The city of Cádiz features in each of the novels in my Andalucían Nights trilogy. It’s such a vibrant, luminous city, it was an easy decision to set scenes there; this a thriving and beautiful place with a rich history and culture.
Here’s a glimpse of the city from the perspective of Alexandra, heroine of Indiscretion:
Not quite an island, it was a city of dazzling white houses set on a rocky peninsula, jutting into the sea with the sapphire-blue waters wrapped around it. A jewel that towered over the Atlantic, she well deserved her name. Brilliant and sparkling like a diamond in the sunshine, Alexandra found her beauty was just as arresting at night, under a velvet sky studded with stars, when the city was reflected in the almost unearthly phosphorescence of the ocean.
For me, travelling is all about the vistas: my memory is like a photo album packed with colourful, striking, beautiful scenes. Today I’m sharing with you ten unforgettable vistas in Cádiz city which, I hope, will make you want to travel there, whether in person or via one of my books:
1. Gran Teatro Falla
This theatre is one of the notable monuments of Andalucía, a lovely example of the neo-Mudéjar style. It stands in the Plaza Fragela, in the north-west quarter of the Old Town, a grand and historic theatre. Within, you find a handsome marble staircase, antiquated gold and claret décor, and ornate Moorish revival arches. The theatre is so-named in honour of Manuel de Falla, who is buried in the Cathedral.
The Cathedral de Santa Cruz dates back to the eighteenth century and is prominent in the Cádiz cityscape. It was built painstakingly, over more than a century, to exemplify all that is great about Cádiz and to put it on the spiritual map. It has an iconic gold-tiled dome roof, which gives it an exotic Moorish look. One of the towers is open to the public, and the views from there are spectacular, but quite honestly I find beauty enough in gazing at the cathedral’s façade.
3. San Sebastián Castle
On a little islet jutting out from the Caleta beach, the fortress dates back to the early 1700s and affords amazing views over the ocean and back towards the city. The tall tower within is a lighthouse, built a century ago. To reach the castle, you walk along the zig-zagging causeway, the Paseo Fernando Quiñones, and through magnificent old archways.
4. Roman theatre
The ancient theatre dates all the way back to the first century BC. One of the biggest Roman theatres ever discovered, it could hold an audience of 20,000. It was found in 1980, and is only partially excavated. On the steps, it’s impossible not to be swept away by the thought of who stood there before you.
5. Tavira Tower
The tower itself is quite beautiful, dating back to the eighteenth century when Cádiz was ‘a city of watchtowers’, with no fewer than 160 from which men would watch for merchant ships. But it is the view from the tower that is really special, a panoramic vista of the city in the cámaraoscura, a room in which the view is projected via a convex lens.
6. Monument to the Constitution of 1812
This monument is completely breath-taking, entirely dominating the Plaza de España. It is the combined work of architect Modesto Lopez Otero and sculptor Aniceto Marinas. It was commissioned in 1912 to mark the centenary of the Constitution of 1812, the country’s very first constitution, which established important principles, among them universal male suffrage, national sovereignty and freedom of the press.
7. Plaza San Antonio
The neo-classical and Castilian late Gothic architecture of the buildings on each side of this square is striking. Once, this was the place to live for the upper classes of Cádiz. San Antonio Church in the square dates back to 1669.
8. Genovés Park
With so many stunning buildings to admire, and bedazzled by the blue sky and even bluer sea all around, it is easy to forget that Cádiz also offers lush, verdant vistas. The Genovés Park is beautifully maintained, with many different trees and plants, plus a lake with a spectacular waterfall.
9. Centre for Subaquatic Archaeology
Not a place to visit, but to admire from the outside. The iconic white building is on Caleta beach, and was created in the 1920s. For some thirty years it was a spa, El Balneario de Nuestra Señora de la Palma y del Real, but these days it’s used by the university. Caleta is the smallest beach in Cádiz, but the most popular, and the houses behind give it a colourful backdrop.
10. The sea
Last, but by no means least, the sea. Wherever you go in Cádiz, you are quickly reunited with the ocean – the city is, as the Moors put it, a ‘dish of silver in a bowl of blue’. Whether you find a sea view soothing or stirring, you’re bound to be drawn to the waves lapping someplace nearby in their age-old rhythm.
Sometimes, when I am interviewed by a blogger or a journalist, I am asked what hobbies I have beyond reading and writing, and the answer that always springs to mind is this:
‘Antiques. I love antiques! I love to be the custodian of an object that has a history – indeed, that is part of history; to care for it for future generations; to wonder about (or research, where possible) its peculiar history. Most of all, I enjoy discovering new items: in every city that I visit on my travels, I go to the market and delve into back-street antique stores, looking to unearth new treasures, marvelling over an unusual find or one to add to a collection, negotiating on price with the shopkeeper and delighting in a bargain.’
I grew up in Alexandria, Egypt, so you could say that a reverence and deep respect for old, antiquated items is in my blood – but then, I think that was the case all over the world before the advance of modern consumerism: buy, consume, discard, buy another. I suppose in some ways my love for antiques is a love for a more traditional way of life, founded on valuing that which you have. I would much rather have an old hardback book – a first edition, say – than a brand-new paperback. That old book has such soul.
A home needs soul, and that can be created with a sense of history. Take this description of my heroine’s bedroom in my latest novel Legacy, set in Cadiz, Andalucía:
‘She took in the oversized bed with its beautiful Spanish wrought-iron headboard. It was covered with an old-fashioned bedspread of thick white lace and was draped with a snowy mosquito net, secured by a satin tie-back. The dressing table and chair were also antique-looking. Its oval, free-standing, Murano glass mirror with silver inlay in its frame, combined with the beautiful cobalt-blue Murano glass chandelier hanging from the beamed ceiling, lent a touch of bygone charm to the room.’
Luna’s new home is a beautiful, modern, architect-designed house, and the antiques in her bedroom serve as an important and necessary contrast. This is a book all about historical roots, and the objects with which she is surrounded in her room remind her of this and tie her to the place; they ground her in the setting and, in a sense, in an older time as well as the present.
Throughout the Andalucían Nights trilogy, I interweave old and new. Take the traditional masked ball which features in each of the three books, Indiscretion, Masquerade and Legacy. In Indiscretion, Alexandra finds in a costume shop ‘a genuine Moorish costume, which belonged to a Moorish princess … a real museum piece … entirely embroidered in silver thread and set with tiny pearls and precious stones’. The sultana’s costume is one of a pair; there is a matching sultan’s costume, which Salvador wears. Fast-forward to Masquerade, and Alexandra’s daughter, Luz, wears the antique sultana costume to the ball; and then, in Legacy, her son Ruy and Luna meet at the ball wearing the paired costumes.
The costumes are passed from generation to generation, and not only are they imbued with all the significance of the predecessors’ romance, but they are also attached to a legend: it is said that the wearers of these costumes are destined to fall in love. (For more on the legend, visit http://hannahfielding.net/the-legend/.) As I write in Legacy, something that’s been passed down through the generations is to be greatly appreciated: ‘If it’s old and has a story, then it is all the more romantic and meaningful.’
Every old object tells a tale, and thus old objects are perfect both to inspire tales and to be interwoven into tales. Thus do I, to paraphrase Virginia Woolf, ‘ransack [antique stores], and find them full of sunken treasure.’
When you think of Spain, what springs to mind? Whatever mental image you conjure, it is bound to include at least one of this trio:
* Bullfighting: the fever of the crowds at the corrida, the toreros in their costumes, the furious bull. (See my blog post ‘The Running of the Bulls’: http://hannahfielding.net/the-running-of-the-bulls/)
* Flamenco: the beautiful attire, the sensual dancing, the soulful music and vocals. (See my blog post ‘Duende: the artistic flamenco spirit’: http://hannahfielding.net/duende/)
* Hispano-Moorish architecture: nowhere is this more stunning than at the Alcázar of Seville and the Alhambra, Granada. (See my blog posts ‘The Alcázar, Seville: a setting for indiscretion’: http://hannahfielding.net/the-alcazar-seville-a-setting-for-indiscretion; and ‘The Hall of the Abencerrages’: http://hannahfielding.net/the-hall-of-the-abencerrages/)
Did you know that each of these three important parts of Spanish culture originated either wholly or in large part in Andalucía? For me, Andalucía is the most inspiring cultural and historical hub in Spain, which is why I chose to set my trilogy – Indiscretion, Masquerade and Legacy – there.
Omne trium perfectum: a Latin phrase which translates to ‘everything that comes in threes is perfect’ or ‘every set of three is complete’. Bullfighting, flamenco, Moorish-inspired architecture: a perfect three at the foundation of Andalucían culture.
One also finds omne trium perfectum in writing. According to ‘the rule of three’, writing that incorporates threes is more powerful, engaging, satisfying and memorable to the reader. There were three little pigs, not four. There was a lion, a witch and a wardrobe – not merely a lion and a witch. Julius Caesar came, saw and conquered. The cry of the French Republic was for liberté, égalité, fraternité.
Three is a magic number. There is a rhythm to it – one, two, three – and a pleasing feeling of wholeness, completion: the three form a neat set. It was the need for that rhythm and that sense of completion that drove me to write not one or two books set in Andalucía, but three, a trilogy.
In fact, when I began writing Indiscretion I did not have in mind that this would be the first of a three-book series; I was simply immersed in the story world. But when I completed the book, it did not feel complete: there was so much more to write. So I began plotting a second book, Masquerade – and as I did so, I realised very quickly that I could not merely write a sequel. Two, for me, is not a magic number, and it did not fit with the Andalucían setting. I needed three books, and hence Legacy would follow, the book that would complete the set and take the wheel full circle.
Writing and publishing a trilogy has been a learning experience for me. Three individual books, and yet one entity, in a sense. Each of my books stands alone, and yet it is also intrinsically part of the three. The voice, the style, the tone, the artwork for the cover: all had to bind the three together.
I confess, I was only truly settled once Legacy was published and I had all three books, the set, on my shelf. But this month, I am even happier, because my publisher, London Wall, has brought out an all-in-one edition of the Andalucían Nights trilogy in ebook format: three books, one fluid read.
If you have not already discovered the Andalucían Nights trilogy, you can read a sample to see whether this epic, romantic family saga is up your street. Simply visit Amazon and click the book cover for the ‘Look Inside’ feature: https://www.amazon.com/Andalucian-Nights-Trilogy-Award-winning-Romantic-ebook/dp/B06XKZ2XKC/
‘La rue est un véritable musée pour tous.’ So wrote writer and artist Hergé, who is most famous for his comic book series The Adventures of Tintin. Translated into English, his aphorism reads: ‘The street is a veritable museum for everyone.’
What did Hergé mean by this? He was talking about people-watching. We go to museums to learn about the past. To learn about people, we can simply stand in a street and be observant.
I spend my summers in the south of France, and one of my favourite aspects of life in this part of the world is the cafe culture. By ‘cafe culture’ I do not mean visiting a chain coffee shop for a quick iced coffee and a cake, surrounded by people gossiping and tapping away on laptops and tablets. I mean the original and most wonderful cafe culture which is an intrinsic part of French life. I am talking about really good coffee, table service and an entirely unhurried pace. I am talking about sitting at a pavement table and having all the time in the world to people-watch – and most likely being surrounded by plenty of other people who are also taking time out not to chat or work, but to sit and breathe and observe.
Any good writer must also be a good observer. ‘Write about what you know’ is a popular adage, but of course we know very little unless we watch and absorb and consider and learn. For my latest novel series, Andalucían Nights, I did plenty of people-watching in Spain. The character of Leandro in Masquerade, in particular, was inspired by a very handsome gypsy man I saw on a beach in Andalucía.
For this series, I did not stop at being inspired by my observations of people, however; I infused into the writing this idea of learning through watching. Each of my heroines is a writer: Alexandra in Indiscretion writes romance novels; Luz in Masquerade writes biographies; Luna in Legacy is a science writer. Thus these women are naturally predisposed to being observers, and wherever they go the street is indeed their museum – they drink in the Spanish culture around them.
But my heroines do not merely passively take in sights they happen across, they seek out scenes that will interest and inspire them, and this is especially important when it comes to the gypsy communities in the books. Each heroine is fascinated by the gypsies, and her curiosity draws her to watch them at their camp, so that with each book there is the sense of history repeating itself.
First, in Indiscretion, Alexandra’s determination to find Salvador leads her right into the gypsy camp. What she finds there shocks her deeply:
It was then that she caught sight of a crowd of gypsies gathered at the wide entrance of one of the caves, a hundred yards away from where she was standing. Unlike the others, this one glowed with flickering light. Alexandra carefully weaved her way through the cluster of people, trying not to draw attention to herself. Several of the gypsies were carrying candles, the ends of which were wrapped in paper, careful not to let the wax drip onto their hands. Salvador stood at the entrance of the cave, his face pale and drawn. Beside him was Esmeralda, stiffly upright, her mouth grave, her beautiful blonde hair partially concealed by a large silk shawl.
Further inside the entrance, men were crouched on the ground, drinking wine from goatskin gourds. One tall, hawk-eyed gitano, a scar deeply etched down the side of his face, was perched on a rock, sharpening a short-bladed knife with a stone, and taking rough swigs of wine. Suddenly, the gypsies got up and started to dance. Their singing was a sort of raucous chant on a monotone, accompanied by castanets, hand-clapping and the rhythmic tapping together of two stones. Then, as the men drew back into the shadows, the women came forward, forming a wild circle around an open coffin. Their sinuous bodies, wrapped in flowing loose dresses, wriggled in the eerie glow of the flames. They were swaying their hips like witches at in incantation, and Alexandra half expected to see black cats appear at any minute, clinging to their backs with raised fur.
Alexandra has stumbled into the funeral of a child, and the gypsies’ customs for this sad event – in particular, the rhythmic ‘bee dance’ – are very unsettling for her. She feels she is ‘in the midst of some hellish nightmare’.
Alexandra does not find affinity with the gypsies, but her daughter certainly does: Luz falls in love with Leandro, the son of a gypsy. Luz comes to the camp in the evening and, hiding behind a large clump of bristling cactus, she watches Leandro play his guitar and sing in the flamenco style for his gypsy family. Luz’s desire to observe and learn has driven her to this place, but she soon becomes uncomfortable, feeling that she is an illicit onlooker.
As he opened his eyes, the gypsy turned towards where Luz was standing. Like deep opal jewels his green irises shone in the semi-darkness and the look of torment in them was harrowing. She made herself smaller. Had he noticed her? The shouts of Olé! and the clapping of hands and stamping of feet were overwhelming, echoing the pounding of her pulse. Men slapped the gypsy singer on the back and young gitanas appeared from every side, screaming, ‘Leandro! Leandro!’ They surrounded him, embracing, hugging and cajoling.
Steel fingers pinched cruelly at Luz’s heart. It was getting colder and the sea wind was beginning to blow, lifting small clouds of dust from the rubble around the encampment. Now lonely, hollow and a little sad, she was not a part of these strange, passionate people, merely an onlooker, an intruder; she had no right to be there. A sudden fear came over her that she might be caught watching them, that he could have seen her, so she turned her back on the scene of merriment. It was time to go home.
In Legacy, the heroine Luna need not feel discomfort over visiting the gypsy camp; she stumbles across it while searching for the ruins of a Moorish mosque, and is guided to the camp by a gypsy lady named Morena. Whereas Alexandra witnessed a gypsy funeral for a child, Luna is afforded the opportunity to watch a ceremony for a newborn baby.
There was a large hollow in the ground next to the cave and a small fire had been lit alongside it. The matron poured water into it and Ruy immersed the child twice in the hole. He then held little Luis over the flame while enunciating a few words in Caló before giving him to his mother.
‘He is bestowing upon him the gift of immortality,’ Morena whispered, ‘an old tradition that some of us follow and that will bring much luck to the child.’
A cradle made of bamboo was brought out. The matron handed Ruy three sprigs of garlic and three pieces of bread, which he placed underneath the mattress. Then, dipping his finger in the hot cinders, he marked the child’s forehead with a semi-circular sign illustrating the moon.
‘The garlic and the bread are for the three goddesses of fate,’ said Morena. ‘El Mèdico has explained to us that this tradition we have comes from the ancient legends of Greece. The first goddess spins the thread of life for each person with her spindle, the second measures it with her rod, and the third determines when and how it should be cut.’
Luna’s initial reaction is akin to Alexandra’s – she is judgmental. She considers the ceremony to be ‘arcane symbolism and superstition’, and assumes that Ruy has not taken proper care of the baby by bathing him in muddy water a hole in the ground. In fact, though, she later discovers, the hole is tiled and the water was clean and warm – she misjudged what she saw.
The common theme in these books is that one must watch and learn about another culture, not make assumptions and judge. For Alexandra, in the prejudice-rife 1950s, this was not easy. But by Luna’s generation, there must be a change. As Luna watches, she must open her mind; she must challenge preconceptions and assumptions. Only then can she respond to the ‘odd stirring’ she feels inside when she sees Ruy with the gypsies – ‘as though some inner part of her was reaching out to it all, like a hungry sapling seeking the sun’.
Flamenco – the dance, the music, the culture, the artistic duende spirit – is at the heart of my novels Indiscretion, Masquerade and Legacy, which are set in Andalucía, home of flamenco.
What do you think of when you hear the word ‘flamenco’? The rousing, rhythmic, raw music, perhaps – the guitars and the hand-clapping and the singer’s cry. Maybe it is the sinuous, sensual movements of the dancers that come to mind. Or perhaps you associate the word with concepts that are inherent in the flamenco art: passion, sexuality, vibrancy, expressiveness…
These concepts are perfectly encapsulated in the costumes that flamenco dancers wear. The dancer’s dress dramatically hugs the silhouette, before giving way to ruffles that cascade romantically down. The more ruffles, the better! The dress is the red of blood or the black of night, and often has polka-dots – in fact, polka-dots originated in flamenco attire.
Until 1929, the traje de flamenco (flamenco dress) was worn solely by women in the south of Spain, who devised their dresses themselves and sewed them at home; but then, in that year, women from the upper echelons of society trialled the new style at the Seville Ibero-American Exposition, where it was well received by Spaniards and foreigners alike. Since then, fashion designers have returned to flamenco time and time again in search of inspiration, and this season is no different.
Visit any fashion store and you’re bound to find ruffles and polka-dots aplenty in the summer range, but this season you’ll also come across a new design: the so-called flamenco flares. Here’s a look at some currently on offer from Spanish high-street brand Zara:
Here are some available from another popular Spanish high-street store, Mango:
When The Times reported on the flamenco flares recently, there was an unmistakable tone of unease in the article, a concern that this style is ‘outlandish’ – ‘comic’, even – and that it ‘may sound alarm bells’.
Of course, everyone has a unique opinion when it comes to fashion, and understated simplicity is always the safest option. But personally, I don’t find fashion inspired by flamenco to be outlandish – I think it’s fabulous. Flamenco is all about authentic expression, about duende, which, as Federico García Lorca, put it, is a question of ‘true, living style, of blood, of the most ancient culture, of spontaneous creation…’.
The word ‘flamenco’ is thought to derive from ‘fire’ or ‘flame’, which conveys the fury and fervour at the heart of the art. To wear a flamenco-inspired design, then, is to embrace that inner flame. ‘Erupt into style’ begins the Times article; that is exactly what flamenco is all about – erupting, conveying with stark honesty emotion and truth and sexuality.
What do you think of fashion inspired by flamenco? Do you admire a person who wears bold, statement pieces like the flamenco flares? I would love to hear your thoughts.
And if you’d like to explore true flamenco fashion further, the website for the 2017 We Love Flamenco show in Seville is an excellent resource: http://www.weloveflamenco.es. It showcases some spectacular designs that make flamenco flares look extremely tame and conventional in comparison; designs that may just inspire you to be colourful, vibrant and bold in your fashion choices this summer.