Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Diaspora And Deep Art

Armenian family during the 1915 Genocide                                                                 

I don't claim to be a historian, nor do I claim to be a cultural anthropolgist of any sort. All I know is what touches my heart, and that is all i can write, that which comes from....my heart.

After attending a very important conference this past weekend, on the Armenian genocide and grassroots projects (sponsored by the ANCA), I could not help but examine my own emotional ties to my roots and history, as well as compare the plight of my own people to those of the gypsy/flamenco culture. As I sat listening to one panelist after another discuss social consciousness related to genocide recognition and human rights efforts, I began to have my own internal dialogue, secretly discussing the similarities between the passionate art of gypsy/flamenco and my own cultural heritage. I came up with three major points of comparison that resonated deeply in my heart.
First:  both the gypsy/flamenco and the Armenian cultures are living, thriving groups that exist in their native lands while having created a diaspora that continues to expand in the global community. Granted, gypsy/flamenco families as a whole did not disperse and recreate communities in foreign countries much like the Armenian people did. And yes, flamenco culture did not create entire diasporan communities centralized around churches and schools.  However for those who are familiar with flamenco understand that those small but significant flamenco 'communities' pretty much come into existence every time 2 or more flamencos came together.  It brings to mind the famous quote by William Saroyan which ends with, "For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia".  Pretty neat quote. One of my favorites. I always felt that flamencos draw that kind of intense human connection between themselves much like the Armenians. They connect deeply through their humor, their sorrow, their passion and vigor for life.  After all, we have dealt with very similar social issues and a historical past based on injustice. You get the point.

Gypsy (Romani) youngsters in the Holocaust

Second:  Just as the Armenians were persecuted and marginalized within their own native land, so were the gypsies. True, the holocaust-era gypsies fall more into this category in terms of plans to exterminate a whole race, i.e. genocide.  But one can argue that the 300 years during which Spanish gypsies were subject to discrimination, persecution and social inequalities, is relative to the way that Armenians were treated during the Ottoman Empire (and in present day Turkey).  Flamenco as an artistic cultural form was born out of this very persecution. So was, respectively, a large part of Armenian art and music, and cultural expression. Some say even the unexplained melancholy in Armenians is a direct characteristic resulted from the suffering of our own grandfathers.
Spanish gypsies singing during a wedding                                                                          

Which brings me to the third and final major point of comparison:  Lamentation as a common component in the songs and music of these cultures. Here is where the heart knows and understands more than the mind. Of course both groups have songs of joy. After all, when you survive and thrive, there are also periods of rejoice. However, the deep songs or 'cante jondo', dominates a large part of the flamenco world. These are songs that discuss the darker side of humanity, social injustice, lost love, etc. These were oral traditions, passed down by generations of gypsy families. Similarly, a lot of poignant poetry, music, and art reflects the lamentation in Armenian culture.  However, when listening to the authentic music of both groups, there are distinct tones and keys that can be heard, never really quite the "C Major" key, that Western music is so familiar with.

So, there you go. A small discussion of culture, from a big, wild heart!

Saturday, August 13, 2011



Sometimes I have these dreams, where I picture myself on a stage in Spain, surrounded by some serious gypsy flamenco artists. I don't know the exact location, nor the size of the stage, nor the actual context where I find myself. That doesn't seem to matter. All I know is what I feel. What I feel is the rush of the singer, what it does to my blood. His guttural cries calling the spirit of his ancestors. Anguish, remorse, universal themes of suffering...... and then............resolve. Joy, ecstasy, bountiful rejoice follows.  I feel the yearning as I lift my chest, entering the salida of the solea. In another dream, I see me pounce onto a fast-paced buleria, as if I had been dancing for years, as if I could momentarily jump into it like we jumped in with jumpropes back in my youth.  I feel the sky is the limit, in my dreams. I feel as if I was born into this, not just in this lifetime, but many lives that came before. It is a willingness of the soul, to feel as if one can fluidly, rhythmically catch on to the compas . My body is the last to comprehend, and it struggles. But the soul, the soul has already understood every remate, every llamada, every subida, starting, stopping on a dime...firing up each and every letra, stories told, and untold, transmitted throughout the centuries into the throats of these gifted cantaors, overcome at the first sound of "ayiayiiiii".....

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Transitions In the Wild

I decided that this blog shall continue focusing more on flamenco and gypsy culture while an alternate blog I created will include topics related to food/cooking, pets/animals, lifestyle and culture. Please visit my new site, http://freeingthewildheart.blogspot.com

Live wild, live free...

Monday, July 4, 2011

Wild Self and The Power of Now

Wow!  Eight months since I last wrote for my blog, and I ask myself: Where does time fly?
What happened that happened so quickly in 8 months? Weeds in my garden grew slower. Now, in the stifling heat of July, I can still hear time laughing, sneering, teasing, chuckling at our 'best-laid plans'. My boss told me an interesting quote recently, she said: "Wanna make God laugh, tell him about your plans", which I totally love. There is a place for everything, and we do our best to make plans for the near future, the far future, and even our "to-do" list for tomorrow morning. Along the way we forget that reality truly resides in the "now". The future has not happened, and the past is filed away in our mind.

Although I practiced the "power of now" philosophy through winter and spring, and experienced some of the most joyful moments of my life doing so, I still cannot help thinking of how I can fight time, manipulate it, beat it, slow it down, enough to savor everything life has to offer.  The wild self has much yet to discover, and sometimes the best way to do it is to do it now. Carpe diem!

In the past couple months, two good friends of mine carpe diem'd in their own, authentic, wild ways...
One, who is married with kids, and going through a bitter separation(soon divorce), saw 16 years of marriage slowly crumbling. Simultaneously, her once-thriving business had also started to fall apart. For the first time in her life, this dynamic woman decided to seize the day, and took off to Spain for a couple of weeks....by herself.  Yeah, some say that is no big deal. But for her, it gave her new breath and meaning. The other, a fantastic girl I know who was diagnosed with a life-threating condition, and who continues to heal, figured that there is no better time than now. So she decided to grab a friend and embark on a life-long dream, a trip to Italy and France. Still, so many dream of taking that trip, planting that garden, starting a family, "When the time is right".   Well, that time is really right now.
Sunflower getting ready to open

Wild self does not recognize time. Nor does it adhere to plans very well. Wild self is best friends with nature, and belongs to the natural world.  Look at the plants and flowers that bloom around you, they thrive with sunlight, water, and fertile rich soil. They don't plan, they just do! Wow, how easy would it be to live that way.  No amount of time is enough to plan and grow your own wild roots. Keeping an open heart and a sense of wonder is the only approach. There is an infinite universe to explore, things to learn, to share and give back. In the end, it is what you make, your own life design that is. Of course, nothing comes without a cost. The only real cost is time.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Artists in the Wild

Manuela Carrasco- Acrylic on canvas, by Mariette

At an art show today I met an older artist who has been painting for some time and whose work reminded me of a delicate fusion between Picasso and Gustav Klimt.  We were engaged in a heart-warming conversation about life and the pursuit of art and creativity. She inspired in that special way that elderly wise women do, and reminded me that, "In this life, we only have time and energy, and we must pursue our creative desires".

In her book, Women Who Run With the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes explains that women who allow no outlet for their inner creativity, their natural wild selves, die a little in their souls everyday. It is imperative, especially for women, to practice their hobby/passion/lifestyle on a regular basis so as to keep that candle that burns in their inner sanctum, their very sacredness alive.

Manuela Carrasco 2- Acrylic on canvas, by Mariette

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Humbled, Once Again

 During our performance tonight at the historic El Cid,   I realized there was still a lot to be learned in the world of flamenco. Dancing alongside the premiere flamenco singer, Antonio de Jerez, I felt both proud and also humbled.  I had worked many days and hours to perfect my Solea por Buleria choreography, and, although I made it through without any major spills or mishaps, there were still some 'weak' areas that needed more work and practice. In the stifling heat up in the stage area (my fellow dancer's sweat flung out to the audience when she spun), we did our best to demonstrate authentic, pure gypsy flamenco. Given all the factors involved, however, this was still an important feat to accomplish.  First, El Cid is where some famous Los Angeles based artists have performed, including, my maestra and mentor, Linda Andrade.  If that's not enough pressure, we got only short notice for tonight's opportunity. We rehearsed the best we could the night before. Still, all the outward bravado, inner strength, and posture required in puro flamenco, could not replace knowing how to work well with your cuadro mates. For example, we were told to watch for visual cues from the singer, Antonio, an essential thing to keep the choreography moving smoothly.  And improvising could only take you so far. Some of the mini 'fiesta' style pieces like Tangos and Bulerias, could have used better collaboration.  

All said, tere were still some fabulous moments in our cuadro tonight, moments that made me proud, made my maestra proud. We had come a long way. But the one thing that flamenco is here to teach you, is that you must remain humble...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Headless Dancer

This small clip of a headless flamenco dancer was captured at a local flamenco party in Los Angeles, California. What I liked best about the dancer's performance was her wild, carefree spirit and while we missed her head during filming, we were interested in capturing the rhythms of her fancy feet. This particular choreography is called "solea por bulerias", and  it emulates sorrow, anger, and exemplifies all that is mad and passionate in flamenco.

Monday, July 12, 2010

What My Cat Taught Me About Being Wild

Mischievous as he is, my BFF (best feline friend), Noel, taught me more about his wild world in the past six months than I could have ever learned from books or the internet. Ever since I found him on my grandma's front porch on a cold, lonely Christmas night, this creature spirit has shown me a world that often seems more akin to our own true wild nature. He gave affection when affection was missing. Even with his quirky, contradictory behaviors, this otherwise free-roaming tiger teaches me something new everyday. He keeps me up some nights by jumping on and off my bed, but in the mornings will always come to up to my face and cuddle. He runs around chasing toys like a thunder bolt, and minutes later crawls up into my lap and sleeps like a peaceful little baby. He willfully jumps onto the kitchen counter, but when I come home he rolls around on the ground to show me how much he missed me. However, having never owned a cat before, little did I realize these behaviors were small human lessons in disguise.  In fact, humans have a lot to learn from their own loving pets.

Here is what my cat taught me about being wild and getting back to our natural, wild selves:
  • You will always have love and affection as long as you give some back!
  • Every creature has his moments of sadness, restlessness, joy, ecstasy, frustration. Just be in the moment, because this moment shall pass too.
  • Play time is important- stimulation of the mind and body makes for a healthy spirit.
  • There is nothing wrong with napping! In fact, do it more often, and see how much better you feel...
  • Stretch! Linger in your own body, be present, feel every inch, every muscle.
  • Pick a window seat once in a while, and just watch the world go by...
  • Sometimes it is good to crawl into a box or a hidden space, you can see the world from a whole different perspective that way. 
  • When you can't scratch in certain hard-to-reach spots, get somebody else to scratch you!
  • Eat cheese, it promotes stronger bones :)

    Saturday, July 3, 2010

    Studying with Manuela Carrasco: June 15-20, 2010

    "Wherever you are right now, Ole Manuela!".....
    That was how my last entry ended. Who knew that soon I would meet her live, in the flesh!
    Manuela Carrasco.
    A dream come true, truly.

    She is known worldwide as the "Queen of Solea", a queen of pure gypsy flamenco. Carrasco was born in the district of Triana, in Sevilla, Spain, where generations of gypsies lived and cultivated their unique art of flamenco through the centuries. Manuela Carrasco, however, was never formally schooled in flamenco. Like many purists, she learned from watching and living the art of flamenco through her family, and was recognized early on for her unique, emotive style of dancing.

    Upon hearing that Manuela would be visiting and teaching in the United States (something she has not done since the 1980's),  a stupendous excitement ran through my veins and my wild heart.  Here was a woman who has dedicated her life to commanding the stage, bringing people to tears with her artistry, yet she is a family woman, somebody's next-door neighbor in a bustling gypsy neighborhood. Yet here she was about to share a piece of her own unbridled passion with a few excitable flamencas in San Francisco.

    The week started off with a performance at U.C. Berkley's Zellerbach Hall. It was my first time seeing Manuela dance live, along with the authentic El Torombo and Rafael de Carmen. Manuela's husband, guitar legend, Joaquin Amador, unleashed the music, while their gorgeous daughter Samara, sang alongside the group. Tears were shed, jaws dropped, sighs could be heard across the hall.  It could not get more intense than this. This woman gives herself  'completely',  heart and soul, to her audience. The following five days consisted of the 'solea' workshop (Manuela's signature style), which started with a bang. Students came from different technical levels, but everybody was there to try and absorb even a tiny bit of Manuela's "aire", more so than to learn fancy footwork. Manuela, in her gypsy 'calo' Spanish and cigarette-coarsened voice repeatedly declared that "artists don't count their steps, they just feel the music".  If there was any frustration over not being able to learn steps correctly due to this, it was overshadowed by all the attention each individual received from this grande maestra. She made her rounds by adjusting our arms and hands, sometimes forcefully, but nothing was taken offensively.  It was like respecting a lion or tigress, a strong and threatening creature, yet extremely beautiful and graceful in spirit.

    The workshop ended with hugs, kisses, compliments, and blessings. Each student took away exactly what they wanted to, whether it was one thunderous llamada, or exquisite marcajes, or simply how to lift your chest and walk as if you own the stage because sometimes what you have to give is "everything that pours out from your heart".

    Could not have asked for a better way to spend a week in San Francisco!

    Above: Mariette, Joaquin Amador, Samara Carrasco, Manuela Carrasco

    Thursday, May 6, 2010

    Anything But a Gimmick

    Just a short while ago, a very important package arrived at my doorstep. A package from Malaga with the words "Correos" taped all over it. I had patiently waited for this box, which contained in it a little piece of magic.  A great symbol of flamenco iconography laid inside.

    I had ordered the special Manuela Carrasco flamenco shoes from Flamencista.com, after months of searching for the perfect new pair. However, I thought to myself, after five years of taking up flamenco, and going through 2 pairs that left me either hurting or stumbling over my feet, I deserved a good new, sturdy pair. Still, for the investment and time I was putting into my purchase, the shoes had to be both well-constructed and of a reputable mark.

    As this is already sounding like a commercial endorsement, it is exactly how I felt when I accidentally stumbled upon the website that featured shoes signed by Manuela Carrasco. They said that their shoes are endorsed by and crafted to the exact standards of the queen of gypsy flamenco herself! I thought to myself this is too much of a gimmick.  This can't be real!  I had never seen anybody brand their name onto a flamenco shoe. And, the last person on earth I would ever think of doing this was our queen of solea, the authentic, non-commercialized Manuela!  Taking a huge leap, I went ahead and ordered the very expensive shoes. I thought, if nothing else, I would have a little piece of her essence with me whenever I dance. Then....I waited......and waited.......and waited.......

    When the package finally arrived, I could not bare to open it! Would I be disappointed?  Would I somehow be disappointed or feel robbed?  A very childlike feeling came over me, a feeling I had not had since opening a new toy, no, more like a doll. In fact, the beautiful shoebox itself looked to me like a brand new Barbie box. When I finally opened what felt like a small precious vault, the fragrance of pure leather took me straight to the Andalucian shoe factory. Wow, direct from overseas, like a bottle of wine being opened!  I could not resist the scent and the thought of the skilled hands that had constructed these shoes and carefully closed this box with all of its elegant embellishments! With so much hesitation I finally slipped my foot into the right, then the left shoe. Fit perfectly! Unlike its predecessors, my feet molded to this lovely pair of soft but sturdy suede. It was obvious that so much love and care had gone into crafting this shoe, that Manuela's endorsement and signature was almost like the icing on the cake at this point!

     Wherever you are right now, Ole Manuela!!!

    Wednesday, January 20, 2010

    Of Roma Blood and Knowledge

    Some of the most inspiring stories today center around the strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity. Especially true for people of minority or marginalized cultures, achieving recognition, whether in the arts, sciences, or literature, requires going above and beyond the social norms and expectations predetermined for them. In the case of Dr. Ian Hancock, we learn about a Romani who defied the expectations of not only his own culture, but that of the oppressive mainstream society in which he was raised.

    Among his major accomplishments, Dr. Hancock was the first Romani in Britain to receive a PhD. He found his niche not only as an educator and scholar, but also as an activist for the recognition and rights of Romani throughout the world. He is the 1998 recipient of the Gamaliel Chair in Peace and Justice from the University of Wisconsin and the 1997 winner of Norway’s prestigious Rafto International Human Rights Prize, in addition to being named for an honorary doctorate by UmeĆ„ University in Sweden. He was also appointed to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council by former president Bill Clinton.

    Dr. Hancock has been credited for creating the first Romani program of university studies, which he initiated at The University of Texas at Austin, and honored with the university’s distinction as the leading U.S. center for studies of Romani history, language and culture.

    Read more about Dr. Ian Hancock's fascinating story at:

    Monday, December 7, 2009

    Gut to Guttural: El Cante Flamenco

    Throughout my flamenco education, my maestras, (particularly one very special one), have often described pure gypsy flamenco as being "earthy." They made references by saying, for example, "this tango piece is danced close to the ground, more earthy", or, "Listen to the way he sings, it's got a very earthy feel to it." But, as with any didactic material, the information would tuck itself into a corner of my mind in favor of the urgency I felt to learn the next fancy footstep, palmas, or pellisco. But then I would go home and listen to more flamenco music or watch youtube videos intently, asking myself, what exactly does she mean by earthy? Does she mean organic-sounding, since flamenco music is made up of basic elements (cante, baile, palmas)? or does 'earthy' refer to various flamenco dances which convey a range from playful to angry, to sensual, to earthy? Or perhaps she meant to say flamenco music is earthy simply because of its birthplace, la tierra de Andalucia.

    Then it dawned on me one day as I watched a flamenco singer up close pour it straight out from his gut: Of course! There it was. In the depths of his pink, trembling throat, the sheer guttural force of his emotions called out. There, in the bulging neck veins pumping the blood of his ancestors. There the earth spoke. Primal. Primordial. Primeval. All that was pure, raw essence of human expression. Unleashed. Uncensored. It was no longer just a wailing call of the gypsy artist. It was the heavy grunt of a caveman beating his chest, demanding to be heard. It was the lusty cry of a newborn baby after being excavated from the womb. The deep trenches where struggle was given a voice. It was, in essence, the absolute right to be heard. Song born of the earth, fertile soil.

    Raspy, throaty, guttural.

    From the ravines down by the Sacromonte to the River Guadalquivir in Sevilla, the echos of the flamenco singers are carried to and from the earth. To hear the cante is to connect with the duende. You see, to be a good student of flamenco, one must understand the song. As my favorite maestra always reminds me: "Listening to the cante is as equally, if not more, important as your dancing."

    Saturday, November 28, 2009

    Roma Factoid

    Historically, when the Roma used to play music for non-Roma events such as weddings, parties, and baptisms their repertoire would be largely inclusive of Slovak folk music. However, amongst themselves, Roma would sing slower songs about their hard life, grief, suffering, and love. As the Romani quote goes:

    Gadzeske basavav andro kan, Romeske andro jilo, or, "For the non-Roma play for the ear, for us play for the heart".

    Source: http://romove.radio.cz/en/

    Friday, November 13, 2009

    Communal Bathing

    There is a beautiful scene in the movie Gadjo Dilo by Tony Gatlif in which the main character, a Romani girl, bathes outdoors with her friend, to the curious pleasure of the gadje, who catches a rare, and perhaps forbidden glimpse into their wantonness. The makeshift outdoor bath house is as splendid as the violets the girls use to wash their bodies and hair. The laughter and frolic of the girls in the bare elements make it so that they appear harmonious with nature. There is an earthly goodness in that scene that takes us back to our roots, to simplicity, where nudity is not considered necessarily sexual, but rather sensual.

    Of course, that kind of natural scene is only found in films. Or is it? While Gatlif captures the essence of Rom gypsy village life in the backwoods of Romania, there is a whole different kind of 'scene' taking place right here in Los Angeles. Well, not so much a scene as a tradition carried over from the old country.

    Along the boulevards of Koreatown, Los Angeles, barely visible to the naked eye are traditional bath houses which offer a secret hideaway for pampering and relaxation. Dubbed 'spas', these are in fact legit communal bath houses that have traditionally been gathering places for Korean men and women, but are open to the general public. Establishments like Century Sports Club and Olympic Spa offer shared, public spaces for steaming, scrubbing, dipping in hot/cold/medicinal baths, indulging in massages and facials, all in one respectful communal environment. Men have separate facilities, (not unlike the women's spa), where they can indulge in sauna, hot tubs and steam rooms. And guess what, clothing is not optional! After all, the only way to get super clean and scrubbed is to go completely 'au natural'....And contrary to what one may think, the facilities are generally quite clean and safe as they do closely adhere to health and safety codes.

    Though technically these 'spas' do offer more individualized services such as body scrubbing, facials, and massages, I like to call them bath houses. After all, I like to think that a bath house sounds much more traditional, organic, exotic, earthy, more gypsy... than a snooty-sounding spa!