Heartbreak and Healing

Today I learned something about flamenco and its power to heal. One of my favourite places to sit and watch the world go by, or read the Sunday newspapers is Plaza Plateros and in particular the café Casa Gabriela in the centre of Jerez. Now that they know that I am a pupil and friend of Luis Vargas I am not just an anonymous Inglesa but known as a resident. I always think of the words of the Guajiras

“Me gusta por la mañana despues de café mio

(In the morning I like to just after my coffee)

and then

Que bonita es Jerez por las mañana temprano,
D’el barrio Santiago a la plazuela San Miguel”

These words took on even more poignancy today since they were sung by an emigré from Jerez in Havana, Cuba. That is exactly how I feel now concerning Great Britain. As I was reading the newspapers – Charlie Hebdo because it makes me laugh and helps me keep up with my French, the Diario de Jerez, so I know what’s happening in Jerez and Spain, and this morning The Sunday Times to see what was being said about events in the UK.

As I read on I started to shake and cry. I felt very similar to how I felt after my husband died suddenly in 2008. I feel terrible grief and loss. The country that I left in October is no more. Instead there is one that is divided in a way that I never felt possible. It feels from here like civil war has broken out, and that the country is divided in a way that is dangerous and destabilising. My father was in the army and an expert in communications, codes and ciphers and propoganda, having beamed in radio propoganda and messages to the resistance during the Second World War. I remember him describing to me the strategy should there be a military takeover. Oh yes in the 70’s there were contingency plans. A similar situation springs to mind.
I now feel like an exile. I am travelling back to the UK on Thursday so I will test out how I feel then and I will be with my family for a lot of that time. The visit now feels valedictory in some way. I go back with a broken and heavy heart wondering what is going to happen next. Certain things happened yesterday making it even more unlikely that I go back to the UK to live again, in that I bumped into a very old (not in age, but in when we knew each other) who is in Jerez and I hadn’t been in contact with (why I wonder?) Also an awakening of going back to my old work when I was truly an international consultant just like my father and sister. So I feel now like a real digital nomad.  I spend my time in communications with people from the USA, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates and of course Spain as well as France, Scandinavia and through my contacts here Japan. I feel less and less attached to my old life in Bristol which is beginning to feel distant and parochial. I knew this before I left which is partly what prompted me to get away.

So how does this connect with flamenco? Well on one level the one thing that has kept me going the last two days was the preparation and rehearsals for probably my biggest test in flamenco dance yet – the show with María del Mar Moreno’s Jerez Puro Arte school. We have worked our socks off this week and I have learned how to be in a truly professional level flamenco show. Even the tiny tots looked professional and indeed in the second half – our half with the big boys and girls – she announced that this was  professional level flamenco and wow was it. At the beginning of the week I would never have included myself in that category, but after the show last night I reckon I can. All this work really helped to take my mind off how I felt about the referendum and the result. All I could focus on was practising my steps, practising the stage make up and being mentally prepared. It worked. Our performance of a Fandangos and Verdiales was amazing and I think we really pulled something out of the bag (to give this an idiomatic phrase.) Yes we triumphed and looked fantastic and danced beautifully.

The other connection with flamenco is that I keep on finding now that the words of the songs that I have learned keep on popping into my head to match the emotion that I am feeling. Today the words as I walked home sobbing my eyes out were

“pobrecito de mi mare (madre) llorando a……..”

(my poor mother crying….)
I realise just how much an expression of these feelings flamenco is. It is and always has been a way for an exiled/outcast people to express hidden or otherwise unexpressed emotions in a way that is unbelievably beautiful. These words and expressions have become part of my soul and in no way replace those of my beloved English folk tradition, but they seem closer to how I feel now. I am becoming part of a diaspora, a privileged dispossesed population of Brits who no longer feel part of their motherland just like the Jerezano in Havana.  But who nevertheless long for that lost home. I do hope the people in my new home are more welcoming of strangers bringing economic benefits than the people of 52% of Great Britain.

Besides that I look and feel very different to that person who left the UK last October. People hardly recognise me and I don’t recognise myself. In fact one of the events that I will be at next week just outside Bath, is the 10th anniversary of a network of business entrepreneurs run by a good friend and mentor of mine, Mike Wilsher. Called the Executive Foundation, I studied its forerunner for my MBA dissertation, developing a model of entrepreneur and Small Business executive learning that led to the formation of the Executive Foundation. I looked at the photograph of me in the list of attendees and do you know what I hardly recognised myself. I feel in the last 8 years since my husband died I have emerged as a butterfly. Not that I would wish the tragedy that befell me then on anyone. However it is the proof that out of tragedy can emerge new and transformed life just as the metaphor of the butterfly. Not only in every way in my life but in particular my understanding and practise of flamenco which in no way resembles anything I understood when I started to get serious about flamenco just after Rob died. I have always felt that he pointed me on the path and every now and again I get nudges that feel as though he is encouraging me on the path. To where I don’t know, but for sure it’s not back to England.

Let us hope that the same happens to the UK after what I feel is the tragedy of exiting the EU.

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