Sunday, 30 December 2007

Journey at a word's notice

Gala_flamenca I relish research. That’s a confession. It’s one of many aspects of writing I love getting lost in. There’s something exciting and adventurous about exploring a word or a phrase or a reference and suddenly finding yourself in new territory: rediscovering ideas, concepts; tracing their origins; charting the passages between one place another; creating connections and making these new places your own---anything that broadens the horizons.

For example, when putting together an early draft of The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore, I used the word ‘flamenco’ to suggest a style of dancing that takes place in one scene. Though only intended as a passing comment, the moment I wrote it I wasn’t sure if it was really appropriate or not, and whether I could leave it in or not, and so, before I could say ‘Burke and Wills’ or ‘Dr Livingstone I presume’, I'd reached for the reference books and was engaged upon a major expedition that I haven’t yet returned from.

My trusty two volume Shorter Oxford English Dictionary noted the first recorded use of the word ‘flamenco’ in the English language as 1896 and identified a connection with the Spanish for ‘flamingo’ (which made a kind of sense with the bird’s ‘bright scarlet plumage, long and slender legs and neck’). It also noted that it’s a ‘Spanish gipsy style of singing or dancing’. However, my Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary made the more popular qualification that the word derives from ‘Flemish’ (and a belief that gipsies were Flemish in origin). Regardless of this, I’d begun browsing now and couldn’t help but notice a few convenient definitions for the word ‘flame’, which was sitting comfortably nearby in both books:

  • ‘The condition of visible combustion’;
  • ‘A bright beam or ray of light’;
  • ‘A burning feeling or passion’;
  • ‘The object of one’s love’;
  • ‘To move as or like flame’;
  • ‘To kindle, inflame, excite, animate’.

All this was good stuff and felt relevant to the way the story was heading at that time, but I hadn’t learnt much about the nature of flamenco dance---the rhythm, the gestures, the mood, the music----and so I left the books behind and set sail across Google.

Three days later ... well, I won’t take you through the initial stages of the journey, but from many sites I visited along the way I learnt this form of dance grew from song, and that the songs originally recorded tales of the oppressed and the under-dog, and that the passion and the fire and the mournfulness were all an integral part of flamenco and had been through the centuries, and that the song was often accompanied by guitar. The site http://www.answers.com/topic/flamenco was a particularly useful place to visit and a fine staging post to other sites, such as http://www.flamenco-world.com/magazine/about/que_es_flamenco/indice11112004.htm . The more I discovered, the more I wanted to listen to flamenco music, to click my fingers and shout “Olé” along to the tune of it, to eat paella and tapas, olives and soft cheeses, and to spend time in Andalusia. And some of that I’ve done, and some of that I’m yet to do.

Went to see Gala Flamenca perform in Melbourne a few weeks back, on tour from Spain. They were stunning, colourful, fiery, passionate, mournful, seductive, entertaining, and left me feeling content that I’d taken a closer look at the meaning of the word ‘flamenco’ when I was working on that early draft, even if it was only a word to use in passing. Olé!

This excerpt is taken from a film by Carlos Saura, which I haven't yet seen, and which I only discovered whilst putting this post together (another journey), but I'll be looking to get hold of a copy now. Thought it was a nice example and I hope you enjoy.

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