Saturday 23 January 2016
10 degrees in Spain
20 degrees in France
We come to Pamplona to see Flamenco. This is not some sanitised tourist version, rose tucked behind the ear and polka dot dress and maracas version. It is raw and pure and touches me in the way that is hearing a Welsh male voice choir or the thump of a colliery band or the high sweet voices of boys in a Cathedral.
The Club is small - only holding 50 people - the telephone is never answered. Events - periodic and irregular - are posted on Facebook and messages remain unread. Sometimes Tourist Information will ring and reserve for us but yesterday it was closed so we turned up on spec at 10 pm and were told it was full. We hung around. Many black clothed people milled by the door, having a cig smoking competition. An hour went by and finally, the woman on the door beckoned us forward and sold us the last two tickets.
The interior was bursting and the 15 euros entrance fee bought a G + T and nibbles of cheese, chorizo and ham on slivers of bread. Everyone was talking at the same time. A door opened and four chairs were dragged out of a back room and onto the tiny stage, where they took up half the space. Two men and two women sat down and a man took up his guitar and started to play. It was the sound of water tumbling down a mountain stream. It was liquid. It was the present and it was the past: it was 500 years of music. A slight, dark eyed woman drew up a microphone. Burnished mahogany hair neatly drawn back into a knot at the nape of the neck. Blood at her lips. And she sang. If you have never heard flamenco, the sound is a shock. It comes from deep within the singer and is a cry of anguish. It hits you in the Solar Plexus and sends a silver knife sliding down your vertebrae. Her voice radiated out and filled every corner of the room, and people listened, their faces turned to enraptured stone.
Then, from the darkness at the end of the stage, a dancer rose. Slender as a reed. In her 40's. Hair contained by jet slides but exploding in wild froth down to her waist. She flexed her arms, the white lace shone and she arched her back and her hands twirled delicately like blossoms in a Spring breeze. She was feminine and sensuous and serious and powerful. Many cries of guapa and olé!
The guitar player resumed and another dancer rose from the shadows. Dressed in widow's weeds, a severe gunmetal grey dress and plain black shawl, she struck a pose and filled the stage. Her face was contorted with pain. She was Guernika, she was Spain and she was every Spaniard who had ever suffered. Her dancing was not feminine or delicate. It was savage and when she stamped, the room shook. She exuded rage and anguish. Her arms whipped furiously. She pointed and grimaced and her shawl was a weapon. She glistened with sweat and her hair started to unravel from the clips. She beat her hands against her breast and her pale white thighs drummed like machine guns. There was a break and she reappeared in a green gown, sprigged with flowers and this time the dance was full of wild joy. It was a performance of extraordinary power. It was mesmerising.
When, at last, she finished and, panting, extended her arms towards the audience, there was a moment's silence before a tumult of bodies on the stage and applause ringing around the room like thunder in a canyon.
We emerged into the chill night air. It was 1.30 am and the dregs of the bars were being thrown out on the streets. A church bell chimed and the full moon lit our way home.