There were quite a lot of different countries in my life. I have been working or traveling to 50 of them all over the world. Might be too much for somebody’s taste, but I fancy some changes, you know…
Some years ago it was time to reward myself with at least a few relaxing months somewhere in a warm place, some land of touch and taste, where everything seems to be more intense, in a country that could warm your blood and make you feel everything deeper, sharper, brighter. Spain? Absolutely. It is stylish, ancient, proud, intimate and fun loving. A British writer (whose name, I deeply respect, but can never remember) once called this place ´an escape to freshness from the dull uniformity´. That was exactly what I was hungry for.
I moved within Spain as a guest and it opened its arms, welcoming me, still a stranger, yet giving me its spiritual gifts, promising happiness, encouraging my tales of imagination. From the first moment I felt at home. I soaked up the authentic atmosphere and the locals (deeply delighted to be who they were – Spaniards) smiled at my rusty Spanglish Hello! ¡Hola! ¿Como estas? We drank divine red wine, ate jamon, served with a true Andalusian flair and made no fuss about prices. That was the place where you could amazingly get anything for almost nothing.
Immediately, I enjoyed the truly unforgettable pleasure of the rich taste of Spanish cuisine and delicious local wine. And a thought came across my mind –I will definitely miss it, being far from here and from that moment on, the smell of oregano will remind me of my own discovery of Spain. It will always be a touch of Mediterranean. ´Homesickness always starts with food´, quoted Che Guevara. Probably, he missed his favorite Argentinean grilled meat – carne asado – while his men in Sierra Maestra spoke of war. Homesickness and I? Suddenly I realized that I didn’t really need to leave the place that gave me such a warm, red-carpeted welcome and inspired me to start with something special.
My own recipe of ´Andalusia´ cocktail could probably explain it all to you. “Get a big spoon of blue ocean, some drops of blossoming orange, a pinch of Roman ruins and Arabic castles; mix it with a dash of bullfight and flamenco; add some olive oil if necessary, serve it with red wine and sizzling love – you get the real taste of Andalusia“.
They say your senses become more intense here. It is true. The light is different here, the colors are brighter and the passionate music stirs up your blood.
There is nothing more vital than blue water, no other element in nature brings so much freshness – no wonder the first Spanish place that took care of me was Malaga, a city born from a Mediterranean wave. Seems like it has been created to live in joy; with its unpredictable wind, and bougainvillea blossoming madly, and white little church Iglesia del Mar with the orange trees in front of its old iron gates. It’s impossible to imagine Malaga without its mountains – the background of the beautiful painting that makes everything just a little more special.
The emotional gemstone of Malaga is flamenco, sensual and sorrowful, with the certain ability to give deep feelings to everybody watching, listening or just passing by. Who is talking about classical flamenco of trained artists and professional performers? The real thing happens in hidden-away bars, late at night or early in the morning. No tourists, whether bored or curious, no strangers. One more good experience to come across spontaneous flamenco is at a whitewashed village fiesta. World believe me, it’s unforgettable!
´But the city mustn’t be confused with the words that describe it´, warned Marco Polo. Everyone has got his own image of Malaga and his own España in general. Mine has a pagan instinct for pleasure, with its special Andalusian art of siesta, paseo and conversing over tapas, passion of corrida, and traditions that have survived centuries and wars and despots and dictators, with that very special poetry of the place once called Iberia.
This country gives you the expensive gifts, the very special presents you deserve – the natural music of the sea, the birds playing with the wind above the waves, the intimate whisper of las palmeras, the old-fashioned charm of Moorish streets and the scream of señoras going to the fish mercado on Saturday morning. And the smells – sharp smell of passion, gentle – of purity, fresh – of happiness.
You can get one more unforgettable gift if you are ready for it. It is never appreciated by people, unable to understand that danger, as beauty, can seduce. Ritual pasa-duoble music over the wet sand of old arenas makes my blood boil. ´It burns like a fire, wrote Lorca, ambitionless bravura of Spain, playing with death, irrational force that cannot be explained´. Crazy courage of a huge toro with monstrous horns opposite the male elegance of a brave torero. Grace, self-control and a sword against incalculable force. And the nobility of both, the Man and the Beast. To tell the truth, it makes me envy Hemingway’s lady Ashley who ran away with a young matador.
If Spain really embraces you one day you can get a priceless treasure – your caballero. There are neither maps nor directions to help with it; there is only a sign – when emotional interest meets the sensual pleasure, like the river meets the sea in the little fishermen’s village El Palo, near Malaga. And all the laws we’ve learnt are gone, it burns the blood so much that the power of our fantasy is equal to those of Goya or Dali.
All kindness and charm, what Spaniards call angel or mi amor, attractive, strong and powerful, this Man will obey only the rules dictated by the Muse, a guitar chord, a flamenco step or Lorca’s ballads. He never talks much but the words he whispers make the soul wide open to the four winds of the spirit Duende.
My good friend American journalist Michelle Adams introduced this word to me. El Palo inspired her to write “Duende” – the first novel in which she cares nothing about literary techniques, skills or even an adventurous plot. There, she is after something else, the unknown feeling of passion and something newly created with an almost religious enthusiasm by her own heart.
All arts are capable of duende – music, poetry, and dance. It inspired Mozart, Glinka and Bizet. Nietzsche was looking for it all his life. It can be easily felt in every Hemingway’s line. But no other country in the world is moved so much by the Duende spirit as Spain is. Duende here squeezes the oranges and marinates the olives. This mysterious kind of a charm can be found everywhere. In the tango that my neighbour, old tia Antonia, sings to her great grandson baby as a lullaby. In the smiles of young Spaniards sitting along the old boats, on the sand, nibbling sunflower seeds like a row of bright parrots. In the grace and pageantry of bullfight at the beginning of glorious Iberian spring, when the altar is open and Men sacrifice the first Bulls, brave and aggressive and then the ancient gods of dark religion demand that Man, too, be sacrificed.
This spirit enlightens everything here – Spanish landscape, language, meals, a manner of being. You find it in wonderfully logical ritual of siesta, when the sun becomes your enemy, and in the early night cafe full of football debates.
And of course, it is in the long hours of Spanish nights when hungry for love and life, the arms are crossed, but not in prayer, and the eyes are not looking at the skywaiting in vain for a signal of salvation. ¡A vivir que son dos dias! Live like there is no tomorrow! And there is no greater truth.
All these great gifts were given to me by Malaga’s eastern outskirt, El Palo, with its narrow streets, shabby walls of architectural marvels of Franco’s time – fishermen’s little houses with delightful geranium spots in the windows and charming absence of manicured touristy places. There were funny neighbours living in that pretty peaceful village – loud colorful señoras, hurrying up to fulfill their market fantasies very earlyin the morning, an old rough seaman who gave his little ugly-cute dog an exotic name Culo (which means forgive me ass), the young idlers standing at La Rosa bar, full of maximum machismo, whose unwanted attention is impossible to avoid.
The main gift – Love blessed by Duende soon came to me from the harmonious Mediterranean shores into the very dark nights, when nightingales sing with their eyes closed. They sing blind, as Garcia Lorcawrote once, for both words of passion and the passionate tunes are best set in the dark blue Andalusian night. And there was no price to be paid for the mystery and the pleasure of sharing dreams, of giving and getting. Then I got some more gifts – the different tastes of Mediterranean kisses, sleepy and lazy morning ones, sweet “quickies” of the daylight and passionate breathtaking kisses of the dark warm nights when even nightingales close their eyes.
Spain also filled them with different melodies that can be heard only by your heart at the certain moments of admirable poetic reality of life; hot kisses of salsa, silky kisses of smooth jazz, deep kisses of gypsy cante jondo, velvet kisses of romantic ballads.
What else can you ask for to make you feel absolutely happy? Perhaps a summer glass of sangria, or a winter cup of hot chocolate with churro, that the hands that hugged you all night bring to you on a sunny morning. And the ocean that sings the endless song of love only for you, two of you…By Easter Day we announced our engagement.
But the main gift of Spain is the country itself – the land of sun burnt rocks and blood-stained bullrings, of weeping Virgins and tortured Christ, of flamenco and sevillanas, magical power of duende, passion and sad pride. It will belong to you forever.
A year later my Man got the job in one very English company fanned with the off-shore winds of Gibraltar and we moved further on the coast, first to Marbella – an absolutely different world where luxury is an everyday norm, later to the lovely mountain pueblo Coin – the land of Lorca’s orange groves and olive trees which extend as far as the eye can see in all directions, and then back to the coast again.
But my heart was left in El Palo. It hasn’t changed much. Actually it hasn’t changed at all – the same gentle smiles of black-eyed señoritas, the same rusty knives and old fishnets of the local seamen, old ladies in black, bright geranium, familiar smell of oregano. Even Сulo is still alive. Or is it her daughter? Time that we are always chasing and can never catch has stopped in this little Spanish village.
And every time I come here I think ´After this place there might be one destination left – Heaven´.