Thursday, December 26, 2013

Hiking in El Escorial

     Early December and the weather was great for hiking, so Emir, Camille and I took a train out to El Escorial to walk some trails. El Escorial is famous for the enormous monastery Philip II had constructed during the later half od the 16th century. It's only 45 kms from Madrid but I hadn't been out there yet, and still didn't get into the monastery. Instead, we walked past it and into the hills for some nice views. 

Part of El Escorial 
     When the monastery was being constructed, Philip II would walk into the hills and sit on a seat he had ordered to be carved out of rock so he could watch it being built. You can easily hike up to it and sit there yourself, which we did. 

The seat across from Philip II's, with El Escorial in the background
     We continued to hike up into the hills and the sun made the day nice enough to go shirtless and be very comfortable. At one point I was certain I was being burned, although fortunately I narrowly escaped it. It would be a bit embarrassing to get a sunburn in December.
Emir on a rock

     Later on we found some fresh oregano and after a nice lunch of chorizo and tomato sandwiches we got lost, as usual. We tried to take a different way back down but lost the path and decided the sun was getting a bit low in the sky to keep going on so we had to double back. As soon as the sun went down the temperature dropped about 20 degrees and soon we had our winter coats and scarves on again. All in all it was a nice daytrip hike. From the hills we could see the cloud of pollution settled over Madrid and it made us glad we had escaped for the day to get some fresh air.
In King Philip II's chair

Monday, December 16, 2013

Flamenco en el Ateneo

     Last weekend I attended a packed flamenco concert at the historical Ateneo in Madrid, a long-time cultural institution. The venue is attractive, with vaulted ceilings and gold leafed images on the wall. The show was divided into two parts. First to perform were singer Eva Romo from Granada and guitarist José María Ortiz from Jaén. Eva had a beautiful voice. They played a farrucatientos tangoscolombiana and bulerías, but the most powerful song was a granaína y media granaína, which is a flamenco form originally from Granada. During this song it felt as if her voice "moved through the notes without breaking them," as Lorca described legendary singer Silverio Franconeti in Poema del cante jondo. My chest tightened, and for the first time I realized how powerful a flamenco song can be. There was something about her pure voice quivering between notes that made my eyes wet.

Eva Romo and José María Ortiz
     After their performance, Madrileño flamenco singer Jesús Chozas entered the stage and sang a moving tonás, one of the oldest and purest flamenco forms. After, Pablo San Nicasio joined him and they played a carcelero and folía. Chozas has an incredible voice—booming, crisp, gravelly yet sweet. He is one of the most enjoyable flamenco singers I have heard. Pablo's guitar work was restrained and precise, an elegant display of accompaniment that showed his deep knowledge of the art.   

José Chozas and Pablo San Nicasio
Guitarist Alberto Espejo joined Pablo for a beautiful instrumenal and then all three played a garrotín, a flamenco form that originated in Asturias (a northern province in Spain) and was "flamenco-ized" like many other forms have been over the years. They finished with a fantastic rendition of a popular Spanish bolero from the 1940s, "Piensa en mí," which was revitalized a couple of years ago by the singer Luz Casal. Chozas' version is rousing and powerful, a perfect closing song. 

     The audience was left in ecstasies and demanded an encore from all five performers. They delivered, all three guitarists accompanying Eva and Jesús, who took turns singing verses.

From left to right: Alberto Espejo, Jesús Chozas, Eva Romo, José María Ortiz, Pablo San Nicasio
     The concert was an overwhelming success, and deepened my growing relationship with flamenco. When played well, it is an art that can produce strong feeling in both performer and listener. I look forward to following the careers of these artists dedicated to the art of flamenco.