Tag Archives: Andalusia

Flamenco a go go – Jason Webster – Duende

Those of you philistines  out there who think that Flamenco is just some fancy guitar with a man wailing over the top of it, need to think again, unfortunately this book might not make you do so.  Initially I was highly dubious when I was lent this book by a friend, he said to me it’s about an English bloke who goes to Alicante to learn flamenco. Alicante? Flamenco???

Now you would have to be a little mad to do this being as Flamenco is traditionally found in Andalucia and Alicante has virtually no flamenco scene whatsoever.  So unfortunately I started the book thinking he was a bit naive. I was put off even more  as I looked at the cover more closely, it looks like a man in drag rather than an elegant flamenco dancer.

To sum up the premise, this is the Driving Over Lemons of flamenco. The twenty something Webster arrives in Alicante to discover there isn’t much flamenco but after a few months runs into a flamenco band, is taught to teach the guitar and ends up shagging his boss’s wife who is a flamenquina.  Then in an all too unbelievable episode, he gets scared as her gun toting husband  is mad  so he runs off to Madrid.  Here he meets some gypsies plays in their band and starts taking lots of cocaine and stealing cars (also seemed a little embellished here).  He later heads off to Granada, which shockingly doesn’t seem to like very much, considering he had just spent the last year living in a hovel, meets a granny, grows up and finally discovers ‘duende’ (an indescribable, heightened emotion ).

The best part of the book is the opening where he argues that  “Often we end up doing what we almost want to do  because we lack the courage to do what we really want to do”, and this struck a chord with me. Unfortunately I found the style of this book quite annoying, I know we are meant to be following Webster on his voyage of discovery but I just simply found him immature and irritating for example;

“Spanish was relatively easy  to pick up – having already learnt Italian and Arabic it felt more like I was remembering it than learning it for the first time, and within a week English had all but disappeared”.

Bastard, I haven’t experienced this in four and a half years.

Despite this it inexplicably has brilliant reviews such as  “one of the best books written about Spain” (Literary Review), “Webster is an exceptional writer” (The Guardian), and “Autobiography as travelogue’s new star is Jason Webster” (Daily Mail).  It was lost on me.  Maybe people who don’t live in Spain might find it informative?

I did however, appreciate his list of great flamenco at the back of the book and have been using this to further my education on this great music. I have also included my own recommendation of a couple of videos of the extremely talented and handsome dancer Antonio el Pipa which are worth marvelling at, although as with all of these, I would argue you really can’t experience ‘Duende’ unless you see it in the flesh.

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Laurie Lee – As I walked out one midsummer morning

Laurie Lee – As I walked out one midsummer morning  was another book club choice.  I was originally a bit disappointed when this was chosen after reading Cider with Rosie and not really enjoying it.   When the book arrived I was even more upset; I am sure Laurie Lee didn’t walk around Spain wearing jeans as shown on the cover.   The only positive for me  was that this one was set in Spain and one particular part in Almuñecar where I used to live.  In fact I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book.

It is a true story set in the 1935 of the Stroud poet Laurie Lee setting  off to London armed with just his violin in order to do some busking and have an adventure.  He later decides to catch a ferry to Vigo in Galicia and he then walks (!) through Spain right down to the Andalucian coast.  I found this element of the unknown really fascinating.  Today if we go travelling we normally have money and are also able to communicate with our family.  My journey from Almuñecar  to Santander seemed adventurous enough and I drove in a car (admittedly a banger over 20 years old).  He knows nothing about Spain apart from the Barber of Seville and that Barcelona has nuts, but he manages to set of on this amazing, lone journey.

Along the way Lee gives quaint descriptions of the Spanish,  which could seem patronising but  are also affectionate.  He meets lots of poor locals willing to give him shelter.   One humourous part for me is when he goes to the Post Office to pick up a letter and it is filed under E for Esquire.  He makes some interesting observations such as the Civil Guards are the poison dwarfs of Spain, in my experience nothing much has changed.  In Toledo he visits a beautiful gorge, Pena Gajera  where he discovers it is the local traditions to throw criminals over.  Folklore tells of an innocent girl who was  miraculously saved but this doesn’t stop other criminals being thrown over subsequently.

Lee reaches  Almuñecar just as the Civil War is starting so to protect identities he refers to it as Castillo.  He describes it as  “grey almost gloomily Welsh”.  This isn’t my experience of the area but his writing and descriptions of the Spaniards are so interesting as is his journey through this country on the verge of a Civil War.  It was admittedly written in the 1960s so some parts may have been embellished but it is still a great piece of travel writing.

Lee´s grave in Slad

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