I don’t know why, but I’ve never been very interested in Spain’s Extremadura region. I know that they produce some of the best Iberian ham and Torta de Casar, among other Spanish favs. I’ve heard that Caceras is beautiful and well worth a weekend trip outside of Madrid. Ham, cheese and travel are all right up my alley, but nonetheless, I’ve just never had a particular calling to visit the region.
Not to mention that a certain someone who would like to remain anonymous (rhymes with da busband) has warned me time and time again that Extremadura is really, really, really hot. And under no circumstances would a reasonable human being go there in summer time, and certainly never, ever, ever in August.
However, despite such strong words of warning, when I saw that Merida was going to be hosting its 58th Festival of Classical Theatre, I just knew I had to go. I knew that if Ulysses could survive a ten year Odyssey, I could go to Merida and live to tell about it.
So, yes, I went to Merida, in August, and despite the heat, I managed to be very pleasantly surprised by this incredibly historic town.
First, the city:
Not only is Merida very, very hot, it is also all kinds of old. Founded in 25 B.C. under the name Augusta Emerita, Emperor Augustus issued property in this area to retired Roman soldiers who fought in the Cantabrian campaigns. Over the years, the distinguished village became one of the most important cities of the Roman empire. Today, the city showcases its Roman roots through various ruins scattered around the region.
Now, the event:
I didn’t know what to expect when we bought tickets to this classical theatre festival. I’ve always enjoyed going to the theatre, but it’s way different when its in Spanish, so I had no idea if I was going to be able to follow the story. We chose the Odyssey only because it was scheduled for the one weekend we could go to Merida. So, as I didn’t want to look like a uncultured beast, I tried to brush up on the story a bit before we left Madrid.
I was also worried that I would get bored. I mean, I’m all for some culture now and then, but my attention span is that of a …
…what was I talking about?
Oh yeah, boredom.
Well, I’m happy to report that this performance was anything but boring. In fact, it was probably one of the best theatre acts I’ve ever seen, especially considering that it took place in a Roman theatre that dates back to the end of the 1st century BC.
What made it so special (besides the beautiful setting) was the fact that this wasn’t a typical rendition of the Odyssey. The story was presented by the famed Spanish theatre actor Rafael Álvarez, or el Brujo, who was simply incredible. The term “strong stage presence” doesn’t even begin to describe el Brujo‘s work. This man, who is over 60 years old, packed the house and had us wrapped around his little finger from the first minute. His version of the Odyssey, while loyal to the original story, was also peppered with satirical commentary on current events, which as you can imagine, included the economic crisis, Rajoy, football and even Shakira.
So, there are more classical plays during the month of August if you’d like to go. And if you get the chance to attend, you won’t be disappointed. Not only was this a very unique performance, but the fact that it took place on the stage of the Roman theatre was just magical. (Yes, I said magical – what of it?)