For the Head and the Heart.
Yesterday evening, we were in Granada, and so full of love for that city were we that we felt justified in using some carefully selected expletives, for emphasis, you understand.
We were sitting outside a little bar, the Rincon del Carmen, with a couple of ice-cold beers watching a dance in Plaza del Carmen. The dance was aimed at the more mature members of Granada’s population, but it was simply a joyous, colourful and life-affirming celebration of everything that is wonderful about summer in Granada. The good-nature that was evident everywhere stood in stark contrast to the memories we have of so many such events in London. Invariably, in London, you could never escape those people who would storm past with grim determination, eyes fixed on the ground and a bellicose expression engraved in their facial features.
The spirit yesterday summed up, for us, this hot, languid season in Andalucia. We love Granada at any time of the year, but with the long days and the ever-present threat of wilting temperatures, Granada takes on a slow-motion gracefulness. That’s not to say that Granada suddenly transforms itself into a Mediterranean Eastbourne; far from it. The summer months become, in fact, one long party.
The summer season, for us, started with Granada Pride, el Día del Orgullo, the city’s celebration of LGBT equality, diversity and love. The skies were blue and the temperatures warm. We had no real expectations as to what shape the event might take, but as we waited for the start of the parade, at the head of the tree-lined Avenida de la Constitución, we saw an increasingly large crowd gathering. As we joined the crowds, after a quick coffee at a nearby bar, we were asked by one of the organisers from the LGBT body Arco Iris if we would help to carry their enormous rainbow banner. We suddenly found ourselves at the centre of the parade and what a joy it was. We shared the banner-holding duty with some 20 other people, including a mother who was there with her daughter and her daughter’s girlfriend.
We paraded slowly down Gran Via, one of the main avenues in Granada City Centre, heading for Plaza del Carmen and the City Hall. As good-natured events go, this has to be extremely high in the list. It wasn’t a campaign march, or a protest; it was a colourful, joyous display shared by everyone in and around the city centre on that day. Of course, once we arrived in the Plaza del Carmen, accompanied by the sound of drums and music, everyone joined in the party.
We repaired to a bar for something to eat and a beer or two, and then met up with friends who had just come from a Flamenco lesson. The party in the square continued as night fell, and after we had eaten we all went back to join in. A DJ was playing music that ensured the square was filled with dancing, and people of all ages. The Spanish love nothing better than a fiesta, and here was just another occasion to celebrate with a dance. In that square, we met more friends among the city’s own residents, visitors from other countries, families, grandparents, children - the world and their uncle/aunt - and it was magnificent.
The official summer season in Granada kicks off with Corpus Christi and the Feria, arguably the largest fiesta in Granada. This year, Corpus Christi ran from 15th - 22nd June with the two events running simultaneously: the fair that takes place on the edge of the city, and a programme of events in the city centre. During the week, the whole place is alive with performance, music, people in their finery and an almost tangible excitement that this is the time to make merry before the high season temperatures force a slower pace of life.
As Corpus Christi drew to a close, the Festival de Granada began. This year, this 3 week long festival of music and dance (the 68th edition) ran from 21st June to 12th July, and every year this wonderfully curated collection of cultural excitement contains a rich and varied seam of international performers. Tickets for the main events can sell quickly, as can those in some of the smaller venues, but there is such a choice that you can easily secure tickets for a good handful of wonderful performances.
I love choral music, so I was thrilled to see that the choir, The Sixteen, were lined up for the festival this year, performing Monteverdi’s Vespers. The venue for this concert was to be the stunning Palacio de Carlos V in the Alhambra Palace grounds. This magnificent Renaissance building was designed to be a palace for the Emperor Charles V, even though it was never subsequently used for that purpose. In fact, the palace was not completed; the roof was eventually added in 1957! However, the large circular colonnaded patio is the most glorious location for a concert. Last year, we saw a Spanish lutenist playing music here from the 15th and 16th Centuries, and we came as close as we could have done to being transported back in time.
The Sixteen’s performance of Monteverdi was every bit as magical as we had hoped, with solo voices criss-crossing the vast void over patio; the Gloria Patri was sublime, and if you want to know that I am drivelling on about, have a listen to this and you will get an idea of what the experience was like: https://youtu.be/ysP3sl2isdk
We had wanted to see a performance in the smaller but equally evocative setting of the Corral del Carbon, but sadly we had missed out on tickets. We went. instead, to a piano recital in the Auditorio Manuel de Falla. Now, whether it was the heat of the day, or the cocktail we had beforehand (after a few earlier drinks), but within 5 minutes of the start of Kristian Bezuidenhout’s performance, I fell asleep. Poor Andrew had to fight off his own tiredness for fear that he may have had to nudge me had I started to snore. This was no reflection whatsoever on Kristian’s undoubtedly splendid interpretations of Clara Schumann, Mendelssohn and Brahms.
As part of our Granada Concierge Flamenco Course, we also went with our guests to see Olga Pericet’s Flamenco performance, and we wrote about this in an earlier post. Suffice to say, we still talk about this extraordinary performance that involved space suits, goldfish bowl headsets and lots of writhing around on the floor.
The Festival de Granada ends and another Festival begins. From 18th July - 11th August, the city of Granada is filled with guitar music. The Festival de la Guitarra is only in its third year, and it has a freshness about it - young and vibrant.
Last year, we witnessed the opening concert that included breathtaking musical performances and a stunning Flamenco display from Alba Heredia. Based on that experience, we decided we couldn’t miss this year’s opening concert.
Alberto López is a young guitarrista from Granada and we saw him perform last year. This year, he took centre stage at the opening concert, set in the Plaza de las Pasiegas with the hulking Cathedral of Granada as the backdrop. These opening concerts are free, and there is something indescribable about sitting in the open air in front of a massive and ancient building, on a warm and clear night to hear the strains of an exquisitely played Spanish guitar. Have a listen: https://youtu.be/TrH2aB62J5Q
We took in another concert in one of the city’s Flamenco venues, the Peña la Plateria, tucked away in the Albaicin area. This is meant to be one of the leading Flamenco venues in Granada, and we had never been before. Our experience was maybe not the best, as the service for a drink was slow. In fact, so slow that we didn’t get a drink before the concert. This was a ticketed event, but without allocated seats, and as the performance space is long, you do need to get in quick if you’d like a seat near the front. However, then the downside is that you feel a little entrapped! Jerónimo Maya was the solo performer and his guitar playing almost defies belief. I can’t say that we were passionate about the music, but the finger work over the strings and frets was another matter.
Next on the list is the annual Lorca y Granada en los Jardines del Generalife, a celebration in music and dance of an aspect of the life of Granada’s own poet, Federico Garcia Lorca. This year’s production, ‘Lorca y la pasión. Un mar de sueños’ runs from 18th July to 31st August and seeks to answer the question, “What is Love?”. These magical evenings, devised by drawing inspiration from Lorca’s life and works and set in the stunning open-air theatre in the Generalife Gardens, above the Alhambra, represent everything that is glorious about summers in Granada. We have our tickets booked for 30th August!
Back to last night, however, and we found ourselves drawn back to Granada, mainly to collect a table from the shop that is being opened by our friends Natalie and Cacho. How could we resist the dance in the Plaza del Carmen? After a beer or two, even I was itching to get up and sashay (or whatever one does on the dance floor). As it happened, as we were enjoying our drink and tapas, a small group of very well turned-out ladies were doing their best to catch our collective eyes. The occasional glance became a full-on beckon, and as we left the bar we had no choice but to go and give them a very quick turn. One of the ladies explained to Andrew that she loved dancing, and that it is so good for the heart and the head. As we both left the dance behind, having become acquainted with these lovely, lively and spirited women, we both felt a huge surge of love for our adopted city. This collection of emotions can be summed up quite simply - life-affirming.