Fridays and Saturdays at the Spanish restaurant Tasca De Plata a romantic tradition is brought to life at night. Tasca De Plata specializes in Spanish tapas, or appetizers. Examples: cojonudo, Spanish chorizo (sausage) with fried quail egg and bread, or banderillas, pickled vegetables (from olives to chili peppers) served on skewers. As I order, the room darkens as the performers step on stage.
A wizened old man in a turquoise vest places his spindly fingers on the trusty strings of his rustic six string guittara as the dust glows under the dim lights. A beautiful girl in a polka dot dress with raven hair and raspberry-red heels glances at him knowingly. Smoke curls in the air as she rhythmically stomps her feet to the mournful melodies ringing from the guittara, her arms beckoning the melodies slowly onwards, the baile. It requires extraordinary ability. I take sips of sangria, an Iberian Peninsula specialty, a tasty blend of wine, liquor, and fruit juice while eating a delicious blend of cow and goat cheeses. The show has started.
While she dances, the old man nods his head appreciatively to no one. He plays in the Phrygian scale, a child of the ancient Greek Dorian scale, a descending scale that was the music of Plato, Socrates, and Hippocrates (most Western music uses ascending scales). Later, it was the music of the traveling gypsies - assorted fortune tellers, magicians, and bandits, the music of a world of mystery. This is flamenco, and it perfectly captures the qualities of those peoples. It is centuries old, folk music yet 'neoclassical', emotional and free-form yet technical and structural.
The girl stops to click her castanets as the crowd claps. Am I in a dingy café cantante in Andalusia, Spain (the birthplace of flamenco), or a restaurant in Canton, Michigan? My mind wavers, lost in the magic. The ghosts of a thousand years, preserved in song, are revived and dance on the haunted stage, and the performers channel this collective energy. Her pace is frenetic now as the crowd's spirits are at a crescendo. The rhythmic power of her dancing is awe-inspiring, hypnotizing. The guitarist wails uncontrollably. Then, without warning the music, the dancing, the clapping all comes to a halt, like a raging storm that ends suddenly. The crowd erupts in rapturous applause as the entertainers, emotionally exhausted, take a bow.