Scenes from Jerez #2: Alegría (Happiness)

In the back streets of Jerez, in the barrio of San Miguel, we found a cave-sized bar filled with cathedral-sized hearts. Beckoned in by the drinkers we were greeted by a man of 80-something reciting a poem to the growing crowd. I couldn’t understand a word he said but the sparkle in his eyes and the rhyme of his voice made it clear that he was an old smoothie, well-versed in his finely-crafted lines that have no doubt charmed countless audiences and women throughout his long lifetime. A female friend by his side – wife or lover I don’t know – held his cigarette with smouldering eyes while his charred voice warmed the room. A few puffs after his poem he re-lit the air with some old flamenco song, the guitar humming along and the crowd egging him on with their palmas; a communal, synchronised clapping which grew from a muted, slow heartbeat clap to an open-palmed rapid smacking with two and three rhythms for the crescendo. Intoxicated by the music and the manzanilla, a friend jumps up off her seat – arza! they cheer – and slowly moves towards the old man; her waist swaying and his heart singing the two dance in circles and the crowd cries out Olé! Olé! and the clapping grows louder and faster until the final big-bang of a clap closes the show and the old man and young jerezana thank each other with two kisses on both cheeks. A roar explodes from the onlookers pouring out onto the street; Bravoo, Bravoooo!

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