Friday, October 06, 2006


There are two types of flamenco. One, if you’re lucky enough to catch it, is the real thing and happens in hot little back-street bars where a man sings unintelligibly but spine-chillingly and, if you’re luckier still, people will be so moved as to get up and dance spontaneously. It’s great. It’s thrilling. But if non-aficionados are honest – not as enjoyable for us Gringos as the tourist type. The best of the tourist type, that is. And the very best of it is at El Cardenal, in Cordoba. It starts at 10.30 p.m. So there’s time for a couple of drinks first, as you wander down through the tight warren of the Juderia’s cobbled streets to the venue - the courtyard of the Bishop’s Palace, across the street from, for me, the most sensuous building in Europe; the Mesquita.

They show you your table, then lights dim. A youth walks onstage with a guitar and plays some classical stuff. Then a singer, then another guitarist, then another singer. I’d already started wondering whether this was really my scene. But then the dancers came on with high heels and tight and swirly Spanish frocks. Wow. Four of them did their individual spots – as soloists or in pairs - to a bewilderingly complex rhythm of hand-claps and the strumming of the guitars and the voices of the singers. Electric. Every gesture, every pose, each heel-click…. All the eye movements, the facial expressions… arms and hands twisting perfectly right down to the fingertips…. Dazzling. One word sums up the appeal of Spain for me and it was here in bucketfuls – Passion. It’s in the landscape, and the language as well as the people.

The principal dancers closed the show. First up was the girl. I used to think that it must be every man’s dream to marry a contortionist. Now, in my next incarnation, I want to spend all my nights with a Flamenco dancer. She was a beauty in a crimson dress that somehow revealed everything yet maddeningly contrived to show nothing. She moved around the stage fixing every man in the audience with her eyes and, at the same time, challenging every woman with them. It was a no-contest. The male half of the audience had suddenly discovered what sex really truly meant and the women knew they were defeated and would be in for an undisturbed night’s sleep unless they could somewhere find a shop that stayed open late selling castanets and red underwear. At the end of her dance, she stood at our end of he stage and transfixed me with a stare. Me. Nobody else. Just me. She lifted the frills of her skirt to her ankles and began her finale. Her back arched, her arms writhed, he torso shook, her feet moved faster and faster, her head never moved. With a last haughty look and a stamp, she strode offstage without a backwards glance. As a torrent of clapping broke out she might well have been backstage using Mae West’s line, "Honey, that wasn’t applause. That was fly buttons hitting the ceiling." Fortunately, lest Mme. sneaked a glance down there, I’d already discreetly covered my crotch with the programme.

Now it was the guy dancer’s turn. He had long curly hair – a mite too greasy, I’d say – with Che Guevera’s eyes, Jerry Lee’s scowl and Elvis’s sneer. He stood in a Matador pose for a while; tensing his legs so that muscles trembled through his tight black pants and loose black shirt. Well, I suppose you could say that he was OK in a magnificent beast sort of a way if you like that sort of thing. Mme. certainly thought so, I can’t recall seeing her so thrilled with anticipation since the day we ordered the first automatic dishwasher. He could dance, though, I’ll give him that. He leaped, he kicked, he stamped to the rhythm, his feet becoming blurs of high-heeled black and silver. He barely looked at the audience, knowing that he had them exactly where he wanted them, safe in the knowledge that there was hardly a dry seat in the female half of the house. As far as the men were concerned, a contemptuous curl of the lip told that, if we had any complaints, he’d be happy to dispose of them later. Outside. With flick-knives. It wouldn’t last long and I felt confrontation was probably unwise unless I was happy going home with my cojones in a freezer bag.

Go some time. You’ll love it.

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