Well, we’re finally here. Since thoughts of sunny Spain were the only thing that got me through midterms, I am a little worried that the reality would fall short of my expectations. As we land in Barcelona I am more tired than excited. The airport, the baggage claim, the mechanized walkways are pretty much the same at JFK. But once we get outside—without sweaters—and see the palm trees, feel the sun, I know my hopes for the trip were not misplaced.
We load into buses and take the short drive to our hotel. Outside the window there are ancient arenas next to modern statues, tapas bars next to sushi bars next to Irish pubs. Instead of ice and snow there are trees covered in flowers and elaborate fountains. Our hotel is right in the thick of Barcelona; I’m not sure if it’s in the center, or downtown, or what, but it’s definitely great. Once we check in and get our room assignments we have a couple free hours. Some explore and find cafés the like. A large contingent naps and cleans off the airport smells. At five we convene in the reception area for a meeting before dinner. We learn to be wary of pick pockets and that Spain does not partake in Daylight Savings. There are many groans after we are informed that our wake up calls will be at six-thirty, but the promise of breakfast helps (a little). After the meeting the practical Glee clubbers grab sweaters and we load back onto the buses. The drive out of the city to Montjuïc, (“Jew Mountain”) offers stunning panoramas of Barcelona. We see medieval-looking castles that were actually built for a World Fair in the 1920s (wow! Early 20th century imitations of ancient architecture! Sounds familiar…) We get off the buses at a beautiful park set up like a walled village, featuring architecture from all over Spain. Even though our restaurant for dinner is tucked in the back, it’s the clear highlight. We sit down and are immediately presented with sodas and gazpacho. While the vegetarians have to eat together, the wide selection of tapas has something for everyone. There is Manchego cheese with thyme and triangles of bread with tomato paste. Spanish ham is followed by spicy mushrooms. We can’t decide whether the next course is bean balls or some sort of fried potato and cheese concoction, but it turns out to be blood pudding. We finish off with crunchy Calamari and crème brûlée. Then the show begins.
We had been told that dinner would be followed by excellent flamenco dancing. I had never seen flamenco before, and thought it would be sort of like a tango. I could not have been more wrong. The classical guitarist opens with riffs so fast I cannot see his fingers (granted, I left my glasses at Yale.) One of the singers begins to warble Spanish words to an Arabic-sounding melody. And then, the first dancer steps out. She keeps the focus on her feet, her gestures are minimal, but I wouldn’t want to be distracted anyway. She dances some combination of Irish step dancing, tap, and jazz-like improvisation. The other dancers sit at the side, clapping and stomping with the musicians. They cheer on the current dancer in a way that reminds me of how a cappella singers snap and cheer for a soloist. Sometimes the guitarist starts a song, other times the dancer invents a beat and the guitarist follows, his eyes glued to their feet. The same pattern follows with the three other dancers, but each puts their own flare on the intricate dance.
Our tour guide told us that the flamenco is named because the dancers’ hands look like flames. For a moment I am convinced that the next man has a glowing cigarette in his hand, but it is just the red lights glinting off his ring. He roams the space, nearly pacing, getting very close to the Glee clubbers seated at the front of the stage, then pulling away. He doesn’t only clap, but also beats his hands against his body. At one point he holds one hand in front of his heart and claps the other between it and his chest, like a rapid heartbeat, while his feet click away faster than a telegram.
The next woman is younger and uses her whole body as one curving line, from her feet to her back to her fingers. Sometimes she holds up her skirt to show off her footwork, other times she is moving so fast that the skirt flares up on its own. She wears a shawl of red tassels that whip about like helicopter blades. While she dances, a new man who did not sit in the wings before taps a simple accompanying beat in the corner. He has a very thick head of wavy hair that most of us comment on. He is the only dancer to wear a jacket, but when he moves, he doesn’t seem hindered at all. He nearly hovers at the back of the stage, cutting very close to the musicians’ microphones. He more than the other dancers seems to be improvising. He does not smile and when he throws off the jacket no one is surprised. His riffs are sharp and seem to be kicking along the guitarist, who speeds up with the dancer. I hope we can own our stages half as well as he does.
We leave right after the bows; some people were falling asleep despite the excitement. The park is still mild in the dark and still smells like flowers. In the central square there are now two giant wooden figures for a local holiday. After all the interesting things of the day, their sudden appearance does not seem nearly as peculiar as it would have on, say, the New Haven Green. We pass the Singing Fountains on the bus ride back to the hotel; many of us hope to go and see the show for ourselves. But tonight no one is awake enough to explore.
So many thanks go to T Sean Maher, Jeff Douma, and our terrific tour managers Max Bryski and Marianna Gailus for getting us here and giving us such a terrific first day. I can’t wait to see what the next week brings.