Ten days ago I returned from my first trip to Spain for five years.  Last time I was there, I slipped out of the city of Seville under the cover of December’s early morning darkness.  I recall the walk to the elegant concrete train station, my backpack heavy with accumulated objects from my stay, and my mind heavy with thoughts of new friends left behind, and the many memories I had created for myself there.

I had been there for three months, looking for answers to big questions: What was duende? How did Flamenco and Art succeed or fail in trying to achieve it?  I had been granted a Peter Kirk Fund travel scholarship, which allowed me fantastic freedom in exploring these concepts.  I wrote a report on my findings which you can download here.

I returned this time to another elegant concrete building, the ever-expanding Malaga airport.  It was not without anticipation that I arrived, with my mother and sister and the intention to return to the same mountain village our family has been visiting for fifteen years.  Before I even stepped of the plane, the sight of high rocky mountains easing into the sprawl of Malaga had my heart racing. I could taste the bitter moreishness of a boquerones tapa, smell the jasmine at dusk and hear the ice clinking in a tinto de verano, (red wine and lemon Fanta) in the heat of the afternoon sun.  It was like coming home.

For the last five years I have been spending more and more time in the North, the clean, beautiful North where trains run on time and everything works. In Sweden I have enjoyed long evening dinners outside, surrounded by the omnipresent forest, in Norway I have been beaten by the elements, and in Iceland I have sampled the bounty of cod and haddock in still waters on a sea-angling trip.  But nowhere have I found the heat and urgency of the culture of the south of Spain.

I was expecting to be greeted by a broken country.  Conversations with increasing numbers of Spanish economic refugees in Britain, and with Brits in Britain, lead me to expect this. I was looking for it, but in our little pueblo blanco the only place I found it was in a Maria’s shop. ‘Que tener trabajo, eso e’ la cosa ma’ importante’ she said to me, with an imploring look, in gravely Andalucian.  ‘To have a job is the most important thing.’

What I was greeted with, after the magnificence of the new airport building, was countless improvements to the little village.  There were freshly painted walls, newly laid roads and most exciting of all, we arrived when the village’s annual fiesta was in full swing.  The square had a temporary roof, and underneath it, the great and good of the village were settled on tables and chairs, or arguing loudly at one of the three bars.  On a stage in the middle, salsa blared from the speakers as the band leapt around the stage energetically.  The party lasted all night.

The next day the village was quiet. In the evening we settled in the garden to watch the last of the light dance its colour show over the distant hills.  Music began to play from the square, the unmistakable plaintive call of flamenco.

‘Is it live?’ we said to each other.  Soon the sound of flamenco shoe hitting stage became undeniable and we rushed out the door, leaving half drunk glasses of wine and dinner in the early stages of preparation.

In the square six dancers were mulling by the stage, in full garb.  Each dancer had a single curl of hair on their forehead, with the rest sleeked back into a low pony tail, and their heads embellished with combs. The dresses were luscious and layered.  It wasn't long until the music begun and the dancers took to the stage.  The narrative of the first dance began with a female dancer seated on a chair, drawing a handkerchief across her face as the male and female dancers at the side egged her on with violent heel stamps and rhythmic claps.  As the dance gathered momentum, the hairs on the back of my neck rose. This was duende.