Another Spotlit Stage…

It all started in Seville in 2002. It was an additional excursion, added on top of an already busy trip. Tourist-y it may have been but it was spell-binding.

In the deepening twilight, we’d driven down from our dinner in the hillside village of Mijas Pueblo to join the throngs at a tablaos flamencos in Seville. It was crowded and we had to push our way through to our reserved seating in the front rows (one of the perks of much-maligned organised tours). 

Before long the show began: the pounding feet, arched poses and haughty profiles holding my attention, challenging me to avert my gaze elsewhere if I dared. Women danced, men danced, women and men danced together. Skirts and shawls swirled and swayed, fingers flicked and clicked and the cantaores (singers) wailed and clapped. It was powerful and passionate and provocative.

Then a small man took the stage. He was not handsome or well-built. He had a hard, weathered face and a small wiry frame.  But he exuded a raw magnetism and as his heels started their gentle tempo against the floor, he looked out into the darkened audience over his hooked nose, turned swiftly, sharply and raised his arms.

From my seat in the front row, I could feel the heat of his body, see the beads of sweat rising on his face as he pounded the floor. I held my breath, my heart thumping in my chest and my eyes glued to this stomping, whirling, arrogant dervish in front of me. It seemed to last forever and be over in a minute. As he remained still for that last time, it was a few seconds before I could leap to my feet and applaud, so mesmerised was I by his performance.

Ten years later, my pulse still races when I remember the man on that small stage in Seville, dancing with such arrogance and magnetism. And it fuelled an ongoing desire to immerse myself in that wonderful Flamenco spirit at every opportunity.

This weekend I went to see Paco Pena and his Flamenco Dance Company at Sadler’s Wells. It’s the third time I have been to see this unassuming master of plucking, picking and strumming since I’ve lived in London and he has lost none of his musical magic.

This latest show, Quimeras, is a fusion of Spain and Africa. It is filled with foot stamping, arm waving movement that spends two hours weaving in and out of haunting wails and tempestuous rhythms. It was unbelievably good. So good that I was on my feet at the end, cheering and clapping until my arms hurt.

Yet for all its wonderful-ness, as I walked back to Angel tube station, my mind wandered and I was taken back to another small man on another spotlit stage.

My heart skipped a beat and my soul soared again.

Postcard from Valencia…Ole!

Hola peeps! 
This week I have been in Valencia. And this being my first trip, I decided to Armchair Tour you around what I got up to. You should note, however, that this does not mean I did the tourist trail thing – if you are planning a little Spanish sojourn of your own to the region and want to read up more, you should click here.
First things first: Valencia is home to the mighty paella, a rice dish cooked over an open flame in a large pan of the same name. We tend to consider paella as the country’s national dish but in Spain, paella is a regional dish from Valencia. Ask a Valencian and they will tell you that there is only one paella – made from white rice, green vegetables, meat (rabbit, duck, chicken), land snails, beans and seasoning, and nothing else. All others are  pretenders: ‘seafood’ paella is not paella at all, but rather rice with vegetables and seafood.
Traditional paella – apparently all other comers are frauds and should be referred to as ‘rice with…’ .

Oh and yes, I had some – it was delicious!

So now we’ve cleared that up, let’s move on to activities of the meandering kind.

Evening in Spain begins quite late and most nights, we were starving meeting for dinner at 9pm. On our second night, our Regional Director was keen to show us something of his original hometown so we wandered through Valencia’s city centre with a few stops along the way. This is largely how it went:

So much gorgeous architecture in Valencia
The Tower and La Catedral
La Catedral
Gothic architecture at La Catedral
(In case you were wondering, I really liked the Cathedral)
Still walking – quite thirsty work!
So we stopped here for a beer…bottoms up!
Another lovely street scene, but by now we were wondering when we were going to get to eat
Our dinner destination at last – where we ate, drank and be’d merry
Gin is a HUGE deal in Spain with a good bar stocking somewhere between 20-30 different varieties. Knowing my prediliction for the stuff, said Regional Manager introduced me to his friend, The Owner, who gave us a tipple of his ‘best’!
Absolutely stuffed with good food and wine, we waddled along more streets in search of a calorie-burning nightcap…
…which we found here as well as a bit of a boogie-on-down.
Walking back to the hotel later on, we passed this monument. I  could not for the life of me find out who it was, despite passing it 4 times throughout the 2 and a half day trip – but it remained an inspiration in spite of its anonymity…
Yes, it’s a blurry pic but I was really ‘giving it some welly’ and the lass behind the lens had been with us all night. Nuff said!

So that was the night before but the armchair tour doesn’t stop here. After our meeting was finished, we had some time before our flights back to…well, wherever home was for us all so it was Valencia’s sunny skies that beckoned – and a rather unique lunch venue.

The City of Arts and Sciences is a collection of five areas created in the dry river bed of the diverted River Turia. The work began in 1996 under the stewardship of architect and local-lad-made-good, Santiago Calatrava, and is very modern compared with the city tour of the night before. There is the Opera House and Performing Arts Centre, the Prince Felipe Museum of Sciences, L’Hemisferic – containing an IMAX cinema, planetarium and laserium, the gardens and walkway, and L’Oceanografic which is a bit like an open air Sea World.

Sunny Valencian skies over the City of Arts and Sciences
The Opera House – looks a little familiar to me?
The Prince Felipe Museum of Science was designed to emulate the skeleton of a whale.
View standing on traffic island in the middle of the Pont del Grau
View of the Prince Felipe Musem of Sciences, L’Hemisferic and the Opera House (or El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía)
Restaurante Submarino at L’Oceanografic, our venue for lunch
Surrounded by the local wildlife. I’ll have one of those and two of those…
Submarino Bar – amazingly cool lighting…looks like anenomes
And after lunch it was a 40 minute stroll back to the hotel along the old river bed for me
Amazing what they can create from a dry old riverbed, isn’t it?

So it was with regret that I waved good bye to that glorious, glorious sunshine, returned to the hotel and prepared to catch my plane home. But not before I had discovered that London’s main man had found a little inspiration of his own here too…

Valencia’s very own Boris bikes!

Did I say at all that I love my job?


Well I do!

19 Sleeps To Go…Under The Stars With The Gipsy Kings

I picked up a bit of last minute temping this week so my perfectly planned week of gym-going, blogging and washing all the bedding went out the window (it’s going to be one helluva shock to go back to working full-time again). But one thing that did not go ‘out the window’ (at 21 sleeps to go but I was too tired to wax lyrical yesterday) was seeing the Gipsy Kings live at Kew Gardens!

I’ve not ever been majorly into these guys, having only really heard their big hit, Bamboleo, back when they were A LOT younger. But I love Spanish/Latin music and J’s quite a Gipsy Kings fan so I got us some tix about 4 months ago…and after work on Friday we met in Richmond, me laden down with some divine picnic nibbles from Waitrose and J with our two folding deck chairs and strolled over to Kew Gardens…and had such a great night!

The support act, Motimba, started at 7.30 and warmed up the crowds for about an hour with a cruise-y Cuban mix of tunes, great background for us to enjoy our nibbles and a lovely bottle of Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc. Then after a short ‘wee break’ (for us, not them!), the Gipsy Kings strummed their way into everyone’s hearts (and a fair few hips that were wiggling about!) with their passionate Latin melodies. Their passion for the music is just so inspiring and it took me right back to travelling in Spain in 2002 – where I bought a CD from a local Granada-ian band who entertained us at dinner one night and thought that the flamenco in Seville was one of the breath-takingly sexiest things I had ever seen.

There was nothing for it but for us to open a lovely bottle of South African Shiraz to accompany all this passion and fire…and speaking of fire, at 10.15 this was all topped off by some spectacular fireworks…

So I spent my ’21 sleeps to go’ under the stars with great music, and fireworks, with my lovely man – now THAT’s what I call a date night!