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The Culture Vulture

About cultural things: music, dance, literature and theatre.

"The Imaginary Invalid"
Thursday, January 20, 2022

"Le malade imaginaire", first performed in Paris in 1673, was written by the French dramatist Moliere. It is the most performed of his plays. Despite its age it still resonates today, particularly in the age of Covid-19 and the ever-increasing profits of pharmacists and drug manufacturers.

Brought to life this last weekend in Ronda (Málaga) by theatre group Proyecto Platea “El enfermo imaginario” played to packed houses at the Teatro Vicente Espinel in the City of Dreams.

Beautifully directed by Ronda-born actor and director Marcos Marcell, the 21-strong cast excelled themselves. This is an amateur drama group bolstered, I think, by just two professionally trained actors, Marcos himself and Emma Cherry, originally from the UK. The rest are ordinary folk with ordinary occupations; for example, a retired doctor, a sports shop proprietress, a waitress, housewives and students.

Yet the director coaxed outstanding nad deliciously over-the-top performances from every cast member. I particularly liked Ana Belén Sánchez’ hilarious interpretation of Antonia, the maid. Charo Carrasco was perfect as the unfortunate daughter Angélica, as was Nieves Rodriguéz as her sister Beralda. The invalid himself, Argán, played exquisitely by Avelino Écija, was suitably grumpy and irascible.

And let’s not forget the two pros, Marcos Marcell as the delightfully camp Diaforius and Emma Cherry as the go-getting wife of the protagonist, Belisa.

I like to think I know a bit about the world of drama, acting and directing. At an amateur level I acted a lot and directed too. I have been a sometime theatre critic. My first wife, Jeryl Burgess, is a professional actress and my son and daughter-in-law, Tom Whitelock and Susannah Austin, also. Curiously these latter two trained at the same drama college as Emma Cherry, albeit in different eras.

The companies I worked in were generally regarded as being of a professional standard, but I have to hold my hands up and say that Proyecto Platea were better at the weekend than SPADES, the Playmakers of Stockton Heath, Salford Players or Altrincham Garrick.

It is a widely-held view that amateur actors don’t know what to do with their hands on stage. Not the case with this company. Their exaggerated gestures were wonderful.

The set was beautiful, the costumes stunning, and the pace and movement was sustained throughout the more than two hours of this masterful production. The audience loved it! ¡Enhorabuena a todos!



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CHRIS STEWART – rock drummer, sheep shearer, hispanophile and writer
Friday, January 14, 2022

Chris Stewart shot to fame with Driving Over Lemons in 1999. Funny, insightful and real, the book told the story of how he bought a peasant farm on the wrong side of the river, with its previous owner still resident.

I was given this book by a friend, John, a fellow Spanish teacher, as a 50th birthday present in 2000. Strange title, I thought, but, hey, what a great read it turned out to be. It prompted me to read other books by foreigners who had bought property in Spain.

 

Driving Over Lemons

No sooner had this Englishman set eyes on El Valero than he handed over a cheque.  Now all he had to do was explain to Ana, his wife that they were the proud owners of an isolated sheep farm in the Alpujarra Mountains in Southern Spain.  That was the easy part.

Lush with olive, lemon, and almond groves, the farm lacks a few essentials—running water, electricity, an access road.  And then there’s the problem of rapacious Pedro Romero, the previous owner, who refuses to leave.  A perpetual optimist, whose skill as a sheepshearer provides an ideal entrée into his new community, Stewart also possesses an unflappable spirit that, we soon learn, nothing can diminish. 

Wholly enchanted by the rugged terrain of the hillside and the people they meet along the way—among them farmers, including the ever-resourceful Domingo, other expatriates and artists—Chris and Ana Stewart build an enviable life, complete with a daughter, Chloe, and dogs, in a country far from home.

His sequels to Driving Over Lemons: An Optimist in Andalucia are A Parrot in the Pepper Tree, and The Almond Blossom Appreciation Society. They are also great reads and became international bestsellers too.

 

Chris Stewart - Background

Born in Crawley, Surrey, in 1951 and raised in Horsham in Sussex, Stewart was a classmate of Tony Banks and Peter Gabriel at Charterhouse School in Surrey, and joined them in a school band which went on to become Genesis in January 1967.

Stewart appears on Genesis's first two singles, The Silent Sun / That's Me and A Winter's Tale / One-Eyed Hound. He also drums on their first album. Despite this he was fired from the band in the summer of 1968 due to his poor technique and was replaced by John Silver.

After his somewhat short career as a rock musician he joined a circus, learned how to shear sheep, went to China to write the Rough Guide, gained a pilot’s license in Los Angeles, and completed a course in French cooking.

 

Other publications

Stewart's publisher, Sort of Books, released another memoir in 2009, entitled Three Ways to Capsize a Boat: An Optimist Afloat. This one focused on sailing.

In 2014 Sort Of Books published a further book of stories, Last Days of the Bus Club, which focuses on his daughter's going to university, and his and Ana's subsequent life alone on the farm.

Stewart has also contributed to two books in the Rough Guides series: the Rough Guide to Andalucia and the Rough Guide to China.

 

A personal perspective

Chris Stewart's trilogy about life in Órgiva certainly inspired me to buy property in Spain, do it up and eventually live here.

By 2001 my first wife and I had bought our first Spanish property, a modern apartment in a comunidad de propietarios in Ronda (Málaga). I kept Piso Blanco for 18 years.

In 2003 we bought a house, a semi-ruin, to do up. Also in Ronda. I sold Casa Blanca in 2008.

In 2005 I retired and got divorced and that summer I 'reformed' a house in Ronda for my girlfriend of the time. El Rincón was sold on in 2010.

In September 2008 I met a lovely German lady who was living in Montejaque, a mountain village near Ronda and I moved to live there full-time at the end of December 2008.

In 2011 I bought a villa with pool and gardens for me and the German lady, who became my second wife in 2010, to live in. 12 years on we are still in Villa Indiana, which is in Fuente de la Higuera, just outside Ronda.

In 2020 I bought another reforma. I’m just finishing off Casa Real, in Montejaque, which will be a vivienda rural from April 2022.

***

So, thank you, Chris Stewart for the inspiration. That’s why you are number three on my list of top writers about Spain.

 

Note: To read about numbers 1 and 2 on that list and indeed the Culture Vulture’s full top five, see elsewhere in  this blog:

LAURIE LEE

JASON WEBSTER

My Top 5 Writers about Spain

 

 



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Zambomba
Saturday, December 4, 2021

The zambomba is two things. It’s a musical instrument, but also a traditional  Christmas “fiesta” of carols where said instrument is played. The Culture Vulture, who has just been to one of these zambombas flamencas for the second time, having made his debut in 2020, explains.

The zambomba is a friction musical instrument. In Spain, the zambomba is an instrument that frequently accompanies the singing of Christmas carols and popular songs. It is also used in many other Latin American countries in their traditional music.

It consists of a more or less large hollow cylinder that can be made of different materials (ceramic, wood, etc.) with one of its ends closed with a piece of leather. This is crossed through the centre with a rod, which can be made of wood or other materials. This rod is sometimes replaced by a rope. By rubbing the rod or rope with both hands, the vibration produced by the rod or rope is transmitted to the leather, producing a low and peculiar sound.

Zambomba is also the name of a typical Christmas fiesta in some parts of Spain, especially in Andalucía, at which Christmas carols are sung accompanied by said instrument.

In 2020 in Ronda, the local group La Marmorena presented two different zambombas at the Teatro Vicente Espinel. One was a group of twelve actors, musicians and singers, entitled Ven a mi casa por Navidad; the other a collection of flamenco singers and players called Ronda suena a Navidad.  

Because of the Covid-19-limited capacity of the theatre, the tickets, which were free-of-charge, went quickly. My wife and I had the good fortune to get two seats for a performance of Ven a mi casa por Navidad.

The stage was set as the Last Supper, with the 12 participants sitting at a long table decked with food and wine. The quintet of women were the singers, five of the men formed the band and the two remaining men and one of the women were the actors that linked the songs, with their optimistic observations on the difficult times we were experiencing and how Christmas could be a way of lighting up our lives.

Over the course of an hour and a bit, the audience was treated to a fiesta of singing and dancing of the greatest variety and highest quality. Songs ranged from traditional flamenco to jazz to Irving Berlin, most with a Christmassy theme. There was no programme, so we did not know who was who, although I did find out subsequently that the redheaded lady with the magnificent singing voice was a rondeña called Martha Pérez. She was outstanding, but the other four were extremely good too! They each had about three solos, as well as contributing backing vocals.

The band, comprising two Spanish classical guitarists, one of whom sometimes played what looked like a ukulele; an electric guitarist-cum-bassist; a keyboard player; and a percussionist, who played the zambomba on some numbers, were really tight and played the various musical genres on offer with great skill.

This was our first ever experience of a zambomba and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Worth every penny!

This year the zambomba was performed by a group from Jerez de la Frontera, believed to be the home of flamenco. A less imaginative set – just a line of chairs, each with a mike.

There were seven women singers, several of whom performed solos, three male singers, two guitarists and two males on percussion, one of whom, a young lad of about 14, was the star of the show for the subtlety and verve of his performance. He also did a dance in the encore at the end which brought the house down..

This was out-and-out flamenco: hoarse, agonised voices, accompanied by vibrant guitar-playing and  lots of toque (clapping). The theatre was full to bursting and the locals really got stuck in with their calls of Olé, Anda, Vamos etc. 90 minutes of pure fun.

If you get the chance to see a zambomba, I recommend you take it.

¡Feliz Navidad!



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JASON WEBSTER – Writer, flamenco 'nut' and hispanophile
Saturday, December 4, 2021

Jason Webster is second on The Culture Vulture’s list of top 5 writers about Spain. Here he tells us more about the man and his books.

 

Biographical details

JASON WEBSTER was born in California to British parents in 1970 and spent his childhood in the US, Britain and Germany. He first moved to Spain in the early 1990s having graduated in Arabic and Islamic History from St John’s College, Oxford.

He has written five non-fiction books on Spanish themes, which we shall consider later in this article.

He has also written a biography of the Spanish WWII double agent Garbo (entitled “The Spy with 29 Names”); and the Max Cámara series of crime novels.

He has appeared in TV documentaries for the BBC, Channel Five and the Discovery Channel as an expert on Moorish Spain.

Webster has also written extensively for British and Spanish newspapers, including The Financial Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Observer, and El Asombrario.

He is married to the flamenco dancer Salud Botella and has two children. 

 

Books on Spain

I first came across Webster’s work when a friend gave me a copy of the recently published “Duende” back in 2003. I was stunned. This “outsider” had managed to penetrate the closed world of flamenco and had been able to unearth some of  its secrets.

The following year he published “Andalus”, a book about the impact of the Moorish occupation from 711 to 1492 on the Iberian Peninsula.

Then, in 2006, came “¡Guerra!” which studied the wounds left by the Civil War on contemporary Spain.

In 2009 “Sacred Sierra” described the first year of his time spent living on a mountain.

After a wait of a decade, during which Webster devoted his time to writing fiction and to other activities, in 2020 we finally got his latest non-fiction work “Violencia”, in which he demonstrates that the country’s history has been dominated by violence and brutality.

 

“Duende”

“Duende: A journey in search of Flamenco” (2003), which recounts Webster's move to Spain after university and his quest to learn flamenco guitar and the path to the elusive yet passionate feeling of duende, an untranslatable term referring to the feeling that is the essence of flamenco.

Having pursued a conventional enough path through school and university, Webster was all set to enter the world of academe. But when his girlfriend of some years dumped him unceremoniously, he found himself at a crossroads.

Abandoning the world of libraries and the future he had always imagined for himself, he headed off instead for Spain in search of duende, the intense emotional state - part ecstasy, part desperation - so intrinsic to flamenco.

“Duende” is an account of his years spent in Spain feeding his obsessive interest in flamenco: the tyranny of his guitar teacher; his passionate affair with Lola, a flamenco dancer; in Madrid, living with gypsies in their dislocated, cocaine-fuelled world, stealing cars by night and sleeping away the days in tawdry rooms.

Finding himself spiralling self-destructively downwards he goes to Granada bruised and battered, after two years of total immersion in the flamenco lifestyle.

In the tradition of Laurie Lee's classic “As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning”, “Duende” charts a young man's emotional coming of age and offers real insight into the passionate essence of flamenco.

Miranda France, writing in the Guardian, admitted that her first thought on picking up “Duende” was that Jason Webster's stated passion for flamenco sounded a bit dubious.

“My second thought … was that it looked a bit boring. I was wrong on both counts. “Duende” is a fascinating book, the most gripping I have read for years. I can't remember ever before having stuck my fingers in my ears to block out the wails of my children in order to finish a chapter!”

“I don't believe that everything in “Duende” is true. It doesn't matter - Jason Webster is an exceptional writer, and this is a great book.”

 

“Andalus”

“Andalus: Unlocking the secrets of Moorish Spain” (2004) examines the deep impact left on Spain, and by extension the rest of Europe, by the Moorish presence during nearly 800 years.

As Islam and the West were preparing to clash once again, Jason Webster embarked on a quest to discover Spain's hidden Moorish legacy and lift the lid on a country once forged by both Muslims and Christians. He meets Zine, a young illegal immigrant from Morocco, a twenty-first century Moor, lured over with the promise of a job but exploited as a slave labourer on a fruit farm. Jason's life is threatened as he investigates the agricultural gulag, Zine rescues him, and the unlikely pair of writer and desperado take off on a rollercoaster ride through Andalucía.

While Webster unveils the neglected Arab ancestry of modern Spain - apparent in its food, language, people and culture - Zine sets out on his own parallel quest, a one-man peace mission to resolve Muslim-Christian tensions by proving irresistible to Spanish señoritas.

 

“¡Guerra!”

“¡Guerra!: Living in the shadows of the Spanish Civil War” (2006) studied the wounds left by the Civil War on contemporary Spain through a combination of history and travel.

After twelve years in Spain, Jason Webster had developed a deep love for his adopted homeland; his life there seemed complete. But when he and his Spanish wife moved into an idyllic old farmhouse in the mountains north of Valencia, by chance he found an unmarked mass grave from the Spanish Civil War on his doorstep. Spurred to investigate the history of this conflict, a topic many of his Spanish friends still seemed to treat as taboo, he began to uncover a darker side to the country.

Witness to a brutal fist-fight sponsored by remnants of Franco's Falangists, arrested and threatened by the police in the former HQ of the Spanish Foreign Legion, sheltered by a beautiful transvestite, shunned by locals, haunted by ghosts and finally robbed of his identity, Webster encountered a legacy of cruelty and violence that seems to linger on seventy years after the bloody events of that war.

As in his previous books, “Duende” and “Andalus”, “¡Guerra!” reveals the essence of modern Spain, which few outsiders ever manage to see. Fascinating true stories from the Civil War, vividly retold as he travels around the country.

Yet the more Webster unveils of the passions that set one countryman against another, the more he is led to wonder: could the dark, primitive currents that ripped the country apart in the 1930s still be stirring under the sophisticated, worldly surface of today's Spain?

 

“Sacred Sierra”

“Sacred Sierra: A year on a Spanish mountain” (2009) describes a year that Webster and his Spanish wife Salud spent living on their mountain farm in eastern Spain, on the slopes of the sacred peak of Penyagolosa, working on the land and planting trees with the help of a 12th-century Moorish gardening manual.

Jason Webster had lived in Spain for 15 years when he and his wife Salud Botella, a flamenco dancer, tired of their city life and decided to buy a crumbling farmhouse clinging to the side of a steep valley in the eastern province of Castellón. He knew nothing about farming - he didn't even know what an almond tree looked like, or that he owned over 100 of them - but with help from local farmers and a twelfth-century book on gardening he set about recreating his dream.

“Sacred Sierra” tells the story of their first year on the mountain, and how they cleared the land, planted and harvested olives, nurtured precious, expensive truffles, all while surviving gale force winds and scorching summer fires.

While toying with the timeless, he also retells ancient legends and as the year passed, finds himself increasingly in tune with the ancient, mystical life of the sierra, a place that will haunt your imagination and raise your spirits.

 

“Violencia”

Spain has never worked as a democracy. Throughout the country's history only one system of government has ever enjoyed any real success: dictatorship and the use of violence.

Violence, in fact, is what Spain is made of, lying at the heart of its culture and identity, far more so than any other western European nation. For well over a thousand years, the country has only ever been forged and then been held together through the use of aggression - brutal, merciless terror and warfare directed against its own people. Without it the country breaks apart and Spain ceases to exist - a fact that recent events in Barcelona confirm. Authoritarianism is the Spanish default setting.

Yet Spain has produced many of the most important artists and thinkers in the Western world, from Cervantes, author of the first modern novel, to Goya, the first modern painter.  

Much of Western artistic expression, in fact, from the Picaresque to Cubism, would be unthinkable without the Spanish contribution. This unique national genius, however, does not exist despite Spain's violent backdrop; it is, in fact, born out of it. Indeed Spain's genius and violent nature go hand in hand, locked together in a macabre, elaborate dance. This is the country's tragedy.

“Violencia” unveils this truth for the first time, exposing the bloody heart of Spain - from its origins in the ancient past to the Civil War and the current crisis in Catalonia. “Violencia” will be in the tradition of those books which come to define our understanding of a country.

***

Whilst these descriptions may sound a bit dry and dusty, the opposite is the case. Jason Webster’s style makes his books easy and enjoyable to read. That’s why he’s number two on my list of the Top 5 Writers on Spain.

 

See also:

My Top 5 Writers About Spain

Laurie Lee: poet, womanizer and hispanophile

 

Acknowledgements

Amazon

The Guardian

Wikipedia

Jason Webster’s own website



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Live music and theatre is back!
Sunday, November 28, 2021

This time of year has traditionally been a period when there is an abundance of concerts, live theatre and music gigs. In 2020 Covid-19 put paid to all that, but this year live events have re-emerged.

The Culture Vulture and his wife recently enjoyed a week or so of live music and theatre in the Serranía de Ronda. He explains.

This summer we experienced and enjoyed the following musical events:

Marcus Myers – Private party at Cortijo Perla Blanca

Marcus, from Cortes de la Frontera, provided the musical background to the launch party of this delightful boutique hotel, La Perla Blanca, in the grounds of the bodega Badman Wines. Hosted by Julian and Jody Marshall.

CABARET! Live at Teatro Espinel, Ronda

A lively and entertaining version of the Hollywood musical set in Berlin in the years leading up to the Second World War. The theatre was fully booked for the two nights it was on. Presented by the theatre group Entre Bambolinas.

Marcus Myers again!

This time at Restaurante La Cascada at Hotel Molino del Puente in Fuente de la Higuera, Ronda. On this occasion Marcus came up with a different, more subdued set, more appropriate to a fine dining experience.

Ronda International Guitar Festival, El Convento, Ronda

There were two concerts on this evening. First a presentation of baroque music played by Fernando Espi followed immediately by the Yardem Trio (Francisca López voz, Paco Seco guitarra y percusión y David Ruiz percusiones) performing Sephardic (Jewish) music. This was an absolute treat.

Followed by a delicious meal at Restaurante Las Maravillas, this was a really lovely evening.

Ronda International Guitar Festival, El Convento, Ronda

Back to El Convento for two more concerts. First up was Simone Omnis from Italy, playing guitarra clásica. Beautiful!

Then there was a change of pace and style with a presentation of guitarra flamenca by Manuel De La Luz on guitar. He was joined at the end by the singer Olivia Molina, whose voice made a powerful contrast to the guitar.

It was my wife’s 70th birthday on this day. I think she quite enjoyed it!

GREASE! Live at Teatro Espinel, Ronda

The theatre group Entre Bambolinas again. After CABARET last week Entre Bambalinas once again revolutionised the cultural panorama in Ronda. It has shown that in Ronda there is amateur theatre of the highest quality which will delight the people of Ronda for many years to come.

What a great show!

Bar Allioli, Jimera de Líbar

Another of Paul Darwent’s famous live Sunday afternoon gigs. The group was Iris Oboe Duo from Málaga City. The clue is in the name. Iris, daughter, oboeist and singer, together with father Tomás, guitarist.

As Paul Darwent would say and did, they are la puta madre. I agree totally. This is the best live act I’ve seen at Bar Allioli in ages, and all the others have been great too!

The combination of the oboe with Iris’s huge vocal range and the guitar backing of dad Tomás meant that they were able to play amazing covers of classics by Police, Queen, Amy Winehouse, the Beatles and many more, in a style heading towards blues.

What a great afternoon of live music, superb beers (try Hobson’s from England, on draught and in bottle) and wholesome food.

***

So, a relentless period of live music comes to an end. What a thrill! We’re so lucky down here that, despite Covid-19, we can go to live theatre and live music gigs again.



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LAURIE LEE – poet, womaniser and hispanophile
Saturday, November 27, 2021

Most famous for his autobiographical work Cider with Rosie, the Gloucestershire-born Lawrence Edward “Laurie” Lee, was also a great lover of women and of Spain. The Culture Vulture reminisces about the three books Lee wrote about this country, pre-, during and post- Civil War.

As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning

I first came across Laurie Lee as a 19-year-old undergraduate anticipating my year abroad in Spain and Germany. In that year, 1969, Penguin published his book about his journey on foot across Spain in 1934, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning.

The book tells of Lee’s walk from La Coruña to Málaga armed with very little but his fiddle. We learn of his adventures en route, the kindness of strangers, and we can smell the poetic descriptions of the food he samples. His trip is cut short by the onset of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 and he is repatriated to the UK, only to return later to fight against Franco in the International Brigades.

I couldn’t put the book down. It still rates as the best book about Spain that I’ve ever read, with Duende by Jason Webster, Driving Over Lemons by Chris Stewart, The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway and Ghosts of Spain by Giles Tremlett coming in a distant second, third, fourth and fifth.

[See Top 5 writers on Spain at https://www.secretserrania.com/2020/08/top-5-writers-on-spain/]

A Moment of War

Hungry for more, I got a copy of A Moment of War, when it was eventually published in 1991. It was a long wait, but worth it.

This book describes how, in December 1937, Lee set out for Spain to fight for the Republican cause against Franco’s Nationalists. He could not persuade anyone to help him and so eventually crossed the Pyrenees alone in a snowstorm, armed with little else but his beloved fiddle.

He then encountered Republican sympathisers who suspected him of being a Nationalist spy and imprisoned him. On the day scheduled for his execution a fortunate encounter led to his being released and joining the International Brigades.

The book then recounts Lee's experiences as a Republican soldier in Figueres, Valencia, Tarazona, Madrid, Teruel and Barcelona. He left Spain in February 1938.

There has been some doubt expressed about the historical accuracy of the book. Lee himself wrote that his diaries had been stolen and so he relied on memory for what is presented as an eyewitness account. He wrote it some 50 years after the event, so some inaccuracy is likely.

Nevertheless, it’s still a fine book, with Lee’s background as a poet shining through his prose.

A Rose for Winter

15 years after his last visit Laurie Lee returned to Spain and specifically Andalucía. He found a country broken by the Civil War, but the totems of indestructible Spain survive: the Christ in agony, the thrilling flamenco cry, the pride in poverty, the gypsy intensity in vivid whitewashed slums, the cult of the bullfight, the exultation in death, the humour of hopelessness. All of these the paradoxes deep in the fiery bones of Spain.

Rich with kaleidoscopic images, A Rose for Winter, first published in 1971, is as sensual and evocative as the sun-scorched landscape of Andalucía itself.

***

Oddly the order of publication does not coincide with the chronology of events. This last book of his “SpanishTrilogy” was published before his Civil War memoir, but Lee has explained this anomaly.

But who cares anyway?

Laurie Lee died aged 82 in May 1997 in his beloved village of Slad in Gloucestershire. He was so beloved in Spain that an obituary appeared in El País. Click here: https://elpais.com/diario/1997/05/16/agenda/863733601_850215.html

Acknowledgements:

Amazon

Google

Penguin Books

Wikipedia



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In Memoriam: Federico García Lorca, Spain’s greatest poet is “alive and well”
Saturday, November 27, 2021

Federico García Lorca was a poet, dramatist and musician. He was also a homosexual at a time when it was illegal to be so.

Born in 1898, he was assassinated at the behest of General Franco shortly after the coup d’état which led to the Spanish Civil War. He was just 38 years old.

The Culture Vulture has been a ‘lover’ of Lorca since his university days.

 

Lorca's Andalusian Trilogy

The most significant poet and dramatist of his generation, Lorca is especially famous for his Andalusian Trilogy of plays: Bodas de Sangre, Yerma and La Casa de Bernarda Alba.

I studied Lorca at university in the early 1970s and subsequently taught his plays at GCE A-Level in the late 70s/early 80s.

I’ve been fortunate to have seen all three performed on stage, a couple of them more than once.

Whilst still a student we went off to Liverpool University to watch their Spanish undergraduates perform Bodas de Sangre. We liked it. I also saw it many years later at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester. I still liked it.

I saw Yerma in 2018 at the Cervantes Theatre in London with my actor son, Tom, playing the lead male role of Yerma’s husband, Juan.  Of course, I loved it!

I’ve seen my favourite of the three plays, La Casa de Bernarda Alba, three times. The first was an excellent production by the Playmakers of Stockton Heath, Warrington in the early 1980s. My ex-wife, Jeryl, herself now a professional actress, was in the cast. Although an amateur production, it was of a very high standard.

The second time I saw it was at the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith in London in 1986, starring Glenda Jackson as Bernarda with Joan Plowright and Patricia Hayes. That was brilliant!

The third time was at the Teatro Espinel in Ronda in 2010. Unfortunately the actress playing Bernarda was noticeably younger than the actresses who played her five daughters! Enough said!

I’ll let you guess which of the three versions I preferred!

 

Lorca events

My love affair with the works of Lorca continues nevertheless. So I was delighted to attend two events in Ronda (Málaga) recently.

 

“Lorca , Poeta Flamenco”

This was a fantastic 90 minutes of flamenco: Miguel Lorca and his students entertained us with dance, while singers Ainhoa Pérez and Ana Cristina Mata sang and dieron palmadas (clapped) vigorously. The whole was held together by a trio of outstanding musicians: Curro Bautista on grand piano, Roberto Spanó on guitar and Jesús Urda on drums.

The theatre was full. I’d never seen it so full even before Covid-19 hit us. And boy, did the fans appreciate it. ‘Olés’ punctuated the quiet moments and the applause was frequent and sustained. Miguel even got a clap for one of his suits!

 

“Femenino Plural”

A brand new musical-theatre production based on female characters from Lorca’s plays, this was the best piece of musical theatre I've seen in ages.

Using the female characters from the plays of Federico García Lorca to put their point across in the week of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25 November), the TED (Teatro Educación Igualdad) theatre group performed an intelligent and thoughtful piece with flamenco music (2 guitars), dance and song.
 
The narrator kept the audience informed as the sole actress/singer switched from character to character.
At only 60 minutes and free entrance this was a real treat.


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My Top 5 Writers about Spain
Friday, November 26, 2021

The Culture Vulture started learning Spanish at the age of 18. Now 53 years later he’s read a fair few books about Spain, his adopted home. Here is his list of his five favourite writers…

Laurie Lee

Writer of the best non-fiction book about Spain ever, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning. The book tells of Lee’s walk from La Coruña to Malaga armed with very little but his fiddle. We learn of his adventures en route, the kindness of strangers, and we can smell the poetic descriptions of the food he samples. His trip is cut short by the onset of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 and he is repatriated to the UK, only to return later to fight against Franco in the International Brigades. His other books about Spain are A Moment of War, I Can’t Stay Long and Rose for Winter.

Jason Webster

His first books about Spain were Duende (2003) and Andalus (2010) which gave fascinating insights into flamenco and life in Andalucia. Two later non-fiction books on Spain by Webster are Guerra (2007) and Violencia (2020). I enjoyed this Californian's take on Spanish History.

Chris Stewart

Chris Stewart shot to fame with Driving Over Lemons in 1999. Funny, insightful and real, the book told the story of how he bought a peasant farm on the wrong side of the river, with its previous owner still resident. No sooner had Chris Stewart set eyes on El Valero than he handed over a cheque.  Now all he had to do was explain to Ana, his wife that they were the proud owners of an isolated sheep farm in the Alpujarra Mountains in Southern Spain.  That was the easy part.

Lush with olive, lemon, and almond groves, the farm lacks a few essentials—running water, electricity, an access road.  And then there’s the problem of rapacious Pedro Romero, the previous owner who refuses to leave.  A perpetual optimist, whose skill as a sheepshearer provides an ideal entrée into his new community, Stewart also possesses an unflappable spirit that, we soon learn, nothing can diminish.  Wholly enchanted by the rugged terrain of the hillside and the people they meet along the way—among them farmers, including the ever-resourceful Domingo, other expatriates and artists—Chris and Ana Stewart build an enviable life, complete with a child and dogs, in a country far from home.

His sequels – A Parrot in the Pepper Tree, and The Almond Blossom Appreciation Society – were also international bestsellers.

In an earlier life, Chris was the original drummer in Genesis (he played on the first album), then joined a circus, learned how to shear sheep, went to China to write the Rough Guide, gained a pilot’s license in Los Angeles, and completed a course in French cooking.

Ernest Hemingway

The journalist turned novelist wrote two first-class books about bullfighting, The Sun Also Rises and Fiesta. Bullfighting was his passion. He spent a lot of time in Ronda, the birthplace of bullfighting on foot, and has a street named after him, Paseo de Hemingway, which runs round the back of the Parador.

He also wrote a novel about the Spanish Civil War: For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Giles Tremlett

A historian, author and journalist based in Madrid, Giles Tremlett had his first taste of Spanish life when he lived in Barcelona for two years in the mid-eighties. After a period in Lisbon and then in London, he returned to live in Spain in the mid-1990s. He was The Guardian’s correspondent for Spain, Portugal and the Maghreb for a dozen years. He was also Madrid correspondent for The Economist for a decade until 2016. He has been a regular current affairs commentator for various Spanish broadcasters, including state-owned TVE television, La Sexta and the country’s biggest radio station, Cadena SER, as well as writing for several Spanish newspapers, including El País and El Mundo.

His seminal work is Ghosts of Spain.

The appearance, more than sixty years after the Spanish Civil War ended, of mass graves containing victims of Francisco Franco’s death squads finally broke what Spaniards call “the pact of forgetting”- the unwritten understanding that their recent, painful past was best left unexplored. At this charged moment, Tremlett embarked on a journey around the country and through its history to discover why some of Europe’s most voluble people have kept silent so long.

In elegant and passionate prose, Tremlett unveils the tinderbox of disagreements that mark the country today. Ghosts of Spain is a revelatory book about one of Europe’s most exciting countries.

Would the person who borrowed my copy of Ghosts of Spain please return it? 10 years is way beyond a normal library loan period. Also my Chambao CD.  You know who you are and so do I!



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