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We are on our way to a flamenco feast at La Traviesa restaurant. The restaurant sits high upon a cliff in the Casco Antiguo of Salobrena, with a panoramic view across the Costa Tropical. The bar and the kitchen are actually inside a cave, while the guests sit outside, enjoying the spectacular vista. The sun is disappearing behind the mountains. Soon it will be dark. The candles are lit, casting flickering shadows over the romantic surroundings, as the guests wait for the artists to arrive.

The guitarist is already here. He looks as if he was born with this instrument in his hands. Music runs in his family – most likely it was daddy who helped him with his first grips. The guitar rests in his lap, his fingers caressing the strings like a sensitive lover. A promising beginning.

Who would have imagined that those ordinary girls – the flamenco dancer and the singer – could be so profoundly transformed? One hardly noticed them on arrival, small of stature, reserved, almost shy, in their blue jeans and tee-shirts. They reminded me of schoolgirls, who were hesitatingly daring to enter a bar for the first time. But when they descended from the restroom, they were almost unrecognizable. Red lips glowing, hair set up in a swinging tail, eyebrows painted pit black. Both were dressed in black silk with a touch of red – el color de amor. Their blouses were tight around their shoulders and bosoms. The wide skirts flickered around their ankles like a joyful waterfall. Their bearing is now suddenly distant and haughty. Their eyes are fixed on something far away and invisible to the rest of us in an aggressive and challenging manner. They are as if they have descended from another world, untouchable, commanding – but seductive. They stamp with their feet, whining and swinging like mares in heat – ready for everything.

The dancing begins. The throaty female voice is the leader, the guitarist follows closely and the dancer is the interpreter. The story of the Gypsies is encapsulated in the anguished voice of the singer and the passionate expression of the dancer. It is a story of misery, poverty, cruelty, anger, hatred – and injustice. But isn´t it also a love story? True – but mainly about jealousy, betrayal and revenge. Life is without mercy. The flamenco is also without mercy. It is violent, painful, uncontrollable. One feels afraid, enfeebled, overwhelmed. I didn´t know if I was crying from sympathy or shame.

I felt exhausted – but at the same time wholly satisfied. This was all so beautiful – in spite of the ugliness. The young dancer is still in full force. She insists to go on challenging us, proud and temperamental, ferocious in her demeanor.

I felt as if I had witnessed a volcanic eruption or an earthquake, enforcing its way up from deep down. Then suddenly total silence. No one uttered a word. Everyone was as if carried away, engrossed in his or her own thoughts. The flamenco show was over. The candles were burnt out. It was time to leave. The girls were back in the blue jeans. Again just ordinary girls, having a bite at the bar with the guitarist, before heading back home. I wanted to embrace them and thank them for enacting a lesson in history. And so I did. The Casco Antiguo had fallen asleep, when we walked along the narrow streets. The sweet smell of spring flowers tickled our nostrils as the declining moon guided us on our way.

This is the poor man´s village. The fate of the villagers is kindred to the fate of the Gypsies. The unbridgeable inequality of wealth and social standing engulfed both of them. The toilers of the land were wholly dependent upon the goodwill of the almighty landowners for the survival of their families. Both were on their own in a world without mercy. Their children went barefoot, and schools were just a distant dream.

But even if the fate of the Gypsies and the toilers of the land was basically the same, their temperament was poles apart. The powerful dance of the Gypsies tells the uncompromising truth, unashamedly – but the toilers and their barefoot flock have yet to find their voice.

Bryndís Schram A former dancer, actress, columnist and author from Iceland

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