I love to visit museums when I travel.
The ones that I love most, however, are the quirky little museums that are off the beaten path. I’ve enjoyed many of them in my travels: the Musée de Dame aux Camelias, somewhere in the Normandy countryside of France (where I saw the personal items of the woman who created such a stir in 19th century Paris, and who comes to us in the opera La Traviata and the classic movie Camille); the Musée de la Vie Romantique in the 18th Arrondisment in Paris, the Franz Liszt House in Budapest.
And today, I added to the list – I went to the Museo de Bailir Flamenco in Seville (The Museum of the Flamenco Dance).
It was an accident, really. I didn’t have a plan for today, I’ve been kind of tired and tomorrow I move on to Granada for learning and singing (that is different than learning and sight-seeing, which is a lot more relaxing but equally exhausting), so I thought I would have an easy day of it, do a little shopping, visit the Plaza d’Espana from the Spanish-American exhibition, an event that created the sister relationship with my town of origin, Kansas City, and maybe end the day with a boat ride on the Guadalquivir River.
As I ambled across town to the shopping district, I saw the sign – Museo de Bailir Flamenco. And I thought, why not.
Why not, indeed. I arrived, bought my ticket. Apparently I was the first person that day, because I had to wait while the young woman at the desk ran upstairs to start the exhibits (It was a multi-media museum). But that wait was priceless—in the next room, there was either a rehearsal or a class, a room full of young women in long flamenco dress, learning the basic steps of their art. What was so fascinating, however, was how very different this class was from any dance class I had ever taken or observed. The dance master would demonstrate a step, then, instead of the class performing the step in some sort of synchronous pattern as the music played, instead each participant took the step and attempted to make it her own in response to the music that was playing. Some turned it into a slow, elegant, smooth movement; others repeated it rapidly over and over again, but each danced to their own step and their own feeling of the music.
I went upstairs to the exhibits and spent a fascinated magic hour, standing in exhibit after exhibit, surrounded by life-size flamenco dancers demonstrating technique, style, and the language of flamenco; I heard interviews from lifelong practitioners of the art of flamenco; I saw costumes and shoes and heard about the careers of great artists known only in their world of dance; and I marveled at how this artistic tradition was so carefully transplanted to Mexico and Latin America, and how I have seen it even in the dances of my fellow church goers who come from the culture of El Salvador.
And, I was amazed to realize that I still harbor the flame of Carmen in my very own soul. You see, I want to blame the fact that I learned to sing opera on my first voice teacher, and he certainly did play a role. But the real villain in this little story is one cigarette girl named Carmen.
I remember the day that I first experienced the opera Carmen (by Georges Bizet). I was newly divorced, and, as many newly divorced women do, I was setting out on the new adventure of doing what I want when I want to do it. There was a notice in the Kansas City Star about a community performance of Carmen in a church near the Country Club Plaza (a shopping mall designed to look like a miniature “Seville”, and the first shopping center constructed in the United States, according to Kansas City mythology), and I went. I was mesmerized by the gypsy and her adventures, the romance with the policeman, the romance with the bullfighter, the way that she faced her death at the end of the opera. And I have been mesmerized ever since. The first arias I learned were Carmen’s: I sing them still whenever I get a chance.
But I thought that I had accepted that, well, I was long past ever performing the role of Carmen on the stage. No one would possibly cast me, I thought, and I moved on to Wagner and Verdi and heavier, less romantic literature.
As I wander the streets of Seville, however, and in particular as I wandered through the Flamenco museum, I can tell, she is not out of my system. I see her in my fashion choices, my jewelry choices –she’s in there, just waiting to get out.