12 Grapes, 12 Months and 12 things I’m going to start doing in 2015

At 5:04, I realized the champagne hadn’t been poured and the grapes hadn’t been sectioned off into groups of  a dozen yet. We’d missed Spain’s ringing in of the new year, and just like 2014 passed in a flash, amidst a flurry of giggles and general catching up, I’d failed to take notice of how fast the time was creeping along. I popped the grapes in my mouth, washing it down with a swig of champagne as my friends watched, half amused and half horrified. What can I say? I’m superstitious, and I want this year to count.

2015 has always been in the back of my mind as the year I would turn 30, and it’s already here. As my wise (and sassy) great aunt Mary Jane says, Years are like toilet paper rolls. The further along you are, the faster things run out.

2015 new year's resolutions

I’m one to reflect, and I seriously love making resolutions. Setting goals has always helped me stay on track and continue to better certain aspects of my life. My biggest goals after college were to move abroad, become fluent in Spanish and travel to 25 countries, and then eventually get a master’s degree. So what now, considering I’ve got that all ticked off my list?

This year, as I mark two big milestones, I want to make it all about me. 

In 2015 

1. I’m going to make more time for me and for more important things than working all the time.

I’ll get it out in the open right away: I’m going to be shuffling priorities this year, and maintaining Sunshine and Siestas may fall a bit lower on my list. This blog is important to me, but it’s taking up time that could be used on other things I need to get done.

Holy Cows in India

I’ll be updating once a week, minimum, but considering I have two other websites to keep at, I’ll likely be writing longer form articles and working on my Typical NonSpanish project with Caser Expat.

I’ll still be active on social media, particularly Facebook and Instagram, so head there if you’re dying to know what I’m eating, mostly.

2. I’m going to make a conscious effort to write offline

All that time not spent sitting behind a computer might actually get me up on my awesome terrace so that I can jot down personal things in my life.

Who are you? Street art in Seville, Spain

I even bought a new notebook, and this list was the first thing in it. Toma, goals.

3. I’m going to drink less beer and more water.

I don’t love this reolustion, but if my altitude sickness and gut can attest to this last trip to the US, I’d be healthier and a bit slimmer if I didn’t love beer so darn much. I had to make a choice, though: deprive myself from delicious food, or  to lay off the Cruzcampo. 

buza bar beer

But I do love drinking beer on the water…

This may mean behaving during the week, swapping the beer for a glass of tinto or even just having a sin every once in a while, but my wedding will be full of craft beer, and I will gladly drink up.

4. I’m going to be better about staying in touch.

I may suffer from a mild form of reverse culture shock when I land at O’Hare once or twice a year, I am fortunate to have a beautiful group of friends back home with whom I’m still close. You know, the sort that you don’t see for to years (or even six, in Val’s case this Christmas) but never run out of topics to talk about, or college mishaps to laugh over.

All of my friends

But even with Facebook and whatsapp and a million other ways to stay in touch, I don’t make enough time for Skype and emails. I’m looking forward to my wedding as a time to have my más queridos in one place, but that’s one day when I’ll see them for a split second. And with everyone getting older, making plans and moving way (that’s the pot calling the kettle black if I ever heard it), there’s no time like now.

5. and 6. I’m going to learn something new, one of those being to learn to cook.

I’ve said I’m going to learn to cook for ages, but recently I’ve actually enjoyed making new dishes and reinventing old ones. Plus, it’s cheaper than eating out all the time.

cooking at a cooking day in malaga

I’d also like to learn a new skill, like lightroom or CSS for the benefit of this blog, or relearn how to sew. For real, 30 is making me feel like I need a lot more skills than I have. Napping is not a skill, as much as I try to make it happen.

7.  I’m going to take better care of my skin, cuticles and nails.

I am about as low maintenance as they come, and my skin and hands have suffered because of it. I have ugly nails, ugly hands and skin that should be taken better care of. This means taking off my makeup every night and getting more regular hair trims, but so be it!

8. I’m going to read more books.

Reading is one of my great passions, but TV binge watching while moving and unpacking got the better of me this year. When I did my master’s, I was still able to polish off 25 or 30 books, so I’ll be pushing for 20 this year. I’m nearly done with my first: Yo, Cayetana, an autobiography of the Duquesa de Alba and in Spanish. That counts for two, right?

vintage books El Jueves Market Sevilla

Thankfully, my sister is an English teacher and sends countless recommendations, and my e-reader comes with my to the gym, but no more TV before bed. Besides, it may be killing us.

9. I’m going to make travel more meaningful.

When I first came to Spain in 2007, I drained my bank account running around to European capitals on cramped budget airlines, staying in accommodation that was questionable and eating countless kabobs in the street, all in the name of passport stamps and ticking things off the list. Travel was fun, but it wasn’t meaningful.

India changed that.

The Colors of India - Taj Mahal

From now on, I want my money to be better spent on travel. I want experiences, not countries. Food and not tourist sites. I want to hit the streets of a new place or visit family. I’ve just been invited to Romania on a blog trip, and I can’t wait to explore the country more over Semana Santa.

10. I’m going to save money. 

A year ago, 100% of my salary was for me to enjoy, be it on weekends trips, tapas out with friends or even a taxi. Since buying a house, I’ve had to take a serious look at the money I make and how much I spend.

The last few months of 2014 were hard – I haven’t lived paycheck to paycheck for a few years – and the start of the mortgage coincided with the two months of the year I don’t get paid. Then there were the new break pads, a visiting friend, furniture to purchase. Needless to say, the money I’d worked to save last year while still treating myself is long gone, and I remember it every time I sit on our new (amazing) couch. 

European Euros money

I’m making a pledge to put away a minimum of 150€ a month, going as far as to map out my weird expenses, like insurance or the odd plane ticket. I may even get a retirement account!

11. I’m going to remember to go with my gut.

When I visited Jaipur in 2014, Ali took us to see his guru. Skeptical from the moment he mentioned it, we weren’t surprised to see that this guru also had a jewelry shop, and that he wanted us to buy. But when we went into a back office and he began to make shockingly accurate claims about our families, I decided to listen.

sunsets at monkey temple jaipur

The man told me I had a white aura, meaning my crown chakra. At that point in my life, I felt happy and satisfied with everything – my relationships, my job, and the life I’d created. The crown chakra is connected with positivity, inspiration and trust. With the big changes in my life (and the stress of planning a wedding abroad), I’m remembering to trust my instincts, make a decision and stop second guessing myself.

12. I’m going to remember that it’s ok to say no.

I had the opportunity to meet Geada Ford, a brand consultant who has worked with Martha Stuart, and have her over to my house in October. She gave me advice that I wish someone had given me when I was far younger: it’s OK to say no. As someone who likes pleasing people and being able to help when I’m asked, saying no is hard.

But it’s time to say no to people who won’t make me happy, plans that I don’t feel like making, sponsorships that don’t fit into my niche. 

playa de las catedrales galicia beach

Rather than using ‘stop’ or ‘will,’ I wanted to hold myself accountable and start the year on a positive note, despite a few small hiccups. I’m going to make my time count, my health important and my relationships worth leaving the computer for.

What are you resolutions and propósitos for 2015? I’m interested in hearing!

Seville Videoshots: The Mercadillo de Belenes

It’s been a while since I’ve focused a Monday snapshot on Seville – I’ve simply had too many other things to write about, and planning a Spanish-American wedding can get consuming. In fact, I was a downright Scrooge about my holidays, as other commitments had me working and not enjoying the Christmas lights downtown or traditional Christmas dinners.

Seville's Nativity Market

A foiled attempt to run a few last errands before the holiday gave me about 20 minutes to explore one of my favorite fixtures to a sevillana Christmas: the mercadillo de Belenes. Belén is the Spanish name of the city where Jesus Christ was born, and the so-named nativity scenes go from basic with just the Holy Family to full-blown towns with running water and animatronics.  

 

While our sorry excuse for a Christmas tree barely has ornaments, let alone a fancy nativity, I’m greatly looking forward to building one, beginning with the Holy Family and the animals.

Have you been to any sweet Christmas markets?

The Anatomy of a Cesta de Navidad

When my very first cesta de navidad arrived, wrapped up in cellophane and emblazoned with Corte Inglés publicity, I excitedly ripped open the top of the box and dug out the contents of the box.

I was literally a kid on Christmas morning, just three weeks early.

Many companies and organizations give pre-packaged Christmas baskets to their employees during the holiday. They’re also raffled off at bars and hermandades for a few euros, but they all have two things in common: edibles and booze.

cestas de navidad el corte ingles

In my first cesta, I received four bottles of wine, one of whiskey and one of anisette, plus enough cured meat to tide me over until Easter. Baskets also include typical Christmas sweets, cheeses, conservas like bonito or white asparagus and an interesting brick of something called a “Christmas Broth.” Contents are neatly packed up and shipped out to the tune of anywhere from around 20€ and up to 300€! 

While my Christmas shopping usually consists of plane tickets to spend the holidays somewhere with my parents, this year I’ll be flying home for wedding planning. Rather than scramble for gifts amidst other scrambled shoppers, I decided to make a twist on the traditional Christmas basket by bringing my favorite and American-palatte-approved goodies home in ceramics.

What is in a Spanish gift basket

Because, really, what do you get the woman who has it all (as far as Spanish souvenirs go) and is picky? 

My American-Tastes-and-Customs-Friendly-While-Still-Being-Andalusian Cesta de Navidad:

1 50g sachet of saffron – 5€

Cesta de navidad saffron

The same amount of azafrán in the US costs $16, so I was thrilled to find it wrapped up nicely!

1 220g package of Andalusian oranges covered with chocolate and olive oil – 5€

cesta de navidad chocolate covered oranges

Everyone in my family but me are chocoholics, and these oranges are representative of Seville, with the olive oil giving it an appropriate amount of acidity.

1 300g orange marmalade spread – 4,50€

cesta de navidad orange marmelade

Naranjos abound in Seville, and the oranges collected from them are made into bitter orange marmalade. Nuns at the Santa Paula monastery make this particular type, and peddle it out of their turnstiles.

1 250mL tin of Basilippo Arbequina extra virgin olive oil – 8€

cesta de navidad Andalusian olive oil

Basilippo is an award-winning brand of extra virgin olive oil planted, harvested and pressed in nearby El Viso del Alcor.  The arbequina olive it’s made from is known for its suave and balanced taste.

1 package of Ines Rosales Tortas de Aceite with cinnamon and sugar – 2,50€

cesta de navidad Ines Rosales cakes

Tortas de Aceite have been around for ages, and Ines Rosales is an international superstar when it comes to producing them just outside of Seville. Other varieties include savory with rosemary and sea salt, or made with oranges.

Assorted lard-free polverones – 2€

mantecados de estepa

I’m not a fan of these crumbly cookies, which are ubiquitous with Christmas in Spain. The most common version are made from manteca, or pig’s lard, which is a no-no with customs in the US. I found some piggy-free varieties at Ines Rosales.

6 Cola Cao individual packages – 1,43€

cesta de navidad Cola Cao

The bright yellow plastic canisters are a Spanish kitchen staple, and I love the powdery goodness of Cola Cao every Sunday with my churros. Rather than buying the canister, you can get individual packets just like at a bar.

1 package of Suchard turrón with whole almonds – 2,94€

cesta de navidad suchard

Spanish Christmas sweets let me down, but chocolate turrón is practically a gigantic candy bar. The normal stuff is nougat, made only with sugar, egg whites and honey.   

3 individual bottles of Frexienet cava – 3,99€

cesta de navidad champagne

These small bottles of cava are festive and perfect for toasting the new year at midnight on New Year’s Eve. And they’re easy to carry and open!

3 individual tetra bricks of Don Simón red wine – 1,35€

cesta de navidad don simon

I’m the only wine drinker in my family, so these miniature tetras are for novelty more than anything! Plus, customs is getting stricter on how much alcohol you can bring back, and it must be claimed on your customs form.

1 jar of pimientos de piquillo – 1€

cesta de navidad pimientos de piquillo

For whatever reason, I thought that pimientos de piquillo would make a good gift for a dad who loves to experiment with recipes. If all else fails, I don’t think they’ll go bad any time soon!

San Vicente semi-cured cheese – 3,65€

Cesta de navidad hard cheese

Meats are a big no with customs, but hard and semi-hard cheeses are totally fine. My sister loves any sort of stinky cheeses, and this is one gift I’m glad to get in on!

2 bottles of Taïfa beer – 4,40€

cesta de navidad local beer

My family members are big beer drinkers, so I picked up some local Taïfa cervezas from the Mercado de Triana. 

And to put it all together, 1 ceramic bowl – 12€

cesta de navidad ceramics

All that extra weight cost me 50.05€ for each cesta. 

I added little touches of things I’d known would be hits, such as black-and-white old photos of Seville for my parents, a tub of Nutella for my sister (not Spanish, but what everyone equates with European snack food) and a Spanish heavy metal CD for my brother-in-law.

Noticeably absent are the meats, the fish and the olives, but why transport things home that could get me in trouble with customs, or go uneaten?

Are you decking the halls, or are you more of a Scrooge? More on Christmas in Spain: Spanish Christmas Sweets | My Favorite Spanish Christmas TraditionsSnapshots of the Reyes Magos

Who is the Duquesa de Alba, and what’s with my obsession with her?

The tweets and whastapps started coming in almost immediately, from friends, from followers, even from the Novio’s family. Te acompañamos en el sentimiento, Cati. Are you holding up alright? Will you light a candle for me in her honor?

Ok, so my favorite Spanish tabloid staple and Seville’s most famous resident passed from this world, likely flamenco dancing up to the Pearly Gates (of which she has probably had claim on for five generations), but I’m not falling over crying. Just sighing that I won’t now get to imagine passing her on the street the way I’ve done with Falete or have a beer at the table next her, as I did with  Mariano Peña a few weeks ago.

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Photo from El País

Throw a mantilla over the Guadalquivir, y’all – Cayetana has left her beloved Hispalis and this world on November 20th, and the city is just a little sadder and a bit less colorful without her.

My blog can be described as a love letter to Andalucia, to expat life in Spain, to Spanish culture. So what sort of service would I do to readers if I didn’t give my virtual eulogy to a Spain’s most decorated aristocrat and a woman who I’ve been fascinated with since my first disastrous time in the chair of a peluquería with the prensa rosa spread across my lap so as to avoid conversation with the hairdresser?

Who is María del Rosario Cayetana Fitz-Stuart James?

The Duchess, known as Cayetana, was born in the Liria Palace of Madrid to Jacobo Fitz-James Stuart, 17th Duke of Alba, and his wife María del Rosario de Silva y Gurtubay. And it gets better – her godmother was Victoria Eugenie, wife of King Alfonso XIII.

Through a complex series of marriages, lineages and inheritances, Cayetana (full name: María del Rosario Cayetana Paloma Alfonsa Victoria Eugenia Fernanda Teresa Francisca de Paula Lourdes Antonia Josefa Fausta Rita Castor Dorotea Santa Esperanza Fitz-James Stuart, Silva, Falcó y Gurtubay [no joke]) held more noble titles recognized by a still-existing country and was considered Grande de España fourteen times over. In fact, when Scotland was debating independence from the UK, The Duchess had a shot at becoming its queen.

And that isn’t even the good stuff, unless you like challenging yourself with memorizing her monikers and all of her titles.

How did she get so darn famous?

All that nobility stuff aside, what really made Cayetana famous was her willingness to break with convention. Friend of Jackie O, asked to be Picasso’s muse and considered one of the most beautiful women in Spain when she was younger, the Duquesa has been in the spotlight since her family returned from exile after the Spanish Civil War.

cayetana1

Photo from Breatheheavy.com

Cayetana was raised to love art, horsemanship and performance, passing her holidays between London, Seville and her native Madrid, and she became the 18th Duchess of Alba when her father, Jimmy, died when she was 27 years old.

As the head of the House of Alba, it fell on Cayetana to attend to her family’s mass fortune, which includes thousands of acres of land, a dozen palaces and countless works of art and historical artifacts.

This, of course, was a high price to pay, and much of her life was rocked by ESCÁNDOLO as she became a rather permanent fixture in tabloid covers. And being preceded by another scandalous Cayetana de Alba, rumored to be painter Francisco de Goya’s muse in La Maja Desnuda and La Maja Vestida, not one part of her private life seemed safe – not marriages, children or fortune, much less her desire to live her life as she saw fit (or even bare all in the Baleares or danced barefoot in the streets of Seville).

Weddings of the Duquesa de Alba

In 1942, and at the urge of her family, she married fellow aristocrat Luis Martínez de Irujo and had six children – five males and a female, each of whom inherited a title and promise to the patrimony. She was widowed in 1972, and rather than living out her days, she married a defrocked Jesuit priest and illegitimate love child, Jesús Aguirre y Ortíz de Zurrate in 1978.

Once more, she outlived her second husband and spent years throwing herself into promoting Spanish culture and  filling her agenda with social and charitable acts.

Scandal shook when Cayetana was rumored to be romancing Alfonso Díez, a civil servant and public relations pro who is 24 years her junior. Her children staunchly opposed, as did the King of Spain, but Cayetana maintained that their longtime friendship had evolved into something more amorous, and to prove it, she divvied up her money and properties to her children and grandchildren.

And none for Alfonso Díez, as Gretchen Weiners can sympathize.

Spain's Duchess of Alba Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart y Silva dances flamenco beside her husband Alfonso Diez at the entrance of Las Duenas Palace after their wedding in Seville

picture from The Local

Just before the wedding in 2011, Intervíu magazine featured the Duchess on the cover in an old photo, sunbathing topless during a family trip years before. Like most of the scandals, Cayetana shrugged it off and did her thing. She and Díez married in Seville in October of that same year, and after the small ceremony concluded, she and her pink wedding dress took to the street to dance sevillanas. How’s that for a big old middle finger to convention and royal behavior?

A people’s royal, indeed (and I like to think she had a cervecita at the bar across the street from her palace rightwards).

And, Why do I love her so much?

The only time I ever saw the Duquesa de Alba, she was riding in her horse carriage down Calle Gitanillo de Triana. I thought she was a mirage – or that I was in a rebujito haze – and tried to pull out my camera from deep within the folds of the volantes of my flamenco dress. 

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 Photo from El País

I ran back to the caseta, exasperated, to tell the Novio. “Well of course, she’s a woman unafraid to be with the masses, to enjoy Seville the same way that we do.” For someone from a country that has always debunked the monarchy and where wealth is amassed more from hard work (or, ahem, scandal), the thought that someone so rich would walk around the center of Seville in ballet flats seemed uncanny.

And that she was. Cayetana was larger-than-life, avant garde, cercana. A true lover and believer of the ‘Live and Let Live’ school. I like to think she was a fighter, from the difficult pregnancy her mother had, to the various health problems that plagued her later in life.

When news that she was frail and had been transferred from the hospital to her favored residence, Palacio de las Dueñas in the heart of Seville, I knew it was the beginning of the end.

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It’s a well-known fact that I’ve always joked that the one big thing left on my Seville bucket list is meeting the Duquesa de Alba. On Friday morning, I became one of 80,000 people to file past her mortal remains, draped with the Spanish and Casa de Alba flags, at the Ayuntamiento. Said to be deathly afraid of being alone, the streets were full of reporters, well wishers and even curious tourists from other parts of Spain.

I stayed silent, not because I was reflecting on Cayetana’s life or because I was uninterested, but because it didn’t seem like the time or the place. I had to laugh that the viewing room of a public figure is called the capilla ardiente – a flaming chapel for a flamboyant character. Seems about right.

Because really, my love for Cayetana goes más allá – she’s more like a metaphor for how much I love Spain and its culture. The Duquesa was dedicated to Spanish art as an avid collector, to flamenco, to bullfighting, to horsemanship. 

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The Novio jokes that I’ll be the new Duquesa de Triana because Cayetana and I share many passions – Cruzcampo, Real Betis Balompié, Sevilla and the salt of life. I want to live my years left on my own terms, surrounded by people I love and leaving some sort of legacy, no matter how insignificant. I don’t need to have an autobiography or to be a topic on Sálvame, but should it happen, I sincerely hope to not give a crap. Olé tú, Cayetana, y que viva la Patrona de Dejarme Vivir.

My one request when it’s my turn to go? That my ashes be spread between Lake Michigan, Calle Gitanillo de Triana and Cervcería La Grande.

Thirteen Weird Spanish Superstitions

In planning a Spanish-American wedding in America, I’m having to juggle between two cultures, two languages – and a whole set of weird traditions and superstitions. Upon finally activating my online registry, my soon-to-be mother-in-law was horrified to see cutlery knives.

“Is that not a bad sign in the United States?” she asked, genuinely concerned that I’d be dooming our marriage before we’d even decided on entrees. Who knew that getting knives for a gift spells D-I-V-O-R-C-I-O in Spanish culture?

Moving to a new country often means tiptoeing when it comes to avoiding cultural blunders. Many of Spain’s odd superstitious are deep-rooted in tradition and the Catholic religion, and while some are laughable, as someone who grew up borderline obsessive compulsive, I find myself playing into their Spanish equivalents quite often.

El Gordo

There is a love of the game in Spain, and not just fútbolonline betting games, slot machines in bars and the national lottery system are all thriving in the midst of the financial crisis, and it’s not uncommon to see people lining up for big draws.

Spain’s biggest draw happens just before Christmas, known as El Gordo, or The Big One. People tune into the drawing on December 22nd to hear the children of Colegio San Ildefonso sing out the numbers, and many of the ticket holders religiously ask for the same numbers or only buy from places where other large prizes have been bought.

Apparently ‘lightning doesn’t strike twice’ is a concept lost on the Spaniards.

Witches, La Santa Compaña and La Güestia 

My suegra is from Asturias, a province in the north of Spain with a strong belief in superstitions and the supernatural (hence the horror of practically severing my marital bond before it started!). 

source

Fernando told us about La Santa Compaña before we left Baamonde’s pilgrim lodge one night. On dark, rainy nights in Galicia, these witches often offer candles to help light the way, converting you into a soul doomed to wander the Galician countryside for all eternity (there are worse things – it’s beautiful!). 

Similarly, La Güestia line up and travel from hamlet to hamlet in the sparsely populated countryside of Asturias, snatching up the souls of the dying.

And then there are the witches, dwarves and forest animals who play evil tricks on people, popular in local lore in the foggy, dream-like parts of northern Spain. In fact, many superstitions come from trying to avoid them!

Saintly Behavior

Per Catholic tradition, saints are revered. When I called a church about a premarital course, the priest asked our professions so that he might pray for us. Each saint is the patron of something – an affliction, an animal, a profession – and saint days are celebrated. 

Let’s just say I usually pray to the Virgin of Loretto when I hop on a RyanAir flight.

Bad Sweep Job

Not only should you avoid bringing a used broom into a new house (oops), but sweeping over someone’s feet will mean that that person will never marry. Good thing I’m the one who sweeps in the house most often!

A Place to Leave Your Hat

Just like in Italy, leaving your hat on top of a bed signifies that something bad will happen. Most often, this is related to losing one’s memory.

Un brindís!

Perhaps my favorite superstition is the belief that people, when toasting, must look one another in the eye. I can’t wait for the creepiness at my wedding when I get to stare down my family and friends!

What Not to Give a Baby

Babies should never be gifted anything in the color yellow, as it’s believed to bring the evil eye. There goes my nursery neutrality plan…

Salty

My mother always taught me that the salt and pepper must never be divorced (really, am I just cursing myself for fun now?!), making sure I passed them together to another diner’s hand. In Spain, the salt must never be passed or spilled, as this brings bad luck.

Tuesday the 13th

The film Friday the 13th probably didn’t gain much traction in Spain, as if the thirteenth day of the month falls on a Friday, a Spaniard isn’t bothered by it. Instead, Tuesday the 13th brings the mala suerte, as the word for Tuesday, martes, is related to the God of war.

As for the knives? Apparently taping a penny to the blade wards off divorce lawyers. Still, I’d rather not risk it!

Do you know any Spanish superstitions?

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?

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