Letting Go

The theme of this detox retreat is ‘letting go’. I write this very personal post just after the New Moon on the 25th May 2017. The new moon is a wonderful small crescent in the Northern sky here in the Sierra Cabrera. I am writing at about 6am having woken up just sometime between 4.30 am and 5am. In the Chinese medicine tradition each organ is associated with a time of day and if we wake up in the middle of the night we look at what might be happening. I have woken up three times between 4am and 5am this retreat and this time is associated with lungs and with grief. So this morning I got to reflecting on what might be happening.

Many of the readers will not know that I am a widow. My husband died young from a heart condition when we were skiing in Colorado 9 years ago. My journey to flamenco took off just after he died and to a large extent I have found flamenco a way of dealing with my grief. We had been married for 25 years, together for 30 years, and I was desolate after he died. One of the things that came up a few days ago was that I had not completely mourned or let go of the grief of losing my life style, which was good at that time, even though I believe I have dealt with the more personal emotional aspect. We had spent a lot of time and energy renovating a large Victorian house that had been built in 1901. Now we have WiFi, but my husband installed a LAN (Local Area Network) in our house before easy connection to the internet was available.  So we had full internet connectivity way before most people knew what this was, and early on I completed a distance learning Masters degree in organisation psychology at Birkbeck the second year that it was available. Logging in to the modem connection was difficult and it made a funny noise as it happened. He gave me a jacuzzi for my birthday present about 15 years ago and I had a wonderful birthday jacuzzi bath!  So this – as most family houses are- was a special place for me.

 

A few days ago I recalled the beautiful roof top bedroom with skylights that I could lie in bed and watch the clouds that we had built after removing the roof. I loved that room with wood and floors that Rob had varnished so carefully in which I would do my yoga practise. After he died I spent a great deal of time and money finishing that house – well almost finished, since I didn’t get to the basement which I wanted to convert to the kitchen opening on to our terraced garden. I sold the house with its memories of the family and chaos for a great deal of time. But there was a lot of love in that place and as I write I can feel the tears well up for the loss of it. My daughter has grown up and now has her own life, but I realised that I hadn’t fully acknowledged the grief of moving out and moving on from that time.

I reflect on the two dogs that I have lost as well since then – lovely Blue Roan cocker spaniels. I had wanted to breed from Tilly and due to Rob’s death I just didn’t get to achieve that. Just after Rob died I rehomed a male (neutered!) blue roan spaniel called Flash (his kennel name was Joylers Lightening Strike) who became, after an initial settling down period, a faithful companion to Tilly. They were well known in the Bishopston area of Bristol where we lived and I was distraught when eventually I had to put him down. Now both Flash and Tilly are gone. I had had Tilly for over 10 years and haven’t really mourned her passing last year.

My daughter moved away from Bristol to continue her career in London and I moved to a newer house in the outer suburbs of Bristol and developed my flamenco at classes with a Spanish teacher from Madrid who came across from Cardiff every week to take lessons with us in the Cotham School dance studio. I started to develop my flamenco further with workshops in Spain at the Jerez festival and in London with Juani Garcia and the Escuela de Baile. I would go up to London for a weekend every 6 weeks or so for intensive classes and attend the Spanish Dance Society workshop in the summer and the Escuela de Baile week long workshops at places like Sadlers Wells and Dance Attic.

During those last 9 years, this interest and passion in flamenco grew and my desire to take it further until one day talking with Ester Tal in a workshop I said ‘I’d like to move out to Jerez and do flamenco seriously’, and she said ‘why don’t you rent our apartment then?’ So I did.

I have lost a lot – not just the house in Claremont Road, Bishopston but my access to rock music that Rob introduced to me to and the English folk music scene I love. My life with the Gasworks Scratchy Orchestra. Walking the dogs and my friends in Bristol. My friend Kate commited suicide last year which I have hardly mourned. We were part of the Early Music group that I belonged to for many years before I started flamenco and before Lucy was born and during her early childhood. Kate was a very gifted viol and recorder player and directed the music for our productions. The group is dispersed now with one person living in Montpellier in the South of France – I make a note that there is a flight to Montpellier from Jerez and I have been saying that I would fly up one time. I called by last year on my way home to the UK.

My big passing was that of my mother just before Christmas. Not unexpected in that she was 101 years old and had been failing from Alzheimers for the last 9 years. However it marked a big letting go of my past and probably led to the severe bronchitis that I suffered over Christmas and the New Year and took months to recover from, and from which my body is probably healing now in this retreat. I had the same happen to me after Rob died so it must be my body’s reaction to deep seated grief. I acknowledge it and let it go and my healing continues.

So this post is a requiem to all that has passed and the grief that I have not felt as I have grappled with the life changes. My life is hugely different now and I love what I have become and the life that I have made and feel excited for the potential. Out of these tragedies and changes have come other opportunities – not least developing my passion for food, flamenco and indeed painting and making jam.

Food or Flamenco – Health or Dancing

 

This week I have left my flamenco classes in Jerez behind despite the impending and alarming end of term show. We have been exhorted to turn up and practise. I however have been suffering from what I reckon was food poisoning and have felt well and truly grim. So last Tuesday I went to the Tuesday evening flamenco class at Flamenco Puro because I knew that it was a three line whip. However this time my head and feet just did not connect. We had to do one of the footwork phrases one by one, which I hate at the best of times, and I knew that I know the steps but could I get my feet to do them. Not a chance. I ended up virtually in tears.

Fortunately a message to one of my best friends had reminded me that one of the detox retreats run by my Nutritional Healing Foundation was just about to start. A quick check elicited that there was a room available and so last week at the very last minute I signed up. I am not new to these and I wrote about the detox retreat I went on last year. This one is in the same place in the Sierra Cabrera just outside Mojácar in Almería and it will be my third. Each one has helped me a bit more and I knew that not only did I have this rather alarming stomach ailment to sort out, but after the death of my mother and issues with my siblings, not to mention the break up with a ‘man friend’ of pretty long standing a week or so ago, (partly because of what happened when I was in the Pinxtos bar and nearly collapsed on the pavement with what I thought was a heart attack and then turned out to be eating something which definitely did not agree with me. I was left collapsed on the pavement whilst he blithely carried on chatting to his friends). Anyway the less said of that the better. However this year has not been an easy year emotionally for me, put it like that!

I just knew that if I didn’t do something then I would just collapse and fall apart. I am aware of my body being a dancer and yoga teacher and whilst I probably abuse my body to a certain extent I also respect it and listen to its needs. I knew that a weekend of 2 hour classes would crucify me and I couldn’t actually cope given that last week I didn’t eat for 4 days and one of my yoga students advised me that if I was E. Coli it hid in the intestines and gave all sorts of problems and that I needed to see a doctor. That didn’t fill me with deep joy since I don’t like allopathic medicine and prefer the naturopathic route. So to be able to come away and be with the ‘mother ship’ as it were, reconnect with my naturopathic principles and be with people who I knew would be enfolding and welcoming was just what I needed.

I do indeed have E. Coli and more besides. Having worked and travelled in places like Africa, the Far East and the Caribbean I know that I could pick up little ‘passengers’ on the way. Parasites that sit inside and gradually deplete your nutrients, energy and general well being. One of the treatments showed something that I suspected for a while that I had indeed had unwelcome residents inside my body and not just very unhealthy bacteria I had an explanation for the hacking cough that my daughter keeps urging me to do something about. Fortunately the Nutritional Healing regime keeps me well. But a body can only go so long when it is receiving onslaughts from external toxins as well as internal organisms.

So after driving over 5 hours to get here. More given that Google Maps sent me scenic route via Cabo de Gato and Carboneras. It was the Ruta Esplendida but not the 20 minutes shorter that it said. I needed to slow down though after dashing across Andalucía far too fast and it is many years since I travelled this scenic route with my late husband. So I stopped a few times en route to take photographs from the cliff tops and although I missed the induction talk I arrived at exactly the right time for the last solid food for the week. Yes for one week the ‘food’ every day is two green smoothies, one coconut juice, a shot of apple cider vinegar/lemon/ginger and turmeric and bicarbonate of soda in water oh and the exciting bit of the day – potassium broth which is many vegetables boiled together with cayenne pepper. This is totally fantastic. Oh yes and nettle tea before yoga first thing in the morning. That’s it.

I arrived and after eating promptly virtually collapsed for two days. I was in a half sleeping, half dreaming and a not very with it state. My body realised that it could just ‘let go’ and did. At one point I even felt as though my body was melting and the cells were just kind of fluid and not within my structure. I have had one very good massage and another magnet therapy which hopefully will kick out the E. Coli bug. I managed one yoga class before bowing out and today many meditations. I always meditate every morning anyway and I was given two in the middle of the day and a half hour mindfulness session at the end.

I finally feel that I am healing and that my body is putting itself back together again. I will get to perform flamenco and this time brought my bata de cola to perform a really rather spectacular dance – an Alegrias with Mantón that was choreographed for me a few years ago by one of my teachers who has a studio in Fuengirola and came across to Bristol for a few years to take classes.

My food is liquid and my body will use the opportunity to heal and repair. I am indeed fortunate to have the means and where with all to do this. However without it I suspect I would have become very ill indeed.

Owls in Surround Sound

Technically this isn’t about food or flamenco, not unless owls sing in a flamenco palos such as the bulerias, but it is about music and the natural world which are also important to me.

I live now in the old part of town called San Mateo and often walk up the hill along a road called San Ildefonso past the old Domecq Bodega towards Plaza Mercado. This area means a lot to me. I first met my singing teacher in Jerez sitting outside an old Tablao on the corner of Plaza Mercado called Tio Parillo. I had met Luis before in the UK where he comes to sing with my flamenco teacher Ester Tal. I was just sitting in the sun and he noticed me and then invited me to a performance that night. I sat in the small audience at a table in the front. I had recently been to an exhibition of paintings by Stephen an artist who lives in Bournemouth and dances flamenco and attends flamenco lessons as well with Ester. It was meeting Stephen and his partner Julie that got me into learning with Ester in the first place. I didn’t think anything about the performance or the picture. However when I got home I realised that I had sat in exactly the same seat that Stephen had painted my picture from. There was Luis and the rest of the group.

Anyway I now live a short walk away from that spot and the old building is for sale and the Tablao no longer operational – sad.

So walking home I sometimes hear owls hooting to each other whilst out hunting. There are pieces of open ground around where the hunting must be good. They are invariably out on a full moon as well. This time it was pouring with rain and I was walking home from choir practise close which takes place in a church close to Plaza Arenal in the Centre of Jerez. I have to walk past the Cathedral and then up the hill past the convent and then the Fundador Bodega. This time I reckoned that there were about four owls calling to each other and I stood in pouring rain to locate them. The last time I did that I saw one of them in silhouette perched on the top of the roof of the Bodega. Given the perspective I reckoned it was a pretty big bird – nearly a metre in height and certainly the height of a good-sized raptor or bird of prey like a Goshawk.

This time I located the sound and realised that it was coming from deep in the foliage of the tree I was standing under. So I looked up and there it was with its head swivelling every time it hooted. I don’t know who was more startled him or me! I was certainly attracting attention and the bird certainly knew that I wasn’t prey but something more alarming. However in these sorts of circumstances I stay very still and project calm and stillness and love. Birds and animals respond to that and this one certainly did. It didn’t fly away but kept on ‘talking’ to me (and his compadres!). It was amazing to hear these very loud hoots in surround sound with this one just a couple of metres above my head. I stood there frozen until I got bored and very wet and decided to walk on home. However it was a very special moment.

Because it was raining the moon wasn’t out, but later I realised that once again it was a full moon. So even thought the moon wasn’t giving out light they must still be attracted to hunt then because it always happens no matter how cloudy or bright.

18 Months On

I am noticing that events that I wrote about last year have come round again and I am in a new cycle. Also artists or shows that I have seen are coming back or are being written about in the newspaper.

What I am noticing is that my life here is like a spiral. I am revisiting these events, or shows or palos like the Bulerias, but there is a change in the quality of my experience. Or as happened last Saturday at the Peña la Bulería when I noticed the wonderful dancer and teacher Angelita Gomez sitting on a bench at the back very close to a friend of mine who has recently returned from America. Angelita is one of the greats of the flamenco teaching and performing world and taught my teacher Maria del Mar Moreno. She has attended a class I have been in and so knows my dancing. There is an exhibition dedicated to her at the moment in the Centro Andaluz de Flamenco. I recognised her and acknowledged her and was able to give a tribute to her personally. Later she danced a bulerias. Now those of you who follow my blog will know that I have been working on my bulerias week in and week out for the last 15 months. I have gone from utterly hopeless to really pretty confident and able to do some complex steps and react to the singer and dance on my own with the singer without stopping or getting hopelessly lost. I have still been told by Maria del Mar Moreno that I need to attend more frequent bulerias classes before appearing in the show, however I know that my style, arms and hands are really pretty good now. I also noticed when Angelita danced – now I am a tiny midget compared to the giant that she is (and she is about 4’ 10” tall, but with huge presence) I knew that if I had danced I would not have disgraced either the Flamenco Puro school or Carmen Herrera who teach me. Also to feel acknowledged by Angelita Gomez itself was quite something in my heart.

The Semana Santa has just gone past and I saw a lot again this year. Last year everything was a bit of a mystery and very exciting. I was dashing from procession to procession collecting the Hermandad and their palco a bit like a train spotter. I really had very little clue as to what was going on, apart from the fact I know my Bible and the story of the Passion of Christ extremely well. However I was brought up in a pretty strict Presbyterian tradition, so anything looking like an ‘idol’ was frowned upon. As a consequence I was very much overwhelmed with the beauty, devotion, spectacle and colours last year. This year having sung in the Cathedral Choir for nearly six months and seen the images of the Christ and Virgin very close to in the Cathedral as well as being a participant in the Semana Santa rather than tourist and bystander I had a very different experience. I listened to a lot of Saetas and whereas last year I was lucky to catch a few this year I listened and recorded lots. I sing a Siguirilla so I know how the form works and will go deeper into what is happening. I began to see the processions as a community coming together to express their part of the story of the Passion of Christ. Each one had a different feel and set of emotions.

The last piece is one that I will also write about in more depth. However several of the shows I have seen more than once – Antonio el Pipa and Eduardo Guerrero’s Guerrero being two. Also I have seen some very famous performers in different shows more than once – Rocío Molina, Olga Perricet and Farruquito for example and Gema Moneo who comes from Jerez and regularly performs with Farruquito. Olga Pericet I know very well having seen her shows in the UK and having been taught by her for a bout 7 weeks. She calls me ‘one of my most faithful students’ I know the people she dances with – Marco Flores and Mañuel Liñan being two who now command shows of their own and both of whom are magnificent teachers who I know well. I am seeing their development and feeling a lot more confident when I say ‘you have to see this show’. Which I did for Eduardo Guerrero, who comes from Cádiz and whose show I first saw there over a year ago. He is an extraordinary dancer and director and had three excellent singers. This year his show won the audience prize. I am trusting my judgement about flamenco. Not only do I know the technical side of the performance, but also the choreography, direction and development of the performers now. I don’t have to look in the programme to see what palos they are dancing – I know from the song and music. I can spot the up and coming dancers and singers in shows on stage and in the tabancos around Jerez. People are asking me for their opinion.

More on the Saeta

I have just looked back at my blog on Saetas from last year. It is really interesting to see what I have learned since then.

Last week I walked as usual from Plaza Mercado to the Nueva Medina apartments where I live and pass by San Mateo church. I realise that I’d read that there was a saeta ‘show’ on at the start of Semana Santa and I went in. I was a bit late and the singing had started. There is something electric about the saeta. Juan Garrido – a journalist who writes in the Diario de Jerez about flamenco was giving an address and he spoke about how you hear this sound come out of the silence from the balcony. It is a flamenco hymn to God and is based upon the Siguiryas, one of the cante jondo forms of flamenco. I would have to explore more about the tonality – it is based on one of the modes in music rather than a normal classical ‘scale’ and right now I am not sure which one. However it has lots of half tones and very complex tonality. I walked in and had a ‘wow’ as I saw the beautiful retablo at the front and heard the saeta being sung. It is a very heart stopping moment.

A week later I had a ticket to go to the Iglesia Santiago for a similar event and some of the very famous saeta singers of a very reknowned flamenco barrio. Then another week later I attended a Saeta competition run by the local flamenco Peña Buena Gente. This time I heard in person my singing teacher’s uncle Antonio Vargas. Last year in one of my lessons he played me some of the saetas on YouTube. This year I heard him in person and he came second. Actually he won because there wasn’t a first place. I am so proud of having that lesson from Luis about the saeta and then hearing him at the competition. Later as I was watching one of the processions in Semana Santa I heard Antonio singing the saeta in the early morning in Plaza Santiago just by Iglesia Santiago. I feel so lucky to experience this. I call this year’s Semana Santa the year of the Saeta.

Ultimately it is about the spine tingling melody, the reverence of the words and the total silence of the crowd as they watch and wait and then listen to this ethereal music.

 

After 18 months here in Jerez – the Cradle of Flamenco

I am noticing that events that I wrote about last year have come round again and I am in a new cycle. Also artists or shows that I have seen are coming back or are being written about in the newspaper after happening in other parts of Spain.

What I am noticing is that my life here is like a spiral. I am revisiting these events, or shows or palos like the Bulerias, but there is a change in the quality of my experience. Or as happened last Saturday at the Peña la Bulería when I noticed the wonderful dancer and teacher Angelita Gomez sitting on a bench at the back very close to a friend of mine who has recently returned from America. Angelita is one of the greats of the flamenco teaching and performing world and taught my teacher Maria del Mar Moreno. She has attended a class I have been in and so knows my dancing. There is an exhibition dedicated to her at the moment in the Centro Andaluz de Flamenco. I recognised her and acknowledged her and was able to give a tribute to her personally. Later she danced a bulerias. Now those of you who follow my blog will know that I have been working on my bulerias week in and week out for the last 15 months. I have gone from utterly hopeless to really pretty confident and able to do some complex steps and react to the singer and dance on my own with the singer without stopping or getting hopelessly lost. (I still haven’t plucked up courage to dance at the Peña performances in public yet) I have recently also been told by Maria del Mar Moreno that I need to attend more frequent bulerias classes before appearing in the show in July.  However I know that my style, arms and hands are really pretty good now and I can dance on my own. I also noticed when Angelita danced – now I am a tiny midget compared to the giant that she is (and she is about 4’ 10” tall, but with huge presence) I knew that if I had danced I would not have disgraced either the Flamenco Puro school or Carmen Herrera who teach me. Also to feel acknowledged by Angelita Gomez itself was quite something in my heart.

The Semana Santa has just gone past and I saw a lot again this year. Last year everything was a bit of a mystery and very exciting. I was dashing from procession to procession collecting the Hermandad and their palco a bit like a train spotter. I really had very little clue as to what was going on, apart from the fact I know my Bible and the story of the Passion of Christ extremely well. However, I was brought up in a pretty strict Presbyterian tradition, so anything looking like an ‘idol’ was frowned upon. As a consequence I was very much overwhelmed with the beauty, devotion, spectacle and colours last year. This year having sung in the Cathedral Choir for nearly six months and seen the images of the Christ and Virgin very close to in the Cathedral as well as being a participant in the Semana Santa rather than tourist and bystander I had a very different experience. I listened to a lot of Saetas and whereas last year I was lucky to catch a few.  This year I listened and recorded lots. I sing a Siguirilla so I know how the form works and will go deeper into what is happening. I began to see the processions as a community coming together to express their part of the story of the Passion of Christ. Each one had a different feel and set of emotions.  I appreciated that Easter really means something to people here and isn’t just about Easter Eggs, chocolate and Easter Bunnies.

I mentioned that I have seen several flamenco shows more than once, for example Antonio el Pipa and Eduardo Guerrero’s Guerrero being two. I have also seen some very famous performers in different shows more than once – Rocio Molina, Olga Perricent and Farruquito for example and Gema Moneo who comes from Jerez and regularly performs with Farruquito. Olga Pericet I know very well having seen her shows in the UK and having been taught by her for a bout 7 week long courses. She calls me ‘one of my most faithful students’ I know the people she dances with – Marco Flores and Mañuel Liñan personally, both of whom now command shows of their own and both of whom are magnificent teachers. I am seeing their development and feeling a lot more confident when I say ‘you have to see this show’. Which I did for Eduardo Guerrero, who comes from Cádiz and whose show I first saw there over a year ago. He is an extraordinary dancer and director and had three excellent singers with him in the show. This year his show won the audience prize at the Flamenco Festival. I am trusting my judgement about flamenco. Not only do I know the technical side of the performance, but also the choreography, direction and development of the performers now. I don’t have to look in the programme to see what palos they are dancing – I know from the song and music. I can spot the up and coming dancers and singers in shows on stage and in the tabancos around Jerez. People are asking me for their opinion.

Yay I did it!

The fin de curso zambomba for Carmen Herrera’s school at the Peña La Bulerias was fun. I thought I would have to go back to the UK beforehand for my mother’s funeral, but it turns out I was there and as a pupil I was slated to take my turn – eek! This is the home of Bulerias – Barrio San Miguel where it was invented. I have had the honour to be practising – yes practising – with José Mijita from one of the very famous flamenco families. I have been listening to their CD’s (along with others) so that I can absorb the rhythm. I haven’t been hearing it all my life even in the womb and it shows! The dance looks deceptively simple, but it isn’t. Bulerias means joke and in effect it is a game between the singer and the dancer. The singer rules, so the dancer has to listen to what the singer is doing and dance accordingly. You can’t do a rematé in the wrong place and you HAVE HAVE HAVE to keep to compás. It is very easy to lose yourself and in effect although you can have a sort of choreography up your sleeve you have to extemporise picking out a menu of steps and the steps have to go in a certain order – paso de bulerias before a llamada for example. It is very easy to do too many of a step and then get ‘out of compas’. If you get it right then you get an olé. Oh yes and you do it on your own in the middle of a circle where everyone else knows what they and you are doing. It is terrifying and only those natives don’t have nerves (and even some of them admit to getting nervous as they stand up to walk forward to signal that they are dancing next).

It is wonderful seeing the Downs Syndrome people who attend many classes around the City and invariably dance very well. IMG_0254IMG_0254

Well heart beating as I stood up and slowly walked forward into the middle in front of a room full of Jerez natives who lived, ate, slept and breathed bulerias. I did it and Carmen knew what it meant and how the week before I had fluffed it every time. I have learned my enganches (the joins) I have learned where to come in and start dancing. I have learned to keep it short and sweet and not ‘outstay my welcome’. I have most importantly learned to have fun and enjoy myself. Olé.

PS At my first lesson back after Christmas Carmen told me that people had said that I had danced well. Wow!

PPS Next week I have 5 days every morning of doing Bulerías with José Mijitas. That will certainly give me a big boost! Carmen says normally people transform in confidence afterwards. Olé!

The XXI Flamenco Festival of Jerez

 

I have been coming to the Flamenco Festival each year in February/March in Jerez since about 2009. The first year I decided to drive up from Marbella where I was staying and just happened to get a ticket for the very last seat in the Teatro Villamarta for the big star, Farruquito. This year the Farruquito show was sold out months in advance.  The other strange thing that happened then was that I parked the car, walked to Plaza Plateros – what I thought was the centre of Jerez – well it is and who should I bump into, but my really good friend from the Bristol and South West flamenco scene, Philip Kinsman. Very strange. That year they were renting an apartment in one of the old buildings in the square.

Last year was the first year that I attended the whole two weeks and hadn’t long been here. This year again I did the two weeks and had a different experience yet again. We have to sign up for the workshops that we want to do through the official festival organisation, on the 1st September,  It is a bit of a guessing game as to how you will feel and what you want to do. Last year I did classes in the second week with Javier Latorre and decided that I loved his choreography so much that I wanted to do classes with him again. I am not up to his professional class in the first week, at the moment. I would love to be and could probably manage it, but might not enjoy the experience. I notice that the professionals can see the steps demonstrated and immediately do them. Whilst I catch them, then lose them and so on. I have to work harder. So to do a professional class would mean I would probably get quite lost and frustrated. However I remember feeling like that in Medio classes in London at first and a medio level in London is lower than here and I was quite surprised at how I managed in my first medio class here in Jerez.

For the first week I chose primarily by palos – the type of song/dance. I have been researching about the tarantos and am considering doing a doctoral thesis on it based upon something I heard some gypsies tell me in a talk in Bath a long time ago and then discussed with some controversy with someone called Robin Totton who also used to live here. I have never learned a tarantos so decided to do that and with a teacher I love – Ángel Muñoz, who often comes to London and is one of the lead dancers with Paco Peña. The class was at básico level and so would be probably relatively easy for me – although you can never be sure. I remember doing my first medio class having bought the place from a friend who couldn’t come. It was with Andrés Peña who has his studio not far from where I live now in Barrio San Mateo, near to the Centro Andaluz de Flamenco which has a wonderful library and resource centre of flamenco materials. I was terrified but actually did OK in it.

If we do the classes with the festival then we get 5 days of festival shows at the Teatro Villamarta included in the price. This is a big attraction for me – we get to see the shows of the top dancers and singers of the moment. Generally the up and comings perform at the more intimate smaller stage of the Sala Compania and there are other venues which show more edgier shows – the Sala Paúl and then smaller concert spaces for the singers. This time Maria del Mar Moreno (and one of my regular teachers) who can easily fill a large theatre was performing in the more intimate Sala Compañia and Marco Flores – who comes from Arcos de la Frontera and whose brother Titi performs with my singing teacher there performed in the Sala Paúl this year with a dazzling show. So it depends what the artist wants.

I remember feeling the anticipation before the festival started – there was a buzz as the international participants started to arrive. I was looking forward to seeing old friends and former dance class mates from Bournemouth and London.

Last year I felt half in and half out of the festival. This year I felt different yet again. It was like walking to work to the studio in the gimnasio in Juana de Dios very near to where I live. I was part of a Whats App group chat of students from the Escuela de Baile in London where I have done classes regularly for the last 15 years on and off. However I don’t eat out so much and I can use my own washing machine which is a distinct advantage when you are doing 2 hours 20 minutes of class a day.  I felt more like a resident going to work – a rather strange feeling.

There are also some really good off festival classes with various teachers and schools around Jerez. This year the Centro de Baile, where I do regular classes had arranged a really good two weeks of classes and at the weekend they had Ana Morales doing a Saturday and Sunday of 3 hour professional level technique classes. Now I wasn’t sure whether I could manage that but Vicki my teacher suggested it would be really good for me – and she was right. I loved it. We worked hard on our turns, food work, arms and line. I was really pleased with the result. I didn’t know who she was and then found out she was the lead dancer in the Villamarta the Monday afterwards. She’s a lead dancer with the Compania Andaluza de Baile in Seville and teaches there as well. Top top level and fabulous experience. I actually managed a professional level class along with teachers that I know. Scary!

Meanwhile the tarantos was lovely and Ángel as generous as ever and great fun and then Javier was wonderful. This time we had loads of space to do the Tientos/Tangos we learned since we were in the studio in the Gonzalez Byass Tio Pepe bodega. Javier choreographs dances with a lot of movement (as does Ángel actually). Javier also demonstrates what we have learned that day and we video it and then are expected to practise so that we can move on through the choreography quickly. That’s 7 days of 2 hours 20 minutes so that’s 15 hours in a very intense concentrated manner and we do 2 hours a week over about 20 weeks over a year in regular classes.

With Ángel Muñoz                    With Javier Latorre on the stage of Sala Companía

To put this into context we are learning a whole 6 or 7 minute dance which in my weekly classes take about a year to learn and work up to performance standard.

You have to have a fair amount of stamina for this. There are other performances as well – so sometimes I would be doing a class from 4pm to 6.20pm and then rushing to a performance at 7pm and then another at 9pm and another at midnight! I think I might select a morning class in the future it spreads the day a bit more!

More Marmalade and Lots of Learning

 

I love to see the oranges on the trees and am reminded that a lot of the songs refer to ‘oleando de naranjas’ and how the emigrant in Havana remembers how

beutiful Jerez is in the morning with the smell of the oranges.

It’s true and is avery characteristic flavour of JerezAs a marmalade maker I have wondered how I can get some fruit to make more marmalade. Invariably the oranges are high up. One of my friends said he would come out with steps one night and help me collect some. However I have found another solution. The trees in a street near my current apartment block have low hanging fruit. So I can just go out with an IKEA bag and pick some. Marmalade made from fresh-picked fruit is definitely better. It has a sharper taste. Yes I know it’s stealing, but I’m sure when I start proper production they will forgive me.

I also had some fructose to use up and rather than cane sugar I have found that it makes marvellous marmalade. It can’t be said to be healthier, although our bodies do metabolise the fructose more effectively and this is extracted from apples and not high fructose corn syrup or in some cases birch bark. However it still gives the sugar spike that can lead to insulin ineffectiveness and the body’s eventual insulin resistance, which if it continues does lead to diabetes type 2. However coming from natural fruit it is better than corn syrup which is used to sweeten fizzy drinks and metabolised very rapidly into the type of fat around the midriff which is really difficult to shift and the pre-cursor for insulin resistance.
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The recipes I use give the quanitities for cane sugar and fructose is more potent than this so I have to experiment with the amount. When people look at successful companies they think ‘I wish I could do that’ or ‘oh lucky so and so, they’ve hit the jackpot’. However they don’t consider the hours and experimental tries that make up a successful product. I learned to make marmalade literally at my mother’s knee. Although she gave me a chair to stand on to stir the pot. I can’t actually remember my mother’s recipe so have been using one given by the Duchess of Devonshire in Chatsworth Recipe Book. I am sure she wouldn’t have actually made these herself, however the conserve recipes seem to be excellent. It is a matter of experimentation and learning and when I fail (for example the last batch failed to set even though I had boiled it at jam set point for over an hour after adding the fructose) I have to remind myself that it isn’t failure, but learning. It can be hard though when you have done hours of work beforehand only to find that the jam ‘catches’ on the bottom of the pan and burns giving it a burnt caramel taste. Or as I found the next morning this batch hadn’t set. However you get nice surprises such as coming back to find that the batch that I had literally thrown together at the last minute before I caught the train to Madrid (see a previous post – Midnight Marmalade – had in fact achieved a wonderful set consistency. However to repeat that ……!

I have learned so much doing this. For example the comparative price of jam jars, how to order them on line from Spanish suppliers, collecting the box from the shippers in South Jerez. I have built a relationship with two suppliers – one in Seville that I order on line and the other is the Chinese shop near my former apartment in Madre de Dios. Also that under EU law if you sell jam you have to use new jam jars. This actually makes sense since washing old jam jars could still lead to bacterial contamination. Although one of the things I want to do is to buy a proper sterilising unit.

What else have I learned? I have to get on line since Spanish people don’t seem to do home preserving at all. They don’t have shops like Lakeland which sell every which type of home cooking and baking utensil. In fact I have learned how creative the British are in the kitchen, from preserves to baking and home cooking, we really are stars! I watch the Spanish Masterchef and realise that even at the beginning the contestants in the British show are close to the standards of professional chefs and end up being 5 star professional chefs, whereas the Spaniards start as so so home cooks and end up as so so professional chefs.

I have also learned how entrepreneurial the British are compared to Andalucíans. Many of the most successful Spanish companies are Basque and Catalonian. Our retail outlets in the UK are specialist and outstanding. You can get more stationery products in a specialist shop or as I said the home cooking centres like Lakeland. Here I have to trawl round small retailers who might or might not stock jam pot covers or labels.

When I asked out loud ‘why am I doing this’? The response from my friend and very keen supporter in this venture, was ‘because you love making jam.’ It’s true, I do. There is something very satisfying about turning out a successful product. Tasting your own marmalade on toast in the morning is divine. (Even though one of the things that my naturopathic nutrition training teaches is not to eat bread – however there is bread and bread and all things in moderation!)

The wonderful Manuel Liñán

My daughter asked me ‘why are you coming to London to do flamenco classes when you can do them every day in Jerez?’ That’s true I can, but the one thing about the teachers in Jerez is that a lot of them aren’t here very much. When I arrived last year, one of my favourite teachers, Mercedes Ruiz was in St Petersburg, Russia. Andres Peña and his wife Pilar Ogalla are dancing at the Flamenco festival in Nimes in France at the moment and my teacher Maria del Mar Moreno goes to Bordeaux, Paris and Milan to teach whilst the school Flamenco Puro in Jerez is in the hands of her sister in law, Irène Olivares (who is, by the way an excellent teacher).

So you have to catch the top dancers and teachers as they flit past you! SInce I am invariably in the UK for Christmas it seemed crazy not to stay on and go to the Escuela de Baile Christmas course when Manuel Liñán was the top guest teacher. I attend the Centro de Baile here in Jerez run by Vicki Ramos who is Nuría’s sister – the founder of the Escuela in London. I attended Nuria’s classes on and off for years and although I didn’t actually start flamenco with her I did carry on just after I started learning flamenco because I was working in London during the week. I have attended most Christmas, Easter and Summer courses since 2000.

Now Manuel Liñán is very special. Watching him in his show Reversible last year at the Jerez Flamenco Festival was a revelation and indeed his show won the critic’s award at the 2016 Flamenco Festival here in Jerez and deservedly so. He dances in a bata de cola and mantón like no one else and his choreography is totally amazing. So I count myself really really fortunate to spend a week doing class with him. I spent a week with him last summer whilst he was teaching here and loved being back in class with Manuel. His Tientos in the advanced class was hard, but his tangos was terrific fun and full of the tricks he uses to catch an audience’s attention. I will be back for more, I hope.