Excerpt of The Flamenco Academy by Sarah Bird
(Page 4 of 6)
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Pitythat was what would be the hardest of all to deal with. No, tomorrow would
be soon enough to face them all. At least then, when I was teaching, I would
have my flamenco armor on, my favorite long black skirt, my new Menke shoes from
Spain with extra clavestiny silver nailstapped into the toes.
On the screen, home movie footage from the fifties played. The colors of the old
film had faded to sepia tones. A much older Carmen sat on the concrete steps of
a porch and held her arms out to a chubby-legged toddler in sandals who
staggered toward her. Offscreen, an ancient voice recalled, "Carmen couldn't
have any children of her own so she asked us for our son." That image, a little
boy, just learning to walk, wobbling toward the most famous flamenco dancer
ever, one who had earned her crown with blood, caused the polarity in the room
to reverse. The air beside my head trembled as the secret beating in my chest
recognized its double on that screen.
Carmen couldn't have any children of her own so she asked us for our son.
The home movie ended and the speaker, an elderly Gypsy man identified as
Carmen's nephew, appeared. The harsh light glistened off his bald scalp,
sweating beneath a few wisps of ash-colored hair.
His wife, portly and silent, nodded. Her husband continued speaking. He was as
passionate as if he were pleading his case before a jury, though the incident
had occurred half a century ago. "Why did she ask that of us? It was like he was
hers anyway. We were all one family anyway. Why did she need to adopt him?
Simply because she wanted a child who was of our blood?"
The old man finished and a rustling swept through the auditorium as heads
steepled together and whispers hissed back and forth. A few dancers, those who
knew the most, craned their necks searching the auditorium. Doña Carlota was who
they really wanted to see, to search her face for a reaction. When the other
dancers discovered that she wasn't in the theater, the glances sought me out. I
ducked my head, hiding until the bat-wing skitter of attention had dissipated.
When I looked up again, Carmen Amaya's funeral procession was winding across the
screen. It snaked for miles down through hills thick with rosemary, leading from
Carmen's castle on a bluff above the Costa Brava to her burial plot in the town
of Bagur. This home movie footage was old and jerky, but rather than fading out,
the colors had intensified into a palette of cobalt blues and deepest emerald
greens. The devastated faces of thousands of mourners were masks of grief as
profound as if each one had lost a sister, a wife, a mother.
The documentary returned to Carmen in the last year of her life. A clip from a
Spanish movie played. She was only fifty, but Carmens ferocity had been
blunted. The feral lines of her face were swollen with fluid her infantile
kidneys could not eliminate. She sat at a rickety wooden table in a dusty
neighborhood, a slum, like the one in Barcelona where shed been born in a
shack. She was surrounded by Gypsy children as dirty, ragged, and hungry as she
once had been. She began to tap the table. One knock, two. Just enough to
announce the palo, the style. Then in flamencos code of rhythms, she
rapped out a symphony that held the history of her people during their long
exile from India. She told all the secrets her tribe kept from outsiders. All
the secrets they had translated into rhythms so bewilderingly beautiful that
they lured you in like the honeyed drops of nectar hidden in the throat of
pitcher plants. You got the nectar, thats true, but you could never find your
way back out again. You never wanted to find your way out again. All you
wanted was to burrow even deeper, to break the code, to learn one more secret.
Excerpted from The Flamenco Academy by
Sarah Bird Copyright © 2006 by Sarah Bird. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a
division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may
be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.