I miss watching live flamenco. Only this morning I was chatting with a couple of students, one of them is a real, true fan of flamenco, and he was telling me about all the best places to see authentic flamenco. “Not any of this guiri rubbish,” he said, laughing.
Now that I live out in the sticks, the only live flamenco I can see is on youtube. Here’s my favourite compilation of Spanish guitar, which has inspired my writing a lot.
I miss those nights when my wife and I used to go out for tapas in the centre, then go to watch a free show.
I miss the sweaty vibe, the cheeky glasses of sweet sherry, seeing familiar faces of the flamenco dancers and guitarists, and staying up late watching live shows.
I miss seeing the dancers faces express their emotions, scrunching their eyes as if in pain, twisting their bodies, making slamming sounds on the floor, and showing their passion to the crowd.
I miss the wailing, the stomping, and the plucking.
Flamenco has been a huge influence on my life here in Seville. Not only the inspiration for my first novel, which is festering away on my hard drive, waiting for me to read again soon, but also a great influence on my Spanish knowledge.
Being out in the suburbs, maybe my neighbours won’t complain if I picked up my guitar again, something I haven’t done for a few years since I realised I was just pants at playing. Maybe I’ll try again in the New Year, play a song or two for my kids, and watch them dance.
If you are thinking of coming to Seville to see flamenco, then check out this article I wrote a while ago about the best tablaos to see flamenco. These are more touristy places though, perhaps I’ll get more names from my student tomorrow and do some research into newer ones. But for now, have a look at this article on Simon Seeks, called Feel the Duende from flamenco shows in Seville…
After last week’s blog titled Nutters in Seville, I want to make it clear that I do actually love the city I’ve chosen as my home, and that despite its downfalls there are plenty reasons to visit, and even live, in Seville.
I’d like to stay clear of the obvious reasons that anyone could find out with a quick search on google, such as the marvellous weather, the impressive cathedral, and the breath-taking festivals: Semana Santa and the Feria. I want to dig deeper, and let anyone interested in visiting Seville just what you can expect.
If someone was to take off my nose and ask me what smell I’d missed most about Seville, then I’d definitely say azahar, the orange blossom that comes out at the start of spring, normally just in time for Semana Santa. For me it’s not just the lovely sweet smell that the orange blossom gives off around the city, but the memories that it sparks.
I started to fall in love with the smell of azahar around the time when I fell in love with my wife. I still remember our first Semana Santa, where she started to open up and show me the real her and what drove her passion in life.
I also remember the year my Dad visited and my father-in-law had the decency to pick off some orange blossom near plaza San Pedro, wrap it up in a box. He gave it to my Dad, so my mother could experience the richness and special smell of the city and festival too. As the azahar was packed in the box for eight hours, when my mum opened it up the smell exploded from the box. My Mum was speechless, which was probably a first.
My recent memories are of the week when our daughter was born, during Semana Santa. The first time we walked with her around the city, when she was all cute and snug in her pram, we were knackered from not sleeping, but content that she was in the world. I remember sniffing the air, and being filled with life as azahar shot up my nose and made me feel proud of the baby we’d made.
Having come from living and teaching English in Bangkok, my exposure to romance had been stolen from me. There it’s frowned upon to show affection in public places, and no, ping pong shows don’t count. It was a cold and sad way of living, the complete opposite to Seville, where you can see the love being felt on a daily basis.
Seville is a very coupley place. I don’t know many people who stick it out here for long if they don’t get snapped up by a local, or fall in love with a fellow English teacher. A lot of people I’ve met over the years have found it too coupley, and have commented that they find being single here a bit weird. They just didn’t fit in, and I can imagine that.
Everywhere you go here, couples in love are walking about, kissing, holding hands, and being proud of the person by their side. This makes it an upbeat, happy and romantic place to visit. So what are you waiting for? Maybe you could meet your future partner here as well.
Sure, it’s cheesy, but the longer I stay here, the more I realise just how beautiful the city is. Now that I’ve moved out of the centre, I appreciate it more as I don’t have to put up with the annoying aspects too much.
Where I live now it’s pretty dull. You don’t get many tourists wandering about, although there is a great hotel in Cuidad Expo if you want to get a feel for village life. There are less shops, less people, less traffic, and less everything. But it’s a family area, which is exactly what we were looking for.
When I go back in the city, normally at the weekend, I appreciate just how pretty the centre is. Not only am I talking about the buildings, parks, and colourful centre, but also the bright churches, the flowers, and the people.
Most Sevillanos make a real effort to go out, in fact, they wouldn’t dream of popping up the shops in their pyjamas or taking their dog out for a quick walk in their track suit bottoms. Of course, you have the slightly hippie and bohemian area such as the Alameda and Calle Feria (which I loved while I lived there) but in general people make an effort to look the bee’s knees, and show the rest of the world that their image is important.
I was done over a few times while travelling, but I’ve never had any problems while living in Seville. The only times I’ve felt unsafe were after my bikes got stolen. In general I’ve always felt secure, both in the day and at night, walking around on my own in the centre. There’s a happy atmosphere, people are generally kind to each other, and you’ll rarely get into trouble while on holiday here.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t take care. My sister swears she had her purse stolen while walking down Calle Sierpes, I’ve heard of travellers and expats being mugged in the early hours of the morning too. Also guys stealing handbags while driving about on scooters in the centre of the city, so by all means, be adventurous, but take it easy.
The more I live here, the more I realise just how important it is to preserve tradition in a city. I am big fan of Semana Santa, and am proud to say I’m a member of a brotherhood here, so I can participate in the processions. I’ve learnt a lot about the tradition of Seville, about the past, and just how important this festival is for the locals. I understand why too. I know that the value of the Christs and Virgins, which are so well preserved in the churches, are icons, giving belief to locals. The longer I’m here the more I appreciate how much passion is involved in keeping this culture’s importance. Grandparents teach their grandchildren their values, share memories, and educate their family on the beauty of the festival. I think it’s great that these values are passed on and remain an importance in the society.
It’s a long time since I’ve been to a flamenco tablao, but that was another reason why I fell in love with Seville. Not to mention the fact that my first official date with my wife was in a flamenco tablao. To see the passion and spirits of Sevillanos performing their art and tradition through dancing, singing, or playing the guitar is a real treat, especially as you can normally find the best ones for free, like La Carboneria.
I miss those Saturday nights when I used to go out for tapas with my wife and we’d normally end up in a flamenco tablao, just sitting, watching the dancers show the world that their tradition is very much still alive.
Christmas is also a lovely time to visit. I normally prefer the lights here, which they put up down the main street Avenida Constitucíon, are prettier and more varied than the ones back in London. There are also great Christmas fares set up around and generally there’s a great, festive and happy vibe kicking about.
If you are visiting Seville, then I’d recommend coming in spring; when the weather is perfect, if it doesn’t rain, and you can get a real feel for why Seville is so special.
Are you planning on visit Seville soon? Have you been here recently? If you have any questions about life here then just leave me a comment below.
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.
It’s impossible to live in Andalucía and not be affected by the power of flamenco. Before I came here I knew that flamenco existed, but never realised its real beauty. Over time it has become an important part of my life here.
The first time I saw live flamenco was at La Carboneria with my wife (girlfriend at the time) on our first date. I guess it was a strange place to go for a first date, especially as it was Halloween and I was wearing a monster mask (she made me take it off before we entered). I felt the power of flamenco immediately though and soon became a fan.
“Are you ready to see flamenco?” she asked as we sat on the long white wooden benches near the front of the stage.
“I guess so,” I said, taking a sip of manzanilla, sweet sherry. Two men wearing all black entered, one carrying a guitar, and they sat on the red chairs on the wooden stage.
I looked up for the dancer, expecting a slender pretty lady to glide towards the stage, but a chunky aggressive woman barged through the crowd and clonked over instead. I turned to my wife, raised my eyebrows, and smirked. She put her finger to her lips and hushed.
“Respect,” she whispered, smiling. The guitarist began to strum. I was immediately mesmerized by the beauty of the sound that emerged. Drawn in by how quickly he moved his nimble fingers. He was fantastic to watch and made playing look so easy, so natural, and so perfect.
The dancer was equally as impressive. The speed she moved her feet and slammed on the floor was outstanding. The emotion in her face seemed so real. She actually looked as though she was suffering about something. If only I could have understood the lyrics, but it wasn’t essential to appreciate that flamenco was a powerful, emotional, and romantic art. I’d been touched by its beauty.
Over the years I’ve seen a few flamenco shows. A great place is Los Gallos. I only went because my parents treated me. The venue was a lot more upmarket than the free Carboneria. The carpets were cleaner, the spectators were dressed up, and the performers were better groomed (still no slender pretty dancers though). For €25 (now €35) I thought it was a tad expensive, but if you want to splash out then it’s worth it. My parents also went to Auditorio Alvarez Quintero recently and had a great time. I prefer La Carboneria though as it’s more underground and rugged, like real flamenco should be.
The flamenco guitarists around Plaza de Truinfo have also had a big impact on me. I love sitting on the benches and listening to them play while I write my novel, read, or just sit and people watch. It’s a romantic setting and the guitar music provides inspiration. There are a couple of guitarists who normally perform at about mid day and also in the evenings. It can get quite busy with tourists and guiris walking about, but it’s still one of my favourite things to do when I get a chance in Seville.
Flamenco nights out remind me of a lot of great moments: nights out with my wife as we were getting to know each other, fun times with mates and family, who always insist on seeing flamenco while they are here, and even our wedding because we hired a guitarist for the reception.
I miss seeing live flamenco dancing at times, especially now as we can’t go out that much. But living in Seville will always provide opportunities for seeing flamenco. Instead I listen to it a lot at home, when I’m walking about Seville, or writing. I’d still like to learn how to play the guitar, but that’s one for the future.
Are you a flamenco fan or maybe a musician? Where’s your favourite place to go and watch a live flamenco show?
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...