travel

While these were great, unplanned, fun evenings, I couldn't leave Madrid without an evening of flamenco music. Miguel had surprised me by saying, "Flamenco must be listened to in silence". The simplicity and absoluteness of his statement intrigued me.

Isabel Viedma, the tour guide, agreed with him. "You start with the dance and then work up to the guitar and then finally to the singing, so you can train yourself to appreciate it. You start with the dance because it's so beautiful and the movements are easier to understand."

Real Flamenco

Real Flamenco

On the advice of these new friends, I went to La Soléa for "real flamenco." When I finally found the street, I almost missed the club because the doorway looked like the service entrance to a restaurant. I asked a man at the door if I could get a drink. "Drink, drink, si," he said, and waved me in.

The club consisted of two tiled rooms that made me think of a disused steam room. I went to the long, narrow backroom lined with built-in tiled benches. I arrived at 12:30 a.m., and there were only three couples, the guitarist, and me. Just as I began to worry the evening was going to turn out to be a complete waste of time, people began to arrive, including a second guitarist.

"Flamenco must be listened to in silence".

I considered moving to the other room, where I could hear castanets clicking, but another man arrived, borrowed the first guitarists instrument, and began to play with such raw, irreverent passion that his fingers seemed on fire. His fervor was amplified with foot stomping, clapping, and shouts of "O/e!" from the now standing-room audience.

A young man began to clap, not in appreciation, but in that peculiar rhythmic beat the Spanish have developed into a musical form, turning hands into a poor man's instrument. It swept the room. A young woman took to the floor to dance. After stomping through three songs, she moved next to the guitar player and sang so intensely that she kept her eyes shut. It sounded as if she was singing in Arabic—understandable, given the Moorish influences on Spain. Something in her song reminded me of the prolonged call from minarets to the faithful.

I left the club sometime after 3 a.m. and had to muscle my way past the crowd waiting to get inside.

...And So Much More

For my final night in the city, I had considered attending the bullfights, not because I long to see animals killed but because the fights are part of the country's culture. Fortunately, driving rain cancelled the open-air fights and made the decision for me. Instead, I wandered the city, taking in the impromptu street concerts of accomplished buskers and eating like a Madrileno. While my early dining adventures in the city had been formal affairs, this evening I started off at a neighborhood bar sipping vermouth and soda served with a tiny appetizer of olive and cheese, then went to a small stand-up food bar for the traditional calamari sandwich and small beer for 4.60 euros (about $7.36 Cdn).

 
The bullfights in Madrid

The bullfights in Madrid

I was in Madrid for five days and didn't have enough time to explore it. There are so many museums and galleries, palaces and parks, cathedrals and cultural attractions, and so much history to explore. I was struck by how much of North, Central, and South American history begins here. This really connected with me when I saw the ceiling mural of Columbus giving the New World to the king and queen. This was in the state dining hall of the 2,800-room Royal Palace, a mansion paid for by the wealth earned in the New World. While I did go to the Prado, Spain's national art museum, I missed other great galleries and museums, such as the Museum of the Americas.

Among Madrid's assets are the ease of mobility—thanks to the city-wide subway system, which even connects to the international airport—the cleanliness and beauty of the city, and its central location—high-speed trains can zip you to dozens of famous destinations in a matter of hours. Madrid is also a good base for exploring the surrounding communities, such as Cervantes's historic hometown, Alcala de Henares, which is just a 30-minutedrive from central Madrid.

Best of all, in Madrid I found a place full of joyful sounds that didn't require me to understand the language to comprehend the magic. Just be ready to stay up late.

If You Go

For detailed information on Madrid, go to www.turismomadrid.es/en. Air Canada has daily, non-stop flights between Toronto and Madrid, with reduced service during the winter months.

 

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