Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Merry Christmas!

To all my blogging friends and readers,
Season's Greetings to you all!
Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


Thursday, 20 December 2012

Should The World Not End...

Right now I am in Australia but I still can't resist peeking at the news over in the UK in the evenings and couldn't help noticing that the online newspapers have a new doomsday headline.  As if impending financial meltdown or Eurozone breakup was not enough, we now have the end of the Mayan calendar to look forward to and with it, the end of the world.

Another day, another apocalypse theory.  In fact it was only last year when I danced my way through the "Rapture" and lived to tell the tale.  Every time I hear one of these whacky end of world theories my thoughts turn to the particular region in the South of France Mr V and I visit regularly.  For some reason not even the beleaguered locals could fathom, the Langue D'Oc managed to gain a reputation as being a hot spot for UFO sitings, and has been the subject of several hair brained theories about it being a place where aliens would descend during the apocalypse to rescue the chosen few.  I thought Mr V was kidding when he first told me about this until I saw the support centre for alien abductees in the local village with my own eyes.

Spare a thought for the tiny village of Bugarach in this region.  It sits at the foot of a peculiarly shaped rock formation (the Pic de Bugarach) believed by some to be hiding a large spaceship to whisk those who have gathered there to safety from the end of the world.  So concerned are the village authorities about the impending hoards of loonies arriving on their doorstep seeking salvation that they are begging people NOT to come, and are in fact closing off entry to visitors on the 21st December to both the village and the mountain!

Don't know about you, but personally, the thought of being carted off by aliens with a group of UFO enthusiasts fills me with very little Christmas cheer.  Think I'd rather stay put and place my bets on Santa Claus coming down the chimney - the odds look better frankly.  However, should you find yourself at Bugarach twiddling your thumbs because a) the town authorities have turned you away, b) the world still has not ended, then let me recommend a much nicer thing to do with your time in the area.

From the nearby town of Alet les Bains, there is a beautiful walk you can do up into the foothills of the Pyranees.  It is a long and quiet stroll up winding grassy footpaths where it is rare to encounter either another person or even animals.  There are plenty of bees, butterflies and grasshoppers to keep you company.  Sometimes you can see the signs of sheep as tufts of their wool remain caught in the fences.

At the top there is a small, ancient church.  When you arrive you will find the door locked but in the keyhole someone will have left a large rusty iron key.  An open invitation from an unknown, unseen caretaker to enter.

It seems that legend abounds even beyond France about the good energy of this church.  Even our English hostess at our bed and breakfast where we were staying during the summer sang its praises.  Once inside there is a small rudimentary alter in a tiny stone building with a sloping roof.  On one side of the alter (not seen here) hangs a giant knitted rosary.

There is also an ancient standing stone in the church which the legends also attach some mystical powers to.  A small flowering plant had taken seed in a cavity at the top giving the stone an amusing head dress of tiny sprigs festooned with tiny starry white flowers.

I don't know about good vibes but there was a pleasant and welcoming informality about the place.

Whenever I visit medieval buildings I love gargoyle spotting and there are some great ones still in tact on the corners of the roof outside.  I liked this cow...

...so much so that I had to get him from another angle.

And this fellow with flowing whiskers...

...and his clean shaven counterpart on the other corner.  We weren't sure if this was a depiction of a man or a woman.

And when you come to go, leave everything as you found it, close the door behind you and turn the key.  Although it is only a small church, the walk up is pleasant and the sense of history and village life one gets from doing the journey and entering the church makes it well worth a visit.

I think if you were going to pass the time away before the end of the world it might as well be in a lovely peaceful and picturesque spot with positive vibes like this, rather than elbowing your way though the queue to join the mother ship.  And let's face it, if you can't save your own life you might as well do something good for your soul before it all comes to an end.

See you on the other side of the Mayan apocalypse!

Monday, 10 December 2012

The Ghost of Christmas Past

Veshoevius: Ah E-bay! Thou dost deliver!  What better to break the shopping ban than with a vintage opera cape fashioned from a antique piano shawl.
Vintage Cape: Greetings!
Veshoevius: Eeek! It speaks!
Vintage Cape: I am the Ghost of Christmas Past.
Veshoevius: What? No you're not! You're a vintage cape!
Vintage Cape: A mere ruse, Veshoevius, a mere ruse! I've been sent to warn you that Christmas is approaching and you've been shopping again haven't you?
Veshoevius: Who me?
Vintage Cape: I thought you were on a shopping ban.
Veshoevius: Err yes well, that kind of came to an abrupt end when I spied you on E-Bay.
Vintage Cape:  I thought as much but that's not all is it? You've been spending the Christmas present budget on shoes haven't you?  Don't think I haven't seen the boxes arriving and being added to the stash.  And Nicholas Kirkwood no less.
Veshoevius: But it was a sample sale! They're only once a year!

Vintage Cape: Sample, schmample - you are supposed to be buying Christmas presents!
Veshoevius: Oh yes, yes alright I'm supposed to be buying Christmas presents! But that's half the problem! Then you have to go shopping and you spend all this time seeing all these lovely things that you actually end up buying for yourself...
Vintage Cape: Christmas is about giving to others...
Veshoevius: Are you sure you're not just my guilty conscience speaking? You sound exactly like it.
Vintage Cape: You don't listen to your guilty conscience anymore so the powers that be have sent me.  Honestly, where is your sense of self control?
Veshoevius: Oh come now, do you really expect me to exert self control when I can get three pairs of Nicholas Kirkwood shoes for the price of one?
Vintage Cape: You have enough shoes!
Veshoevius: Damn it speaks sense...
Vintage Cape: And don't think I missed the discounted Lucy Choi shoe boots you snuck in either...
Veshoevius: Double damn! Okay Ghost of Christmas Past, I admit the shoes were beyond indulgent but you couldn't expect me to pass up on a one of a kind vintage cape of such exquisite beauty as this.  I mean all that heavy embroidered silk, the colour like buttery cream, the shimmering silk fringe, the fine cotton lace trimming the generous shawl collar, the single button closure so intricately carved from Mother-of-Pearl and the detail of the large decorative tassel.

Vintage Cape: Why stop! You're making me blush!
Veshoevius: You totally seduced me.  Really I am just a sucker for beautiful things, be they shawls or shoes.  There was no way I could leave you on the E-bay shop floor.  You deserve to be taken out and shown off to the world.  You were crying out to be taken to the ballet, to the opera where other audience members can marvel at the sight of you.
Vintage Cape: The opera? Really? Why...I haven't been to the opera in oh...about two centuries.
Veshoevius: Then to the opera you shall go on my shoulders.  Why, I'd need to get a box at the Royal Opera House if I was wearing you!
Vintage Cape:  A box? At the Royal Opera House? Do you mean that?
Veshoevius: I hear La Bohème is on...
Vintage Cape: Aahhh La Bohème - Puccini!  One of my all time favourites....
Veshoevius: Passion, tragedy and romance in 1830's Paris...it would be divine from a box view with you draped across my shoulders non?
Vintage Cape: Is that a promise?
Veshoevius: I swear on my Nicholas Kirkwood shoes.
Vintage Cape: You're on! Veshoevius, all is forgiven! To the opera with us!

Anyone else's conscience tickling them in the run up to Christmas?

Not very visible this week as I'm travelling but still linking up to Visible Monday over at Not Yet Dead Style.

Vintage Silk Opera Cape: E-Bay

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Tulle, Teacups and Thanks

Some of you who follow the same blogs as I do may have already guessed what this particular get-up is all about.  I am pretty late for the "tulle and teacup on a step" portraiture party that was started by this amazing lady, subsequently turned into a blogger challenge by the wonderful Sarah, and taken up with gusto by a few of my favourite fellow tutu-loving bloggers (see Helga, Desiree and Butane Anvil for some tulle-layered inspiration par excellence).

Running late seems to be a recurring theme for me these days.  I'm getting up too late in the mornings, I'm late with Christmas shopping, I'm late with blog posts and I'm very late in extending a big heartfelt thank you to every one of you who took the time to read and comment on my personal tale of a storm.  I was overwhelmed with the heartfelt and emotional reactions to the story, and to those of you who warmly encouraged me to turn it into a piece of fiction I will say that yes, this has been an idea for some time and your encouragement has been more invaluable than you will ever know.

I kept hand written diaries when I lived in Spain documenting my flamenco related experiences and sometimes when I return to read them it seems, from the distance of the much quieter life I live now, like I'm reading stories about somebody else.  I have to remind myself that no, that really was me.  I'm suddenly getting a craving to put pen to paper again, to revel in old fashioned handwriting rather than just typing on a keyboard, to see my scrawling script drying in ink on a crisp white page and to write about things other than just clothes or fashion (though I still love doing that).

But for the moment my mind is on clothes.  One reason I'm so late for the tulle and tea party is that all my tulle skirts had been in storage and I only recently managed to get this one out.  I was an avid ballerina for many years and so I have a soft spot for a tutu and satin ballet flats.  I had another dance related "was that really me?" moment not so long ago.  In these photos I'm seated on the step of our garden shed, part of which I had turned into a dance studio to rehearse in when we moved here.  I don't rehearse there much anymore as a major and irreparable leak in the roof has rendered it unusable.  In winter it has become inhospitably cold and damp and we have recently been moving out our personal belongings to a dry storeroom as mould has been attacking things.


I'd forgotten that I'd stored every pair of ballet shoes I'd ever owned in a bag in there and when sorting things out I was saddened to find them sodden and covered in a furry layer of nasty green mould.  My beautiful pink satin pointe shoes, my beloved canvas split soles and my pink leather ballet flats so battered and bruised from overuse, all ruined.  I was reminded of the excitement of buying a new pair, the simple joy of admiring the beauty of the pale pink satin or taking in the scent of new leather, the sewing on of ribbons and pink elastic straps, the ritual of breaking in a pointe shoe, the pride of wearing them for the first time, and all those hours of practice and pain in dance studios as a ballet student.  Throwing that bag away was like bearing witness to the death of a previous life, sad yet also cathartic in a way.

I am such a dreadful hoarder of things of sentimental value, so perhaps this was the universe saying it's time to let some things go now and move on.  It might also be because it is that time of the year again but I am already setting myself some resolutions for the near future.  I don't want to pin them to New Year exactly as I think you should be free to resolve to do something at any time of the year, but I do think putting one's goals down in writing is always helpful to visualise a path to achieving them.

So here's my shortlist:
1. Mr V and I need a new place to live.  We've outgrown this flat, we need more room, I need a grown up wardrobe rather than the current arrangement of crammed and bowing rails on a wall that frustrate me daily, and I need a place at home where I can rehearse properly.
2. I need to have the mother of all wardrobe clear outs.  I need a proper, honest and brutal look at what I do not wear anymore and let it go.
3. I want to get back into writing something, anything, more regularly. It may not necessarily be here on this blog but I'll let a post count.
4. Mr V and I would like to do a digital photography course together.  We both love photography and I'm sure we are not getting nearly as much out of the camera we have as we could with a bit more know how.
5. Although we travel alot, for the last few years it has tended to be to the same destinations.  We'd like to travel to some new places together, especially ones where we can indulge in some travel photography.  We've got the ball rolling with a tropical stop off on the way to Australia for Christmas.  We leave next week!

P.S. It feels like ages since I did but better late than never - I'm linking up to Patti's Visible Monday over at Not Yet Dead Style.

Victorian embroidered net tulle blouse: Vintage; Black wool turtleneck: Cos; Embroidered tulle skirt: Wheels and Doll Baby; Pony skin ballet flats: Dune; Pewter flower earrings: Vintage inherited from my grandmother; Teacup: Anthropologie

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

La Tormenta - The Tale of A Storm

Since I last wrote a proper post, a great storm has passed, bringing tragedy and chaos to a great city. By way of reflection I wanted to share a personal tale of a storm and an extraordinary woman from that very same city with whom my life crossed paths with briefly.

Many years ago, when I went out to live in small town in Andalusia to study flamenco, I came to live in the house of an older flamenco dancer who went by the stage name of La Tormenta - The Storm.  She had been living in Spain for decades but was actually a native of New York.

For many years beforehand, I had been visiting this same town and whenever I was there I would go with friends to a small tablao, tucked away in the corner of a grand plaza lined with tall, majestic palm trees. On entering there was a raised stage immediately on your right facing a restaurant and a bar ran along the left.  There would often be a row of formidable looking gypsy women seated on wooden chairs along the back of the restaurant in polka dot dresses, with dark arched brows and long black hair, their dramatic black eyes made all the more so lined in thick black kohl. They would fan themselves languidly with intricately painted wooden fans, shouting their approval at moments of intensity during the performances of those on stage, many of whom were gypsies themselves and likely to be family members.

The usual quadro would be the big heavy gypsy guitarist who owned the bar, a gypsy singer, and two young wiry dancers with barely enough flesh on them to fuel the stamina required to get through their energetic routines.  Then there was La Tormenta, a much older dancer, regal in stance with elegant sinuous arms.  She would be more composed in her delivery on stage than her younger counterparts, majestic and calm almost, until suddenly, she would explode, bringing the house down with her.  Her speciality, it was said, was the Siguirias, a dark and stormy dance whose mood is steeped in tragedy and in which the dancer revels in the expression of anger and deep sorrow.  After seeing her dance once, I remember hearing an Irish man at the table turn around and say to his companions, "This woman is fifty!  Can you imagine being this sexy at fifty?"  It made me wonder to myself - what sort of woman will I be when I am fifty?

Years later, I had arrived in the middle of a scorching summer looking for a place to live, my mission above all being to learn how to dance the Siguirias.  It had an incessant, obsessive rhythm that over the years had got under my skin.  I had an Italian girlfriend, Manuela, who at the time was also living in the town taking private classes with La Tormenta.  She informed me that La Tormenta had flats to rent.  So I accompanied Manuela to her private class to see about renting a flat.  We arrived at an old dusty street lined with white washed houses.  La Tormenta's house was a typical old Andalusian casa de vecinos with several smaller cottages arranged around a tiled patio.  It was distinguishable by a heavy dark wooden door with a gilt doorknocker in the shape of a woman's slender hand with long delicate fingers.

A striking looking woman with a mass of tight dark curls, heavy lidded eyes and a strong nose emerged to greet us.  In the flesh she was much more petite and much softer looking than she appeared on stage.  Her skin was a deep olive, which, despite being in her mid fifties remained mostly unlined except for smile lines around the corner of her eyes and lips.  Although she had a generous smile something about her emitted an air of the tragic, as if she was peering out at the world through a cloud of deep sadness.  She spoke perfect English with a New York accent whose strength had long been beaten into submission by years of living abroad.

There was a large dance studio in her house where she gave her private lessons and hanging on the walls were several large framed photos of her dancing throughout her life.  There was one in which she was young and fresh faced at age nineteen, looking very much like a Spanish gypsy in her flamenco costume.  In another she was swinging a large, heavily embroidered shawl about her shoulders, the thick silk fringing flying out around her, a bird with giant wings about to take flight.  In others she was photographed dancing, her strong facial features contorted with passion.  In these you could see a fierce beauty which had no doubt conquered the hearts of the two men in her life, both of whom were not just local flamenco legends but globally renowned artists.  The first, a famous gypsy flamenco singer she married and bore two kids, and the second later in life, a great gypsy guitarist.  However, when we met it seemed she was alone.

I stayed to watch Manuela's private class.  I had already made up my mind who I was going to study with and I had no plans to study with La Tormenta.  She danced an older style of flamenco and I had arrived hungry for the new and contemporary.  The town was small and still in those days, relatively impoverished.  Teachers guarded their students fiercely and petty jealousies erupted if it was discovered that you were studying with someone else and not them.  I came to learn that such unfaithfulness was bound to colour a relationship from the outset.  The question we all faced sooner or later as students on meeting a new teacher was "and who are you studying with?" to be met sniffily if it wasn't with someone they approved of.  I suddenly felt awkward that I had coming to ask about renting a flat from her when I wasn't actually studying with her.

However she was very charming and took to me immediately.  Though we would not have passed for sisters, there were enough physical similarities between us that people might have believed that we were more distantly related.  Perhaps she recognised a younger self reflected back in me, but I felt as if she wanted to take me under her wing.  "How pretty you are!" she beamed, "Why you look just like a gypsy! You'd better not go to the tablao," she teased, "if my boss sees you he'll immediately ask you if you have a dress and want to see if you can dance."  She seemed very interested that I was learning to dance Siguirias, which was her favourite palos.  I felt that perhaps she was itching to say that she would rather I took classes with her.

She showed me the flat she had for rent, a tiny bedsit tucked away in a corner of the patio with nothing but a bedroom, shower unit and kitchen with a window opening out to the street that let any passing noise drift in.  But as she also said I could rent her studio cheaply to rehearse when she wasn't using it for classes, the thought of a place nearby to practise after classes won me over.

So it was that I took a flat from La Tormenta.  In the other flats were other people also studying flamenco, a Swiss lady studying guitar, a French guitarist, a flamenco dancer from Granada who lived half the year in Switzerland.  In the late afternoon and late evenings of summer, we would all eat in the patio.  Often friends would come around, guitars would come out and we would talk and listen to flamenco guitars playing late into the night.  Sometimes La Tormenta would join us after finishing teaching a class or if we were still out late at night, when she arrived back from her session at the tablao at night.  She continued to dance regularly at the tablao and would emerge in the early evening with her make-up immaculately applied, her thick curly hair tied back tightly off her face.  Often wearing a wide gypsy style skirt, she would mount her battered old bicycle and cycle to work, her skirt flapping behind her, to dance up a storm at the tablao with her Siguirias.

When you are young and embarking on your own adventure you want to do so on your own terms.  Often the last thing you are open to hearing is the received wisdom of those who have gone before you.  My friends and I were ravenous to learn from the bright young stars giving courses and classes, we wanted the new, the complicated, the technically challenging, the cutting edge.  The traditional bored us.  We thought we knew better.

La Tormenta soon became a frustration for us.  We would often rehearse together in her studio and congregate in the patio afterwards to relax and take some refreshments, only to be joined by her, whereupon she would ask us about our classes and courses.  She would become critical of what we were doing, of our approach to learning this art form. We began to feel the undercurrent of what she was saying all the time was that we should really be taking classes with her in order to understand flamenco better and not running around doing all the things we currently were.

Why are you studying with this teacher?  She would ask us.  They were not gypsy, you are wasting your money.  What does he or she really understand about flamenco?  Bewildered we would convene later and whisper amongst ourselves.  Who does she think she is?  Why does she say that?  She is not even a gypsy herself!  She is a woman from New York!

Other times we would come back from flamenco shows and she would ask us who was dancing.  If it was a young local she knew then she would have taught them at some point.  "Oh yes, I've taught them all," she told us.  "When they came to me they were full of all this movement and all this fast footwork, but is was I who taught them to stand still".  She seemed to be very proud of this.  My friends and I, however, were unimpressed.  We wanted to be dazzled with footwork and the faster and more furious it was the better.

La Tormenta's dance studio was by the kitchen in her house and often when I would be rehearsing she would be preparing a meal.  I would see the curtains twitch giving away that she had been there watching.  It made me feel uncomfortable, self-conscious and then angry.  Rehearsing can be such a private thing, it is so often a place where one struggles, fails and tries to overcome ones limitations.  Before you accomplish something you may die many little deaths along the way.  I felt suddenly like the teenage daughter who finds out that her mother has been reading her secret stories of hope and heartbreak in her diary.

Deciding there was safety in numbers I would get my friend Sarah and a guitarist to come around to rehearse the Siguirias we had learnt together in a course.  We would get into deep discussion as to how we should be counting the timing.  After postulating one version I had been given by another teacher I was studying with we heard an angry voice interject from the kitchen, shouting in stern Spanish, "No! That is not how you count Siguirias, you count it like this..." and she beat the rhythm out while counting.  We continued our rehearsal in shamefaced silence knowing she was eavesdropping on every word.

She would surprise me sometimes by suddenly coming by and asking if I would like to accompany her on an outing somewhere.  I was always too busy running from one class to the next to be able to accept.  After one rehearsal La Tormenta had asked my friend Sarah if she was Jewish as she was looking for someone to accompany her to the synagogue in Sevilla.  I began to get the impression that despite the large number of people coming and going from her house as tenants and students, that she was actually incredibly lonely.

One day rehearsing alone I heard her on the phone to one of her sons by the gypsy flamenco singer in a neighbouring room.  A reputed drug addict like his father before him, he was forever ringing her up and asking her for money and refused to let her see her grandchild unless she conceded.  A heated argument ensued ending with her sobbing and screaming hysterically at him.  No amount of stamping I could muster in the studio could drown out the sounds of her sorrow.  I felt awkward and unsure of what to do, as if I had heard a private moment I should not have and yet also as if she had wanted me to hear it.

I quickly began to feel suffocated.  I wanted to spread my own wings and discover this world on my own terms without someone constantly trying to persuade me to look at it through a particular lens.  Her interest in what I was doing and having to comment on it all the time started to chip away at my confidence.  I began to dread rehearsing in her studio whilst she was there.  I even dodged her offers to take me to the tablao to introduce me to the gypsy guitarist to see if he would let me dance there.  Something of her terrified me - the tragedy, the intensity, the suffering, the loneliness.  A fear was creeping into my consciousness, a fear that if I unlocked the secrets of dancing Siguirias that I would somehow be opening Pandora's box and descend into a similar hell.  Nothing chokes creativity more than fear and it was if she was putting her slender hands around my throat and slowly strangling me. 

With the summer coming to an end many of my friends had now left to return home.  Sarah had returned to London and Manuela to Italy, leaving me without friends to rehearse with.  A loneliness and melancholy crept into my heart.  "I am turning into her," I thought one day, and I made the decision then and there to leave the bedsit at the end of the summer, take a short break back to London and on my return to Spain find a new place to live.  I needed air.  I needed distance.

When I finally left, La Tormenta told me she hoped that I would finally learn to dance the Siguirias.  She might as well have slapped me in the face.  Knowing how she had been spying on my rehearsals, I felt she was implying that she thought I had no idea what I was doing and that I had missed out on a chance to learn it properly with her.

In my week back in London, I caught up with Sarah in a pub over a drink.  "Look!" She pulled something from her bag with a cheeky grin and waved at it me laughing.  It was a flier with that same picture of La Tormenta that hung in her dance studio, swirling a large shawl around herself, the fringes splaying out in a wide halo of silk threads.  We snickered together over our drinks at the memory of our trying conversations with her.  Why would we ever want to pay her to teach us to stand still?  We wanted to dance!

That night, I got a phone call from a guitarist friend.  He told me that La Tormenta had died.  She had been killed travelling up to Sevilla to go to the synagogue in a hit and run accident.  I was stunned.  We had parted ways only days before.  The image of her, a dark bird with the great fringed wings of her silk shawl sprang instantly into my head.  I suddenly felt deeply ashamed for my earlier conversation with Sarah and called her immediately to tell her the news.  Sarah, although also shocked, was more philosophical "you know, there are some people whose energy attracts tragedy.  She always felt to me like one of those people."

When I got back to Spain I searched for news of what happened.  There was nothing but a small obituary in the local town newspaper explaining the circumstances of her death and a cursory reference to the fact she had danced in the tablao regularly.  I felt saddened for her, that the town she so loved and where she lived for so long, the birthplace of the art form she dedicated her life to, showed her so little affection or sense of loss in return.

Autumn descended on the town, and brought with it fierce thunderstorms that battered the white washed buildings and regularly flooded the cobbled streets until water ran down them like rivers.  Although I had moved to a new flat it seemed I couldn't quite escape La Tormenta who persisted in haunting me in my sleep.  I would dream of her appearing on the balcony outside my bedroom,  crying out to me and beating her slender hands violently against the long glass doors, her wild dark hair flying in the wind, her face wet with bitter tears.  And I would wake with a start to the sound of high howling winds rattling the doors and heavy rain thrashing against the glass.

Later that Autumn I met a gypsy.  Frustrated with what I felt was a lack of progress in my understanding of flamenco and in my dancing I allowed my flamenco dancing flat mate to introduce me to her gypsy teacher.  So many classes, so many new steps learnt and yet I felt something was still missing.  I had sat listening to MP3 recordings of my flat mate's classes, fascinated by the sounds emanating from them, the energy being emitted.  It sounded like five people were in the room making noise, clapping, shouting, footwork, and yet all that sound was from this one woman teaching.  Already hungry for the input of a new teacher, I decided I wanted to study with her too.

I accompanied my flat mate to her class where I met the Gypsy, a small solid woman with bright eyes and boundless energy.  She was seated in a wooden chair dressed in a cross over blouse and wrap tie skirt trimmed with cascades of frills, her long dark hair was tied up and piled high up on her head, almost like a beehive.  Seated beside the Gypsy, was her aunt, an identical but older version of her, wearing her hair in the same style and dressed in a prim pencil skirt and cardigan.  The dance studio felt much like the tablao where La Tormenta used to perform.  A battered raised wooden floor on one side faced an open area where chairs and benches were arranged and on which were seated numerous gypsy relatives, her aunt, her grandfather and a motley collection of cousins.  On finding out that I was here to enquire about taking classes with her she subjected me to a trial by fire.  Narrowing her eyes, she said, almost mischievously - let me see how you dance first.

Luckily I had been forewarned of this audition by my flat mate and I had come prepared with a short dance, a bulerias, so when the guitarist started up I was able to overcome my nerves and launch straight into it, dancing it without any mistakes.  On finishing the Gypsy turned from watching me with a look of genuine surprise to her aunt.  "Tienes...algo." she said.  She has...something.  I hoped desperately that the "algo" was something good.  The aunt nodded and smiled approvingly.  The gypsy relations seated on the benches and chairs watching had all broken into wide grins and were also nodding.

Relieved, I felt that I had at least passed this first test.  Well done, I was told.  You danced with a lot of rhythm and good technique.  But, she chided, flamenco is not for butterflies and right now she thought there was too much of the butterfly in the way I danced.  I must have looked crestfallen because she poked me playfully to indicate there was hope for me yet.  Don't you worry - "Soy gitana!" she declared proudly - I'm a gypsy, and if you study with me you will learn to dance like a gypsy.

So it was I came to study with a real gypsy.  The autumn storms receded and with them so too did my nightmares of La Tormenta.  In the following months I would eventually study Siguirias with the Gypsy.  She would sing to me while I danced and suddenly it felt like pieces of a great puzzle were finally coming together.  She would show me where in the song I had to stop and just listen, to respect what the singing was trying to tell me, she taught me how to stand still and yet still say something without seeming to do anything at all.  She showed me how doing less sometimes had more power than trying to do too much.  She taught me how to use quiet and to build a crescendo from the silence.  Indirectly she showed me that an understanding of the traditional was essential to put the contemporary into context.  I practised and practised and practised the Siguirias like a maniac, a woman possessed, until one day the Gypsy dropped to her knees on the tablao after I'd finished dancing it in class, her hands clasped tightly together as if in fervent prayer.  "Gracias a Dios!" she shouted almost in disbelief, you've finally got it.

Sometime later I thought back to the things La Tormenta had said to us over that summer, of the value of learning flamenco from gypsies, of the value of learning to stand still.  She had been right of course and I had been too blindsided by other things at the time to appreciate it.

A year later on a hot summer's evening out in the town I bumped into an American woman who had been both her friend and student and had also been staying at La Tormenta's house that turbulent summer before.  We started up a conversation about her untimely death and she recounted many things about La Tormenta's life I had not known.  That her first husband, the gypsy singer, regularly beat her and it was only until she took refuge in a shelter for battered women that she finally had the courage to leave him. That she even had to flee back to the States for a time to get some distance from him.  She told me of the drug addicted son that was the cause of so much of his mother's sorrow and pain.

But, sighed, her old student, she lived life the way she wanted to, on her terms and without any regrets.  By having the courage to allow herself to be consumed by her passion she no doubt reaped rich rewards as an artist, although in doing so, she also suffered the consequences in her personal life.  I realised what an incredibly strong woman she had been to have dealt with all of that.

Whenever there is a great storm now I remember La Tormenta and a summer of starting an adventure that she subtly influenced the direction of, even if I did not realise it at the time.  Years later I was to find out that La Tormenta was of Sephardi-gypsy descent.  Strangely enough, I had by then discovered that surnames in my family tree may well be old Sephardic Jewish surnames adopted by Portuguese and Spanish Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity or face expulsion during the Middle Ages.  Perhaps she and I had more in common than I had realised.

A storm is neither good nor evil but energy pure and simple and even the wildest of storms has a calm eye at its core from which all its energy radiates.  As flamenco is a metaphor for life so too is a storm.  Life is being in the path of a storm, where you never know when the calm might end and what things will then be thrown at you, or how they will change the course your life.

La Tormenta, I hope you have found peace.  Although I was never your student thank you for trying to share your knowledge with me.  At the time I didn't understand your gypsy heart, it took years of absorbing the wisdom of another gypsy to finally do so.  With the passing of the years I now understand what it was that you had tried to tell me all that time ago.  That there needs to be time to stand still amidst the fury of the storm.  That we must seek stillness and quiet to make sense of the cacophony of life, because sometimes, it takes more courage to stand still and face the world than by continuously moving in reaction to it.  And, at last, I finally understand how to dance Siguirias.

To all those in New York who have lost loved ones to the storm, may you find solace, comfort and peace.

This post is part of Visible Monday.

Saturday, 3 November 2012


My ode to black lace made this week's Links à la Mode over at IFB. Many thanks to IFB for including my post. Please check out the other links of the week below!
Links a la Mode

Happy Halloween! 

Edited By: Taylor Davies

I want to start this week’s Links à la Mode by very quickly and briefly sending out thoughts and prayers to those most severely affected by Superstorm Sandy. We had a lot of great submissions this week, many of them Halloween themed! From Beetlejuice pants to costumes a la Anna Wintour and Victoria Beckham, and appropriately dark black lace. We also had some very thoughtful, introspective posts on the self, personal style and a blogger donating her hair to locks of love.


1972project: Dancer: Rick Owens & Fred Astaire
A Very Sweet Blog: The Blog Graveyard
Dress Code: High Fashion: How To Wear The Military Trend
Elegant Idiosyncracy: It’s all about me, I mean you, I mean me
Et Ressurexit: The True Situation of the luxury Maison Martin Margiela
Fashion, Trends & More: Locks of Love
Informed Style: Inspirations: Balenciaga and Commes des Garcons
Khola’s Kloset: CMH Fashion Week Finale Runway Shows
LoveLee: Trend of the Week – Striped Pants
Made-To-Travel: Fall into Good Habits: Ethical Shopping 101
Miss City Chic: Celebrity Look For Less: Katherine McPhee
Moiminnie: [im]perfect
Not Dressed As Lamb: One Dress, Four Job Interview Outfits
Oh Seven Days: The Internship Fashion House Rules
The FashioniStyle: {accessorizing} The Trendy Umbrella
The Style Note: Detroit Fashion Week SS13
The Sweetly Sour: Sweet Designer – Olcay Gulsen
The Taxonomy of my Wardrobe: Black Lace
Trinkets & Trends: Halloween Chic
Wishing For Chanel: Halloween Costumes for the Fashion-Conscious


Shopbop Handbags: Bing Bang, orYANY, Ferragamo, Giejo, Noir, J Mendel, Hobos, LolliUggVelvet & Cosmetic Pouches

If you would like to submit your link for next week’s Links à la Mode, please register first, then post your links HERE where you see “Links a la mode next week’s date (official)”. The HTML code for this week will be found in the Links a la Mode widget on the right side of the blog, and will be published later today. ~ Jennine

Monday, 29 October 2012

Black Lace

I started this post wanting to write an ode to black lace.  I wanted to say something about how every woman should have something in her wardrobe fashioned from this most delicate, intricate and beautiful of fabrics, and that it should be in black.  In contrast to the symbolic purity and innocence of white lace used so often in religious ceremonies to mark new beginnings - the baptisms, the holy communions and weddings - black lace was more symbolic of a woman's coming of age.

I wanted to say that there is possibly no other fabric that is so emotionally charged.  Worn as an expression of our sensuality, a siren call to potential lovers, it can also be worn to express loss or grief.  In some cultures it is the mark of the enforced solitude of widows, in others a sign of a woman's maturity.  Unlike any other fabric it is particular in the role it plays in signposting the phases of a woman's life.  This significance was not lost on Miuccia Prada, whose much lauded Autumn/Winter 2008 collection was a celebration of how lace accompanies a woman from birth until death and resulted in a lace revival that has yet to die down.

I wanted to say that my awareness of wanting to wear it marked my passing from being a girl to a young woman, and that I remember starkly the first black lace item I decided to buy and wear when my parents could no longer have any say over what I chose to spend my money on, or indeed about what clothing I chose to wear.  I wanted to say that when the day finally arrived when you were able to wear a black lace dress without feeling self conscious was the day that you were finally a woman.

I wanted to say that I love black lace and that love is reflected in how heavily it features in my wardrobe.  It is there in eyelash borders, fine filigree, floral motifs, dark twisted roses, delicate knots and heavy guipure.  It features as yokes and trims on blouses and tees.  It is fashioned into several cocktail dresses as well as a fur collared three quarter length coat.  It is lined in nude, or grey or black.  It even covers a couple of pairs of shoes.

I wanted to ask - is there a woman who does not feel beautiful wearing black lace?  In a search for answers on the internet I was dismayed to find the following article on the Financial Times with readers thoughts on the "Case for Lace",  most of whom are probably very highly paid City workers who could afford the finest black lace on offer.

While I understand that black lace is not generally office appropriate in high end corporate jobs, I certainly didn't expect so many women to be so down on (and in some cases very anti-) such a gorgeous fabric, as well as so unenthused about the interpretations of black lace that have graced the runways since Prada wove it back into our collective fashion consciousness again.  Only a couple of participants brimmed with a delight in its return to fashion that matched my own.  I began to wonder if maybe I was actually in the minority.

To add insult to injury amongst the comments was this barb from one reader: that in her opinion if you are over thirty lace is a ‘no’ at any time, even as evening wear and that under thirty, lace would only be acceptable if it was "subtle and stylish, à la Julia Roberts at an evening business dinner date in Pretty Woman..."
Surely she was not serious? Pretty Woman? Given such a puritanical tone was she being ironic referring to an evening business dinner date when the business in question was prostitution?

Deflated, I then thought that perhaps I shouldn't say anything about my love of black lace at all.  It suddenly felt like I'd been told I was in love with a tainted thing and that I should keep my passion to myself like some dark, dirty secret.

Troubled, I put the question to Mr V. - why would a woman over thirty want to wear black lace?  He immediately said - "to feel beautiful".  That's my man!

I tried hard to imagine what the life of Ms. "No Lace Over Thirty" must be like.  I could only conjure up the blandest and dullest of existences for her.  A life lived without taking any risks, safely within the confines of others expectations of her, with years of frowning disapprovingly of those who didn't do the same stretching before her.  A life free of any drama, frisson or great passion.  I'm sure she's quite happy.  Frankly I'd rather be dead.

This post is part of the Visible Monday series over at Not Yet Dead Style

Black Lace Top: very old Karen Millen; Silk skirt: Chine

Thursday, 25 October 2012

You Should Be Dancing...

Pardon me for being tardy with posts of late.  I've been somewhat busy!  This is what my weekend involved and that pretty much wrote my evenings off all last week with rehearsing.  Thought I'd share some action shots taken by the wonderful Mr. V. of me putting my Senovilla shoes through their paces.  These are a couple of my favourite flamenco costumes, both of which made it out last weekend.  I got them made some years ago in Seville by a wonderful tailor called Fernando.

An audience loves seeing a flamenco dancer in a red dress.  As soon as I step out in this dress you see everyone sit up and whispering and pointing at it with delighted smiles.  I hammed up the red with matching earrings and combs.  Then I promptly broke an earring during a dance by sending it flying off during a turn!  I'm very grateful it was made with plastic beads rather than the real coral it was imitating!

While I do love my red dress, true to my nature, my favourite costume is actually black.  I love pouring myself into this sumptuous black velvet dress and slipping on the little bolero jacket and then stepping out to dance.  I feel at home.  The chiffon frills have tiny sequins stitched on them which catch the light when the dress moves.

Behind me is a very well known gypsy flamenco singer.  I know I mentioned some time back I was going to post about the relationship between gypsies and flamenco for Terri of Rags Against the Machine.  I still mean to do so in greater depth some time in the future, but in short, flamenco plays a big part in gypsy culture in Spain. The singing is part of a vocal tradition of story telling for them and the guitar and dance evolved around accompanying the flamenco song. Many gypsies are renowned flamenco artists, being either singers, dancers or guitarists.

It's a little bit of a come down going back to work on a Monday after doing all this.  Much like this blog, flamenco dancing remains my little secret from work colleagues.  When people ask what I got up to on the weekend I shrug and say "Oh, nothing much..."

Hopefully I'll be able to fit some proper outfit posts in next week.  In the meantime, hope everyone is having a great week!

Costumes: Made in Sevilla
Shoes: Senovilla

Monday, 15 October 2012

Matching Florals

Pardon me while I attempt to blend into the fussy surroundings. I last posted about my new found love of clashing floral prints which I'll be taking from Summer into Autumn and Winter.  I'll also be taking a love of the opposing matching florals with me too.  I love the pyjama feel of this silk floral print trouser suit.  Most days I do feel that I look exactly like someone who just rolled out of bed.  So this kind of aesthetic is right up my street.  At least now I can feel like I've just rolled out of bed and managed to look vaguely elegant and put together at the same time.

I really enjoyed wearing these floral print trousers with the matching tee shirt over the summer.  So much so that when I found the long sleeved, collared shirt in the summer sales, I bought it with the intent of extending the matching trouser suit theme into the cooler months.  Again with some layers over for warmth, warm tights and boots, I think this outfit could see me nicely into the party season.

I say floral print but, as those who are familiar with the work of designer Hermoine de Paula will know, they aren't really flowers, but cleverly painted birds posing as flowers.  The contrasting black collar, cuffs and yoke detail on the black back all work to keep the shirt quite smart despite its romantic and feminine print.

While I was fishing around the internet for a bit of information on the designer I was interested to see that she happens to be a pal of none other than Florence Welsh, and that Florence herself bought this very same outfit!

Linking up to Not Yet Dead Style's Visible Monday!

Silk floral and Trouser Suit: Hermoine de Paula; Shoes: Zara

Monday, 8 October 2012

Clashing Florals

Thought I'd better put something in here about clothes in case people are getting bored of travelling photos.  I was wondering how everyone is doing in their wardrobe transition from Summer to Autumn.  I'm doing particularly badly! Due to some renovations at home I put three quarters of my wardrobe into storage about two months ago including all the Autumn/Winter gear and after all this time it is still packed away.

It has been quite an eyeopener to have to survive on a quarter of what I own and realise I have still had plenty to wear.  It has also forced me to be more creative with extending the life of my Summer wardrobe into cooler weather and so I thought I'd share a couple of outfits I'm taking with me into next season.

This clashing floral print trouser suit from Sportmax has been one of my Summer favourites.  Given the cold wet summer we had, thick cotton trousers and a long sleeved collared silk shirt turned out to be a far more practical combination than floaty dresses and I am still wearing this outfit out now for extra warmth in place of a top and skirt or a dress.  Besides, it seems that florals, clashing prints and in particular statement trousers aren't really going away over Autumn, it is just that the palette is darkening up.

I don't know about anyone else but I'm not ready to revert to wearing everything in dark shades just yet.  Maybe it is because the clocks have not gone back yet and we are still officially on British Summertime. Maybe it is because we've had a few rebelliously bright September days as Summer fades slowly away.  Maybe it is because I still need to wear something colourful and pretty to brighten the days up before the long dark nights of Autumn really set in.  Or maybe it is just because the floral prints of this Summer were some of my favourite looks in many years and I'm not ready to let them go yet.

It was a bit of challenge for me to embrace clashing florals but I found it quite a refreshing change to see myself wearing a lot of colour, head-to-toe.  I wore this outfit to an eightieth birthday party and the birthday boy told me that my "pyjamas were very elegant".

I'm not in the mood to do some serious shopping for Autumn yet either with all the doom and gloom being bandied about the economy and when there are beautiful things I could be wearing from my own wardrobe.  Shopping ban still officially on (although I'm not going to lie, there have been two black marks!).  To warm up this outfit for colder weather I've been adding tights, black ankle boots, a black wool blazer or knitwear, topped with a black coat and imagine I will continue to do so for a while yet.

I particularly like the studded collar on this shirt which is removable and can be replaced with a plain floral version.  Alternatively the detachable collars can be left off totally for a Grandad style collar instead. Three versions of the same shirt in one!

That is not my baby grand piano by the way.  That is Mr V's grandmother in the picture frame though.

How are you doing with the changeover from Summer to Autumn?  Are you eking out the Summer wardrobe as far as you can or have you packed it all away already and brought out the Autumnal gear?

It is also Visible Monday so head over to Not Yet Dead Style to check out the other Visible Monday posts.

Silk floral print shirt and floral print trousers: Sportmax; Shoes: from a shop in Sardinia


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...