A week went by where Orlando and I got up around noon pretty much every day, fortified ourselves with bread and coffee, and then busked until sundown. The others were in and out for classes and their various jobs.
Everyone gave their rent money to Vicente. I was unclear on whether this was because Vicente was the one whose name was on the lease or if he was actually connected to the landlord somehow. He had a little chalkboard on the wall by the refrigerator where he would mark what people had given him that month. That made perfect sense given that everyone was working cash gigs that paid unevenly. In that way, busking was a lot like waiting tables, which Carmina did a few nights a week.
Every other day or so I would ask Orlando, “Flamenco?” Sometimes when I’d ask, I’d be pointing to what looked like the ad for a flamenco concert or show in the newspaper or posted on a wall. “Orlando, flamenco?”
And he would say something like “Soon,” or “Later” or “not tonight.” He was teaching me things bit by bit, riff by riff, while we stood playing for hours in the park, but he hadn’t taken me to see any flamenco or to meet any other musicians. Yet.
The other thing that happened about every other day was at sundown we’d go back to the apartment before going out that night, and have some kind of sex, usually oral. Orlando always initiated it, and I always asked him “are you gay?” and every time he said “no” before proceeding to peel my jeans off. He seemed unconcerned about the fact that we were in the middle of the living room every time. I never tried to take it into the bedroom he shared with Carmina. I assumed that would be crossing a line…. and that was assuming we weren’t already crossing a line. I figured he would have been more secretive if he didn’t want her to know.
Orlando, flamenco? Not tonight. Orlando, are you gay? No. So it went.
He finally brought me to a flamenco show after I’d been there almost two weeks. Some acquaintances of his were musicians in the show, and apparently it was an off night. That meant we could get in for free since there were empty seats. It was a dinner show, but we were seated at the table farthest from the stage and given only the baskets of bread and a pitcher of water. Which was fine with us. I could not have cared less about the food. I was there for the music.
Orlando kept trying to tell me something. As usual this was like a game of two-way charades where we each latched on to what words of each other’s we knew, even though that sometimes sent us barking up the wrong tree. I eventually gathered that he was warning me this was sort of a “tourist trap” show, i.e. not the “real” thing. I wanted to ask how it could get any more real than being performed in Seville by actual Sevillanos, and that raises the whole question of a “performance” not being a “real” thing no matter what, right?
My mind hung those thoughts out to dry while we sat there and I watched the ideas twist around from all angles, unsure how I felt about any claims to real/not real in regards to music. It’s kind of a dangerous concept, isn’t it? There were those who said John Lee Hooker didn’t play “real” blues because he played the electric guitar instead of the acoustic guitar. Nowadays that sounds ridiculous, but at the time I guess the change felt so drastic it was enough to spur claims of inauthenticity. Makes you think if no change is ever allowed that the only “authentic” music has to be, what, people banging rocks together?
Real or not, that show included several numbers of flashy group choreography, kind of like the Rockettes–with matching dresses and frills–but showing a lot less leg. One had about a dozen dancers, all women, moving together. Another had all pairs of men and women, moving in unison through a choreography tableau. But a couple of songs had all the pairs in a semicircle and they would each take turns dancing in the center, like breakdancers. And just like with breakdancers, I couldn’t tell how much of that was choreographed and how much was improvised. While one pair was dancing, all the others would clap their hands rhythmically and stamp their feet at prescribed times in the song and in specific rhythms. I loved the rhythms. Some had twelve counts, some had eight… I didn’t know the patterns off the top of my head but they were easy enough to figure out.
With all those dancers on the stage, though, it was hard to see the musicians. They sat in chairs behind the dancers, in a line along the back of the stage. They had three guitars, two regular ones and a basso–not a bass guitar like you think of in rock and roll, which is basically the same size, this was more like the size of a cello. Plus two male singers, one of whom also played an anvil (an actual anvil, like you’d make horseshoes on), and one man who sat on a box and played it with his hands.
I would eventually learn that the percussion boxes were called “cajones” which sounds very similar to but isn’t the same as the Spanish word for testicles. However when you have one between your legs and you’re beating on it, it’s hard to keep from thinking about that. Especially when the guy on the box next to you sucked your testicles a few hours before. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
After the show, we spent some of our day’s earnings taking one of the guitar players out to dinner. Ramon was older than I realized until we were sitting down with him, but he had learned enough English that, at last, I could pick somebody’s brain. It was still slow going, he had no classical training at all so some of the language I was using he wasn’t familiar with.
I asked about a million questions, mostly the wrong ones, but that’s how it is when you know so little and the thing you want to know about is so different from your experience. I think I offended him with some of them, in fact, until finally he demanded, “Why you want to learn flamenco?” With that extra accusatory “you.”
I babbled about how I had put together this idea in my head about the world of music and human beings and the balance between structure and improvisation and the nature of music, and Indian classical music, and Qaawali singing, and American blues, and the guitar, and the vibrating string being the binding concept of reality and life in the universe…
He got the gist and nodded his head. “Gloria,” he said, and I thought maybe he was praising God.
Orlando made a distressed noise, though, and rattled off some sentence of protest.
The guy sighed, and rubbed his face, and then cracked his knuckles. “Gloria, she know everything,” he said. “You go to her. If she like you, she tell you everything.” Then he smiled and chuckled to himself and said something I took to mean I might be sorry once she got started.
Orlando shook his head but seemed resigned. Ramon said good night shortly after that and left us to finish the bottle of wine we had started. We split the last glass between us, the wine almost chewy it was so strong, so concentrated with the essence of dark grapes. Orlando grimaced at me and showed me his teeth stained temporarily with it.
I wanted to lick his mouth, then, my intellect satisfied for the moment, my stomach content, but my neglected sexual hunger for him coming to the fore. He had long lashes and very round eyes, giving him an earnest look, even when he was trying to be subtle or surreptitious.
He went into the men’s room. I put cash on the table as the waitress came to clean up and then followed him.
He beckoned me into a stall and I pressed him against the tiled wall with my body and took the kiss I had been dreaming of. He made a surprised sound, then kissed back enthusiastically. I don’t even remember which one of us did the stroking that made us both come.
After that, though, I tried to separate from him carefully so I didn’t get come everywhere, but before I could pull away, he pecked my mouth like a bird, demanding and tentative at the same time. I kissed him slowly, then, with careful explorations of his lips and tongue and teeth, tasting wine and salt. When I pulled back, he licked his lips and nodded at me, like he had decided kissing like that was not only okay, he was adding it to his mental checklist of things we should do again.
(P.S. It’s my birthday and the Kickstarter starts tomorrow! Meanwhile, here’s another “new style” flamenco video, Ottmar Liebert, where his drummer plays the cajon so you can see what that looks like… -ctan)