Love and the Art of Flamenco Guitar Making: A Visit to the Guitarrería Mariano Conde

The sawdust on the floor gave it away: this was actually a living, breathing sort of workshop, not one where the workers are tucked away, out of sight for appearances. My ears perked with each twang of the six strings of a flamenco guitar. There was a few hollow knocks, followed by a bit of sanding.

That’s where the sawdust came from. 

Growing up, I played the clarinet and learned music theory while perfecting trills, scales and my embouchure. Upon taking a flamenco course in Seville, I discovered that I shared the innate rhythm bailaores possess, the internal metronome that allows them to recognize palos and styles, then spiral into dance. My ears picked up the 2/4 and 3/4 counts and set my feet into motion with a firm golpe using my whole foot.

There are three big parts to flamenco – el cante, or the song; el baile, or dance;  el toque, or the guitar. The guitar is what accompanies  the cante, and sets rhythm to the bailaor. 

To learn about how flamenco guitars are crafted, Tatiana took us to the Mecca of guitarras flamencasGuitarrería Mariano Conde. Tucked away from the Ópera area on Calle de la Amnistía, this workshop has existed since 1915 and is operated by a third-generation craftsman and his son. 

Mariano hardly looked up from his work as he welcomed us into the bi-lever taller. He was sanding down the intoxicating curves of a flamenco guitar, crafted from cyprus and a century-old design. There was a muttered holaaaaa bienvenidas and a quick dos besos for Tatiana as she led us downstairs into the dimly lit belly of the shop. 

The tools of the trade stood against the wall – picks, sanders, measuring sticks, protractors. Nearly two dozen guitars in various stages of development, each showing just a fraction of the work that goes into crafting a lightweight flamenco guitar. In all, about 300 hours of labor go into producing a single instrument.

Mariano descended the stairs, carrying a soundboard over his shoulder. Made of thin strips of cypress or spruce, this part of the guitar provides for the reverberation and the sound that is transmitted when strings get plucked. Once this part of the guitar has been crafted, the sideboards are affixed, followed by the fretboard, or neck.

Just as a painter signs the bottom of a masterpiece, Mariano’s signature comes by way of the carving on the top of each fretboard – his is a minute, gently sloping “M.”

Many of the guitars we saw were in their final stages of production – applying coat after coat of French shellac, drying, or ready for the strings and bridge to be attached. Around the sound hole, Mariano adds another signature of his workshop, one which is solely dedicated to flamenco guitars: the rosette.

Made from carved and dyed pieces of wood, the color and pattern of rosettes changes regularly, and his current design pays homage to the first generation of flamenco guitar craftsmen in his family. The costs begin at 2800€ and rise steadily from there, depending on the wood used and hours of craftsmanship.

Unless, of course, it’s a Sonata.

A list of about 30 names of guitars, named for the poems that accompany the tag, are specially crafted for famous names in flamenco (including the recently deceased flamenco great, Paco de Lucía) and specialty buyers, including musicians who do not perform in the flamenco style. The Sonata guitars are pricey, but done solely by el maestro himself.

Mariano himself was hospitable, answering my questions between teens looking to replace nylon strings and other curious buyers who walked into the shop.

To say the Conde Hermanos, sobrinos de Domingo Esteso, are household names when it comes to flamenco guitars, would be an understatement. I’m not a flamenco aficionado, but can appreciate the discipline and attention it take to perfect an art, be it el cante or el baile or el toque.

The Art of Making, Alma Flamenca from Deep Green Sea on Vimeo.

I visited Guitarrería Mariano Conde as part of the ‘Origins of Flamenco’ tour with OGO Tours. Check out their website for loads more, from food to walking tours to excursions. Javier and Tatiana graciously invited my friend and I free of charge, but all opinions are my own.

If you’re interested in more Madrid and flamenco: My Perfect Madrileño Day | Mercado San Miguel | Where to see flamenco in Seville

Do you like Flamenco?

My Camino Playlist

I have to admit that I’m a little embarrassed about the way I’m going to be doing the Camino. I’ll not only be carting my gear and clothing, but I’ll be pretty connected – I’m bringing my new GoPro Hero3 Black (thanks, Dad!!), my point and shoot Panasonic (mayyyybe Camarón so I can actually get nice shots), my smartphone and their chargers to capture my journey to Santiago.

And I can’t part from my iPod. Music has been a cherised friend since I was a kid, so I couldn’t imagine setting my 200+ miles to tunes. I’m the nostalgic type that connects songs to special moments, special people. I’m walking for Kelsey and other kids and their families, and I’m walking for me. I’ve spent alternate hours updating my iPod with a few songs especially for my Camino For the Kids:

It’s Gonna Be (500 Miles) – The Proclaimers

Ok, so it’s only 200 miles that I’m walking, and if time allowed, I’d do more. I’m already imagining the blisters, sore muscles and joints and complaining I’ll be doing throughout, but in the end, it’s all For the Kids.

Lean on Me – Bill Withers

Dance Marathon, the cause I’m supporting, is a 24-hour marathon of strength and mental grit. During the last two hours, the DJs turn up the music and we boogie down, using every last ounce of energy until we’re finally able to sit and rest after 23 hours. Just before 7pm on Saturday, when the total amount of money raised is shown, everyone joins together, arm in arm, to sing this song. We all need somebody to lean on once in a while, right?

Swim – Jack’s Mannequin

Andrew McMahon, frontman of Jack’s Mannequin and formally Something Corporate, underwent treatment for leukemia in 2005 while preparing the band’s first tour. After beating it,  he began a non-profit called The Dear Jack Foundation to raise funds for pediatric cancer. This song has quickly become a favorite, with its central message begging to just keep your head up and swim.

Walk on the Wild Side – Lou Reed

Reminding you to dare to do something different, to push your boundaries and to inspire others. I will not, however, change my sex as the song suggests.

Dire Straits – Walk of Life

One of Dance Marathon’s mottos is “Dance For Life.” I haven’t been able to dance for six years, but I can still Walk For Life.

Two Step – Dave Matthews Band

I love the central theme of this song – Celebrate we will, cuz life is short, but sweet for certain. I remember how excited Kelsey was to turn 21 and finally be able to go out with her older sisters and friends for a Long Island. Such a shame her 21st was her last birthday, so I try to have a long island when I find them in Spain for her.

The Show Must Go On – Queen

My boots are bought, my bag soon to be completed and we’ve got a place at the beginning and end of the Camino. Come what may, there’s no stopping us!

Don’t Stop Believing – Journey

This is far and away one of my favorite songs. I know the Camino will have hard days – terrain, weather and emotions may get the best of me – but arriving to Santiago has been a dream of mine since 2005. This year was a marathon with loads of fruits, so it’s time to give back and believe in other causes.

Any ideas for what I should have on my playlist, Camino-related or otherwise? You can learn more about my Camino on my Why I’m Walking post, donate a few bucks to The Children’s Miracle Network and University of Iowa Dance Marathon, and join my Facebook page for more updates and information on the Camino de Santiago. Thank you all so much for your overwhelming support over the past few months! #CaminoFTK

The Camino for the Kids is made possible by the following sponsors. I have some received gear and lodging, though I have not been paid in any way for this article:

HELP! An Essential Guide to The Beatles Story in Liverpool

My father only let us listen to Top 40 once a week – on our way to mass on Sunday mornings. Kasey Kasem would count down tunes as my poor father shook his head, resisting the urge to turn the dial back to the Oldies station. I grew up listening to CCR, John Denver and the Beatles, and often wondered what I’d subject my own children to when I was at the wheel. Probably Ace of Base.

My previous trips to England have always been about visiting the big cities and seeing the famous sites, but having seen just about all the major cities comes with a price. Last year’s travel goals took me to regional festivals, sporting events and even another continent, but my recent Beatles revival has me researching music destinations.

The Beatles Story during a trip to Liverpool is at the top of my list. The Fab Four may have put Liverpool on the list and be haunted by John, Paul, Ringo and George, but there’s a wealth of things to do in the city. 

Since the Beatles’ inception and small-time gigs at The Cavern Club to worldwide fame and fans screaming at their feet, their career as a group and the subsequent solo careers are some of the most famous music stories ever known – Liverpool is witness to Beatlemania and all that came after.

The award-winning The Beatles Story museum can be found in the Albert Dock – a region, in itself, worth exploring. The interactive journey provides a comprehensive look at the career of The Beatles, from their first gigs as The Quarrymen right through to taking the world by storm. The sprawling museum is a testament to one of Rock’s greatest stories and home to countless cool exhibits.

Don’t miss Woolton Village Fete, where Paul met John for the first time. Imagine the conversations that would have helped cement their future and see the instruments that John used with his skiffle band before making the biggest career move of his life.

Stop by Casbah Coffee Club, where The Quarrymen played some of their live sets. The actual club used to be a rock and roll venue in the cellar of a home in West Derby, Liverpool and was helped to be painted and finished by the lads before heading on to larger venues. The cellar has been idolised in their memory and can still be visited to this day.

You will also find a recreated Cavern Club within the experience; the live venue that used to have a jazz-only policy but progressed to allow other genres on its stage. The actual club can still be found in Mathew Street and still has a great atmosphere.

Once the lads left Liverpool and took the world by storm, their split, solo careers and even the notorious murder of John Lennon outside The Dakota Building, are explained and explored in the museum. Following the tour, head over to the Mersey Ferries terminal, where The Beatles Story Pier Head can be found.

For someone who loves music and grew up with “Twist and Shout” as one of her favorite songs, it seems only fitting that a pilgrimage to the place where John and Paul made history is a must! The museum is located near the Liverpool docks and cost 16£ for adults and 12£ for students.

Have you ever been to Liverpool? What other sites would you recommend?


Seville Snapshot: Tools of the Gypsy Trade

Moises extends his hand to me, wiping it first on the back of his pant leg. ¡Wenas noshes, hoooooooola a mis amigos, olé mis grandes señores! His greeting is always the same, and accompanied by a near-toothless grin.

I fish around in my wallet for a euro or two for him, noticing he’s wearing a turtleneck that I’m pretty sure used to be mine. The Novio offers him a cigarette and asks about his children and wife. Of all of the gypsies who live in the chabolas at the far southwestern end of town, he’s the only one I know by name, sturck by his positivity. Not all the vecinos have a soft spot for him like I do.

I don’t usually give money to beggars, but Moises is different. Sometimes, we’ll even buy him a sandwich and a beer at  Cerveceria la Tiza, which results in his insistence that I take a sprig of rosemary he’s obviously nicked from someone’s garden, or occasionally a pack of tissue. On occasion, I’ve also received flowers, and often more than I deserve for just a bit of spare change.

Stolen spices and tissue packs aside, I especially love when my coins are accepted with a tune on his cracked guitar.

¡Una rumbita pa mi americana! ¡Qué el Dios de los Gitanos te bendiga! A rumba for my American girl. May the Lord of the Gypsies bless you.

Have photos of Seville or Spain to share? I gladly accept them and run them as part of my weekly photo feature! Send me an email to sunshineandsiestas @, or upload to my Facebook page.

Seville Snapshots: Laid Back at Puerta Jerez

As an adopted Sevillana, I have my haunts: from La Grande’s red awning to the little corner of Las Golondrinas, tucked beneath the squares, within earshot of Pepe who shouts, Niiiiiiñaaaa, tu champiiii!  And despite tracing and retracing my steps all over Sevilla, they’re places I can’t tire of. Puerta Jerez is another, an old city plaza that’s usually my gateway into the city center. Apart from its beauty, it’s lively and romantic.

Alexis of Never Leave Here writes:

Though I was only in Sevilla for a couple of days, I already felt like I got a sense for the lifestyle there. I live in Madrid now and life can be hectic sometimes with people rushing around ready to get down to business. I was impressed by Sevilla’s vibe: laid back and joyful.

I spent over an hour here behind the Fuente de la Puerta de Jerez as the sun went down, just watching families take an ice cream break (even in December!) and street musicians set up, play and leave as the sun started to set. In the last few months of living in Spain, I’ve been to quite a few cities and Sevilla is the only one I really want to get back to. I loved the pace of life there – not to mention the food and music were among the best I’ve experienced yet in the country. I can’t wait to return!

Have photos of Seville or Spain to share? I gladly accept them! Send me an email to sunshineandsiestas @, or upload to my Facebook page.

Alexis lives in Madrid where she teaches English to pay the bills and writes about travel, food, photography and her love for all things vintage on her blog, Never Leave Here. 


My Chicago Soundtrack

I am a Chicago girl, born and bred. I love my all-beef Kosher hot dogs, had a Chicago Bulls three-peat T-shirt, sport a Jewel-Osco card in my wallet. Leaving the Windy City was a choice that almost never came to be, with a job offer on the table and plenty of young friends convincing me that my life was not in Spain.

But I chose to board the plane and to take my Chicago roots with me to Spain, preaching the Cubbie way of life and claiming that there are lakes the look like oceans in the middle of the Midwest. As Spain became more and more like home, I became increasingly proud of where my parents, grandparents and I come from.

Now that I’m back in Chicago for the month of August, every trip to the City of Broad Shoulders has my heart pumping out the songs that bring me back to the countless summers, bitter cold winter afternoons and rides along the rails of the L. Songs that remind me of seeing punk rock shows at the Metro, of childhood shopping trips on State, of what makes this city so damn great. Wikipedia lists over 400 songs about Chicago, and while “My Kind of Town” and “Sweet Home Chicago” would be obvious choices, mine are a little unexpected (and seriously throwback to my love of punk rock days. Lucky Boys Confusion, Fall Out Boy and The Dog and Everything CDs are still in my car!)

Kanye West – Homecoming

While I can’t say Kanye, like R. Kelly, is a favorite Chicago musician, this song echoes through my brain every time I fly in over Lake Michigan and the skyline, which stretches further than my window can hold.

Allister – Somewhere Down on Fullerton

Why I’ve never taken a madcap dash around Chicago like Allister does, this song was the first I ever crowdsurfed to at a show at House of Blues with my friend Amanda. It was her first visit to Chicago, just after our freshman year of college, and I remember the rush of feeling like I was going to get dropped while getting groped. I still have the shirt I bought that  night to commemorate a Chicago band playing to a Chicago crowd as only a great Chicago venue can allow.

Arranmore – Southside Irish

My family first came to America during the mass wave of immigration that gives America its heritage as the Land of the Free. Settling in Chicago, my Irish great-grandfather, who had owned a still-operational woolen mill in Foxford, County Mayo, worked as a tailor. I feel most proud of my Irish heritage, even though I’ve got Scottish, Welsh and German roots. As a kid, I participated in Irish parades around Chicagoland, so this Saint Paddy’s Day anthem reminds me of those mornings, the wind biting my pink cheeks, as we marched through the streets in the name of the Emerald Isle.

Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah – Lake Shore Drive

There have been countless times where I’ve speed down one of Chicago’s grandest avenues, Lake Shore Drive, as twilight was falling. Window open, wind on my face and the lights of the Loop in the rear-view mirror, those are the nights where summer is at its peak and I remember how fun being young is. This song, from the time when my parents were young, brings back summer memories of the Oak Street beach, drinks at Castaways and belting out whatever’s one the radio with girlfriends.

Alkaline Trio – I’m Dying Tomorrow 

I can’t say I remember who introduced me to the local band Alkaline Trio, but I love him for it. Among my favorites is “I’m Dying Tomorrow,” which ask the age-old question: Do I have any regrets?

The Loving Spoonful – Hot Town, Summer in the City

Now that I’ve made living in Spain a reality, I usually only get summers in Chicago. Fine by me, as the city is replete with festivals, concerts and events that play to its patchwork heritage – and one of the things I love best about it. What I love about this song is that it talks about the balance between night and day in Chicago, no unlike a summer in Seville: the days are long and scorching, while the nighttime relief is when everyone comes out to play. This city feels young.

Fall Out Boy – Chicago is So Two Years Ago

The first time I ever heard this song, I was packing up my dorm room freshman year to go home for the summer. “There’s a Light on in Chicago, and I know I should be home,” still rings true whenever I arrive home after a Spanish sojourn. Being able to come back to the place where I grew up helps keep me grounded when I’m away, knowing that there’s always a Portillo’s around the corner and that the Cubbies have still not won the World Series. Ahhh, home.

Hey, Chicago, whaddya say (Go, Cubs, Go was not in my list; too obvious)! What would be on your Chicago soundtrack? Leave me a message in the comments, or leave me a birthday note since I turn 27 today!

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