Of Spice and Spain

February 27, 2014. Google’s commemorative doodle honoring the 112th birthday of author John Steinbeck really, truly rocks……of mice and men, in the grapes of wrath, and travels with Charley – “it is the hour of the pearl – the interval between day and night when time stops and examines itself.” 

It brought back memories of my adolescent years when Hesse and Nietzsche, Steinbeck and Salinger, Emerson and Thoreau, Tagore and Vonnegut, Austen and Bronte, Christie and Doyle, Emily Dickinson and Christina Rossetti and so many, many more beloved authors and poets quenched the thirst for searching wonder, which, thankfully, still prevails, and looks forward to reading many, many more words of wisdom and introspection; war and peace; undersea and over-skies….

Since the doodle could be viewed only on Google USA, I have placed the screenshots as a slide show. (Click on the first to start the slideshow)

The illustrations are so beautiful – in the old-book-style when hand and paper still made direct contact without the medium of computer graphics.  I remember discovering the libraries in both my grandparents’ homes as a kid and finding those books, among many others, and later books of my parents – and  being lost for hours in that world of tales and travels through the beauty of the written word. Lazy carefree summer vacations spent reading sitting under a tree or up in a balcony licking creamsicles or pickles, voraciously reading as though time was endless, optimism abundant. Same on Christmas vacations – as the sounds of chatting relatives would fill the downstairs hallways, I’d find a secret corner in a secluded room and, snuggled in winter mittens and sweater, discover the magic of life and love, anguish and exhilaration, and adventures yet to be experienced on growing up some day…..

Whoever or whichever team decides the artwork of Google doodles definitely seems to have good taste. They never fail to amuse or impress, or at most bring back the whiff of nostalgia. 

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It was also with some sadness I was informed this day that Spain’s and the world’s foremost Flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia had passed away. Just last year I was working on a video of the music of Paco de Lucia with Al di Meola (who I’ve been fortunate enough to meet in person thanks to guitarist Alex Skolnick), for the world music project Planetary Coalition. Paco was quite simply put – an absolute musical genius.

I had become a student of the dance form of Spanish Gypsy Flamenco since 2004 – earlier having been a disciple and stage performer of classical Bharatnatyam which I’d started at the age of 4 and continued for 19 years – under the tutelage of, and often as a lead dancer for the large stage productions by the highly venerated dance couple Jaya and C.V Chandrasekhar (before architectural pressures disallowed time for anything else…..much to the disappointment of my teachers who had hoped that I would continue in the strict Kalakshetra-school discipline and become a full-time professional dancer.)  However, after a break from formal dance, Flamenco is the form that I had chosen on my very own and which remains closest to my heart, and Paco de Lucia’s playing was one of the seducers to understand the nuances and fire (duende) of this incredibly Dionysian music and follow its call through dance.

Flamenco Dancers: Paintings by Fabian Perez and Anastassia Art respectively.

Flamenco Dancers: Paintings by Fabian Perez and Anastassia Art respectively.

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Though incredibly revered and well-known in the flamenco and jazz world, most others may unknowingly have come across Paco’s strumming in the hit Bryan Adams song “Have you ever loved a woman.” Unlike the dynamic, daring public image which he felt people had unfairly “lionized” by his stage presence, in real life Paco was shy, “timid and retiring”, introverted and extremely private.

Age 66 is relatively young by today’s standards to pass away. He will be deeply missed, but thankfully – his music will live on and inspire generations to come.

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One more for Flamenco lovers with gypsy hearts and nomadic feet…..

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