Tag Archives: Spain

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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Brilliant and rotten books about Spain (that I have read so far, and those on my wish list)

The other day I was reading the Olive Press, an English magazine based in Andalucia that used to be great.  It had an article on the best Spanish novels, which made me very cross – had this woman actually read the books or simply just ripped off the publishers blurb from the back of the book?  The author’s credentials seemed to be solely  that she was an English graduate, and might have read some books in the past.   Therefore, I feel completely justified spouting my views on books and I don’t even have an English degree, but I suppose this is the beauty of a blog.

So here is a list of great books I have read about Spain;

Giles Tremmet – Ghosts of Spain , Brilliant for anyone who wants to know the history and culture of Spain in an accessible, witty way.

Laurie Lee – As I walked out one midsummer’s morning.  I loved this novel of a man leaving his English village to travel on foot around Spain in the 1930s.  See my review.

Lorca

Lorca – Boda de Sangre  and various poems – I try really hard with Lorca especially as I am reading him in Spanish.  I have enjoyed the things I have read by him but find his life (and death, during the Civil War) even more interesting after going to his house at Huerta de San Vincente in Granada.

Javier Marias – Tomorrow in the Battle think on me.  An interesting novel about a man whose married lover dies in his arms.  I have reviewed this.

Washington Irving – Tales of the Alhambra.  Great historical legends, of the Moors and the Spanish, a must for anyone who has or is visiting the beautiful Alhambra.  Washington wrote this whilst he was living in the Alhambra Palace in 1829, am very jealous, it must have been an amazing experience.

Castile for Isabella, Jean Plaidy – Great historical novel about Isabella of Castile, see review

Here are some average books about Spain;

Carlos Ruiz – Shadow of the Wind/the Angels Game.  I really enjoyed the historical context of the Shadow of the Wind but found the Angel’s Game more of the same and less interesting.

Dave Goling – Guernica .  Overrated, see review.

Ernest Hemingway – For Whom the Bell Tolls, almost impossible to read.  See my review

C J Sansom – Winter in Madrid, more famous for his Reformation novels, this is set in Madrid during the Civil War.  A good novel for anyone who wants to learn more about that, but not amazing.

Carmen Laforet –  Nada, see review

Victoria Hislop – The Return.  Another novel set during the Civil War this time in Granada.  Was really excited about reading this as I used to live in Granada province but found it a bit clichéd and had read it all before, probably much better for someone who knows little about this period of history. An easy style beach read.

Here is a bad book I have read about Spain;

Chris Stewart – Driving over Lemons.   A novel about someone moving to Andalucia and nothing much happens, but it gets published because he used to be in Genesis.

Finally, some books I would like to read about Spain

The Cathedral of the Sea  – Have to admit I started this and gave up after the first chapter of miserableness, eg rape of peasant woman on her wedding night but her overlord.  Going to have another go as it is about the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Mar in the Barrio Gotico in Barcelona

George Orwell – Homage to Catalonia.  Obviously loved 1984 and Animal Farm so am interested to read Orwell’s take on the Civil War

Don Quixote – the kids version in Spanish.  Am not obviously going to manage the tome in Spanish nor English, so this was my compromise, unfortunately yet to finish this.

John Hooper – The New Spaniards.  Like the Ghosts of Spain this book deals with the recent history of Spain in order to explain how a country that was a dictatorship in the 1970s has evolved into a democracy and Spaniards attempts to come to terms with their past.

Javier Cercas – Soldiers of Salamis.. I have read great reviews of this book and read interviews with the author.  Lots of people say it is a must read novel of the Civil War, and unlike a lot of the other novels about this period, it is written by a Spaniard.

Laurie Lee – A Moment of War and A Rose for Winter.  The sequels to As I walked out one midsummer morning.  I enjoyed the latter so much that I want to read more

Blind Sunflowers’ by Alberto Mendez.  I also heard Radio 4’s A Good Read talking about this novel about the Civil War, which seemed to divide opinion, so it sounded interesting.   However it also has a terrible review in the Observer. http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01blgsp/A_Good_Read_Bonnie_Greer_Simon_Brett/

Hotel Westin, Madrid

Cadiz

The Mezquita, Cordóba

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