It’s hard to live in Seville and not be influenced by flamenco. While working on my novel I’ve been doing some research and these are the websites I’ve found most useful, informative and entertaining. Hope they come in handy to you as well.
This is my first review of books set in Spain: Duende, a journey in search of flamenco by Jason Webster. For me, reading a book is not only about being entertained, or inspired, but also about the memories around the book itself.
I first came across this excellent travelogue biography when I entered a second-hand book shop in Vejer de la Frontera while on a short holiday with my wife. It was a cosy little shop, full of books stacked in handmade pine bookcases and scattered over various tables. The red cover with a drawing of a flamenco dancer stuck out, so I picked it up and scanned the back.
“I found his descriptions of the flamenco underworld irresistible…I couldn’t put it down” Chris Stewart, author of Driving Over Lemons.
As a fan of Chris, I was drawn in immediately.
“A great account of a man’s attempt to learn flamenco,” said the bookshop owner. I turned and smiled as he peered down his nose over his glasses.
“Yeah? I’m looking for some books about flamenco, I’m thinking of writing a novel,” I replied.
“Well, that’s as good as any. I’m not entirely sure that everything happened, but it’s a great story and full of information about flamenco, if that’s what you’re after.”
I didn’t actually buy the book that day, but I kept a mental note of it and put it at the top of my Christmas book list.
What’s the book about?
Duende is about Jason’s mental adventure in Spain to discover the world of flamenco. He originally sets off to learn the flamenco guitar but gets a whole lot more than he bargained for (I know the feeling, my plan was to come to Seville for a year, that was nine years ago).
Jason admits in his prologue that for years he lived in Italy because he wanted to be in Spain. After his Italian girlfriend dumps him, a drunken busker makes him see the uselessness of his degree, and his university lecturer suggests looking into a life as an academic, he realises he should follow his dream, head to Spain and learn the flamenco guitar.
I was surprised that his adventure starts in Alicante, not the most popular destination for flamenco, but he knows Pedro, a friend of a friend, who takes him out for his first live flamenco performance where he first feels duende. That’s when he sees Lola, a flamenco dancer, who he bumps into again once he gets a job teaching English. Through Lola he meets various musicians and also finds Juan, who becomes his first flamenco guitar teacher. Over time his relationship with Lola becomes passionate and they have a steamy affair. The problem is that Lola’s husband, Vincente, is Jason’s boss. When Jason feels that Vincente might have a sneaky suspicion about the affair he escapes to Madrid, where he meets Jesús, a crazy gypsy, and the real flamenco adventure begins. I’ll let you find out what happens next.
Apart from the fact that Jason is a witty and descriptive writer, I love his enthusiasm for life. The way he takes risks by going abroad on his own in search of a better life and curiosity for learning about the flamenco world is inspiring. I can relate to his desire to explore and learn about Spain and respect the way he manages to emerge himself deep into the world of flamenco. His passion for learning a difficult instrument is also uplifting. One of the reasons I came to Spain was to learn the guitar, but I never really had the skill, so his passion impressed me.
I also like the characters he meets, especially Pedro, his witty first friend, and the mental Jesús who gets up to all sorts of madness. Lola is just how I imagine passionate flamenco dancers to be as well.
I also learnt a lot about flamenco. The different types of palos guitarist’s play, interesting historical facts about the origins of flamenco, lots of references to the big names in flamenco, and also how difficult it is to become a half-decent flamenco guitarist.
Would I recommend it?
Definitely! If you have a slight interest in flamenco, or even in what it’s like to live in Spain, then this is a great choice. Jason adds interesting snippets of history and facts about flamenco and Spain. His descriptions of the people he meets along the way are excellent and you really feel as if you are on the adventure with him.
5 years is an eternity to live in the heart of any city, but it’s only since moving slightly out the main centre of Sevilla I wonder how I ever lived there for so long.
Don’t get me wrong, when we first moved to within one minute from the Cathedral, some of the prettiest squares in Sevilla, liveliest places to go out for a beer, and close enough to stumble home after sinking a few pints after watching the premiership footy in an Irish bar, it was great. However, over time, living so deep in the centre made me, and my wife, feel claustrophobic and agitated. I grew to hate Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons when the whole of Sevilla seemed to walk down our street making a racket. I became tired of waking up at 3 a.m. because drunken louts were screaming and shouting below (perhaps karma for my crazy antics when I was a young lad). The fact that we were living in a two-bedroom box flat with only about 30 minutes direct light a day and no window in the kitchen or bathroom definitely didn’t help either.
We’ve only moved a bare 15 minute walk away (which I did about 30 times while moving our gear over), but it feels like we’re in a different city. It makes such a difference to live in a flat with more space and get woken up by natural light and not having to fumble for my mobile to check the time. I feel at peace now and a lot happier, especially after we sorted out the deposit with our stingy landlady.
If you’re thinking of moving abroad and wondering what it’s like to live right in the heart of a city, then here are a few reasons to stay away.
I’ve lived in London, Quito, Sydney and Bangkok, and never used to have a problem with claustrophobia. I used to love the hustle and bustle of getting the tube in London, going for a run round the Opera House in the evenings after work, and appreciated the advantages of being able to pop back home for some food and a beer during Sevilla’s manic festival, Semana Santa. Continue reading “5 reasons not to live in a city centre”→
As I sit here in my new flat at my desk propped up against a window with, finally, a view out into the world, the first thought that comes to mind is a nostalgic one that I’ve had since I visited Calais with my folks back when I was 20. This strange nostalgic yearning has crept up on me now and then over the past decade. It’s not a particularly glamorous memory, in fact, it’s rather simple, but finally I feel as if I’ve arrived.
“Where the bloody ‘ell is that beach?” said my Dad as we pulled over just outside the centre of Calais. I peered out of the window and grinned at a couple of French ladies sat outside a cafe sipping on coffee. They both smiled at me and giggled. I sat up, surprised that they’d responded.
“Let’s have a drink in there,” I said to my parents, waving as the chirpy mademoiselles continued to smile.
“I think we should have turned right back there,” said my Mum, holding the map the wrong way round.
“Damn it,” said my Dad, putting his foot down. I glanced back as the French ladies slowly drifted away. I smiled to myself, happy that I’d partially interacted with the locals.
Within an hour, or so, we were walking along the beach front, not bad considering it was only ten minutes from the harbour.
Author of From Something Old, The Road to Zoe, You Then Me Now, Things We Never Said, The Bottle of Tears, The Other Son, The Photographer's Wife, The Half-Life of Hannah, the 50 Reasons Series. And more...