Ambling Through Alicante
The Romans named it Lucentum, City of Light, and Alicante on the Mediterranean coast of Spain has some of the most amazing natural light you’ll see anywhere. The rosy dawns, the rich turquoise and orange sunsets and a night sky, which can be like black velvet, allows the moon to show off. It’s absolutely gorgeous – an artist’s paradise.
On 20 November 1975 Francisco Franco died and Spain was able to begin to throw off the shackles of a fierce and uncompromising dictatorship which had lasted the best part of forty years. During the Spanish Civil War, and the dictatorship that followed, many artists had been executed or imprisoned. And so, it was against this backdrop that, after the death of Franco, artists began to re-emerge and take their place in the new Spanish democracy that came into being. Local languages and dialects had been prohibited under Franco’s rule but little by little the autonomous communities that make up mainland Spain and its islands brought them into the light once again – their users fiercely proud of this heritage. Alicante is in the Valencian Community and the two languages of Castilian and Valencian live side by side in most aspects of daily life, including theatre, poetry and prose.
One of nicest ways to enjoy the city and all the newly established places for artists to meet or display their work is to walk or take a bike from one of the bike parks in the city and meander your way through the new and old parts of the town drinking in the art and from time to time drinking in a cool beer or a glass of wine.
A good place to start is the Cafe Tres Semillas in the city centre, close to the central market (where you can stock up with fresh fruit to sustain you as you go). Eating is a big social event in Spain and breakfast is no exception. The Café Tres Semillas prides itself on providing healthy, home-made produce. Head into the cafe and order orange juice, made from Valencian oranges, coffee and a large piece of crusty bread, toasted and covered with freshly grated tomato. Add some olive oil and salt and you have the most wonderfully tasty breakfast, not to mention that it’s just about as healthy as it gets.
After breakfast pop into the MUBAG gallery in the Gravina Palace. This is a fine arts gallery and displays some wonderful paintings by Spanish artists dating from the 16th century. My favourites are by the 20th century artist Jose Perez Gil. Thursday evenings you’ll find classical music concerts too.
Music lovers mustn’t miss the Sunday morning concerts in Las Cigarreras. This building was, for many years, a tobacco factory but has recently been converted into a centre for the performing arts and a place where you can enjoy contemporary drama, music and photography workshops, live concerts and performances. It’s wonderful and you sometimes wonder if the ghost of Carmen is there in that old tobacco factory.
Spain is considered the noisiest country in Europe and as you make your way through the streets you are left in no doubt about this. There is no shortage of sound. Gypsies, dressed in black, playing their accordions and students from the conservatory playing the classics to perfection meld together as you make your way through town.
Food is never far from the Spanish mind and lunch is normally from 1.30 onwards. It is the main meal of the day so you need to set aside a couple of hours for this!! After lunch you may need a siesta before heading off again in the evening. Search out cocktails in the bars in the Calle Castanos or on the Esplanada.
If you begin to feel peckish again, head to the “barrio” – the old part of the town – for dinner. Here you can sit outside the bars and restaurants and enjoy some wonderful tapas and excellent wine. Tapas are small portions of food. The word “tapa” comes from the Spanish verb “tapar” meaning “to cover” and the original tapas were small pieces of ham or cheese which were placed over a glass to stop the flies from falling in! Tapas have come a long way since those days and are now big business in all parts of Spain. From about 11pm onwards, especially at the weekends, the “marcha” begins. Young and not so young take to the streets to meet friends, enjoy a drink or two, eat some food. You have a drink and a tapa in one bar and then move on to the next until you are too full, exhausted or tipsy to continue! Many of the bars have live music and Jamboree is where musicians hang out. You can hear some great live music there, especially if you like jazz.
Wandering through the city in this way makes you aware how this country and this city are striving, and succeeding, in catching up for lost time. Musicians are fusing together flamenco and blues and artists are becoming more daring, experimenting with contemporary styles. Long may this continue. QUE VIVA ESPANA!