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The Spanish guitar that Barack Obama left behind

On July 9th 2016, the city of Seville got dressed up as a beautiful gitana, putting on her best traje de lunares to welcome one of the most prestigious guest ever, the former President of United States Mr. Barack Obama.

The ex-President, on the way back from Rota Navy Base, scheduled a brief visit to the Andalusian capital before leaving for US from Madrid Airport.

Guide Jesus Naranjo and Michelle Obama in Ronda
Guide Jesus Naranjo and Michelle Obama in Ronda
The news was happily welcomed by the city and Obama's visit raised citizens’ curiosity. The details of the visit were obviously strictly confidential (until the very last moment nobody could tell whether the ex-President would have stayed at Gran Melia Colón Hotel, a stylish and modern hotel or at Alfonso XIII, a rather luxurious and majestic hotel). Nonetheless, many rumors spread out.

According to sources, Obama should have spent about 18 hours in Seville. He’d have visited the Cathedral, going up to Giralda Tower, from which he would have waved at the crowds. King Felipe VI would have welcomed him inside Real Alcazar, and the ex-President would have had about 45 min visit, being toured by one of the 600 touring guides who’ve been specifically pre-selected. Traffic, including cycles and scooters would be backed up. Neither Michelle Obama nor Queen Letizia would have accompanied their husbands, and weather previsions (110 º F) said that Obama would have truly experienced what calóh is (typical and quite unbearable Seville’s summer heat).

The dramatic events occurred in Dallas on July 7 and 8 forced the ex-President to cancel the visit and run back to USA to face the crisis.
Obama's hand-made flamenco guitar
What’s left of Barack Obama’s canceled visit is a unique and invaluable flamenco guitar which brilliant luthier Antonio Bernal made for him, and which Antonio’s still patiently waiting to give Obama.We use to say that Flamenco is the blues of Spain, and after listening Obama singing Sweet home Chicago... Mr. president, when are you planning to visit Seville again? Seville is looking forward to have you as guest. Also, the White House booked a great private guide, who is still waiting to show Obama around as well!


Andalusians generally spend a lot of money on pilgrimages, to make their yearly visits to the Virgin much-talked-about. sin pecado rocio sevillaThe pilgrimage is not just a festive consequence of a Christian eagerness (mostly for the Virgin Mary), but there are many attractions even before the beginning of the pilgrimage. Dressing in the pilgrim (romero/romera) costume is a ritual that is fulfilled in all of its senses, physical, spiritual, folk.

Getting together again with the eternal friends from the fraternity, enjoying the preparations, decorating the Simpecado (standard carried on a wheeled altar), and preparing one's own wagon and turn it into a singing cloud, leaving the quarters triumphantly, like a troop ready to conquer, on horseback with or without one's partner, among applause (like the legions of Caesar), with the sound of drums and Sevillana songs... girls costums seville festival

In the mornings Seville has a special light decorated by the slow transit of wagons drawn by patient oxen that look like creatures from another civilization. And in the place of honor is the Simpecado, which is the center of worship until the brotherhood reaches the village of Almonte along the way with singing and dancing prayers, water and wine celebrating the time that is to come. In the village the queen is the image of the Virgin, found centuries ago by a hunter.

The morning the pilgrims leave they shine more than the sun; the bells pealing with joy encourage the spring adventure, and the rest is an exhibition of a traveling popular art, of invisible loving hands. The way to the village is something else, voices drop when the city is left way behind, the pilgrims' throats are sore and their feet feel heavy, they have to measure their strength. The third act is the leiv motiv: staying in the crowded village, the sacred place of the Blanca Paloma (= White Dove, the popular name of the Virgin in this village).

The return may look like a retiring army full of emotions, but this is not so, they still have strength to sing sadly about the end of the pilgrimage until the following year, so far away...devotion virgin mary rociodevotion blanca paloma rocio


Bar, taverns and not pubs, which is something different; the place for tapas and drinks, is like the emergency room of a hospital: it becomes gloomy or it becomes lively without anyone being able to foresee it, except at certain times for breakfast, snack time and early coffee.

Not only hunger takes us to bars, there are other more subtle reasons. We really go when we want to satisfy our spirit, either because we need to think or the opposite. A bar is always one's own territory even when we to into one for the first time, though the most important part is to get a place, always the same place, and a friend who just by looking at you when you come in can I appreciate the way you feel that day. The classical bar addict will refuse any seat, he will step on the foot rest and will lean on the bar with his elbow in natural elegance, hiking a strategic corner where he cannot bother anyone and no one will bother him.

The bar tender knows when to come up to him and when to serve at a certain distance; without any questions he will serve the beer or wine with the same calmness as a doctor handing a prescription. A good bar is a bar that entertains the five senses, though taste is the most important.

If one comes out purified from a bar after staying there for the right amount of time, not a minute more, because the bar tender will lose interest in you from that moment on; however, what most bothers him is, when you enter and leave in a stampede, in a hurry between sips and bites.

One can not always choose their company. You have to know how to handle boring people. And when you leave the bar with the unavoidable "friend" you just met, playing to he new friends with the head full of drinks, do not ask him for a business card, because after the last hug you will both be complete strangers. A bar creates this illusion, because in real world there is no one who is able to agree with me for two hours. Remember him as a picture with no name of a while in limbo.

To sum up, a bar exists for us to feel good with ourselves. Its social facet is only apparent.

Madrid: Going OUT

- a post from my special guest Gemma García -

Many of my guests are also visiting Madrid during their trip to Spain

and many ask me to recommend them a good tour guide in Madrid. Today it's my pleasure to introduce you to Gemma, from Madrid Cool & Cultural, who's sharing her passion for Madrid with a very special guest post.

gemma garcía madrid cool and cultural

Madrid: Going OUT

Madrid seemed frantic to become a copy of any other European metropolis, but now the city feels more Spanish again. Resourcefulness, creativity and reinvention are bubbling up in art galleries, designer ateliers and restaurants. The city’s symbol may be a bear, but for style, culture, history and sybaritic delights, there are plenty of reasons to be bullish on Madrid.

Are you following us?

ART- Art in Madrid is motion since the 14th till the 21st century. Allow us to astonish you with pictures to be watched through a mirror, with moving tables, with stone made characters that look real.

LIGHT- Madrid Light is magic and makes its maze-like streets change in every corner, rendering each trip unique and different. That is why it may have been an inspiration source for so many painters.

WATER – Crucial element in our original name MAGIRITH –mother of water- it made Arabs dream with its hearing and Jewish enjoy their purifying Migbés.

SHOP – From art galleries transformed into bars, to amazing artists ateliers, it’s to be included one of our favourite leather factories that was founded in Madrid in 1850. Loewe will take you to the glamourous Gran Vía where Ava Gardner used to walk up and down towards her beloved shop window.


“ Is Madrid a brave town, that with older and more modern, has it more than 100 taverns and one single bookshop in place”.

This was stated 300 years ago by one of our most distinguished neighbours and still the ratio hasn’t changed much. Traditional taverns, gastrobars and its 18 Michelin stars won’t disappoint you.

Do you trust us? Let us show you these places of the beaten path where only locals go.

Always passionate about Art and History, after living for a year in Boston, USA, she decided to turn her hobby into her profession and founded Madrid Cool & Cultural in September 2010, focused exclusively on organizing tours for small groups of artistically and culturally motivated travelers. Her tours are very creative: her experience as a traveler and lover of art, culture, and gastronomy has being extremely useful in designing a unique product, molded to the tastes of each client and the time spent in town.

Gemma García,

founder MC&C, Madrid Cool & Cultural

M Phone: +1 857 400 0695 +34 627 594 496

Passion of the South: the Flamenco Forms

The Setting macanita-de-jerezThe plaza of a southern Spanish pueblo, 1.30am, July maybe August. The temperature has finally subsided to comfortable levels. The crowd gossips animated­ly. Women fan themselves. Bottles clink on glass. A loud laugh peals out from a bar door... On a makeshift stage in a corner of the square, a seated guitarist begins to play... a run, a ripple, an eddy, a moody shuffle. The percussion section behind him, three pairs of syncopated hands, joins in. One member lets out a shout of excitement. The crowd lends an ear.

The singer, seated near the guitarist, raises her head. She waits, six, seven seconds, rocking gently to the underlying rhythm. She emits a blood-curdling, quavering shriek. The crowd lends both ears. If she has the spirit — the spirit of the song and the spirit to com­municate it to the crowd — they will stay riveted to their spots until she finishes. If she hasn't quite got it, the chatter will slowly start up again and gradually the crowd will thin.

The Forms Flamenco is a trinity of arts — song, dance and music — that first took recognisable bailaor-flamencoform among gitanos (Roma people) in Andalucia's lower Guadalquivir valley in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Its remoter origins may have included Muslim music and verses from medi­eval Spain, possibly the Byzantine chant sung long ago in Visigothic churches, and songs brought to Spain in the Middle Ages by the Gitanos themselves. Much flamenco is undoubtedly reminiscent of song and dance from India, where the gitanos supposedly originated.

The earliest flamenco was cante jondo (deep song), a tortured lament that grew from the experience of the marginalised gitanos, pushed to the periphery of Spanish society. jondura (depth, profoundness) is still the essence of flamenco, and some of the early jondo forms are still sung — notably the martinete, whose only accompaniment is the sound of a hammer striking an anvil, as in the smithies where many Gitanos worked. A flamenco singer is known as a cantaor (male) or cantaora (female); a dancer is a bailaor/a. Most of the songs and dances are performed to the guitar of the tocaor/a. Flamenco's scales and rhythms can be difficult for the average beginner to tune in to, but it's hard to remain unmoved by its passionate intensity. Technically speaking, flamenco differs from most Western music by using the Phrygian mode, in which the interval between the first and second notes of an eight-note scale is a semitone. In conventional Western music the interval is a whole tone. Spaniards, especially Andalucians, have always loved dancing, and it was only natural that dance (baile in flamenco contexts) should soon accompany song.

Traditional costumes For women, the Shawl, fan and long, frilly bata de cola dress; for men, flat Cordoban hats and tight black trousers — date from Andalucian fashions in the late 19th century, when flamenco first took to public stages. There are several main song types (palos). The siguiriya, an expres-sion of intense despair about loss or death, is the biggest test of a singer's ability. It's thought to have originated in Jerez de la Frontera, one of the three key cities of flamenco's lower Guadalquivir heartland. The solea, marginally less anguished, probably came from the Triana district of Seville, for centuries a gitano quarter. The livelier alegria is a contribution from the third city, Cadiz. Jerez is also the home of the buleria, the fastest, most upbeat type of song. Relatively lighter forms include the tango, originally from Cadiz, and its derivatives the rumba, guajira and colombiana, all with Latin American influences.

artist-manuel-molinaThe home of the fandango is Huelva, but other areas also have varieties of fandango — such as Malaga's malagueña and Granada's granaina. Almeria's taranta is not dissimilar. Coplas (flamenco songs) are made up of short, rhyming bursts called tercios; the underlying rhythm is called the compas. The highly popular sevillana dance, learnt by girls all over the country, is not flamenco at all. With high, twirling arm movements, and consisting of four parts each coming to an abrupt halt, the sevillana is probably an Andalucian version of a Castilian folk dance, the seguidilla.

Birth of the Guitar The guitar originated when the 9th-century Cordoba court musician Ziryab added a fifth string to the Arab lute. Around the 1790s a sixth string was added, probably by a Cadiz guitar-maker called Pages. In the 1870s Antonio de Torres of Almeria brought the guitar to its modern shape by enlarging its two bulges and placing the bridge centrally over the lower one to give the instrument its carrying power. Toque (literally touch, this is guitar playing) for a long time functioned solely as accompaniment to singing and dance. Percussion in flamenco is provided by stamping or tapping feet, clapping hands and sometimes castanets.

Looking for a barber in Seville

Opera House Seville tourEvery Opera story has a crucial setting, without which there wouldn't be great scripts. It's not Vienna nor Paris, it is Seville. Some of the best works have Seville as setting for their plots even though their author never sat a foot in the city.

Nevertheless, the magic of that Seville which has been the most cosmopolitan in the world for 150 years, simply by hearsay, caught those writers who needed stories of passionate and impossible love unfolding in "exotic" places. Don Giovanni, Carmen, Fidelio, La Forza del Destino.. and the Barber of Seville, of course.

The author of the latter, Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, was a French playwright who was parte of the court of king Carlos III between 1764 y 1765. He came on business and left also for economic reasons as his debts increased.

Two years in Spain were enough to become fascinated by it and unleashed his creativity inspired by the exemplary novel of Miguel de Cervantes “The Jealous Husband”, the same author of Don Quixote.

Beaumarchais wrote the Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro, although the stories did not reach fame until Gioacchino Rossini and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart adapted them to the opera, respectively (well, there is a third libretto entitled The Guilty Mother with music by Milhaud which did not reach such high popularity).

figaro barber shop seville

In the first, Fígaro, the protagonist, is a famous barber in Seville in the late eighteen century who befriends a young nobleman, Count of Almaviva.

The aristocrat, in love with Rosina, an orphan girl who had been kidnapped by her tutor in order to marry her and keep a valuable inheritance, asks for his friend's help to meet his beloved by fooling the tight surveillance of Don Bartolo, and free her.

In the second story, The Marriage of Figaro, the count and countess of Almaviva get married now,while Figaro helps them preparing for the wedding. However, this time the count betrays Figaro, by trying to seduce his betrothed Susanna, provoking Figaro who will seek revenge.

Although Beaumarchais was never in Seville, the presence of the ordinary people, their rumors and legends made the opera location seem real. A great example is Figaro's home. It was echoed up by those romantic nineteen-century travellers such as British writer Augustus Halle who, after a trip to Spain, wrote in his Wanderings in Spain (London, 1873): “Just behind the Alcazar is Santo Tomás square where Figaro the barber of Seville had his establishment... it's strange than no enterprising barber has now been installed there".

bodeguita casablanca sevilla tapasLogically, the urban landscape has now changed, but if we walk from the royal palace down to Santander street, almost at the junction with Constitution Avenue, we may stop, look at the building in front the old mint Casa de la Moneda, and replace it in our imagination with a whitewashed two storey house, maybe with arcades.

At the ground floor, Figaro would attend his customers and shaving them with unrivalled ability. Upstairs his home, where next to Count Almaviva, they both designed the strategy and tricks to free beautiful Rosina.

To experience the rest of the script firsthand, we should head to Santa Cruz and the Abbots neighborhood where narrow, labyrinthine alleys take us back centuries and where Figaro was up to his arrangements and gimmicks.

balcony rosina barber sevilleThen, we may decide to look for Don Bartolo the tutor's house, and the balcony where Rosina awaited, heard and yearned for her beloved Count of Almaviva disguised under the semblances of the poor student Lindoro.

I locate the famous house right where Camen Laffón does: calle Segovias street, where now is the Hotel Palacio Pinello, few steps from the corner with Argote de Molina street. Carmen Laffón is the stage designer of the beautiful, authentic, perfectly achieved Barber of Seville that we enjoyed last February 2016 at La Maestranza de Sevilla Opera house, during a charming Andalusia tour with Italian Tour Operator Alderan - Note in Viaggio, Rome.

hotel palacio-pinello-sevilleCome to Seville, indulge in its magic, walk its charming little squares and alleys full of legends and stories while crooning Rossini and Mozart. Or maybe Bizet, for two streets from you, prés de remparts de Séville / chez mon ami Lillas Pastia, Carmen might be dancing the Seguidille on the tables of her friend's tavern next to the city walls! Pin your ears back and you will hear also the knocks beating the rhythm on the wooden tables while dozens of Manzanilla glasses clink in the hands. Where if this? Look for an alley called Callejón del Agua.

NO&DO: a symbol you’ll see on every wall in Seville

It is known that Egyptians were the first population who used symbols in written language. Words expressed by figures, adorning monuments’ walls. Still today archaeologists believe that’s a quite interesting mystery. NO8DO city hall seville Words turned into symbols: a passionate, patient and enlightening research, as if it could be a constant discovery, a new Rosetta stone. The mystery of cryptography, its coded messages will always spread curiosity... and the “NO-DO” symbol, for those who come by in Seville, does it as well. The “NO-DO” (alone or along with the city shield) is based on a well know legend whose main character is King Alfonso X, the Wise, one of most famous Sevillian kings. In spite of his cultural legacy, and due to people’s disappointment, he fell from grace, being defeated by his own son Sancho. Followed by what was left of his troops, he took refuge in Seville, where he lived till his death. The word/symbol “NO-DO” that the king awarded to the city, is a testimony of the loyalty Seville showed him, a symbol of the strong connection between the King and the people who welcomed him till the day he died. Syllables NO and DO embrace an 8, which symbolizes a skein, a “madeja”. Try to read it: “NO-ma-dejaDO” (which stands for “no me ha dejado”) and means “(Seville) did not abandon me”. King Alfonso asked NO8DO to be officially included in the shield of the city, and still today it is.

From the goddess Astarte to the Virgen del Rocío


almonte rocio-salto-de-la-reja

Who did not listen to talk or who did not see pictures of the "salto de la reja" (jump of the fence) in the village of Rocío?

Who does not know that in this agricultural place of the province of Huelva, one celebrates the biggest pilgrimage that sometimes has collected to 500.000 people or more?

Today, I present to you the original academic work of a friend (Raquel Venegas, Seville), on the well-known rituals related to the pilgrimage of the Virgin of Rocío in Almonte, province of Huelva, Andalusia.

It is a very original and really interesting work that connects once again the cultural present of Andalusia and our Phoenician and Greek-Roman origins. Download here, thanks (in Spanish).



encapuchado penitente sevillaEaster 2016 in Seville welcomed the travelers with a festival of colors and perfumes in the streets of Seville. It catched the senses in a unique Baroque fashion. I'll try to explain why and how. Baroque isn't just an art style born in Italy that produced paintings and sculptures so expressive they look alive. Baroque is also a way of life and feeling that can be still experienced in southern Spain, especially in Seville during Easter, the Holy Week: Semana Santa. From April 13th to 20th, my city hosts the most spectacular, lively and colorful week of processions of the world, where the past of Seville comes back with its XVI and XVII Centuries of Gold. mantilla sevilla semana santaFrom Palm Sunday to Resurrection, the old city is crossed by seven or more processions a day, some last five hours and some last fifteen! Each procession consists of two long lines of penitents carrying tall candles and hiding their faces with pointed hoods, then the hornet’s band and a big mobile float with images of the Virgin Mary or a sculptural group involving Jesus Christ in one of the phases of his calvary. Those floats weigh thousands of kilos and are carried by the sack men called costaleros, because each one of them carries 40 kg on his neck using a sack, el costal, for protection. Each brotherhood or guild may take to the streets two or three pasos, the incredibly richly decorated floats full of silver, gold embroidery on velvet and flowers. The most ancient brotherhood is la Hermandad de los Negritos, founded in the 14th century by the black slaves of Seville. cristo semana santa sevillaHow do these pasos move? Slowly, sometimes swinging and making Virgin Mary's float graciously dance during the procession. When the costaleros do it especially well, thousands of peoples start to cry for joy. Suddenly, a shocking flamenco voice breaks the babbling of the people in the street and the procession stops. Somebody has decided to sing a saeta dedicated to Jesus or the Virgin and for a few minutes he or she pierces the heart of thousands, far beyond their beliefs. Floods of people move in waves from one street to another, chasing their favorite pasos, band and image. Bars and taverns are packed with people relishing traditional Easter pastries like torrijas (toasted slices of bread soaking in sugared milk, and flavoured with cinnamon, then bathed in egg and fried) or cod or lamb-based dishes. patrocinio cachorro triana costalerosIn the morning, visitors are allowed to enter the chapels and admire the images and artwork before they take to the streets. If the sky gets cloudy, noses point to the sky hoping not to savor the rain. Semana Santa, Sevillan style, may also be enjoyed in Ronda, Jerez, Sanlúcar, Utrera and many towns around; they all offer both their own little peculiarities and common features, such as people from the balconies throwing rose petals over the image of Virgin Mary, enormous floats entering narrow streets with only a few inches left at the sides for moving along the streets. The scents of Semana Santa are orange blossom that we call azahar, from the 40 thousand orange trees planted inside Seville, then incense, jasmine, torrijas and, of course, candle wax. All together, it is a baroque experience that lives through your senses, rather than your rationality.patrocinio cachorro triana nazarenos palio virgen semana santa sevilla