Come forth into the light of things / Let Nature be your teacher.

Nature never did betray / The heart that loved her.

The best portion of a good man's life: his little, nameless unremembered acts of kindness and love.


Wednesday, 8 February 2012

A Spanish Triptych

It will come as little surprise to many of my blog readers that I consider Spain one of my spiritual homes. I love the country, though it's a kind of love-hate relationship: I've had devastating, almost annihilating experiences there, as well as spiritually uplifting ones. You can't ignore Spain. It gets into your blood: a potent mixture of strong Rioja wine; darkly enticing Catholic rituals; the agony and ecstasy of Lorca; the protean genius of Picasso; the passionate duende of flamenco; the stark, arid mountains; the occasional, unexpectedly lush pastures.

The night was silent. No circle of barking dogs or crowing cocks. No loud, harsh voices interlocked under the window. Then dawn came, and with a clicking of hooves on cobbles and a patter of goats and cows, the village emptied itself into the fields. We drank some coffee and went out. And there in front of us, at the first break in the street, stretched the great plains of air with beyond them an inextricable tangle of coloured mountains. The sound of water was all round us and there was a sense of greenery and freshness. No, I said to myself, the picture I formed of this place was not an illusion.

GERALD BRENAN South From Granada

The singer´s voice quavered and droned, thin and nasal like a muezzin´s. Jazzy chords spilled from a guitar: major then minor, fast then slow, confident then unresolved; cool and dark as a shaded courtyard in old Seville. Suddenly the dancer, Ascunción Pérez — dressed in red and black, with flashing eyes and jet black hair — strode quickly through a high doorway and mounted the small, wooden stage on the patio of the nineteenth-century palace which is the Casa de la Memoria. All three — singer, guitarist, dancer — were young, local artists from Seville, performing flamenco in a modern style: fresh, unsentimental, but still firmly rooted in the old tradition. This was the real thing — not the castanet-clicking touts chasing the quick euro, not the rough amateurishness you get from the hillside cave-dwellers above Granada. These were three serious students of the dance.

Complex rhythms flowed, faltered, petered out. Then began again, sinuously following a different direction, half-scripted, half-improvised. Hands clapped on the beat, off the beat. The dancer arched one arm over her head and stamped diagonally across the stage, head bent back, her body-shapes changing second by second, fingers stuck out at crazy angles like the tentacles of an octopus. She hitched up her dress, slapped her thigh. She was proud, provocative, defiant, sexy, coy, tragic, strong, yielding, ecstatic; one moment a majestic matriarch, the next a bashful señorita. Studied awkwardness gave way to still composure. She squatted, legs akimbo, as if giving birth — grotesque as a figure from a Paula Rego painting — then became all beauty and grace, like a Velázquez princess.

Her red heels went clack, clack, clack. Clack, clack across the wooden floor, as the tempo rose and quickened. All hands clapped in unison, as faster and faster she twirled and spun in a vision of red and black, in a frenzy of movement. Clack, clack, clack. For a moment she became all the women of Andalusia rolled into one: the smart, Spanish women parading in the gardens of the Alcazár, the Arabic gypsies scraping an existence in the shacks by the Guadalquivir river. At the crescendo she stood face-on to her spellbound audience: stiff, erect and proud; all fire, all heart, all corazón. The house erupted in swift, spontaneous applause. Olé! The lights came on and we shuffled off, mesmerized, as if a dream had ended.

THE SOLITARY WALKER Flamenco Dancer, Seville

(A quick word of explanation: the centrepiece of the above word-image-word triptych is a Spanish collage created by my wife, Carmen (who is not Spanish!); the first piece of prose is the last paragraph of my very favourite book on Spain, Gerald Brenan's unforgettable memoir, South From Granada; and the concluding piece is my own impression of a flamenco evening at the start of my Via de la Plata pilgrimage in January 2010. The three 'panels' are emotionally rather than strictly thematically related, and are meant to form a collage in their own right.)


Nick said...

Evocative. Effective. Engaging. It makes me wish I knew Spain better than I do.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Love that tryptych.

When we were in Madrid last we had to decide with our limited time which art gallery to go round. I really wanted to see Guernica but instead we chose to go round the gallery which had a huge collection arranged chronologically. Saw so many pictures I knew - like Holbein's Henry, Picasso's Clarinetist etc. But still hanker after seeing Guernica - shall have to go back!
Didn't Carmen once spend a year in Salamanca? We had a week there once - beautiful city.

am said...

Wow! This word-image-word triptych, something like one of the totem poles of the Pacific Northwest, with Carmen's engaging collage in the center, is a fine homage to Spain and to physical, emotional and spiritual journeys. Wonderful to see Carmen's creative energy alongside yours!

Ruth said...

Masterfully done, Robert! Your part is the best, so very vivid . . . I felt my heart stomping with the flamenco dancer. Your voice is authentic as her dancing! Bravo!

Ruth said...

. . . but I should clarify that I really like your wife's collage, and when I first saw it I thought it was a Chagall!

George said...

Truly wonderful, Robert. It's difficult to find words to describe Spain. In many respects, it can only be experienced. That said, you and Carmen have painted a lovely emotional portrait of the country. Carmen's collage is both lovely and interesting; I didn't know she was an artist. Your own writing is as fine as anything I have read by you, and that's saying a great deal. I felt that I was having this experience with you.

On several occasions, I have had the opportunity to see some first-class flamenco in Spain, and I always found myself "mesmerized." Your word says it best.

Anonymous said...

At the crescendo she stood face-on to her spellbound audience: stiff, erect and proud; all fire, all heart, all corazón. Just after my wake up I read this post. With tears and joy (something resound in me, what ?) I'll go at work with this beautiful image of flamenco. Thanks really so much SW ! Mick

Oh, I know what it's this words fire, all heart, all corazón. I feel alive when I can live with them.

Grizz………… said...

How many wonderful things can I point out about this post? The evocative passage from Brenan; the marvelous collage by your talented wife; and your final offering of the flamenco dancer. Even the idea of a triptych format is wonderfully creative. But for me, it's that third "panel" from your 2010 pilgrimage that leaves me breathless. That, my friend, is a stunning bit of writing. Magnificent! Not merely impressive in its perfect description, but like all truly great writing, flawless in its emotional power. Writing just doesn't get any better. Wow!

Raph G. Neckmann said...

I really enjoyed this post, SW - so good to be back!

Your Flamenco Dancer piece is breathtaking - I have never experienced such a performance, yet I felt I was there. Your writing has always moved me, and this piece has a different flavour.

I also love your wife's collage, it has a lilting rhythm to it.

Must find a portal to Spain!

Susan Scheid said...

Everything about this post is so evocative. Love your wife's collage. I've never been to Spain, and you've brought it right to me. Thank you.

Herringbone said...

Awesome. The collage was like a backdrop for the "trip". I liked that they were emotionally linked. It's speaks to the heart.When she turned face on,I could see her chest heaving and fire in her eyes.

Friko said...

A wonderful post, Robert. Your engagement with Spain obviously goes very deep. I love your own impression of the flamenco.

One of those gentlemen book bringers you enjoyed visualising brought me Brenan's The Face of Spain . I have still to read it. He also brought me Norman Douglas' Old Calabria, but Italy is not one of your favoured places, i take it?

Goat said...

Nothing new to add from me, SW. I loved all three levels of this post, and it woke me up to Mr Brenan, about whom I knew nothing. I just read his Wikipedia bio and wow - tried to walk to China, made it to Bosnia! My kind of guy; will definitely have a look on Amazon tonight for that book.

I can't tell you how appealing images of sunny Spain are to me right now, with snow dusting the local hills today and a dose of the flu dragging me down. I know so little about the place, but it - and Portugal - have been exerting an increasingly evocative spell this past year...

The Solitary Walker said...

Sorry, I'm a bit late in acknowledging these wonderful comments — I was away in London for a long weekend and had much to catch up on. Thanks for them all... and Viva España!

The Solitary Walker said...

Friko — in fact, I love Italy equally,,,