Archive for Pelicula Espanol

‘The Crime of Nijar’ part 2

cortijo los frailes

Last week we were taking a small break in the Cabo de Gata national park in Almería and on the one inclement afternoon, whilst taking a drive down some of the dirt tracks, we came across this, El Cortijo los Fraile.

cortijo los frailes chapelWe have known about this building for a while but had never actually found it until this day. If I have translated things correctly it was once a farm run by Dominican monks in the dusty dry desert in this corner of Andalucía. More importantly it was the scene of a famous ‘real life’ crime of passion.

In July 1928 an arranged marriage was to be held here in the chapel at Los Fraile, the bride was a young girl, Paca Canadas. However Paca was in love with her cousin Paco Montes, not her fiancée. The story unfolds with the slaying of Paca’s cousin at the hands of the fiancée’s family to save the family’s honor.

What is also fascinating is that this story was reported in the Madrid Herald as ‘the crime of Nijar’ and read by a young Federico García Lorca.

fraile chaper interiorHe, in a burst of creativity, hurriedly penned the play Blood Wedding. However this is Lorca and the play is no simple reportage brought to the stage. It is a play rich in symbolism, exploring themes of death and individualism vs. society as well as women’s role in society.

This is my ‘through the key hole’ photograph of the chapel where the young Paca would have been sold off by her father in  marriage.

cortijo los frailes ceilingThis was (and still could be) a fantastic monument to Almerían agrarian history. The building still possesses some fine 19th century architectural detail such as this beam and cane roof. The chapel still supports it’s belfry (just) and it has many outlying buildings of interest as well as it’s original covered well or alijibe.

cortij los frailes pig styesFor a decade now there have  been protests that this historic building has been allowed to decay. Over a year ago the mayor of Nijar claimed he wanted to take the building into public ownership and have it restored. Alas nothing has happened and every day sees the building becoming beyond repair. The mayor claims that ‘any restoration would have to be compatible with some sort of economic activity that would develop the area’. I can only presume he means a golf course or a hotel complex. What more justification would you need to save this building other than the history I have just briefly laid out in this blog.

Well here is a thought…

spag west

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly was filmed here. Not just in Almería, but here at this cortijo. They have even had an enterprising group from Texas called The Alamo Draughthouse come over and have an open air viewing of the film outside the cortijo which was very successful.

And  here is another thought…

nijar bowlThis is a Christmas present I found for my wife Donna. I was very excited to find it as nobody really makes traditional Nijar pottery like this anymore. And, between you and me, we would like to start a collection.  What we like about it is the way they have made the decoration. It’s exuberant and slightly reliant on the chance effect. You may see a three point triangulation in the centre of the bowl, well, the pattern would have been hastily painted on and the bowl then turned upside down to allow the coloured glaze to run and then fired standing on these three points.

There are two interesting things to note here. One is that there is, in my estimation, a lot of this pottery in circulation in the back pantries of all the old folk in this region, and secondly they do not attribute any value to it.

And there you have it. Why isn’t anyone attributing any value to this history and culture. Perhaps it’s easier to celebrate your past by naming a new street after Lorca or printing a leaflet called Ruta de Spaghetti Western whilst the real material returns to the earth to be forgotten.

Government here often makes claims to wanting sustainable and cultural tourism in the region, well here it is. Don’t give me sun, sea and sangria give me history, culture and untouched tracts of land for wildlife.

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Dr Zhivago (made in Espana)


While I am on the subject of film making in Spain I should mention (for the sake of those who didn’t already know) that Dr Zhivago was also filmed here, or at least ninety five percent of it. Apparently David Lean couldn’t abide the cold so opted to film in warmer climes.

The Moscow set was built entirely from scratch outside Madrid and the mountains of Soria doubled for the Urals. The “ice-palace” at Varykino was filmed in Soria as well, they filled the house with frozen beeswax.

The charge of the Partisans across the frozen lake was filmed in Spain as well and I believe around Tabernas or Guadix; a cast iron sheet was placed over a dried river-bed, and fake snow (mostly marble dust) was added on top. Most of the winter scenes were filmed in warm temperatures, sometimes of up to ninety degrees Fahrenheit.

All that heat, no wonder passions were divided.

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Morricone v Copland

OK, I’ve got it. The music from the previous blog is by Ennio Morricone from ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’, although the arrangement is a bit different.

I spend a lot of time driving through the mountains here listening to Morricone (amongst others) and it’s not just that the ’spaghetti’ westerns were filmed here, there is a genuine connection for this music to this landscape even though the films were meant to be set in Arizona or some such.

But I also spend a lot of time driving through the mountains here listening to Aaron Copland and there seems to be a genuine connection for his music to the landscape too. Now I’m not going to try and compare the two artists, that would just be silly. Morricone writes exclusively for the cinema and would, I am sure, be flattered to be compared to one of the 20th century’s greatest composers. So I am not going to make that comparison.


However both men have defined the American musical phyche. Copland (Kaplan) a Lithuanian Jew from Brooklyn (and also wrote the original film score for film of the book above) and Morricone a Roman from Italy. But how?

Now this is just my theory and please feel free to shoot it down. I feel Copland represents the ‘Pilgrim Fathers’ all puritanical zeal taking the ‘folklore’ and music of the white man at toil on the land and wrapping it all up with some form of spiritual modernism. Whereas Morricone uses the ‘Pope’s’ authority to define black and white conceptions of good and bad (and ugly) and a Latin exuberance to stretch drama into a world of superlatives.

So who reigns supreme? On one side we have ‘Rodeo’, ‘Billy the Kid’ and ‘Appalachian Spring’ amongst others, and on the other, well we all know them don’t we, and we love this man’s music if for no other reason than that he employed his school mate Alejandro to whistle on many of his compositions because he was such a good whistler. Basically they fall on either side of a ‘TexMex’ border defined by their relative cultures.

But why is the music evocative for Andalucia? Well it’s not because we are trying to be Arizona. But like Arizona we have the heat and dust, the superlatives in climate and the sense of wilderness.

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