Madrid on Repeat

18 Feb

Almost exactly one year to the day I’m back in Madrid. Back to prepare mentally and physically again for the rigours of Festival de Jerez XX. I am in my worst ‘flamenco shape’ ever. Forgive me maestro Manuel, it’s been months since I’ve had flamenco shoes on.

This time Stuart accompanied me, well at least for five days. The lure of sking with our sons is too strong. The men have gathered back in Zermatt (Stu has wisely left his incredibly heavy ski boots and skis there) for some quality mano a mano a mano time while I undertake the annual pilgrimage to Jerez. 

    So far no obvious changes here in central Madrid, apart from the ‘Refugees Welcome’ banner on City Hall. Just much more rain than last year. Rain has been a feature across Spain causing disastrous flooding in Galicia followed midweek by disruptive snow in 38 provinces. Negative temperatures confused natives across Spain. In Madrid the lowest recorded temp was – 11.3 degrees celsius!  

   Chilly sex workers, some with familiar faces, still stand waiting for clients on the corner of Calle de la Cruz near our apartment. Their faces are hard and expressionless when I pass by, but one did greet Stuart with a ‘¡Hola! which left him confused as I was right in front of him.

Prices in bars, restaurants and supermarkets have not budged, if anything they’ve fallen slightly. Two breakfasts of toasted bread roll with fresh tomato, olive oil and a coffee is typically 4.30 euro including table service. A glass of red wine in a tapas bar starts at 2.30 euro. 


At Amor de Dios flamenco school the much heralded refurb of the womens’ change room has happened. Five freshly tiled and painted showers – in two shades of purple- look inviting. I search for Lidon Patiño, in the hope of taking her class again but she’s not there. Looking through class flyers on the board I notice an athletic, short man in his sixties with shoulder length dyed black hair chatting in the foyer. As I make my way around the corridors peeking into the classrooms I pass and greet him. He has soft, moisturised hands. He asks me where I am from and we talk a while. I learn that Señor Cristobal Reyes (aged 66 from Cordoba) is a longstanding dance teacher at the school, the uncle of Joaquin Cortes, and that he has performed in Australia. Maestro Reyes invites me try his technique class that evening. I can hardly refuse. 


Much of the afternoon is taken up accompanying Stuart to his doctor’s appointment. Well, it wouldn’t be a regular overseas trip if we didn’t spend at least half a day on medical matters. This time it’s his shoulder injury that requires a professional opinion.

General Practitioner Doctor Carlos Reverte Asuero of Unidad Medico Angloamericano is a tubby, cheerful chap with passable English. A black and white photograph of a ballet dancer sits on his book shelf along with what look to be dated medical textbooks. After Stuart recounts the story of how he slipped and fell walking on ice and the resultant injury to his shoulder, Dr Asuero examines him and pronounces it highly likely the impact of the fall has separated the collar bone from its insertion into the shoulder joint. Google machine has already revealed as much.

Dr Asuero says an Xray would rule out a fracture, but since Stuart has no indications of a fracture and the treatment in any case would be the same, i.e. immobilisation in a sling, we agree he need not go to the trouble. Stu already has a sling, bought from the pharmacy, so the only other thing the doctor can offer is a prescription for pain relief. He seems a little put out when Stuart refuses the pills. Stuart’s discomfort is mild and given the number of meds he already takes the last thing he needs is more drugs, however the doc insists on writing two prescriptions, an anti-inflammatory and a drug to prevent the anti-inflammatory upsetting his stomach. He also gives him his business card and urges Stuart to email him over the weekend if he has any concerns. 

The bill for 15 minutes of his time is 120 euros.  


My 5:30-7pm class with maestro Reyes was an interesting experience. I enjoy watching him dance. He uses tiny marking steps with very flexed knees and arms that almost meet in a circle in front while the shoulders are acutely angled on the diagonal. Muy antigua. He shouts ‘cintura!’ to get us to rotate shoulders. Sadly maestro Reye’s pedagogy does not mesh with my learning style and I have too much experience of stellar teachers to return to the old ways…

The other students have obviously been taking class with him for some time as he has choreographed a short piece of solea for them. We have a guitarist accompany us for thirty minutes but maestro Reyes is quite critical of him. The advertised ‘Technique for Alegria de Cadiz and Tangos’ was nowhere to be seen. He spent a lot of time trying to change my style to his with little success. He then asked me who my teacher was. I listed some of them and mentioned that one of my favourite maestros is Andres Peña which elicited this exchange, ‘The little one from Jerez? Yes. Well, he’s a good dancer’. 
Embarrassingly maestro Reyes wouldn’t let me pay him for the class as he said he had invited me. I’d already decided to switch to a morning class and happily I’ve just discovered online that Lidon is back from Tuesday so that solves that! 

A drier, warmer day Saturday made walking around the centre more pleasant. From Plaza Mayor we wandered down calle Bordadores. Stuart liked the look of the simple facade of bar-cafe-restaurant Lion at number four. Two old boys propped on stools drinking white wine and sharing cake at 11am decided it. I needed a second breakfast so we ordered the usual and coffee. Señor Miguel Vasco, a dapper spritely sixtiesh gentleman, runs the bar single handedly. While we were there he handled food deliveries, multiple orders and kept up a steady exchange with his customers, some of whom were clearly regulars, like the two elderly gents. There is no flap in his countertop to lift and pass through, he has to bend double and dive under and through a gap, a manouvre he performs with speed and agility. Rather like Señor Vargas in Seville but better dressed. 

We ambled on to Mercado San Miguel. More of a food and wine scene that a regular market it was already crowded with people quaffing and munching and tourists photographing people quaffing and munching. 


We pushed on to the 18th century Royal Basilica of San Francisco El Grande. And impressive it was with its painted cupola, dual gold leaf and marble pulpits and rich store of artwork in the chambers behind the church proper. The two euro entry was well worth it. 

 One block along the 19th century Catedral de Santa María la Real de la Almudena presents a very different version of Catholic architectural styles and decoration. Begun in 1879 on the foundations of an medieval mosque it was only consecrated in 1993.   

A service was in progress but we could walk around most of the spaces with the bonus of listening to the blue-robed youth choir when it came time to sing hymns. Apart from the blue and gold flecked dome, the rest of the ceilings are painted in intricate geometric designs with bold colours. The organ is one of the most magnificent we’ve seen.  

  We particularly liked the modernist, almost cubist stained glass windows on the north side and the jewel of the richly mosaiced Chapel of the Sacrament reserved for true believers (strictly no photography). 

 At the Palacio Real next door the ticket queue was over a hundred long. We people-watched a while as an ever smiling piano accordionist busked. John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ seemed appropriate for the moment.  

  Back at Mercado San Miguel the lunch crowd was even denser but we elbowed our way into the Bodega run by Pinkleton & Wine. Staffed by energetic young folk, a particularly charming, well informed young bartender helped us with our wine tasting; 3 euro cava for me, 3 euro chardonnay for Stuart. Vegan empanadas from the stall opposite lined our stomachs and we took a bottle of their best Ribero home. 

 Saturday night’s entertainment was the 10:30pm show at Casa Patas. I’ll record the details on my flamenco page but just to note that the show was outstanding, particularly the singers and guitarist. The booking and seating system at Casa Patas is distinctly Spanish. Reservations online and payment 15 minutes before show time in the midst of a crowded restaurant with people jockeying for position. Every inch of the small theatre’s floor space is crammed with chairs, stools and tables. Waitresss have developed a sixth sense for negotiating the space between as they serve drinks and tapas in the dark. This time we were seated on a rise towards the back which was a good position to view all but the footwork. Tip for first-timers, go early so you can request a change of position if it’s not to your taste. 


Valentine’s Day was a Sunday for lovers to stay in bed. Rain and wind alternated with hail.  

 The 8pm show at Corall de la Morerier drew us out again. This tablao venue is probably the most upmarket I’ve ever been to. It claims to be the ‘most famous Tablao Flamenco innthe world’. This is reflected in the prices and the black and white photos of the celebrities lining the reception. I chose it because Marco Flores was performing with the singer Luis Moneo. We enjoyed the drinks and tapas we ordered but the 140 euros we paid all up would go an awful lot further in Seville, Jerez or Cadiz.  

  Monday we stuffed ourselves with art in Museo Thyssen-Bornemizsa. A second visit for me. Entry is free from midday so we met my Russian flamenco friend Natalia there for two blissful hours wandering through these beauties then went for lunch in the cafe. 

 Tuesday morning I was ready for class at 10am but no sign of Lidon. I asked another teacher, Lola, if she knew when Lidon would be coming. The answer, ‘She’s not teaching at the moment’. I explained about the notice on her webpage. ‘Oh, that would be from last year’. Doh!

Lola was starting her two-hour alegrias class at 10am and there was room for me. I had watched a bit of her class the week before and dismissed it as unsuitable. A, because Lola wore jeans to teach (unprofessional) and B, because it looked too basic. Now I was faced with taking her class, returning to try an afternoon class (not Señor Reyes), or renting a studio by myself.

All’s well that ends well for I enjoyed Lola’s class enormously and picked up all the choreography done to date. She is warm, good natured, patient and has great flamenco sensibility. I really enjoyed dancing to the guitarist, Basilio Garcia, he was fully present and empathetic to our struggles. Time to drop my predjudices…..

The week is ending with a restorative traditional hammam and massage at Baños Arabes. Aaaaah…..I needed it after losing the battle against that other travel ritual, the head cold. Not the best start for Jerez XX but asi es la vida. 


Coda: The Almudena treatment at the hammam was so restorative I went to the 9pm tablao at the Villa Rosa. Quietest I have seen a venue, maybe half full. Still, it was a hugely enjoyable show. Especially thrilled by Jose Maldonado’s assured, exciting performance. See Flamenco page for details. 


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