Flamenco: Beauty and Passion

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We just spent a week in Madrid for a Pastors’ Bootcamp. Although it sounds intimidating, it was actually a phenomenal time of training, learning, prayer, lots of eating and (a personal favourite) lovely Spanish red wine! I think Judah was delighted with the amount of food I consumed, as milk production at the mama-factory was at an all-time high.

The Spanish have quite different rhythms of life, as lunch is only eaten at 2pm, usually consists of four courses and lasts for two hours, and supper is only at about 9pm or later. We heard life outside our hotel windows well past midnight, and everything is dead until at least 10 or so in the morning. And I felt like I was on holiday, because there was no cooking, no cleaning, and no laundry! (although now I am still trying to clear the backlog)

The Spanish people are wonderful – warm, passionate, strong and gritty, yet sensitive. I got the feeling one would not like to get in a fight with a Spanish person, but if one did, it would be quite possible to kiss each other soundly on the cheek afterwards and end up at a Tapas bar somewhere drinking copious amounts of wine and slapping the table together.

Probably the highlight of the trip for me was a visit to see a Flamenco dance on our last night. It was a special treat organised for us by the church in Madrid. After a short walk through bustling streets, we were ushered into a dimly lit, large upper room of a restaurant. It seemed impossibly old with exquisite wood carvings and mosaics all around the walls and ceilings. There was a great sense of history and majesty, rather like walking into an old church, except here there was a busy hum of conversation and a crackle of something electric in the air.

Then there was a hush as a small group filed onto a high stage in the middle of the room. A guitarist, a singer and three dancers. We all fell quiet, sipping our drinks, as the guitarist began to play and the singer leaned into the microphone. He sang, a wonderful husky, haunting sound, the notes tumbling and falling over each other and mingling with the plaintive, sweet melody of the acoustic guitar, racing up and down the scales like water. Then a dancer appeared at the edge of the stage.

Poised like a lioness, she moved slowly and deliberately, her hands fluttering and fluid, and her face contorted with pain and deep emotion. Then with a flash of hands and a violent stamp of her feet the guitar broke into an agitated strumming, and the pace accelerated. The other dancers clapped and stamped their heavy shoes, as she flew and twirled and twisted and stamped. The power in her feet was incredible – their staccato on the floor sounded like thunder, and every time she twirled to crash them down, it felt like the air was vibrating with explosions. Faster and faster she went, the musicians sweating to keep up and the other dancers clapping and shouting their pleasure.

When she finished, with one final crash of her shoes to the wooden floor, her immaculate headdress was quivering with exertion, and her face was covered in a glowing sheen. The audience applauded and shouted rapturously. Then the next dancer got up, and the next. I was blown away by the strength and power these men and women showed. Tightly controlled and sensuous, with the hands fluttering and rippling around their bodies like birds trying to break free, it was as though something deep was working its way to the surface and releasing itself in the power of those crashes of the feet to the floor.

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Tanya, a missionary in Madrid, was sitting next to me, and she leaned across to show me some writing on her phone about the Flamenco. Apparently it was a peasant dance originating from the Andalusian mountains, a personal expression of poor people groups and oppressed ethnic minorities. It has a wide range of influences from all over the world.

It struck me, as I watched these impassioned dancers, living and breathing this wild Flamenco, that the deep emotion they were expressing was part of the dance’s beauty. The fact that centuries of history and human experience could be so caught up in a dance was mesmerising.

It spoke to me of how much beauty can be borne out of pain, and how, channelled in the right direction, even the most negative experience can result in great depth and richness of expression. Much like many of the African-American spiritual songs sung by the slaves on cotton farms in America, there was something about the Flamenco that spoke deeply to my soul.

I thought about how the pain of having children (not only literally, as in childbirth, but figuratively, as I sacrifice many of my pleasures daily) has wrought so much character and spiritual formation in me, and also how much joy and pleasure our children bring us day to day. It also reminded me to channel my frustrations, and to find a positive expression for the deep things that lurk beneath the (sometimes) superficiality of my busy life.

I love Spain, the people, its culture and its dance. I hope to go back there someday…. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll have the courage to buy some shoes and learn the Flamenco.

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Who Do You Think You Are?

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This week I was asked to write a guest post for a friend’s blog. Here’s a little taster:

[It’s a favourite game around our dinner table. It started with Simon teasing one of the kids that he couldn’t remember who he was. This sort of thing usually results in wild protestations and many mutinous moans and groans, and this occasion was no different.
“I’m Isaac,” proclaims Simon.
Isaac protests, “No! You’re Papa!”
“I’m Evie?”
“No!”
“I’m Judah?”
“No!!” (This was accompanied with a frustrated little fist-pump) “No, Papa! You’re Papa!”
“No, that’s Papa,” (Simon points at me).
“Arrrghhh! Pa-pa!”

Simon cracks up laughing. Suddenly the penny drops, and Isaac’s face breaks into a grin. He says, slowly, trying it out, “No, that’s not papa, that’s Isaac.” (Pointing at me.)
Simon asks, “Then who are you?”
Isaac thinks. “I’m…I’m…Mama!” (This seems a little too overwhelming) “No – no, I’m Evie.”
Evie screams, “Noooooo!!”
We all have a good laugh.

It’s amazing how intrigued the children are by this game of pretence and false identity. It messes with their heads in the most delightfully transparent way. We frequently play this at mealtimes, and now even Evie joins in. It’s a very important question, to a little person, “Who am I?” Or perhaps, just as importantly, “Who am I not?”….]

For the full article go to: Who Do You Think You Are? at the sisterhoodstickynotes.wordpress.com website.

We Shouldn’t But We Do

scha·den·freu·de. noun, often capitalized \ˈshä-dən-ˌfrȯi-də\. : a feeling of enjoyment that comes from seeing or hearing about the troubles of other people.

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I have a friend who is, I think, the perfect mom. She has a lovely house, not too tidy, very spacious and pleasantly arranged. There is always a smell of home cooking, and some creative project half-finished in a corner. Her kids are also lovely, with a range of personalities from shy to outgoing. They aren’t too precocious, neither are they too annoying. They are all pleasant and interesting, and when they have meltdowns they tend to be of the milder variety. (The Bardone/Hobson brand seems particularly tempestuous).

She keeps the most important things the most important. She doesn’t care about them wearing fancy shoes and clothing, for example (even though they are quite well-off) because she would far rather that they be climbing trees and playing in puddles. She also has a great sense of humour, and doesn’t seem to let even the most annoying and tiresome of situations make her tense or stressed. I wish I could be more like her.

Come to think of it, there are lots of moms I could compare myself to. This one is so good at remembering birthdays and being organised in terms of preparing and planning for the day ahead. (I tend to be the one careering round corners with things half-falling out of the buggy as we rush to get somewhere on time.) That one has a spotless house, a knife is cleaned up and tidied away almost as soon as it hits the surface of the kitchen counter (I needn’t tell you about the state of my kitchen). This one home-schools, gets to input into her kids’ lives every moment of every day; that one takes her kids to swimming lessons, ballet lessons and French lessons; this one is always taking them to museums and things; that one has the patience of a saint….There always seems to be someone who is doing something better than I am.

Such is often the case in the worry-laden and guilt-ridden life of a parent. I want so desperately to be the best mother humankind has ever produced, with children who are happy and healthy and perfect all the time. Sometimes I feel like I’m doing pretty well, like last week when we were walking in the park (see last week’s post). And then we have a rager of a day when Isaac and Evie are at each other’s throats, Judah is teething and can’t stop crying, I drop the compost bin all over the kitchen and completely lose my sense of humour, and I think to myself, “I am so glad school starts tomorrow!!” So much for not being one of those kinds of moms.

My own mother always says, “Children are great levellers.” Which I guess means that just when you think you have got it all sorted, your kids will do something to show you and everyone else that actually, you really haven’t.

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Come to think of it, nobody is as perfect as they seem: the one whose house is spotless always seems to be stressed and harried; that one who home-schools never gets enough time for herself; and the one who has the patience of a saint actually has kids that are pretty obnoxious little terrors who could do with a good barking at every once in a while.  We are all in the same boat, all trying our best to be our best. So we really shouldn’t compare ourselves.

All the same, last week I couldn’t help myself. We were sitting on a park bench having lunch and enjoying the sun; Isaac and Evie eating contentedly and Judah watching everything in his chilled, happy way. Then we heard shrieking and angry shouts from across the street. Heading towards us was a family, obviously on their way to a picnic themselves. The smallest child was screaming and crying. They came closer, and we realised it was a girl from Isaac’s class. She was striding ahead, casting off things in a fury as she went. First the scooter, then the coat, stamping her feet and roaring magnificently.

Behind her marched her sisters and mother (a very beautiful, slim woman who is always terribly organised and looks amazing), who was snatching everything up and shouting, “You’re going straight to your room when we get home!” As they passed us she smiled sheepishly and they hurried on, the shouts getting fainter.

We were silent for a while, then Isaac casually remarked, “She was being very naughty, wasn’t she, Mama?” “Yeah,” Evie chimed in sagely, shaking her head, “Naughty.” We carried on eating; somehow the afternoon seemed even better and sunnier than before. I bit into my sandwich, enjoying a satisfying moment. The Germans have it right, I thought. Besides, tomorrow it will probably be me.

Keeping the Love Tank Full

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“I love you, Mama. You are my best friend.” It’s a sign that all is well with Isaac’s soul. We are walking home after a lovely sunny day out and about, and his hand slips into my pocket (both mine are engaged with pushing the pram.) I agree with his sentiment; life feels good. It’s a crisp autumn day, with not a breath of wind, and the sun feels warm and toasty on our faces. Evie is placated and dozy after being allowed to sit in the pram, and Judah is asleep.

I treasure these moments during the half-term holiday, when I have all three of my children with me and we have the leisure to do as we please. No school runs, no deadlines to meet, no uniforms to clean or book bags to think about.

Too often I bump into people on the street or at the children’s centre, and they roll their eyes saying, “How’s the half-term going?” as if to say, “How’s your root canal?” or “How’s your involuntary week of slave labour?” I always smile and say, “We’re having great fun!” or “I love half-term!” And they respond, “Oh, right…” (awkward pause)… “Good for you!” I guess I’m lucky I don’t have to worry about the pressures of an office job, or how having my kids at home all day for a week will inconvenience my busy schedule.

That phrase, “I love you Mama, you are my best friend,” is one which presents itself at particular times in Isaac’s repertoire of amusing/heart-warming utterances. Usually after I have made him “egg and bread with mustard and ‘mato sauce”, or pesto pasta, garlic bread or hamburgers. Or letting him watch a couple of episodes of his favourite TV show, The Octonauts. Or even just giving him a good back scratch. It doesn’t take much to fill his little love tank.

I do think kids should come with a built-in fuel gauge that you could check – “Hmmm, meltdown occurring, let’s see – ah, yes, love tank light is on, it needs filling.” If the love tank is full, everything is happy, even a trip to the doctor to get routine immunisations.

As we walk across Duke’s Meadows, a lovely open space that allows the wind to blow more wildly and strongly than in our cosy little cul-de-sac, our eyes sting slightly from the breeze and our faces are feeling fresh. Isaac might be feeling sore, but his heart is happy.

I think about all the simple things that we enjoy together, and the moments that bring life and sunshine into my life in the middle of all the busyness and stress. Autumn leaves; trips to the park to feed the ducks; beautiful music (see previous post Rediscovering Tchaikovsky); a phone call from across the seas; a glass of wine cuddled up on the couch watching a movie with Simon; coffee with a friend.

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Isaac’s hand in my pocket is a good reminder to me to keep my own love-tank full.