, don’t ask me why.