Saturday, 5 February 2011

The Egyptian

Last night we met some friends in Fulham and they took us to a concert in their church given by a young soprano and a guitarist. The performers had chosen a programme of Spanish and Portuguese music including one piece by Joaquin Rodrigo called “En Jerez de la Frontera”. With the news from Cairo still in my mind, and as the songs of passion, love and threats of violence unrolled I was soon remembering a trip to Andalucia, years and years ago, when I stayed in Arcos de la Frontera.

Arcos de la Frontera
From 711 until 1492 this part of Spain was called Al-Andalus and was ruled by the Moors, who were Muslims from North Africa. They were in conflict with the Christians to the north and the towns including the words “de la Frontera” in their names were fortified strongholds on the border.  Arcos de la Frontera is no exception.  The castle on the top of the outcrop has been converted into an expensive hotel, part of the excellent Spanish chain called the Paradors. Unfortunately the Parador was full and so we stayed in a smaller, less grand hotel down in the town, which was not lacking in interest. That interest included the husky voiced young lady receptionist, who seemed very willing to give me a Spanish lesson, well more of a "point and say the word" sort of exchange, but I was a happily married man and not inclined to get too involved.

This small hotel had no restaurant and I asked her where we could eat.  I thought she said something about an Egyptian in the plaza. I didn’t fully understand her, but when we arrived in the plaza there was only one restaurant, so we went inside.  I think it must have been the weekend because we arrived early and, unusually for Spain, the restaurant was soon filled with half of the inhabitants of the town, who also had nowhere else to go.

The owner took our order. He had quite a presence. He was very dark haired, powerfully built, about forty something and clearly Arabic. I decided that I had heard the word Egyptian after all. A young girl of about 18 came in and stood at the bar chatting to the owner. After a short while it became obvious that she was infatuated with him! She tried to be inconspicuous when his small harassed-looking wife appeared from the kitchen, and she completely ignored his son, who was also helping out from time to time behind the bar. Perhaps this was because his son had inherited his mother’s light brown hair and small frame. I watched with growing interest to see how the Egyptian would react. Whilst he must have been flattered by this attention from an attractive young girl, to his credit, as far as I could tell, he didn’t seem to take it seriously, at least not while half the town was watching! Perhaps he was happily married!

While these scenes were flashing through my mind I was also listening and watching the soprano’s singing technique. (It's only women who say men can’t multi-task)! She was very definitely breathing with her diaphragm because her stomach would occasionally popup out, with a speed that I can’t imitate, as she took a rapid breath.  As well as singing, she was also, very engagingly, acting out the mood of the songs with her facial expressions.

I think that she would be good in the role of Micaëla in Carmen. Although she is Scottish, like Marie McLaughlin below, she has the right looks for someone from Navarre and a lovely lyric soprano voice. I can just imagine her pleading with Don José not to forget his mother and his village in Navarre. Her name is Marion Wyllie and she doesn’t seem to have a website or even her photo on the web yet!


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