Monday, October 22, 2012

La Chimi

[Apologies for the crazy font size/color variation here. I can't figure out how to fix it. -ed.]

Here's the long-overdue report on Seville, where I was still taking a lot of pictures. This is the top floor of the youth hostel where I stayed, in the historic center of town. It used to be a retirement home.

It's cheap and friendly, with a kitchen (!), on a lovely little plaza lined with orange trees.

I was a little travel-weary when I arrived. I really just felt like sitting on park benches.

Fortunately, Seville is a great place for it.

They do it well.

Seville is kind of a shock to the system after Naples and Cagliari... everything so pretty and clean. The streets around the historic center are narrow and close, just like the Spanish Quarter in Naples, except that an army of sanitation workers in stylishly tailored safety-orange jumpsuits appears every night to hose them down.

I walked around and looked at surfaces the first day.

I didn’t feel like paying to go into the cathedral, which—even on the outside—is crazily overstuffed with decoration. It makes Notre Dame look like a Pizza Hut.

Honestly, I felt a little trapped by the tourist hustle in Seville.  

Without a doubt, Seville is really pretty. I loved these glass casement things you saw everywhere, though I’m not quite sure what they're for. They cover the upper story windows… so you can leave your windows open inside them? 

I liked walking around, especially at night when the whole town comes out to promenade. 

Allow me to generalize recklessly. After Naples and Sardinia, Seville felt a little starchy. Like, the horses pulling tourists carriages around had exquisitely showy high-stepping gaits, just as an example. It seems the Roma are the extroverts in this buttoned up city. I saw some of them working the tourists pretty hard around the cathedral, the men singing in groups and the women handing out sprigs of thyme and offering to read palms. It kind of made me sad, because they seemed so bad-ass and cool but really, the only relationship I could have with them was as a stooge. So I tended to just hang back in silent admiration.

I wanted a picture of this lady with her accordion and her little dog curled up at her feet, yelling into a cell phone. This was the best I could do.

And then of course there’s flamenco.

I wanted to see some flamenco, and the hospitality industry in Seville devotes a lot of energy to delivering it to you and you to it. The hostel had a nightly outing to a free show, but my bunkmate said it was pretty touristy. The professional shows are very expensive and polished. There are flamenco bars where amateurs dance and sing (and tourists are encouraged to join), but that didn’t appeal to me either. Poking around the internet, I read about flamenco clubs, called “peñas,” where musicians and dancers study under flamenco masters. As it happened, the Peña Cultural Flamenca Torres Macarena was having a recital while I was in Seville, so I went. 

The first great thing about the peña was that it got me away from the historic center and into the adjacent neighborhood of Macarena. This felt like a place where people lived, The recital was at their hall, on a little side street. Inside, it reminded me of one of those Italian social clubs in South Philly.

I suppose this is the Torre(s?) for whom this particular peña is named.

6 euros—a bargain.

The performers chatted onstage while people settled in. Then the guitarist started playing and the others sat down, stiff-backed in their chairs, staring into the middle distance while they listened. After a bit, one of the singers stood up and erupted with the most heart-wrenching, tormented, impassioned song—no buildup at all. There were a few little flutters of staccato clapping from the other two, and then the dancer ("La Chimi") got up and started dancing, first in slow movements and poses, building to a reckless frenzy that tossed her back and forth across the stage, like her body was being controlled by wires—all the while holding an expression of stunned grief

The atmosphere was not “olay, olay” at all, like I expected—it was reverent. Just a few hushed “bravas” and “bravos” during the performance.

It felt like real hospitality--
the members of the club letting us spend an evening in their world, where flamenco lives! 

Flamenco, it seems to me, is about the tension between real emotion and display -- and relatedly, about control and its total absence. Big insight, huh? The emotion is so intense, and yet so instant. Raw and tearing, yet it feels dangerously close to being a put-on.

At the end of the evening, an older musician was coaxed onstage—presumably one of the peña’s master singers. It was interesting to see how differently he interacted with La Chimi than the younger singers. She had seemed to be the physical embodiment of their singing—like a translation—but the older singer sang to her… called her beautiful… the flower of the moon.

Forgive me for saying this (remember... the fatuous quest for authenticity?) but all felt so real—right down to the plastic roses and fake terracotta roof.

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