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A short, musical trip to Spain

On Calle Gran Via de Colon, Granada's Main Street, a self-proclaimed gypsy shows a german tourist how to play the tango.

Two women are moved to dance at the annual fair in Moron de La Frontera.

Two years ago this January, I started working at Stephen Arnold Music, and my how that time has flown. I say this in the generic sense, the way one sighs and shakes his heads at the fast changing world, but also with something specific in mind: Exactly three years ago, I was in the middle of what I consider to be the best year of my life.

That’s a big claim, I know, and a tough act to follow, something SAM has done a good job of doing, but for a year starting in July of 2006, at the benevolence of the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship foundation, I had the opportunity to travel, record and play music in a handful of countries stretching from Ireland to Mongolia.

Despite what you may think, it is all too easy to forget all the wonderful things I was able to do during that year: climb a mountain in the Himalayas (the 18,000 ft Mendrik Tsari in Tibet), go deep sea diving with sharks (an influx of hammerheads off the coast of Nicaragua), learn to speak a tribal dialect (Rukiga, the language of the Bakiga people in the southern corner of Uganda and the Congo), and much more. I checked so many things off my bucket list that I had to make a new one when I got home.

I have many stories to tell, only I rarely have the chance to tell them – or maybe I choose not to tell them, I can’t be sure – but I do know that I always feel like I have things to say that I never wind up saying. And so it goes – a chapter in my life, and a significant one at that, somehow remains strangely disparate from my life today. On the occasion when I think back, I find myself wondering, “Did that really happen?”

Then this October, on something of whim, which is typically the way I make big decisions, I decided to rediscover that former part of myself, the adventurous soul who, upon my return, has proven to be somewhat elusive. I took a short leave from work and bought a round trip ticket across the pond.

Of all the places I lived, I often considered to which one I would return first. I had many adventures and met many people in many countries, but in the same manner that some old friends fade from the spotlight of our thoughts, many of the places and people I met shifted into that vague and nostalgic region of the mind where we store things that are, for some reason or another, better to forget.

I dreamed of returning to the open spaces of the Gobi desert or losing myself in the isolated winter of a mountain village in Central Asia, but I decided to return to Spain instead. The reason was simple – I did not go to remember the sweeping Spanish countryside, sprinkled with white houses, palm leaves and fields of olive trees, nor did I go to explore the Moorish ruins that scatter the hills Andalucía; several dear friends were made in Spain, and I decided that this was as good of a reason as any to return.

A couple looks out at the Alhambra on a rainy day.

A friend smiles down from his horse at a festival in Moron de la Frontera.

Three years ago, I shared a one-room apartment with Salvador Roman, a true-blood, old school, proud-to-be-gypsy, flamenco guitarist/instructor who struggles to make ends meet throughout the year in Granada. He taught me flamenco guitar techniques every morning, and I practiced for six to eight hours that afternoon before I went to the local dive bar to hear flamenco that night.

An excerpt from my journal at the time:

“Salvador Roman was born 62 years ago in Madrid, but has spent less than a quarter of his life living in Spain. He did not learn to play guitar from his father, Roman “El Granaino” (1904-1983), who is hailed as one of the of flamenco guitar greats and helped to carry the instrument past its nascent years with the art form. Rather, his father taught him to dance, and Salvador traveled across Germany with his father and sister to perform in various hotels during the early to mid 50’s when flamenco was becoming recognized by the country and the world.

Salvador taught himself to play guitar behind his father’s back and set out on his own when he was a mere fourteen. The style he has mastered and teaches is called “Apollando,” which means “Supporting.” It is incredibly, absolutely genius though it is a little difficult to grasp without being able to see the way the style functions. The idea is to train your hands (specifically the right hand) so that every expense of energy simultaneously creates “un punto de apollo” (a point of support) for the next expense of energy, thereby maximizing your hand’s capacity for speed and strength.

Salvador forbade me to play in the style around certain people – he tells me that when one of the creators of the style, Nino Ricardo, played, he would actually put his guitar down and fight anyone who he thought was watching his hands too closely. Yea, it’s that serious. I feel like I have been learning an ancient Kung-Fu style like in the movies, where the master teaches the student the “touch of death” but then tells him he is never allowed to use it on anyone.”

A group of musicians who busk daily at the square

Salvador stands at a crossroads in Granada's Albaycin.

So for many reasons I returned to Spain. But most of all, I returned for Salvador, whose health is failing him and who continues to struggle to make ends meet. Posted here are pictures from my most recent trip this past October, photographs I took to remind myself that that world still exists. The subjects remind me of Spain, but more importantly they remind me of the song of Salvador Roman, and that after three years, I still remember him with affection.

I am still in touch with Salvador, so if you are ever serious about learning flamenco in Spain, go find him in Granada – he’s the best teacher there is.

Salvador Roman at his apartment in Granada

  1. Ami Jacobs says:

    Hello there! I was a student of salvador back in 2004 and am now back in Granada and trying to locate Salvador. I was hoping you could help me! Please contact me.

  2. Mike Fildes says:

    I’m currently in Granada on holiday, I met Salvador busking in the street yesterday, we chatted for a good ten minutes, about flamenco and his past, I couldn’t believe who I was talking to, not that I knew who he was, I’d heard of Paco de Luis but that’s about it. However when he realised I was genuinely interested he gave me a handwritten note asking the owner of a local flamenco club, puro flamenco as he calls it, to let me in, which is where I’m off tonight. What a brilliant guy, reminds of Ibrahim Ferrer or some of the old blues guys, total legends but so humble and I very nearly walked right past him as many probably do every day with no idea what he has achieved in his life, just thought I’d share that

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