Getting settled in
“I'd heard about the tablaos in
Madrid, how they're
horribly expensive, and that the quality can be iffy…”
Sunday, May 4th, 2003 12:12am
Greetings from Madrid. God knows why the Pope decided to arrive
in Madrid at almost exactly the time I did, but it sure made for
a smooth arrival, and security was very, very tight. I spent the
day on nondescript logistics, such as picking up my train ticket
for the trip to Jerez de la Frontera tomorrow – four hours on the
somewhat high-speed “Altaria.”
I had not been able to pick up my guitar since my last class, so
I spent 3 or 4 hours this afternoon getting “reacquainted.”
I'd heard about the tablaos in Madrid, how they're horribly expensive,
and that the quality can be iffy, but I'd also heard good things
about Café de Chinitas. Besides, unlike Jerez, where I already
have some contacts, and an “in” on the local scene, I
was on my own this one night in Madrid, so I decided to give it
saved up my cash, denied myself any substantial breakfast or dinner,
and called a taxi.
A little “flamenco moment” occurred on way to the tablao.
I was trying to chat up the taxi driver with my abysmal and limited
Spanish, and I asked him if he liked flamenco. He said yes, do you?
I said yes, very much, I'm here to study flamenco guitar. There
was a brief silence, then he just pushed in the tape which was already
sitting in the cassette deck, and it began to play. 1st impression:
that's Paco de Lucía. Then Camarón de la Isla began
to sing. The fact that I could identify those two, immediately established
a common bond, and I wouldn't have been able to get him to shut
up after that, even if I had wanted too. A brief but memorable moment.
At about 10 pm I sat down at my table for one, right next to the
stage. All the other foreigners were already working on their dessert,
as a few locals filtered in about the same time I did. The show
started shortly thereafter. We all know that flamenco is all about
the singing, especially in Spain, but the show at Chinitas was geared
for the foreign crowd, so we got a lot of dancing, and as many 3
and 4 beat rhythms (sevillanas, and tangos especially) as anything
else. The people up there were definitely the real deal however,
and we got plenty of 12-count stuff as well. I just enjoyed the
show, and tried to identify the rhythms and gently rap my knuckles
on the table when I thought I had it right.
I'll drop a line from Jerez, tomorrow night, after I get settled.
“After months of anxious anticipation,
I finally arrived in Jerez”
Sunday, May 4th, 2003 9:03pm
Greetings from Jerez de la Frontera. I took the train from Madrid
today; I don't think I saw an acre of arable land that wasn't cultivated
the entire trip. Spain has got to be one of the world's largest
producers of olive oil. I also saw sheep, bulls and (are you sitting
down?) …ostriches. Yep, ostrich farms, in the countryside just
outside of Madrid. So, after months of anxious anticipation, I finally
arrived in Jerez, the alleged “mother ship” of flamenco
world-wide, and it was…dead! Apparently, everyone was engaged
in one of three activities:
The Feria de Sevilla, currently in progress.
The Feria de Puerto Santa María, also in progress.
Watching the local football team (that's soccer to us) on the TV.
FOTO: Plaza Arenal
The only people I saw on the streets my first few hours here were
fellow tourists. But as the day wore on, things picked up. Edward
Meadows, owner/operator of Flamenco Internet Radio from Jerez came
by to pick me up and show me around. We visited a few local watering
holes, and Edward filled me in on the local scene as I plied him
with his beverage of choice. Then we walked around the Santiago
and San Miguel neighborhoods where Edward pointed out many sites
of historical significance, including the corner where bulerías
was allegedly invented.
“Flamenco is everywhere here”
I gotta tell you, flamenco is everywhere here: it blares from passing
cars, you hear snatches, here and there, sneaking out through closed
doors, and it wafts through my open window from the cafe on the
street beneath. There's lots of cante, and plenty of palmas, but
I haven't heard a guitar yet.
I'm going to cut it short tonight, as I'm tired, and I want to
be well-rested for my first day of classes; I'll have time to write
more tomorrow. ¡Chao!
Monday, May 5th, 2003
One thing you need to know if you're coming to Spain, and you plan
to keep in touch with your loved ones and others back home via the
Internet, is that there are cyber cafes everywhere, and they're
relatively cheap, but the keyboards are VERY different. So different
that if you're not careful, get a little behind on food and sleep,
you might just hit the wrong key and lose an hour's worth of work.
So, the reason there was no diary entry yesterday and there are
two today, is that the computer ate my homework. That's my story,
and I'm sticking to it. When that happened I decided to bag it,
get some food and rest, then come back for a fresh start today.
“I unexpectedly realized I
was grinning from
ear to ear less than 15 minutes into the lesson”
This was an exhilarating, yet exhausting day; it was the first of
a regular schedule that will be essentially unchanged, Monday through
Friday, for the next two weeks. First order of business was an hour
of private instruction in cante accompaniment with Manuel Lozano
of the Escuela “El Carbonero” de la Guitarra Flamenca,
and Luis, a friendly gitano cantaor from Barrio Santiago. It took
El Carbonero less than two minutes to assess my level, and we jumped
into tientos. Maestro focused on an intro, and the basic compás.
Luis never really got past the “Ayayay” this first day.
Once I could more or less get through the material, we recorded
it for reference and practice back home. El Carbonero and Luis seemed
perfectly comfortable with my level, the considerable angst I had
been feeling melted away, and I unexpectedly realized I was grinning
from ear to ear less than 15 minutes into the lesson. (Perhaps only
a fellow flamenco/wannabe could understand how six or eight hours
a day of arduous study and practice constitutes a vacation.) Luis
left as the other students began to arrive, and we transitioned
to the regular class.
Carbonero, Luis, Marty
The next two hours were consumed with the ordered chaos that is
El Carbonero's signature teaching method. Six or eight students
of every level, young and old, Spanish and foreigners, sat on chairs
lining the walls of the main hall, emitting a raucous cacophony,
while one by one we were called into the studio to add the next
segment to whatever rhythm or falseta we were learning. Over the
two-hour period, I probably sat on the hot seat five or six times
and the last time in, we recorded everything for reference and practice.
My next stop was El Estudio de Baile Juan Parra, as beautiful on
the inside as it is non-descript without, for a private lesson in
compás. I sat in quiet fascination, admiring the natural
light, and the many photographs of maestro performing with famous
flamencos all over the continent, as he finished with his last class
of the morning. Unlike El Carbonero, Juan Parra made the mistake
of asking me what I wanted to learn. Since he speaks only Spanish,
and mine is quite poor, we sat in a rather long and uncomfortable
non-silence as I bumbled my way through some words. What I tried
to say was, “I'm a beginner, and I defer to your judgement”
or words to that effect. For all I know what he heard was, “me
Tarzan, you Jane…”
“In bewildered and/or amused
disbelief, el maestro, in his
infinite wisdom, exercised his teacher's discretion”
Pondering my communication in bewildered and/or amused disbelief,
el maestro, in his infinite wisdom, exercised his teacher's discretion:
“Let's start with alegrías,” he said. And we did.
A brief lecture ensued on the basic 12-count rhythm, where the emphasis
falls in alegrías, some groundwork on correct application
of palmas, and we were off. Soon, he had me listening to solo compás
on tape, and finding the count on my own. Next step, contra-tiempo,
which, true to its name, is more difficult. After our time was up
we sat for a few minutes, swapping anecdotes about daily life in
our respective countries, and I left on the promise to practice
contra-tiempo on my own at home. In addition to being an accomplished
teacher and performer, Juan Parra is a warm and friendly person,
a gentleman and a scholar, and in my opinion it would be worth a
trip to Jerez just to study with him, especially if you are a dancer.
I decided to head on up to the Bar Arco de Santiago. There are
two things you need to know about Bar Arco. The proprietor, Augustin
Vega, is essentially the godfather of flamenco in Barrio Santiago;
there are people who actually call him Don Augustin, and mean it.
And, most of the regulars who hang out there are very accomplished
flamenco performers and recording artists. As I was standing there,
eating tapas, feeling only a little out of place, I watched in silent
incredulity as Moraíto Chico, guitarist for José Mercé,
hit the jackpot at the slot machine.
I headed for my last official obligation of the day: Spanish class
at Duendelenguas. The first of the two hours was not very different
from any other small, semi-private language class, of which I have
personally experienced many; we worked on verbs and conjugation
in the most common tense. The second hour, however, was unique.
We analyzed several verses, typically sung por siguiriyas, identifying
common devices, contractions and Caló words often found in
this music. Then we listened to those letras as performed. Very
enlightening, and highly recommended; I am not aware of another
language program that offers this type of instruction. The teacher
actually assigned homework; doesn't she know I have to practice?
I got carried away with the events of the day, trying to pull it
all together back in my room; I missed my siesta, sort of forgot
to eat, and suddenly realized what the problem was when I lost an
hour's worth of work on the computer. The moral of the story is,
even if you do consider six to eight hours a day of arduous study
and practice to be a vacation, you gotta pace yourself.
“Lola the dog exhibits no intolerance
whatsoever for my poor Spanish”
Tuesday, May 6th, 2003
I was afraid that I might run out of things to write about once
I settled into a routine; I needn't have worried.
I'm living with a Spanish family: Carmen, her two daughters and
their dog Lola who is warming up to me, and exhibits no intolerance
whatsoever for my poor Spanish.
Author's lodging in Jerez
I tried to travel light on this trip, so I need to wash clothes
nearly every day. I was hanging them in the window of my room, which
overlooks the street below; last night Carmen suggested they would
dry more quickly if I hung them on the clothesline on the roof,
where there is more sun. (There are supposedly 360 sunny days a
year in Jerez, so the chances of getting rain on your laundry are
theoretically quite remote.) I immediately complied with her suggestion.
Overnight, a cold front moved in, and there has been a light misty
drizzle in the air all day. So, tomorrow I have the choice of warm,
dry dirty clothes or cold, wet clean ones. Jumping between the horns
of such dilemmas makes better people of us all, I guess.
“You would be well advised
to leave little
trails of bread crumbs wherever you go”
I would have been on time for my appointment with Juan Parra, but
committed a classic rookie error and failed to have my map with
me. Note to self (and others who travel here): always carry your
map. Always. If you ignore this advice, you would be well advised
to leave little trails of bread crumbs wherever you go. After several
abortive attempts, and considerable difficulty finding my way home,
I called señor Parra to convey my sincere apologies and regrets.
He handled this in the same gentle manner with which I have come
to presume he approaches life in general. I vowed to be on time
Spanish class was essentially the same format as yesterday, but
I was the only student, and we moved on to verses typically sung
por soleares. Today, I did remember to eat, and sleep, and I am
now ready to return home and practice. ¡Hasta mañana!
Wednesday, May 7th, 2003
It was just too cold to get up at 7am and go running today, so
I slept in an extra half hour. Aside from that wrinkle, I have pretty
much stabilized on a manageable routine. Being a creature of habit,
I like to have a standard set of establishments where I get to know
people, and they get to know me, and frequent the places for breakfast
and lunch; I save the evening for grazing at unfamiliar places.
There is actually a verb in Spanish for tapas bar hopping: “tapear.”
Lunch being the main meal of the day, to go to tapear is frequently
substituted for a sit-down meal in the evening. Even if one plans
to have dinner, which typically doesn't happen before 10 pm, it's
a long haul between lunch and dinner without some tapas relief around
7 or 8.
I have pretty much wrapped up tientos/tangos for this trip, and
moved on to soleá. Apparently El Carbonero wants to give
me a taste of each of the fundamental palos, without taxing my technical
ability by trying to jam in a bunch of stuff I simply can't play.
I like the approach, and I have already learned most of the material
that has been presented well enough to accompany Luis' singing,
or apply in a dance class. Very satisfying. There are a few falsetas
that I cannot yet execute in compás; more work will be required
when I get home.
Anyone reading this diary is probably wondering when I'm going
to report on the local flamenco scene. There are two reasons why
I haven't reported any activity on that front. Nothing official
is happening at any of the local peñas, or the theatre, as
everyone is busy preparing for “la feria”. All the action
that does happen next week, will be at the feria. All reports suggest
nothing noteworthy begins to happen before midnight. Since my classes,
especially the guitar and language classes, are my priority, I will
not have an opportunity to participate in these events until Friday
and Saturday of next week, when my classes are over. I have it on
good authority, though, that there will be no shortage of things
to report on those evenings, when the fair is in full swing.