It’s Sunday, late afternoon, and I am having a beer with a few locals in a gipsy-owned bar tucked away in a remote part of Sierra del Norte. The atmosphere is lively without being rowdy and I am the only ‘payo’ (non-gipsy) there. We talk about everything and nothing, the usual.
The front door is kicked wide open and a tall young man staggers over to the bar as everyone makes way and affectionately hugs and greets him. “Paco”, informs me my neighbour in a reverend tone.
Paco is covered in mud and dry blood – it looks as if he’d just murdered someone and needed a stiff drink to settle the nerves. Close, as it turns out.
He had been hunting in the woods nearby, illegally of course, stalking a wild pig for hours on end, and finally killing it with a single bullet between the eyes (he says). He then quartered the beast so he could drag it home in manageable pieces.
He is a filthy mess and reeks of fear and death; he downs a glass of brandy and goes home to fetch his guitar and the pregnant girlfriend.
When he comes back, he is resplendent in a shiny silk shirt and a heavy gold chain with a pendant of the Virgin around his neck. He is strikingly handsome, with classical Roman features and jet-black curly hair.
He casually picks up his guitar and, suddenly, silence descends on the bar, all eyes on Paco. As soon as he makes the first contact with the strings, it becomes obvious why the usually unruly crowd doesn’t even dare to whisper – his mastery of the instrument is extraordinary.
He is now a picture of concentration, eyes closed, stroking the guitar with sublime tenderness, as if caressing a lover. I notice his fine and smooth hands and find it impossible to imagine that these elegant fingers were ripping a wild pig apart just hours ago.
This happened some years ago. Subsequently, Juraj has befriended Paco, whose amazing guitar playing (and his by then extremely pregnant girlfriend’s singing) became the star attraction at Juraj’s wedding. We intend to seek him out and revisit this story.
We have impeccable contacts in the world of Flamenco, so “8 million steps” will feature some of the most accomplished musicians, singers and dancers in Spain; we’ll also delve into the subject of Gipsies – their unique way of living and the often hostile treatment they receive from the mainstream population.