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.
,
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.

Midnight Marmalade

Why is it I always seem to end up making my marmalade or jam at about midnight just before I am due to get up early to travel somewhere? I set off for Madrid early yesterday morning and the night before I had parked my car below some heavily laden naranjos amargas – bitter oranges to you and me. My apartment is surrounded by them and many of the songs I sing refer to the oleando de naranjos – the smell of oranges, which you catch as you pass by. Most of the trees have fruit that is quite high up. As I said in a blog last year, my mother was a wonderful marmalade maker, as is my ‘bestie’ Heather. I have inherited this and most years if I have had facilities have made many kilos of bitter orange marmalade. This year I was determined to take some home for my family and for once the fruit on these trees was low and easy to reach and the street not quite so public! The fruit is in fact harvested by the ayuntamiento and sent to Great Britain – I believe to the Kiellers factory in Dundee. So they must gain a fair income from the fruit so yes I am stealing if I take some. Confession time. At least I wasn’t using a step ladder as one of my friends suggested!

So I picked about a kilo of oranges and then went to sing in the choir concert. So at about 11pm I ended up making a batch of marmalade. I have never used an induction hob to make jam and my jam pan is a copper pan, so I suspect would blow it up. So I had to make it in a pretty small IKEA stainless steel saucepan and since it was spattering over the side I divided it up into another smaller pan. So there I am stirring the jam at midnight forgetitng that marmalade needs several hours to boil. Oh dear. This time I used fructose which had been left over in the shop Aderezarte so experimental all round!

I have to keep calm to make jam and marmalade and control the rising panic of whether it will reach set point before I’m too tired to continue and have to go to bed. The colour of these oranges was very pale this time and the colour a lovely pale yellow. I love the smell of cooking marmalade which I reckon keeps me going in these midnight forays. I made the fig jam, the apricot jam and now this in these frantic midnight manufacturing sessions.

What happened? Well I had to leave it at 1am and put in the fructose to dissolve before I went to bed. I reckon the bag with the pips must have come open because I couldn’t believe the amount of pips I had to skim off. The kitchen looked frightful – I don’t like to have an untidy kitchen although I invariably do. I haven’t worked in this kitchen before either so it was all a learning process.

So I decided to get up at 6am to continue boiling the marmalade. it was a big mistake not to finish stirring and dissolving the fructose. It had sort of settled and solidified at the bottom of the pan which probably extended my work. I keep thinking it’s all learning and like Edison discovering the light bulb I had just found another way not to make marmalade. However it reached jam set point in about 45 minutes and I managed to bottle the marmalade and get off to catch my train to Madrid. We shall see whether the jam has set to the right consistency when I get back in the New Year. It tasted good, that I do know!

Written later – I came back from my trip to the UK at Christmas to find perfect marmalade. A wonderful colour and consistency. Could I reproduce this? No… so I have to experiment yet again!

The House in Calle Merced

My flamenco teacher, Luis Vargas, lives in an old house in an iconic street called Calle Merced, in Barrio Santiago, which is one of the flamenco quarters of Jerez de la Frontera. He was born just along the road in a building that used to be a maternity hospital and is now a school. He went to school with many of the flamenco great names and he himself comes from an illustrious line of flamenco gypsies.

I asked how old the house is and he replied probably several hundred years old and I suspect that it might even be more. The house is complicated and they have to enter through a part of the building that is owned by someone else. He said that it is a house of ‘vecinos’ and that all the buildings would have surrounded a lovely Andalucian patio. This part of the building abutting his has been let to fall apart, but Luis is proud that he has inherited this house and has papers which show his ownership. When he is not singing he has spent a lot of time renovating and maintaining his part of the property.

However the back of the property is another story all together. It is like a war zone, with walls falling down and a waste ground at the back. To one side of his house there are props since the other side has also been neglected. So what is the story?

Apparently a developer has gradually paid off all the vecinos in neighbouring properties and deliberately let them fall down so that he can build an apartment block at the back. However there is no access – the only access would be through the space that would be Luis’ house. So he has tried a few very nefarious ways to get Luis’ family to leave. The latest is that he has said to the Ayuntamiento that Luis’ house is a ruin. I don’t know what the definition in Spanish law is of a ruin. I suspect that it would probably apply to about 75% of houses in the historic districts of Jerez. The Spanish don’t seem to value old properties and besides many people just don’t have the finances to do what needs to be done to bring them up to standard. The houses that I have seen being renovated are being done by mainly Scandanavians in Jerez, and several by Scandanavian architects.

What this order means is that the family will be evicted and the property worth nothing. In order to fight this order they have consulted a lawyer and they say it will cost them 800 euros to do something about it. I can tell you that is a lot of money to a flamenco singer (and to a lot of people including me).

Now the house next door but one is about to be renovated and they are proposing to separate the roof of the house in the middle which effectively probably means that Luis’ house will fall down. My brother in law is a surveyor and although we can probably prove the house is not a ruin he can’t do anything about this since it depends upon Spanish law. I feel so angry and helpless.

After studying economic geography at University I very nearly trained as a Planning Officer in the UK and when I hear people complain about our UK planning regulations.  I want to give this case study to show the regulations also protect us. In the UK, this developer and the people in the house adjoining what we call a ‘flying freehold’ would not be able to try to do what they want to do without making sure another person’s property is not damaged and ensuring that costs are shared. Besides which the frontage of the street is ‘preciosa’ and as I said ‘iconic’. In British planning law it would be protected and no one allowed to damage the beautiful line of houses fronting this street.

The latest part of this story is that Luis and his wife have been told that they need to replace the roof and that will cost 15,000 euros.  So the story gets worse. How come they can’t sue this neighbour to make him at least share the costs of the roof?

So what do I do next to help Luis fight his campaign to retain his rightful legal ownership of this typical Spanish family dwelling? How do I prevent his family from being thrown out on the street? How do I learn enough about Spanish property law to be able to help? My Spanish isn’t good enough to be able to work in the technical language required, besides which when I get angry and emotional my Spanish just deserts me. It’s not surprising since all the cortical connections required to work in not my native language shut down when flooded with cortisol and adrenalin.

Meanwhile I have moved to an apartment quite close by.  I joined in a demonstration recently that started in Plaza Mercado nearby and walked round the old town to bring attention to the precarious state of many of the houses in Barrio San Mateo and Barrio Santiago. I walk home past at least half a dozen really beautiful houses that are in sore need of renovation. How I would love to be able to instigate a programme of restoration and how I would love to renovate one of these houses myself and how I would love to be able to help Luis save his precious home.  I have to find a way though I am not going to let this happen.

Crowd funding anyone?

Loleando

I have several blogs that I haven’t yet written over the summer and I’m skipping a couple of months to write about this show I went to at the Teatro Villamarta. Why? I’m not sure – mainly because it is fresh in my mind and secondly because it was an extraordinary show.

So what was it? In summary a hommage to Lola Flores who was a great flamenca and born and lived a very short distance from where I lived previously in the Barrio de San Miguel. In fact walking home I passed her former house in Calle Sol and most days I walk past her statue in Cruz Viejo. So she is ever present.

The show was directed by and starred Macarena de Jerez, and what really struck me was how she really looked like the photographs of Lola Flores that I have seen in the Peña La Buleria of which I am a member and whose figure is part of the peña’s logo.

The next thing is how she seemed to be so like how I imagine Lola Flores to be. I don’t think I was the only one thinking that. I was surrounded by women in their late 60’s and 70’s all of whom I felt had known Lola Flores personally. Maybe I’m imagining this, but I felt it.

So who was Lola Flores? She was born in 1923 and died in 1995 from breast cancer at the age of 72. She would be 92 now if she was alive so you can see why many of the audience must have known her whilst growing up. She was an actress, singer and film star and performed internationally. She was known for her singing of coplas (rhyming couplets which are really poetry) and particularly for a rumba called ‘El Pescailla’ which was popular in the musical pop world of the 70’s and 80’s. Also for dancing bare feet and using her hands in a very characteristic flamenco fashion – really circling her hands in time to the music (a compás). This Macarena did brilliantly. She also danced up the aisle of the theatre which the audience loved.

I didn’t know her like many since I am relatively new to the Lola Flores phenomenon, but I felt as though her spirit had been revived. So it was like having an enormously famous international singer and actress down the road. To me she is like a local Marilyn Monroe and from the same era.

Missa Flamenca – the opening of Iglesia Santiago

For years the Iglesia Santiago has been surrounded by metal hoardings and scaffolding. Apparently it has been like that for many years. I’ve been visiting for 9 years and certainly as long as that and maybe more. Over the last year there has been greater visible activity. My singing teacher who lives about 10 houses along in Calle Merced says that the church was falling into the ground and they had to pour a lot of concrete below it to shore it up and prevent it from crumbling and falling down.

This summer the work was finished and the church re-opened. For me it is special since it obviously marks the Camino Santiago from Cádiz to Santiago de Compostella. The start of the Via de Plata is technically in Seville and the Via Augusta goes from Cádiz to Seville. I have planning to do this 1200km walk now for a while although I am not sure when.

So I would not miss this opening for all the world and managed to get a seat outside in front of one of the big screens. This session was a Missa Flamenca – a very special occasion which doesn’t happen very often.  Sorry no photographs at the moment – they will be loaded later.

A Huge Surprise

On Tuesday (this was sometime back in July!) I had decided to make a risotto but had run out of arborio rice. So I go down into the town to get some. It’s not far and I can call in at the organic shop, Panacea by the Teatro Villamarta and Tabanco el Pasaje.

So I get there and no arborio rice, so I thought I would call in at a shop called Aderezarte in Plaza Angustias half way between home at the Plazuela and Panacea. It’s one of my favourite shops and I nearly called in there on the way to Panacea. I walk in and the place feels a bit disorganised or disordered – it just didn’t feel right. After many years working in supermarkets and having been trained as a graduate trainee with Marks and Spencer I sense these things as soon as I walk into a shop. So I ask the lady (who I now know is called Conchi) what is happening and why are they selling things at a discount.

Well I was pretty shocked when she said that they were going to have to close the shop and they needed to sell all the stock.

‘Why are you having to close the shop?’ I ask. She sadly explained that her husband has started to show signs of dementia and she needs to be with him. The care system in Spain relies totally on family in these scenarios. They are only just beginning to have specialist dementia care.

‘So what about Raquel?’ I ask. Raquel I find out is Conchi’s niece and her co-owner. Conchi explained that Raquel would love to keep the shop on, but doesn’t want to do it on her own. So then I find myself asking (this was a case of my mouth speaking before my conscious mind had caught up. I still don’t know where the question came from – it didn’t seem as though it were me).

‘And if she had a business partner do you think she would carry on?’

‘Oh yes’, Conchi replied. So I said, ‘well I’m prepared to be that business partner – can I meet with Raquel?’ So then Raquel walked in and we agreed to have coffee the next morning before the shop opened.

Our meeting was a delight. I find that I get on very well with Raquel. I learn that she is from León, as is Conchi, but she came to Jerez when Conchi made the suggestion to open a shop based upon artisan products from León. So aunt and niece set up together. Apparently León is known for having wonderful chorizo and cheese (queso) and I find many more wonderful food products. So even though I am British and my Spanish is not quite fluent I find myself now the co-owner of a fantastic artisan food shop called Aderezarte. The name alone is worth something since they have registered it and I must confess I have visions of franchising the brand. I can offer my business and retail expertise – it’s not for nothing I spent 4 years with M&S and then 1 year with Somerfield (I wish it had been longer, but the dire financial situation led to me being made redundant) and time doing consultancy work for the Belgian supermarket group Sarma Penney and Sainsburys in the UK and a brilliant sojourn with Disney where all I seemed to do was play – but also learned huge amounts about customer service.

I did some due diligence before I started and looked at the figures from the time the shop opened two years ago and it has had a 30% increase in takings year on year. We would need to lift the sales even more in order to make a profit, but the shop is beginning to move into profit (excluding substantial set-up costs). That’s not a bad record and one I can live with. However what I can’t fathom out is how Spain works the business basis. In the UK I would have to buy Conchi out. It’s not at all like that here and right now I am learning day by day how businesses work in Spain. They don’t as far as I can gather, favour entrepreneurs, something that I would dearly love to change if I get the chance. I have noticed that shops don’t seem to grow naturally here in Spain but remain one shop entities and I am now beginning to learn why this is. However that is apparently one of the things that a new Spanish Government has to do when they finally get that sorted out (after a 3rd set of elections). With my years in facilitation that is another thing I would dearly love to organise – all the parties actually being professionally facilitated to arrive at a solution – but I don’t think Spain does facilitation let alone democracy.

So now I will be selling the wonderful legumbres and especial (spices) that are characteristic of Aderezarte. I will be able to make supplier visits – I already have plans to visit a vinaigre de Jerez supplier and a ecological salt manufacturer in San Fernando on the way to Cádiz. I have also been meeting some of the customers who are wonderful. I could write a book just based upon them alone!