It gets hot in Southern Spain in the summer. Although was it any hotter than most of the other places I’d lived? Maybe a little. It was regularly above ninety degrees. The apartment had air conditioners set in the walls next to the windows, but only in the bedrooms.
Not sure that’s really why I moved into Orlando’s room with him, though. We were only busking maybe two days a week by then, even though he and Gabriela didn’t have classes to go to. We were too busy with nighttime gigs, and I was still spending a lot of time at the flamenco school. One day, though, he and I had gone out without anyone else. And the park was kind of dead because it was hot. But somehow that didn’t faze us, we just kept on because we were enjoying playing with each other.
Flamenco, as you might have gathered from what I’ve said, is a really structured thing but that’s what lets it be freeform at the same time. Even the structure of a show, though, could be either on a kind of strict form or more freewheeling. It really depends on the situation. When we went to the little cafes and bars at night it was more of a jam session–and I wondered if the word for that, juerga, was related to the word juego? Juego was one of my textbook words, which I knew meant “play”–not in the sense of play an instrument, but as in play a game. Then there were forms that we used for the concerts, like how a symphony has an overture and other specific parts. Like with Indian music, in a flamenco performance, the melody instrument (the guitar) plays an introductory solo, introducing the theme to everyone. It’s improvised, but it’s within the form.
Gloria had eventually let me know she approved highly of the things I did when I played the introduction.
That day in the park, I started the introduction to a farruca, thinking it would be fun to improvise on it with Orlando. The farruca is both a dance (like a waltz) and it’s a type of piece (like a chorale). We hadn’t been doing one in our shows because we only had a female dancer and the farruca was a traditionally male dance. (I would eventually learn there were women in history who danced the farruca… but always in men’s clothing. So maybe I should say it’s a masculine dance?)
Anyway, I played an intro to this farruca, and Orlando did something I had never seen him do before, which was put down his guitar and dance. We had no drummer, no singer, but it didn’t matter. I played and he danced.
I might have mentioned that doing a dancer/guitar duet with Gabriela was kind of like having sex with her. So you probably won’t be surprised then that what happened after the song finished was we went back to the apartment.
We left our guitars sitting in the living room on our way to the bedroom door. I was a little surprised that after flipping the power on the air conditioner, Orlando produced a strip of three condoms from somewhere and tossed it onto the bed.
I was pulling my shirt over my head but I heard the sound of it hitting the sheets and looked. “Are those for you or for me?”
“You,” he said, then frowned, realizing that it kind of depended on what I meant by that.
Whatever. We’d figure out who was doing who soon enough.
Actually, I really hoped I was doing him. There was no lube in evidence. That wasn’t why, though.
Sex has a lot of back and forth in it, I know. Just like a duet, things shift, ideas come to you, your goals emerge and then merge… You have to be open and listening. I listened to Orlando. I listened with my fingertips and with my eyes as well as my ears.
Yeah, it became clear I was going to be doing him.
It had been a long time–six months?–since I’d last fucked. I hope I did him well. I’d managed to forget how much I needed it. I’d managed to forget what it was like to let the lust I had running through my system boil out through my hips instead of through my hands.
It felt very, very right. I can’t say that about a lot of the sex I’d had in my life up to that point.
“You okay?” I asked afterward, since he was facing away from me and I couldn’t see his face.
“Fantastico,” he said, sounding like he did after the first bottle of rioja.
I put an arm over him and he clutched it to his chest and then kissed the backs of my fingers. Okay, that was a clear indication he was feeling good. I answered each kiss on my hand with one on the back of his neck and let the incense of his sweat intoxicate me almost to the point of unconsciousness.
Then I asked, “Orlando, are you gay?”
“No,” he said, like usual.
The next day was church day. I wondered what Orlando thought about when he closed his eyes and put his hands together.
My mind drifted like it usually did during the service. In the summer, you could feel the heat from all the racks of lit candles in the saints’ alcoves along the side of the pews. So many people wore their “Sunday best” I had to wonder that more of them didn’t faint from the heat. (Me, I didn’t have any Sunday best, really.) I watched a sunbeam crawl across one of the stained glass windows.
And the next thing I knew, I was praying. Okay, maybe it was a little strong to call it praying, since I wasn’t on my knees or anything. I was just having a little one-way conversation with God in my mind. It went something like this: Dear God, please let this thing I have going with Orlando actually turn out to be as good as it feels like it is. As good for us both.
Maybe sometimes prayers get answered. For the most part after that–same as it had been before–I let Orlando dictate when we had sex and what kind. Instead of leaving me feeling powerless and antsy, though, I was perfectly fine with it. Maybe because I never felt like there was a shortage? Not quite every day, but not exactly every other day, either. Unpredictable and yet consistent enough that I had no anxiety about it.
In other words, sex with Orlando wasn’t the thing that changed on the day Orlando danced in the park. No. The day after church, he showed up to the afternoon dance class.
Gloria glared at him but said nothing to him during the class, treating him like any of the other students. That day the class was working on tangos. In flamenco what they call “tangos” is not the same as the Argentine tango, which is the ballroom dance you’re probably thinking of. The guitar part is really strict in the flamenco tango, with the strums falling in very specific places–the guitar is as much a percussion instrument as a melodic one. (Well, there’s a reason they call it “rhythm guitar.”)
I’ve talked before, haven’t I, about how there’s a purity in the E chords? Maybe it’s been a while. The E string is the lowest string on the guitar. When you play an E major or E minor chord and you let that bottom string ring, you are basically giving the guitar its full throat.
Well, the A is a close second to the E. The A is the next string over. So the A chord, and especially A minor, is another really resonant one. Most of what you think of if you hear someone playing “Spanish guitar”–think of what the soundtrack would be if a matador suddenly appeared in your movie–is the E minor and A minor chords.
I can’t remember where I was going with this other than to say those are the chords you first fall in love with when you pick up one of those Yamaha classical guitars when you’re ten years old. And you never stop loving them. You can go and play all kinds of things. You can even restring and re-tune your guitar. But it always feels like going home when you return to them.
Right. So the farruca is played in A minor. The flamenco tango is also in A minor… Not to get technical, but it’s in the Phrygian mode.
It took me a while to figure that out, of course. No one who was teaching me used anything like music theory to describe the notes or even most of the chords. The other guitar players would just show me and I’d do it. Some stuff you simply internalize and parrot and trust that you’re getting it right because you read the reactions of those around you. Come to think of it, that’s about how I learned what little Spanish I learned, too. But I learned way more guitar than Spanish.
After class that day, Gloria and Orlando had a screaming match. I really couldn’t understand a word of it, but there wasn’t anywhere to go to escape the argument either. When they were done, Orlando marched out. I wanted to ask Gloria what it was about, but I wanted to stick with Orlando, so I picked up my guitar and followed him.
We ended up sucking on salty, bitter olives in a dark tapas bar and drinking red wine at three in the afternoon. Orlando lined up the pits from the olives and pushed them around with his finger morosely.
“She didn’t like you dancing?” I asked.
He shook his head and made the “I can’t explain” gesture.
“Will you dance tonight? In the show?”
We went home and had a siesta (but not sex, and that was fine), then went back to the school for our evening performance as usual. I was expecting there to be some tension between him and Gloria, but they seemed to be over whatever spat they’d had.
And at one point in the show, while Gabriela changed her costume and Gloria went to help her with it, I played and Orlando danced a farruca. It was a great hit so far as I could tell. I guess the audience loved watching his narrow, bony hips and his long, expressive fingers as much as I did.
I fucked him very hard that night.
(Today’s music lesson, set the wayback machine to 1976 for Paco de Lucia, the guy who really brought the “Spanish guitar” sound to the international jazz scene. -ctan)
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