We arrived in Jerez in a November night in the pouring rain and with the desire to listen to flamenco without having the slightest idea where to go. We had a small shabby umbrella, the equipment for filming and had to defend ourselves from the water that was gathering in rivulets and puddles on the cobblestones.
From Calle Benavente Bajo you must go down a bit and turn right on Plaza Belen, skirt the sad and abandoned esplanade of the Ciudad del Flamenco, and then go to Plaza San Lucas; here you have to get lost a little in the maze of narrow streets, until you reach Plaza del Mercado. By chance or luck, someone (José, about whom we will tell later) had reported us a flamenco show at Laga’ Tio Parrilla, one of the best known tablaos in town and one of the few to have a calendar of events at that time of the year.
Like any place where they sell wine in Jerez, also the Lagar was decorated properly of old pictures hanging on the walls alternating with casks, barrels, bottles, flasks, rusty tools and trinkets of all kinds, in some delicate manner, familiar and welcoming. These are places to celebrate flamenco but also, I believe, memory. A large room with the old counter battered by toasts, some lopsided column and a side destined to the stage for the shows. Above, the inevitable straw chairs that soon you get used to see as divinatory, in some ways the true prophets of flamenco. Around the walls of a peña, in a bar, messy and sticky, or on a stage, illuminated by the lights of the big theaters, they are always there. They seem invested with a malice that their extraction does not suggest to a common sense, they do not know they are a symbol of their own, simple and necessary tools as vaguely rhetorical. There are always one or more straw chairs in Jerez, and often a shawl folded on the back or crumpled on the seat, a pair of dancing shoes nearby in beautiful pose in the ground, or a cosmetic bag half open with the make-up, forgotten. This set of even too vivid signs of flamenco, of its passage through there, had the effect of making us greatly languid.
In the end of the hall, Jesús was trying acrobatic “falsetas” (solos) on his Conde guitar, while from the tiny dressing room at the foot of the stage were coming the muffled sounds of the “palmas” (the clapping hands) of the dancers.
We were witnessing our first flamenco show in Jerez, but we had already noticed that too many things did not add up. A cold red wine served from the fridge instead of a glass of fino or oloroso (typical local sherry wines); few people in the audience, all wrapped in sweatshirts and goretex jackets; tables besieged by a menacing number of powerful japanese cameras. The only relief came from above. The rain seeped from the ceiling, rich of cracks and interstices. It ticked on the floor ceaselessly. A love of annoyance! A sign of truth that acted as a counterpart to that situation that seemed a bit too packed. A formal composure that we did not expect, but that somehow seemed we had earned with our arrogance; with the presumption of wanting to find in his place and immediately something that had to be there, ready to wait for us, as we imagined it, as it should be. Even this (first) time flamenco and its people gave us a great life lesson.
A cigarette in a hurry at the door and we had only to take the road back, in silence. A cigarette even for Jesus, the formidable guitarist, also at the door, in a hurry; luckily I kept myself from the many pats on the back seasoned of macaronic “Olé” that tourists lavished leaving the hall. Later we would have laughed about this with him and Luis.
We left with a sense of bitterness that leaves a turbid sea at a beach in the Caribbean, we left knowing we were looking for something else. Sure, we had witnessed a wonderful concert and with wonderful artists, but we were looking for something else. We had some numbers in our pockets, some contacts and some suggestions that Giorgio had left us in Italy, before leaving. Especially the name of José and address of Juan. We would have definitely continued to search.
Read also the Filippo version of our first flamenco story about that night in Lagar Parrilla.