spain, pt 6. seville: the poetry and passion of flamenco

the next day i spent the first part of the day recovering from the night before.  the beauty of having few expectations in a travel destination is that you never truly feel like you are missing out on anything, and you are free to enjoy a place however you wish to enjoy it in the moment.  i was beginning to learn how to truly enjoy traveling like this, staying in the moment, not having too great of an itinerary, just enjoying the opportunities that made themselves available to me, and seville was the perfect place to learn this.  just big enough that you could find all the normal conveniences that one wants when living or staying in a large city, but not as big as the other major metropolitan centers like barcelona or madrid.  it is a city of perfect balance.

that afternoon i put on the nicest clothes i had (which admittedly were not very nice.  a pair of jeans and a collared shirt with my worn hiking boots) and went to meet a woman named lucía whom i would be hanging out with for the evening.

road to the catedral
road to the catedral

one of the things i had prioritized early on in my trip was to meet locals, but i had not been an expert in doing that at first.  one of the ways i had tried to combat that was by using an online dating service called ok cupid, which i had previously used back home in denver.  it seems a little disingenuous, using a dating app “to meet locals,” but it honestly was easier to meet locals this way sometimes than trying to meet people in bars, and there was always the potential upside of that person being attracted to you.  if you give me a choice between hanging out with a dude or an attractive female, i’m going to not choose the dude every time.

lucía was one of those kind souls who agreed to meet a wandering american, knowing i would be here and gone forever within a matter of days, but she wanted to share some of her city with me and show me an authentic experience.  she speaks near-impeccable english with just enough of a hint of an accent that gives her the perfect balance of “easily understood” and “exotic foreign appeal”

lucía stands out in the crowd
lucía stands out in the crowd

(remember what i said in earlier posts about listening to spanish women speak?  it’s intoxicating.  lucía if you are reading this, never attempt eliminate your accent further from where it is right now.  it is perfect).  at the time we met, lucía was doing contract work for amazon, the american online retailer, doing translation work for their web and product pages.  lucía is tall, about 5’10” and has beautiful long black hair and dark eyes to match.  when she smiles, her eyes actually smile too, unintentionally letting you know that her pleasure is real, and putting you at ease.  when she speaks, she speaks with purpose and intelligence, likely drawing from her education, but also from something deeper, most likely a good family and wise parents.

we met and walked through the middle of town as the city began to grow dark.  the lights began to flicker to life and a subtle romanticism settled about the city of seville, shadows playing and dancing in all the right places to create a mystery about the place.  lucía led me to a place called ‘the metropol parasol,” or as it is more colloquially known, “the mushrooms.”

the metropol parasol at night

“the mushrooms” is a monolithic piece of modern architecture made of wood that is built right in the middle of the oldest part of seville.  said to be inspired by the vaults of the seville cathedral and the trees of the plaza de christo de burgos, the thing looks to me like a giant belgian waffle that fell off god’s table and landed on seville.  ever since the announcement of plans to construct it, the mushrooms project has been clouded in controversy.  built by a german architect, a modern structure in the oldest part of town, and an

see? a giant belgian waffle

abstract design… there wasn’t much that local residents liked about the project.  to make matters even more complicated, once ground had broken, ancient ruins dating back to roman times were found just beneath the surface, causing extensive and costly delays and further fueling the controversy.  eventually the city decided on a redesign to include the ruins in the structure as a sort of museum portion.  the end result of all this a great attraction for tourists such as myself, providing ample material to marvel at between the old and the new, all of which is uniquely spanish.

lucía and i took a quick peek into the ruins and then quickly paid the three euro entry price to enter the structure and ride the elevator up to the top of the mushrooms.  on top lay the most magnificent view of all of seville, as well as meandering pathway that leads you all along the edges of the mushrooms structure.  i lamented the fact that we had gotten there just a little too late to catch the sunset, as it was dark now and difficult to see any detail in the city what wasn’t well lit.  it was still a wonderful view and surprisingly quiet, and i was thankful that lucía had taken me.

bathed in orange light at the alcazar
bathed in orange light at the alcazar

after about 45 minutes we began to get hungry, so we left the mushrooms and ventured off into the night in search of a great locals place that Lucía really wanted me to see.  i was very excited and quickened my pace to prove it, and before long i was surprised to see that we were on the same block as my favorite place, the bodega de santa cruz (where i had been for lunch just that very day.  actually i went there for lunch every day i was in seville).  just around the corner from the bodega was taberna perejil, a tiny little place with, once again, no seating available and an extremely small area for people to stand, order, and consume their food and drink.  despite the similarities, this place was different than the bodega, in that it had a much less chaotic atmosphere and had a more rustic feel to it.  it definitely felt as though it had been around for a few more generations, and the black and white pictures crowding the walls of the establishment only added to the sentiment. there was a single long shelf lining the walls of the restaurant for setting drinks, but due to the warm night air down in the andalusian region, people were taking their food and wine and enjoying it out on the sidewalk, where the proprietors had set up tall tables for people to lay their plates and glasses on.  there was only a single person working behind the bar, and when i walked in he looked at me expectantly, to which i quickly retreated behind lucía’s confident knowledge as she ordered for both of us.  only a few minutes later a hot plate was sitting in front of me with a warm, small sandwich looking thing.  it smelled delicious.

“so what is this?”  i inquired.

“these are montaditos de pringá!  it’s a food that is very native to this part of the country.  and this…” she handed me a very small glass with a syrupy liquid that almost could have passed for whiskey at first glance, with its brownish orange coloring, “…is orange wine!  enjoy!”  i looked at both of my treats before me and didn’t know where to start.  i wanted to consume them both immediately.  i started with the montadito.

pringá is a dish native to the andalusian region and consists of slow-cooked pork that is incredibly juicy and tender.  a montadito is a tiny little sandwich type food with a special type of bread.  i really don’t know how to describe the bread at all, other than to say that i think they put crack in it because it was so addictive.  you put some pringá in the middle of some of that montadito bread, and you have a very deadly combination.  if i could, i would eat these things until i

swan photobomb
swan photobomb

weighed 800 pounds and died of a heart blockage, they are that good.  i settled on only another two, for fear that my gracious host for the night might think i was a glutton.  after i had already devoured my first montadito, i reached for my glass of orange wine and took a careless gulp of the swill, and was quickly confused by what i was tasting.  lucía’s laughter only fueled my reaction, as the tangy, bittersweet flavor sensations ran amuck along the sides of my tongue and out the center of my nose, wreaking havoc with my palette.

“whoa!  what the hell is that stuff?!”  i exclaimed once i had regained control.

“you don’t like it?” lucía’s look of concern made me aware that perhaps i had given the wrong impression with my reaction.

“no, no!  it’s not that i don’t like it… it’s just that i wasn’t expecting such a powerful flavor.  you said orange wine, so i just assumed it would be, like… you know… wine.  but with an orange flavor.”  she laughed again.  i took a bite of my second sandwich to try and clear my mouth and try again.  this time, i lifted the glass to my lips and took a small, conservative sip of the spirit and was able to appreciate it much more readily.  a sharp but sweet piquancy was delivered to my tastebuds almost immediately, and when i breathed after i swallowed, my nose received an ever so slight warming sensation as it rounded out the flavor profile of the orange wine.  i decided that i liked it, but i realized it was not something i could easily drink all night.  the bittersweet but sugary tartness would surely send me on a lethal sugar buzz if i did, and if not that, then the next morning’s hangover would surely finish the job.

“both of these things are very andalusian.  these montaditos de pringá are something we eat frequently, and the orange wine also is very common here, it is simply a wine that is made with oranges instead of grapes.  you can see we have no problem growing oranges here in seville,” she said, referring to the legions of orange groves all around and in the middle of the city.  lucía was such a knowledgeable and enthusiastic local.  she was so proud of her spanish heritage and so eager to share it with a stranger like me.  i was so thankful and happy to be here experiencing this, because i knew i wouldn’t have without her influence.  and even if i had accidentally tried these things, i wouldn’t have known what i was trying.

lucia and her furry friend

“well they are both fantastic.  but i think my next drink will be a beer.  i need some ice and a full stomach to properly drink that orange wine!”  we laughed and moved the conversation to other interests of hers.  she began to tell me about her new favorite sport called “disc dog,” a sport where both human and trained canine engage in a sort of choreographed dance that is packed with all sorts of stunts and frisbee tricks which the human quarterbacks.  i was having trouble comprehending until she showed me a video on her phone, to which i was astonished at the level of training that must go into such an activity.  disc dog is like watching a dog show, except where the dogs and trainers are actually doing cool tricks, instead of walking around like some kind of worthless show pony.  seriously, these dogs are badasses.  lucía told me how last summer she had been traveling to texas and had the ability to see one of the premiere competitors of the sport and his owner/trainer human, and had been able to gain some insight and inspiration for how to get started with her own pup.  i was excited for her new passion and i wished i could see some of it in action.

alcazar drainageeventually we begun to talk about travel and lucía started to share with me some advice for italy.  i planned to head there in a few weeks, after morocco and the french riviera, but i didn’t have a solid gameplan yet of where i would go and what i would do.  lucía’s eyes lit up as she began to talk about tuscany and all the amazing food and wine there.  it only took her about 10 minutes and she had me convinced i should just spend the rest of my life there.  i began talking excitedly about possibilities, but i knew it was still a long way off for me, especially with morocco looming in front of me.  we agreed to exchange emails and she would send me more information to use later once i began planning.

eventually the time came to say goodbye.  i thanked lucía profusely for her willingness to come spend time with a passing traveler and was extremely grateful to have been graced with her knowledge for an evening.  i promised to keep in touch and offered to her if she ever came to colorado that i would be her personal tourguide.  she laughed and escaped into the night.

the next day i awoke with only a singular intention: to see a real live authentic flamenco performance in person.  it was really the main reason i had come to seville, and in fact i had originally had the intention of stopping for a night, catching a show, and then continuing on to granada for some hiking in the mountains.  but seville had quickly seduced and subdued me, and i had been lulled into a blissful complacency that i hadn’t yet really experienced on this trip.  i had finally found a place that i was comfortable existing in and not just visiting, and given the option, i don’t think i would have had a problem settling in to seville.  i liked it that much, and so i had stayed and spent the remainder of my time in spain in seville.

i approached tom once again at the front desk of la banda rooftop hostel and made the appropriate arrangements.  the show wouldn’t be for another few hours, as the shows only took place at night, so after grabbing a quick lunch at the bodega (of course), i went up to the rooftop of the hostel to relax in the warm sunshine.  before i went up, however, i had noticed a small little musical instrument called a “charango” behind the front desk of the hostel.  tom was kind enough to lend it to me, so i took it upstairs to fiddle around with while i lounged about.  a charango is a south american instrument that has 10 strings and sounds oddly similar to a mandolin, only with nylon strings instead of steel, typically.  i had actually purchased one during a brief trip to peru the previous year to visit macchu pichu, so i was no stranger to it.  when i got to the rooftop and started playing, a few people took notice and began happily listening to me as i fumbled my way around the little instrument.

after a few minutes, toby the big kiwi, emerged with a guitar that he had also found somewhere in the hostel.  a minute later we were improvising blues tunes and had a small audience gathered around.

“i didn’t know you played man!”  i exclaimed joyously.

“you either mate.  what the hell is that thing anyway?”  he replied with a chuckle.  we played for another hour or so, switching instruments every other song so we could take turns with the novelty of the charango.

eventually dark descended onto the city and i left in search of my flamenco concert.  tom had suggested i go to the museo del baile flamenco, or flamenco dance museum, as they put on nightly shows that are among the city’s best and are affordable enough for a backpacker.  during the day, i had tried to recruit other backpackers from my hostel to come with me, but i had been unsuccessful in my attempts, so i was flying solo, but i didn’t mind.  i was used to it by now.

i had been given strict instructions not to be late or they would not let me in, and i made it to the performance with about one minute to spare.  locating it had not been easy, as the aimless streets of old seville follow no logical order, and they are not always labeled properly, so i took about 15 wrong turns before finding it.  i was the last person to enter before the show started and noticed that it was close to sold out.  i located a seat near the back, hung up my coat, and then pointed myself to a small bar in the adjoining room where i purchased a glass of red spanish wine and returned to my seat, just as the lights began to dim.

el pintor
el pintor

the host for the evening came out and delivered an introduction first in spanish, then repeated it in english for the majority-foreign crowd.  it appeared that most of the crowd was from english speaking countries, with a few pockets of asian tourists as well. the host explained all the different critical components of authentic flamenco music so that we would know what to pay attention to, and then he introduced the performers.  the first gentleman to be introduced was the singer, a tall man with long flowing black hair and a full, thick beard, wearing an all-black suit. the stage lights from above shining down directly overhead from him gave him a sort of nefarious undertaker appearance which i immediately thought was badass.  the second was the guitar player, a shorter and slightly more rotund fellow with a black vest and a white dress shirt whose top buttons were undone, giving a more loose and carefree appearance.  typical guitar player, i thought to myself and laughed inaudibly.  then a pair of dancers emerged, a male and a female, both dressed in a traditional garb.  the man was also wearing a vest and white dress shirt with his sleeves rolled up.  he was tall and wore traditional boots with tall heels that matched his form-fitting pants that were adorned with some sort of flowing pattern along the side trim that i couldn’t quite make out in the darkness.  the woman was wearing a beautifully ostentatious pink dress with a sash draped along the front.  at about mid-thigh the dress had ruffled frills that shot off from the dress in about five or six layers down to the bottom of the dress, almost giving her the appearance of a giant bell with a bunch of smaller bells attached.  when she moved about the stage, the entire dress came to life, swishing and swaying to and fro, giving a mesmerizing quality to her.

all the lights in the room went out, save for two lights directly above the small stage pointed directly above the dancers, and two very small lights situated directly above the singer and guitar player in the background.  the dancers held their stances for a solid minute while the guitar player built the necessary rhythm and structure to the song, while the singer began to clap loudly and rhythmically in concert with the guitar.  when he began to sing, it was with a baritone vibrato that echoed out into the room and reverberated off the walls and permeated the entire building.  there was an anguish in his voice that one need not be able to speak spanish to comprehend. the song rose to a crescendo as the guitar players left hand moved furiously up and down the fretboard while his right hand epileptically moved at a blur, attacking the strings with a ferocity while the singer’s voice reached up and hit a note i didn’t think was within his range.  the hairs on my arms began to raise and i felt chills on the back of my neck.  suddenly, the dancers sprung to life and stomped their boots heavily down onto the wooden floor startling everyone in the room as the rhythm shifted into a more controlled order to compliment the dancers’ expressions and movements. the stomps and claps of the dancers now perfectly supported the guitar player and singer’s efforts, and the four were now in synchronicity with each other.  my confused brain couldn’t figure out who to pay more attention to in the group.  i relaxed and let go of trying to control what to take in.  i just watched in awe.  the music rose higher and higher, the dancers moving back and forth across the stage, never touching each other but flirting and teasing to and fro, this way and that, taking turns at center stage impressing with their flurried movements and taps and stomps on the bruised floor.  when the woman had the center, she moved her feet at a breakneck pace, mixing in little taps with much larger, exaggerated stomps.  she somehow moved the rest of her body without the need of her legs and feet, swaying and twisting, one arm in the air, swinging wildly while the other arm had a firm grip on the side of her dress, pushing and pulling it back and forth and swinging it to get the pronounced movement desired.  meanwhile the man stood off to the side, in a perfect posture with his head held high but still keeping a close watch over his counterpart.  he held his hands directly in front of his body and clapped effortlessly in opposite rhythms with the singer, making it sound like there were ten pairs of hands all clapping at different times in the room.  periodically he would slam a boot into the floor to emphasize a beat in the song.  after half a minute, the woman would retreat to the other side of the stage and the man would saunter over to the center, one hand behind his back and one in front, as his boots blazed away on the floor below him.  his hands rushed away from his body, one toward the sky and one carefree to his side as he spun around with a great confident passion.  sweat glistened at his brow as a single lock of his curly hair fell perfectly down in front of his face, but the confident smile on his face conveyed that he was just getting warmed up.  suddenly both dancers turned to face each other and they both migrated to symmetric positions at center stage.  the woman rushed to the man and they finally embraced, moving about each other in a fiery flamencopassion that told stories in volumes that words could never capture.  they spun around each other in circles, the music volume and intensity climbing and climbing, the claps and stomps becoming more and more violent, until suddenly the dancers spun to face each other, the man’s hand wrapped around the woman’s waist.  he pulled her into his body, their faces almost touching, the lights cut out and the music abruptly stopped.

the crowd erupted.  i began clapping, but i noticed i was short of breath.  i’m not sure i had breathed during the entire piece.  i felt a moisture on my face and realized that tears had escaped my eyes.  i was crying.  the raw passion of the experience was so real that i had allowed myself to become wholly drawn in by it, and it had moved me to emotion.

i’m not sure why i had initially been so drawn to experiencing flamenco, but i think it has something to do with my own experience with music.  i grew up playing baseball, having never attempted playing a musical instrument.  one day, however, at 17 i had a major head trauma that would no longer allow me to participate in anything athletic for a couple years.  suddenly a very active and restless kid was banished to a life inside.  initially i busied myself with video games, but i found a new pursuit one day when digging around in storage searching for my baseball card collection, i found an old beat-up guitar that had belonged to my dad when he was in high school.  i taught myself how to play, never taking a lesson, and still to this day i know very little about musical theory.  instead, my imagination developed, and i focused on the melodies i heard in my head and tried to bring them to life. i would eventually be able to play sports again, but in the years that i could not, i devoted myself to that guitar for hours each day.  and when the day came that i could play outside, my habit of practicing guitar each day continued.

i started writing my own songs in college, and when i graduated i moved to los angeles to see if i could make it as a musician.  after a couple years of getting nowhere and never really meeting any other musicians interested in collaborating (everything is about money and recognition in LA, not art), i gave up and moved to denver.  i had been tired of being broke and unsuccessful, but mainly i was tired of fake people, and my confused mind had convinced me that music and fake people went hand in hand.  i decided to give up music forever and focus on making money and success, because that way i at least knew what i was getting myself into.

obviously if you’ve been reading my story from the beginning, you now know how this filtered in and added to my frustrations with my life, leading me to quit everything and start over.  music was such a cornerstone in my life, and i had mistakenly traded it for things that were even more inauthentic, ultimately making me even more miserable than ever before.

so here i was, watching a flamenco performance in seville, spain, and being shown all over again just how powerful and real and authentic music could be if you just strip away everything else around it.  flamenco was raw, it was real, it was emotional, and it had a small piece of every thing i was searching for on this journey.  seeing that flamenco performance was like a resetting, and all the emotion and frustration over the years had come rushing back, giving me a sliver of clarity. and another segment of the puzzle had just been completed for me, though i may not have realized it right then.

15 minute break
15 minute break

i enjoyed the rest of the show in a sense of awe and admiration.  i remember being grateful that i had been unable to recruit anyone else to come with me because i’m not sure i would have had the same experience or openness if i was interacting with anyone else as opposed to my own mind.  i walked the cobblestone streets of sevilla alone, taking an aimless long route back so i could further digest the performance.  i wasn’t sure what exactly it all meant, but i knew that i wanted to make music again.  this time for no one other than myself.

i got back to the hostel and packed all my things.  in the morning i was leaving for morocco.  i was going to miss spain deeply.  i had now been abroad and away from my home for two and a half months, and so much of my journey and it’s lessons had finally come to be realized here in spain.  almost as if the road had been directing me here all along, and all my other stops along the way had been necessary to lead me to this point and these realizations on confidence, release of control, inspiration, and art.  i wasn’t quite aware of it all yet, but spain had come to mean a great deal to me, and was a central point in my soul-search.

step into the unknown
step into the unknown

if i wasn’t so preoccupied with the evening’s events and their effect on me, i probably would have been more worried about this next stage than i was.  i was leaving europe, the developed world, and the comfortable travel life. i was going to africa, and i wasn’t just going for a weekend. i was going for two and a half weeks to a place that i knew next to nothing about. i had begun to uncover mysteries about myself over the last two months, but now the true test would begin. i was heading into a real unknown…


for this week’s musical recommendation, i’ve combined the song with a video of my own.  the video is footage i took of my time in spain, and the song is the lead single from the new josé gonzález album, titled “vestiges & claws.”  the song is called “leaf off/the cave.”  enjoy…

and for those following the running playlist on spotify

3 thoughts on “spain, pt 6. seville: the poetry and passion of flamenco”

  1. Wow, I am out of words. I could exactly feel what you felt only by the description, and also, because paradoxically (I have lived 20 years of my life in Sevilla and I am currently there), I had ignored flamenco for most part of my life. It was only after a dark, dark winter in Germany (and not only because of the weather), when flamenco appared to me in the most bizarre way. I remember that February and March soaking into this well known style here in the south, and I remember a very comforting heat starting to burn inside. For the first time of my life I understood the soul of flamenco, the soul of Andalucía and last, my own soul. I cried many times because before I had had a love-hate relationship with this land (the story would be too long to explain here, but what you said about music, etc, rang a bell in me).

    I am happy that you had a great time in Spain and of course in Sevilla. I am originally from Barcelona, but Seville has “duende” which is a very andalusian word for “having soul” or that kind of energy that everybody can understand.

    Btw, maybe next time you would like to give Couchsurfing a try. Not only for finding accommodation with locals, which can be an unforgetful event, but also to find people who would have been more than eager to share the city with you. They also organize weekly events. The best memories of my travels have often been made thanks to locals (either CS or friends, or friends of friends).


    1. ahh yes, i did try to couchsurf on my trip, but i didn’t get the idea until i got to italy, unfortunately. and no one would accept my requests in italia, so i failed there. i have hosted people on couchsurfing in my own home in the US, but i don’t know why i didn’t think to do it sooner while in europe. you are right, i will have to make this a priority on my next big adventure! you are lucky to live in sevilla, it is such a magical place. next time i am there, perhaps we can meet for some orange wine! hahaha


      1. Can you imagine? I have never tasted that…montaditos are common but never actually tasted it with pringá. Quite funny. Did you get to taste salmorejo? I could die for it. 🙂

        Yes, Sevilla has a magical flare, but to me it feels like a prison since it is quite traditional and not so open to the outsiders (in general). It makes me feel like i belong to another specie. On the other hand, it is exactly the type of city that best fits my needs (size, etc). I hope I can solve this dilemma any time soon.

        And of course, if you ever make it to Sevilla any time soon, let me know and you show me what the hell is that of the orange wine 😛


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