It was the best of times
Updated: Jun 11, 2021
It was the closest I could get to flamenco and the furtherest away. To see the dancers stamp their feet and play to the crowd, backed by a duo of guitarists who changed the rhythm with quicksilver fingers; here, in the tiled splendour of the Plaza de Espana in the Maria Luisa gardens of Seville, was truly the best of times. Here, with a thousand other tourists and warnings of terrorism, the worst of times.
My life has always been one of opposition. Feast or famine.
One dreams of romance and splendour in cities; cities are civilized and statues remind us of history, we have moved on, moved away from savagery. Deep down we know that’s a lie. And history certainly smacked me in the face in my journeys through Spain – all those cathedrals dripping in gold.
But forget all that for the moment. In that city of love and beauty anyone of those posh hotels would have done. Not a lorry park the other side of the river through the rough graveyard where a rusty old goods train creaked and made its inauspicious way. Not the walk over the train-line along a path strewn with plastic bottles and cigarette packets where it’s easy to imagine drug runners and rapists hiding in the undergrowth. Where our Turtle, a second-hand motor-home bought to make some of our dreams of touring come through, was parked.
Live flamenco in Seville on a blazing hot day surrounded by tourists from all over the world.
How did I wish my flamenco served? In a dark steamy nightclub where the murmers of expectation held its breath as the dancer took the stage? An opera house maybe, having booked online months ago and paid a fancy price? Yes, yes, and more bloody yes.
Cycling through the streets of Seville, our wheels turned off the streets on a corner where a hedge of bougainvillea sprayed its fallen blossoms on the pavement and we headed through the Maria Luisa Gardens.
I thought I knew heat. But not burning heat like that. Not a heat which, if you left your bike for five minutes and then remounted, your ass was on fire. The guys selling chilled water on the corner by the museum were making a killing.
We were seduced by water. Fountains signalled us. Ponds with ducks under the wide embrace of palms and orange trees. The frog pond. Wheeling through the garden’s trails, under trellises of honeysuckle and roses, eyes mesmerised by floral design and statues where birds posed for perfect photographs, water constantly lured us. In the largest ornamental pool where lilies floated on the surface and gigantic urns of spilling geraniums were reflected, bodies rested from the heat, sprawled on benches or the relative cool of the canopied walkway. In another pool an Australian girl stripped to her underwear and simply immersed herself in it.
These gardens were a gift to the city; a former palace, amongst the Mediterranean pines, monuments such as Gustavo Becquer’s are given their own railings: Cupid lies stabbed and dying in the thrust of love.
Armed policemen lingered at every corner, clopped past on horseback, patrolled the corridors of the Plaza, leant over the balcony rails where tourists paused to admire the tiles.
All around the Plaza, stalls and lone sellers gesticulated their array of fans, Spanish dolls, castanets and indiscriminate fluffs of pink Things. Hanging Things, Sticking Things, Things to stick on your fridge. Hats. Warped postcards.
But the music of flamenco cut through all the noises in the air, and the dancers made everything else disappear. The curve of their arms, spin of their skirts, arch of their instep, the placement of each foot to the ground. And in that cacophony of movement, art and pleasure, the heat, the clash of languages, some kind of duende was present. And it’s comforting to feel discomfort sometimes, amongst splendor.
Writing by MAGGIE HARRIS
Artwork ‘Duende’ by KELLY DUNLOP