Manuel de Falla. Nights in the Garden of Spain

Today’s piece is probably the most well known of Falla’s. It evokes the Moorish palaces, the cyprus and orange trees, the fountains and tiles of the cities of Grenada and Seville. The orchestration owes its debt to the lush and colorful impressionistic style that Debussy and Ravel, Falla’s teachers, pioneered. It’s quite atmospheric.  It’s a great piece to listen to as I think back to my first visit to Spain in 1977 (read below).

A Shot in the Dark

Something about Flamenco music has always appealed to me. In the 1960s, when they still broadcast variety shows on television, from time to time you’d get a glimpse of this stylized but intensely passionate art form. In the fall of 1976, the semester before I went to France, my friend Thom Klem and I became fascinated with Flamenco and bought several albums. One of them, the liner notes said that whenever a particularly gifted singer went off on a particularly soulful riff, another might say, “Eso es!” This was short for “Eso es canto moro!” (That’s a real Moorish song.”) Kind of like saying, it’s the real McCoy. This shows just how much influence the moors had on Spain and Spanish music.
A number of the best Flamenco musicians in Spain are Roma. Because of my Hungarian ancestry, I feel some sort of soulful connection to this music.

Now, Barcelona does not have the reputation as the best place in Spain to go and see the best Flamenco. Supposedly that distinction goes to Grenada and Seville. But, when Inge, Chris and I hitchhiked to Barcelona in the Spring of 1977, we didn’t know that. So one night we set off together in search of a club that Inge had read about. Supposedly you could see the real Flamenco there.

The bar turned out to sit in the very earthy and old section of town near the port where we had visited a small Romanesque church, as I described in my last entry. That worried me a little because it was not what you would call a salubrious neighborhood. When we got there about seven or eight o’clock in the evening, the streets were oddly quiet. We hadn’t yet figured out the Spanish schedule. They eat very late in the evening and then go out for their evening promenade at 10, 11, or 12 at night.

We found the club and walked in. It took a few minutes for our eyes to adjust to the darkness, but when they did we saw we were the only customers in the place. We sat down at a table, and immediately a group of people swarmed around us. They consisted of two guitar players, a couple of guys in puffy shirts, and a couple of tall dark, middle aged women in bright lurid sateen dresses.

The spokesman for this group asked us if we had come to listen to Flamenco music. We said yes. Then he asked if we would like for them to play for us. Inge answered yes, and the man said for that to happen, we would have to buy them a round of whiskey. We did so and were charged what seemed an exorbitant price (at least for me, a student). At the time, I had some nagging doubts about being ripped off, but then they started to play.

I was transported! The men had such soulful voices. The two singers also clapped out an intricately syncopated rhythm that made them sound like about 20 people clapping. After the first song, the women stood up and started to dance. The heels of their high, thick black shoes exploded in staccato burst as they pounded out the rhythm. The men joined them and they performed an intense dance while staring intently into each others eyes, like two grouse locked in a courtship dance.

Here’s a modern example.  Imagine these musicians and dancers sitting next to you and performing!

When they finished, they asked if we would like to buy them more whiskey. We demurred and took the cue that it was time to leave. I was a bit disappointed but nevertheless I had seen real Flamenco. Though it may not have been under the best circumstance it seemed real and vital. Maybe this was even more valuable. Suppose the place had been full of tourists or in a great hall. Never would we have gotten so close to them nor had our own personal performance.

Back outside, the streets had filled with people. We started off in the direction of our pension and had to wind our way through the knots of people out for their walks. It seemed like a tough crowd–no pale northern European types like us. The crowd was composed of young swells, and sailors, and plump women in dowdy old sweaters. It unsettled me and I encouraged Chris and Inge to hurry.

We turned the corner onto another crowded street and got about midway down the block when we found ourselves even with what looked like members of a gang. They were scruffy young toughs in leather trousers and open shirts. I bristled a bit when I saw them and I tried to look away and keep on our way. As we passed the, out of the corner of my eye I saw one of the men reach into his shirt and pull a pistol out that he had had tucked into his belt. He pointed the gun up and in the direction of another man in the group and shouted something. The crowd started to scatter and I yelled to Chris and Inge “He’s got a gun!” and we took off running. We got to the Ramblas before looking back and realized that the crowd had closed up behind us and no one else seemed alarm.

If my last two entries paint a somewhat unfavorable picture of Barcelona, I apologize. Remember this was 22 years ago and just after Franco had died. On our subsequent outings in the city, we found much to love and charm us. But that is for another day.


About kurtnemes
Writer and Education Professional. Specialties include Ethics, Personal Memoir, Classical music, Tai Chi, Stress Reduction, Meditation, Coping, Classical Music, Aging, Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity (& what interests me.)

2 Responses to Manuel de Falla. Nights in the Garden of Spain

  1. Superb blog! Do you have any hints for aspiring writers?
    I’m hoping to start my own blog soon but I’m a little lost on everything.

    Would you advise starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option?
    There are so many choices out there that I’m totally overwhelmed .. Any tips? Kudos!


    • kurtnemes says:

      Thanks for writing. Blogging is a great way to start as a writer. If you want to write fiction, I’d recommend taking two online course I recently took at One is called Write like a Pro and the other is Advanced Fiction Writing. They cost $89 and run for 6 weeks and have a great instructor.

      For blog tools, I’m partial to WordPress because it’s free and if you want to move it to a web host you can eventually do that. The free Blogger also is nice and I think it’s got better links to the outside search engines. With both, you have to work to newtwork with other writers and use tags so that your site can be found. Good luck.


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