28 September 2012

A Lesson in Flamenco

I am the only student here - gracias a Dios - for a two-hour lesson in the dance school in Alhendín, a village near Granada.

In the vestibule, black skirts with large red spots, swirling hemlines and frills down their sideseams hang on pegs.  I choose the only one that fits - an offering made of unexciting brown stretchy material that greatly enhances the line of the figure.  Or, put another way, the one with the same fabric used for Spanx control underwear.  Very quickly, my skirt is required to do sterling work.

I must also choose a pair of Flamenco shoes, but like the skirts, the footwear has been accustomed to more dainty dancers.  The largest pair, size 39, are just the wrong side of comfortable, and my feet soon begin to feel emprisoned.

My teacher, Paquita, is a very beautiful young woman who moves with great ease and sensuous grace.  When she tells me she is actually 48 years old, I decide to pay very close attention.  We stand in front of a mirror, with arms straight, shoulders back, stomach and bottom pulled in.  Her fingers reach up to the skies, inviting energy to run down her entire body.  She brings her arms behind the line of her ears, then stretches them out behind her arched back, to show the proud, arrogant position needed in this dance.

We begin by clapping in time to the music, introduce arm movements with wrists moving sinously.  Then we work on the feet, using the heel (tacon) the middle of the foot (media) and the full sole (golpe) to create not just different movements but the tapping sound which acts as accentuation to the music.

"Más chulo, Katie," says Paquita, which means, I assume from her gestures, more attitude.  She is being charitable, for as I gallump alongside her it is not just chulo that is wanting.  I am severely anatomically-challenged, with shoulders that have stiffened and an extra foot that has arrived out of nowhere.

She, meanwhile, whirls and flows and lunges and struts.  She lifts her skirts above her knees, her legs shapely and brown, and taps her shoes ever more furiously in a living example of confidence, sensuality and femininity.

During one of our necessary breaks, she tells me that there are numerous different palos, or Flamenco styles, depending on where the dances have originated and what rhythm or mood is being created.  Classical dance requires the arms to be straight and long, the back to be arched, and the movements to be precise.  Many dancers perfect their techniques over years of training.  She herself actually only began five years ago.  I find this revelation inordinately encouraging, as much as the information that very young dancers will not often have sufficent duende (soul) to convey the depth of emotion required.

"And it is also possible to use your own ideas and movements in Flamenco," she tells me.

Good.  These, then, are the ones I shall be developing within the dark yet safe confines of my own living room.

9 September 2012

A Labour of Love

Somewhere – it could be in France, it could even be in Burgundy – there is an old town with a wonderful square containing a covered market and half-timbered houses.

And in the square sits an inviting tearoom, advertising on its sign a selection of teas, brunch and lunch. 

But when you get there - although it is a Saturday, a light is on and someone appears to be moving about inside - the tea shop is closed.  

You are persistent.  You rap on the window.

A slim woman comes to the door to say that the establishment is not open.  But you insist, charmingly of course, that you have travelled all this way especially, and all you want is a cup of her famous tea, oh please, is it not possible?

And you enter the room with its comfy chairs and sofas overlaid with throws and the odd teddy bear or two, with knick-knacks and curios in the corners, and while savouring the view over the marketplace you pour tea from teapots large enough to provide each individual with six cups. 

You visit the loo, leaf through one of the many antique books you’ve taken down from the shelf, try on several of the hats from the old-fashioned hat-stand.  By the time you’ve re-emerged, your hostess has carried out a delicious-looking fruit pie.  “It’s just from the oven,” she announces.

And you think, if this tearoom is not open, who exactly is this pie for?  And you ask her, and she answers that she is cooking for a party of fifteen people here this evening.

Oh, you say, dumbly.  Does she actually open in the evening? 

Bien sûr, she says, though you scratch your head at the thought of the sign outside that loudly proclaims tea but makes no mention of dinner.  So could we come here for dinner on Monday, you ask.  Of course, she says, but you must tell her now which meat you would prefer, souris d’agneau (lamb shank) or coquelet (chicken). 

And you indeed arrive on Monday, to find the place transformed into an enchanting candlelit room, your table laid with a centrepiece of ceramic rabbit propped on an old leather-bound book entitled Les Voyages, each place set with a napkin held together by a clothespeg, each knife resting on a small comma-shaped aubergine.  And after your mouth-watering lamb and chicken, and your course of local cheeses, you head to the dessert table to help yourself too liberally to the clafoutis, berry pie, chocolate cake and compote of dried fruit so laced with booze that she calls it her bombe atomique.

And you learn that this cook extraordinaire with her refined and caring manner does this all on her own, that she moved here from Paris some three years ago having fallen in love with the town and the premises she now occupies with the view across the square.  You sense that this is her raison d’être, her passion, that she does not need to publicise her dinners, that clients simply find her in much this way: they want a cup of tea, they see a light, they tap on the window…