While planning a summer trip to Benidorm in 2016 I was virtually researching the area and came across an article featuring La Muralla Roja (“The Red Wall”), an extraordinarily looking house designed by Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill and located in the picturesque town of Calpe.
That stunning building looked just like some levels of Monument Valley, the only game which I am not afraid of recommending to esthetes asking for mobile games-related advice.
“Would be fun to photoshoot Alice cosplaying princess Ida in that strange house”, I thought scrutinizing the pictures…
…but took no actions until only a couple of days were left till our leaving. Then I found a gorgeous white satin at last and subsequently found myself spending the last evening before the departure sewing the dress.
I needed something to make Ida’s cap of and the only idea I had was a high-quality corrugated cardboard but I couldn’t imagine myself roaming around airports with a bulky fragile thing. Just in case I wouldn’t find anything better on-site I rolled the cardboard and squeezed it into the suitcase. What was still left undone was a puffy underskirt to give a proper volume and form to the dress but I chose Scarlett O'Hara’s I’ll-think-about-that-tomorrow tactics and eventually bought two cheap and scratchy pettiskirts in one of the numerous Chinese little shops in Benidorm.
There is not much information of the building over the internet and that made me suspect the access was for tenants only. When we first arrived at Calpe just to look around I found out that was true, the surrounding territory was fenced and for those who wouldn’t take this as an obvious strangers-are-not-wanted-here sign, there were plates saying it quite aloud.
What a fabulous view! Looking like Monument Valley’s impossible geometry is just around the corner. And it is so absolutely impossible to be here without getting inside, isn’t it?
However, it was not that simple. Law-abiding citizens like us would not break into someone’s privacy, and we just confined ourselves to a couple of outside pictures that day. Yet my idea of Princess Ida’s photoshoot turned into a real obsession. I found a couple of La Muralla Roja apartments on Airbnb – good but nothing special by the way – and thought of booking one for a night (the calendar said there was only one day left unbooked and it was the very following day – well, couldn’t that be a SIGN?) but the host responded with a rejection saying the place was fully booked. I got another flat, large, not very budget-friendly and, what was crucial, also fully booked… however, the host was luckily Russian(!) and gave me the name of the property management organization where I could hmm… legalize my intentions.
Google helped me to find that company’s contact person, his e-mail addresses, phone numbers, and personal Facebook profile. I typed my request in English, Google-translated it to Spanish, and, after approval by our native Spanish Benidorm host, sent it out. First via e-mail. Then, after two days of intolerable silence and uncertainty, via Facebook messages, with a preamble of how sorry I was to intrude on his privacy. And finally, another couple of days later I extended that preamble and sent the message, already overfurnished with apologies, to his wife – yes, this is how low I fell.
There were two or three days left till our leaving for Moscow and all my efforts still seemed wasted. My last hope was a phone call and I did not hesitate to ask our perfectly polite and helpful Benidorm host to be my Spanish voice. Alas, the phone calls were either never answered.
Well. Just the day before the departure we started a bold advance, totally determined to assail the Wall, with the dress on a hanger and no documented permission.
My plan and timing were reasonable enough. Say, we arrive at Calpe old town center by bus in the morning and hurry to the sacred house to complete our primary mission before the high sun with its heat and sharp shadows and before my young model gets exhausted. She puts on the costume right there on-site in a nook I noticed previously and we approach the entrance to either win all hearts with Alice-Ida’s look or Google-translate all my sad story of not getting legal access to the territory. As soon as the photos are taken we can get rid of the cap and stop worrying about keeping the dress white, if it is siesta already then go to the beach, else take a taxi and go through half the town to the Ifach rock and try to hike at least a quarter way up.
Peñon de Ifach is one of the most important landmarks of Costa Blanca, the coastline of Alicante province. It is a 332-meter high rock having a rather easy trail up to 160 m where the hikers have to pass through a dark slippery tunnel and continue their way to the top via narrow, sometimes hardly visible paths. Those who reach the very top are rewarded with meeting a pack (pride?) of… cats! Such an ordinary and yet so funny experience. But that was what I gathered from the internet reviews, not what we were going to adventure. One needs a pair of proper hiking boots and children of primary school age are doubtfully supposed to manage the ascension so I made a compromise decision just to walk up the rock as high as it would be just fun (haha, eventually that happened to be rather “as low as”).
Further, if our itinerary was La Muralla Roja –> Peñon de Ifach, then walk to the beach, if it was La Muralla Roja –> the beach, then go to the rock and further on, in the evening, head for the old town to wander about before the departure (the bus station is just within a 5-minute walk).
But here we are in Calpe and everything seems getting messed from the very beginning when Her Highness expresses willingness to lunch and we have to anchor at a cafe which means not only losing precious time but also a significant probability increase for spoiling the dress. (Luckily enough, that was just my void anxiety.)
We approached our “castle” at last, dressed Ida and… suddenly the Princess got the jitters and refused to enter the location because “they would turn us out”… It took me a few minutes to calm down the scared little girl and comfort her telling of the special attitude children traditionally got from adults here in Spain and all the more the enchanting princesses like she was, and assuring that I would always be there to solve any sort of problem if any appeared at all.
Well, what happened when we entered the place? Nothing. The few people we encountered were very friendly but we still were stressed and could not but constantly look around surreptitiously just like thieves. And the tear-stained princess kept feeling uncomfortable and awkward striving to flee away, so the session turned out hasty and 10 minutes later we left the “dangerous zone” and disposed of the cap. The scratchy skirts were removed as well unlike the dress which was changed for more practical clothing later, on Ifach.
The rest of that long day was full of fun and when we got home I spent an hour looking through the few photos we made, replaying in my mind all the preceding preparations and worries and suppressing the perfectionist inside which yelled: “Why is the hair so messed? Look at the dress, its folds are so ugly… And where the hell is the focus?” I tried to resist disappointment with the way this idea was brought into reality, with the quality of the pictures which by all means could be better, and doubted if I should ever show these to anyone. On the other hand, I like the composition – señor Bofill has done his best designing this incredibly photogenic house (sending my sincere muchas gracias to him), and this may sound cynical but the princess’ genuine sorrow deepens the story the pictures tell. And, all in all, there was no chance to reshoot so I choose to stop overvaluing this little project and be satisfied with having maybe not everything but at least something.
P.S. While writing this post I came across another interesting article covering some other real-life buildings in Monument Valey game.
P. P. S. This post was originally published on my Tumblr and my tweet about this story went viral via the Monument Valley developers just making my day, that was so exciting! Later I received a gift from the developers, the MV merchandise including plush Ida and Crow, and I showed them a little bit of Moscow. :)
Thanks to Squid Game, the extremely popular Korean Netflix show everyone has been discussing lately, there is a new rise of interest towards La Muralla Roja as it seems to have influenced the production design of the series.
Besides, today it is 5 years from this story publication, and a special update for the game sequel was released a week ago, its title is The Lost Forest and it is a “green” game chapter supporting a petition for forests protection. This series stays as inspiring for me and I got around to making a new Monument Valley fan art, this simple promo animation based on the Lost Forest chapter.