Tag Archives: Sevilla

Flamenco

Flamenco and bull-fighting are perhaps the two biggest symbols of Spain, the things that come to mind when people think of this country.  We knew that we wanted to experience flamenco, as most tourists do, and saved this event until the city of Seville in the south of Spain, the Andalusian region where flamenco originated.

After purchasing our tickets the night before, we arrived at the small Los Gallos theatre early to get good seats.  The maximum capacity is 120 people but this being a night in early December with the 2011 Davis Cup tennis tournament on television (happening right here in Seville), the audience was small, only about 20 people.  Our waitress told us that if it wasn’t for the tennis, there would be almost no tourists in town at this time of year.

The room was simple.  A small stage, about 5 meters wide by 3 meters deep.  On it, 3 wooden chairs with wicker and an anvil standing in the rear corner for decoration.  On the back wall of the stage was a course painting of a cock fight in red and black.  At the left rear of the stage, a tiny twisting staircase disappeared upwards.

We ordered Sangria, sweet and fruity, the first we’ve had in Spain, which sat on the little table in front of our small and closely packed seats.  They were lightly padded and comfortable enough given that there was nobody on either side of us due to the small crowd.

The lights dimmed.  A guitarist and two male singers dressed all in black took the stage.  It began with just guitar, only rhythm, with the strings muted.  Soon the men started to clap a tightly controlled rhythm, like a syncopated metronome.  Every clap was sharp, clear, and precise.  They emphasized certain beats by tapping or stomping their heels on the wooden floor. The guitar began to ring, alternating between pulsing strums and fast picking, always keeping to the cadence of the hands and the feet.

A beautiful young woman descended the stairs.  She was dressed in a long, green dress, tight down to the hips, then extending in a cascade to a ruffled train of over a meter.  She raised her hands in the air, assumed a striking posture, and began to move.  She was very controlled at first, with the smallest of arm movements and tiny pulses of feet barely visible beneath her dress.

Flamenco dancer in green dress on stage with singers in background

Her hands were posed, her fingers long and painted.  They transitioned meticulously from one beautiful position to the next, moving about her wrists independently.  Occasionally, her fingers would snap in rapid succession, as if she had more fingers and more snap than normal.

As the music grew, she moved across the stage, twisting and turning, always maintaining a strong stance.  Her posture was exaggerated and dramatic yet continously appealing, like an athlete transitioning powerfully from one elaborate model’s pose to the next.  With curved back, extended leg, and raised arms she seemed like lion about to pounce.  Her dress swung about her, not haphazardly, but carefully managed through a series of kicks and spins.  Sometimes the full train wrapped around her feet tightly yet she always extricated herself gracefully.  Her face changed expression to match her movements.  Sometimes so strong as to appear angry and intimidating, the next playful or warm or contented.  Her carriage, poise, and attitude exuded passion.

Flamenco dancer in green dress twirling (blurry image)

The singers grew louder.  Their voices were strong, sometimes surprisingly so, and they pushed the pitch higher, straining each breath to the end in a plaintive wail, an aching cry tinged with longing and desire.

The rhythms were complicated in structure, mesmerizing in effect.  The performance was elegant and controlled yet shocked by periodic explosions in the dance, or the rhythm, or the voice.  It gradually built towards a crescendo.  The result was powerful, exotic, and passionate.

The other guitar players, singers, and dancers were equally impressive and enticing.  We were entranced and would highly recommend this experience.

Flamenco dancer in red dress with two singers and two guitar players in background

Impressions of Spain

    • The central part of the Iberian Peninsula, where Spain is situated, is a large, open, wind-swept plain dotted with small hills. It looks like Nevada in the old Westerns. Between the major cities like Madrid, located in the center of the country, there is a lot of open space between the farms and truck stops. This region is called Castillo because there are many ‘castles’ located on the small hills, a legacy of the 800 years of fighting between Catholics and Moors in Spain. The southern part of Castillo has small windmills on the plain, and was home to the fictional man from La Mancha, Don Quixote.
Patrick driving RV in Castillo

Man from Surrey tilting at Winnebagos

    • Much of Spain has poor soil, rusty coloured or dry and rocky. This is good for growing olives and grapes, but not great for other crops. There are some regions, like Galicia in the north-west, that are green and wet, more like our Pacific Northwest.
    • Spain has greatly varying regional cultures. Like Quebec, some parts of the country (e.g. Basque Country in the north and Catalonia in the north-east) barely consider themselves to be part of Spain. In these regions many people would like to separate, resulting in periodic protests and acts of violence. The European Union, which Spain is a part of, encourages regional diversity, and so separation from Spain is less of a priority recently since the countries formed by separation would presumably all belong to the EU anyhow.
    • It was a surprise for me to learn that although Spain has only 1 official national language (Español or Castillian), it has 3 co-official languages in certain regions (Basque in Basque Country, Catalan in Catalonia, and Galician in Galicia).
    • The Moors were Muslims from Northern Africa who invaded Spain in the year 711 by crossing the Mediterranean from Morocco. For 800 years they occupied portions, sometimes the majority, of Spain and Portugal, and even parts of France. Other Moors from Turkey had pushed as far as Eastern Europe (e.g. the former Yugoslavia, some parts of which remain Muslim today). It took many years of crusades by Catholics from across Europe to finally expel the Moors from Spain in 1492, the same year that Columbus (born in Italy) sailed from Spain to re-discover North America (the Vikings were there first). Under Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, Spain entered a period of intolerance when many Jews and other non-Catholics were expelled or persecuted as part of the Spanish Inquisition.
    • Apparently only 20 percent of people here go to church on a regular basis, but it definitely feels like a Catholic country. There are large Catholic churches everywhere. The largest Cathedral in the world is in Seville (Sevilla) and Christopher Columbus is buried there. He died in poverty thinking that he’d discovered a Western route to Asia.
    • Seville Cathedral

      Seville Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See

    • Spain is very different than Mexico, the Spanish-speaking country that most influences North Americans’ perceptions. The food and water are safe to drink and Spanish food is very different than Mexican food. It is not particularly spicy. There are no burritos, no tacos, and no enchiladas. They do have a tortilla, but is an omelette, usually made with potatoes, and not a round, flat bread.

    • Madrid and Barcelona, the two largest cities in Spain with over 4 and 1 million people respectively, are very clean and cosmopolitan. Although there are many museums, historic sights, and narrow streets in the older parts of town, these cities are very modern with clean efficient subway and tram systems (nicer than Vancouver’s), elegant shopping, and fine restaurants. We did however notice some slums by the river on the outside of Barcelona.
    • The major cities of Spain all seem to have great places for strolling, whether they be large squares, pedestrian-only streets, or tree-lined boulevards. At night there are thousands of people of all ages walking the streets enjoying the night air, and just recently, white Christmas lights have been erected in all major public places, suspended over the streets like stars.
    • McDonald’s restaurants in Spain have automated kiosks where you can order directly, without waiting in line. You then proceed directly to a separate area at the end of the counter to get your food. It’s basically the same as the automated kiosks at movie theatres, self-check-in at airports or self-check-out in large stores. In general I’m against these self-serve options, but it’s handy for us because the kiosks allow you to switch the language to English. Expect to see this coming to a McDonald’s near you in the future. Will there be any service jobs left?
    • Also at McDonald’s in Spain, they have flush-less, water-saving urinals (which I’ve seen before), but these ones have advertising on the top that lights up when you get into position. Something to do while you wait.
    • In Spain, for the first time in 6 weeks, we’ve noticed more heavy people (more than in France or Italy).
    • Spaniards love to eat jamón, pronounced ‘ham-own’. It is similar to Italian prosciutto but is better than any ham I’ve ever eaten. It is carved directly off a cured pig’s leg (cloven hoof still attached) in very thin slices and sells for outlandish amounts (as much $5 or $10 a slice). The best Jamón Iberico de Bellota (also known as Jamón Iberico de Montanera) comes from free-range, acorn-fed back Iberian pigs and has been cured for over a year. We had jamón flavoured ripple chips the other day (much cheaper!)
Patrick slicing Jamon from a whole leg of pork

Patrick fondling about $300 worth of ham

  • Spaniards seem to be crazy over lotteries. Tickets are for sale everywhere, even from private sellers on tables on the street. Some nights there have been large lines at lottery outlets. Perhaps there is a big draw coming up?
  • In Castilla, the central region of Spain, they pronounce what would in other dialects of Spanish be an ‘s’ sound as ‘th’. Even with my limited ear for Spanish, it clearly sounds like they’re speaking with a lisp.