Saturday, January 31, 2009

Vancouver Flashback - I

Chapter 13

Sometimes a small step off the main road can lead to a life change. A detour from one’s customary path can at times be the passageway to another existence. So it was with me one day in Vancouver, when walking along Tenth Avenue in the early 1960s. I saw a store that I hadn't noticed before. 'The Mediterranean Shop' was written over the doorway and I was intrigued, so I walked in.
And there my life changed.

Mediterranean Shop
At the time, I was a young wife and mother of two little girls and I was searching for a creative outlet. My husband was just finishing university and we had no money for paints or art equipment.
My Vancouver Regional Library card was well worn but just reading wasn't enough. I had heard Andres Segovia playing classical guitar and was captivated by the special sound of that instrument.

So that day when I saw guitars hanging in The Mediterranean Shop I was drawn inside where I was greeted by a tall, grey-haired man who spoke with a slight British accent. He told me the guitars on the wall were made in his own factory in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. His name was George Moore Bowden and his guitar factory in Spain was called Los Guitarreros de Mallorca.

George Bowden
When I realized that here were Spanish-made guitars I enquired about lessons.....was there a teacher near? He responded that he had a good teacher named Bill Lewis who was at that time taking master classes in California with Andres Segovia but he would be returning soon to teach in the shop. Although I had no money for lessons, I signed up. I knew from where I could borrow an old nylon stringed guitar and that would have to do. (We were so poor that we reused teabags, stringing them up on a rail in the kitchen with clothespegs to dry until the next day.)

stanley park With my girls and my beehive hairdo in Stanley Park, Vancouver.

I was excited to start taking lessons from Bill Lewis. He was a man who played classical well and could impress me and others with his flamenco rasgueado, although that wasn't going to be my genre.

YouTube~rasgueado ('s very loud!)

I would be taking the Aaron Shearer Classic Guitar method. It was a surprise to learn that I’d be using a little footstool for my left foot. I hadn't noticed that classical guitarists didn't usually play with their guitar slung horizontally over one knee.

I took to the instrument with a passion. Since I’d had piano lessons and choir experience in the past, I could read music and had a knowledge of theory and harmony. After a few weeks I could also tune the guitar myself with the help of the little pitch pipe that was used for this.

Aaron Shearer vol 1Volume One of Aaron Shearer was my introduction to Classical Guitar and the book I was later to use for my beginner students. It was very well written and easy to follow.

At the time I’d also heard Julian Bream playing J.S. Bach’s Chaconne, written originally for violin in D minor,but heard first by me played on classical guitar.

Yehudi Menuhin plays Part one on You Tube.

Part two is on the same page.

Although we had only an old and very large tape recorder and no record player, I played that piece over and over again. Every day found me practicing scales, arpeggios and the first little studies of Aaron Shearer, in between caring for the small apartment and children. It was thrilling to be able to produce such sounds even from a simple and old guitar.

Chaconne - Part One

Chaconne - Part Two

Parts One and Two of the Chaconne by J.S. Bach played by Andres Segovia on guitar. (YouTube)

Then Mr. G. loaned me one of his Spanish made guitars. It was a model with a slightly longer neck, and I would have an even harder reach with the left hand fingers. He said he would like me to try it out as it was a bit different from his other models. I was finally able to start playing a real guitar that had been made in Spain. It sounded beautiful and I was in heaven!

Continue on to Chapter 14......Vancouver Flashback II - My Students and Edward R. Turner

Go back to Chapter 12......The Guitar Factory

Photo credit of G.Bowden to "Classical Guitar",
Newcastle - 1994, article by Ivor Mairants.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Guitar Factory

Chapter 12

street pueblo
Mr. G.’s guitar factory at that time was located on the edge of Palma in The Pueblo Español, or Spanish Village, an enclosed area built in 1965 consisting of nearly one hundred replicas of famous Spanish buildings and monuments. It was quite a pleasant place, with its winding streets, main plaza and fountains where one could see, for example, smaller versions of the Alhambra of Granada, the house of Greco and the large and beautiful Palacio de Congresos, the Congress Palace where international events are still held today.

pueblo espanol
When I arrived in Mallorca it was all fairly new and the little guitar factory, called Los Guitarreros de Mallorca, was installed in one of the buildings seen on the left in the street of the top photo. The guitar builder from mainland Spain, José Orti, also know as el maestro, had left and been replaced by José Ferrer who was aided by two young ladies, Pepa from Andalucia and Maria, who was Mallorquin. They helped with the work as well as the polishing and finishing of the guitars.

El maestro had also been responsible for teaching the Japanese constructors at Yamaha how to make a Spanish classical guitar. A wall of the Palma workshop, el taller displayed framed photos of this elderly gentleman in his black beret surrounded by a group of white lab-coated Japanese in the Yamaha factory as he showed them the intricacies of contructing a classical guitar.

Here below is the first guitar label placed inside the guitars made at Los Guitarreros de Mallorca.

first label
There is no scent to me more captivating than that found inside a guitar workshop. The woods have such a wonderful perfume! The rosewood for the back and sides, the cedar and spruce for the tops and the beautiful ebony for the fingerboards give off their peculiar aromas as they are shaven and moulded into shape. Just being in a workshop where the goal is to build an exquisite instrument for the purpose of creating beautiful music is exciting, and it is even more so as the instrument begins to take form, and is then polished, and then strung and then with great anticipation …..tested for the first time. What satisfaction it is when the creation turns out well!

My present guitar made in June 1968 by José Ferrer, son.

my guitar
At this point I feel it is time to reveal the identity of Mr.G., my mentor and good friend, whom I had met in the early 1960s in Vancouver in his guitar outlet called The Mediterranean Shop, on tenth avenue near the university gates, where I learned to play and later to teach classical guitar. Since this dear, quiet man, who dedicated himself to studying and improving the construction of guitars is no longer living and has since become a legend not only in the Balearic Isles, but also in the whole of Spain as one of the great contemporary luthiers of the past generation, I should not keep his identity hidden any longer.

with G.Bowden
His name was George Moore Bowden. There has been much written about him and his parents who came to settle in Mallorca in 1932 and I will elaborate more on my relationship with this unique family in a coming entry.

Here is a photo of George Bowden with his successor, Antonio Morales:

Morales & Bowden
I was just a bystander but I had been drawn deeply into being a part of all this. It began in Vancouver, B.C. around 1964.

Continue on to Chapter 13...... Vancouver Flashback - Mediterranean Shop

Go back to Chapter 11......The Guitar Center

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Guitar Center

Chapter 11

sharon and guitar 1968 (click to enlarge photos)

The Guitar Centre, also known as El Centro de la Guitarra Clásica Española, was situated in Calle Montenegro 10. Just behind the avenue of the Borne and not far from Plaza de la Reina, it was located in one of a number of large old townhouses formerly owned by wealthy families of Palma.

The Centre was on a second floor and consisted of several rooms, one of which was a heavily curtained concert salon where local and visiting guitarists gave evening performances on a small stage.

relojeria alemana
Near the entrance, a long foyer lined with glass cabinets served as a showcase where Mr. G. displayed guitars made in his Palma factory. Down two stairs off the foyer was a music room where I was to be giving lessons. Inside the music room was a door leading to another room used as living quarters by a pleasant young Englishman named Jeremy, who was a scuba diving instructor. He would tiptoe in and out, sometimes while I was giving a lesson, carrying his air tanks and flippers.

The Guitar Centre was run by Peter Burr, an American and his tall, willowy Catalán wife, Rita, who was in charge of preparing her Gypsy Dinner, a stewed casserole which was offered on certain evenings in the bar area. Peter and Rita lived with their young son within the centre in a large rather cold high-ceilinged apartment.

plaza cort
The centre gave the impression of being part of a medieval castle, dark with aged stone floors and walls and curtained doorways. But in the evening it would fill with a multi-national array of colourful people. Local British and Spanish, visitors on holiday, passing musicians as well as those who were slated to play or sing that evening. There were some performers who played and sang folk music, others who played classical guitar and others such as José Cobos and the gypsy guitarist, Cayetano, who played flamenco.

club nautico palma
I would need a guitar, since I had sold my beautiful Juan Estruch classical guitar to help pay for my plane ticket to Spain.

Thank heavens Mr. G. had a guitar factory and was willing to lend me one of his test models. I was waiting for my large box of sheet music and lesson books to arrive from Canada by air freight.

Continue on to Chapter 12......The Guitar Factory

Go back to Chapter 10......The Straw Basket

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Straw Basket

Chapter 10

The rustic shopping baskets we carried were a must-have addition to the wardrobe of any newly-arrived foreigner such as myself. Called cestas de esparto in Spanish, they were made of straw with two long thick hemp rope handles which scratched your shoulders if you were wearing a sleeveless blouse or dress.

straw basket, cesto de esparto
It was the basic carry-all that served not only for toting home the market shopping, but also for carrying suntan lotion and bathing gear to the beach as well as bread and cheese or fruit with a bottle of wine for a picnic.

It was evident that new arrivals to the island immediately felt the need to have one of those baskets, and I was no exception. Sporting one made a person feel like an entrenched local even though, with the exception of a few students, the resident Mallorquin people didn't use them around town as much as foreigners did, and tended to keep them for garden or farm use.

BuñolaStanding in Buñola with my Basket 1968

At any time or day, that basket could contain an assortment of items such as mail from home, recently collected from the post office general delivery, an apple or two, a crusty long barra of bread , a damp bathing suit wrapped in a towel, a paperback novel or a Spanish-English pocket dictionary, a copy of The Mallorca Daily Bulletin - the local English newspaper, sun glasses and perhaps a forgotten potato or onion from the last trip to the market. One was often surprised at what could be found in the bottom depths of the basket.

Later I was to see even the writer and poet, Robert Graves, with his well-worn basket, walking from the post office down towards the café Formentor, on an outing from his home in the mountain village of Deià.

Robert Graves Robert Graves -
Image borrowed from The Listener, Brigham Young University

The café Formentor was a pleasant place to sit, preferrably on the outdoor terrace, while sipping a café con leche, reading the Mallorca Daily Bulletin and watching the flow of people coming and going to the post office and walking past along the Borne.

Continue on to Chapter 11...... The Guitar Centre

Go back to chapter 9......Cooking in the Apartment

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Cooking In The Apartment

Chapter 9

Helen was an accomplished cook. She had recently been living in England but had also spent much time in Mallorca with her grandparents whose Mallorquin cook had taught her how to prepare local dishes. She was accustomed to spending a whole morning cooking the main meal of the day, which was served between one and two in the afternoon. She amazed me with her ability to create full meals on a half-sized two-burner gas stove that rested on a tiled shelf in the small kitchen.

kitchen sketch
She turned out dishes such as canneloni by grinding meat to a fine paste with her tabletop grinder, soaking the pasta squares, filling them, and pouring over the sauce. She would often spend a whole morning preparing a dish which would be consumed that day. She also made junkets from rennet tablets. Junkets and milk puddings were desserts I hadn’t seen since my mother made them when I was very young. I have vague memories of them from the years just after the end of World War Two.

Her grocery shopping was done in the Santa Catalina market, not as large as the main Olivar market in the centre of Palma, but a fascinating place full of unusual vegetables, fruit and cuts of meat. When she took me with her on market day, we gathered our empty baskets and went , whirring through the streets in the Citroën deux chevaux, passing Plaza Progreso, and arriving at Santa Catalina market.

tumbetTumbet - Mallorcan Ratatouille - in my Oldest Greixonera

As we entered the covered market building the scents of green produce and citrus mingled with that of fresh bread and fish. It was an experience for me to see so many unusual vegetables and fruits. We stood in line behind other customers and waited our turn to be served at Helen’s customary market stalls. Time in Spain was expendable and one became used to waiting in queues for most business transactions.

Among Helen’s purchases were an unsliced loaf of white bread, pan inglés de molde, lamb chops, small pink fish salmonetes, paté, wine, olives, vegetables, olive oil, garlic, Italian parsley and cheese. These were carefully wrapped in paper and laid in our two baskets. There were no plastic carrier bags then.

mero a la mallorquinaMero à la Mallorquina - Grouper in a Greixonera

Once back at the apartment, we unwrapped the purchases and Helen began to make dinner. There was so much that was different to my Canadian way of preparing food. I was soon to learn how to use garlic, crushed in a mortar together with salt and snipped Italian parsley, to make a typical picadillo, for added flavour and that a sofrito sauce of garlic, onion, tomato and olive oil served as the basis for many dishes. It was my first encounter with flat leafed Italian parsley which was to become one of my most used herbs, which I grew in pots and on windowsills, never to be without.

sopas mallorquinas, sopas Sopas Mallorquinas - Bread & Vegetable Stew

I was surprised to find that one of the most useful cooking vessels was the earthenware greixonera, or round shallow casserole (cazuela) that was used directly over a gas flame or put in an oven, and that such utensils could be purchased for just a few pesetas in the open bazaars.

Another standard item in the Spanish kitchen was the mortar and pestle, or mortero. The yellow and green pottery ones were a common sight everywhere and matched an open basin, wider at the top, called a lebrillo which had many uses in a household as well as in the kitchen. Often used for kneading bread and doughs, it was just as easily used as a basin for washing clothes.

mortero, lebrillo Mortero and Lebrillo

Here is a favourite Mallorquin meatball dish called
pilotes which is served in my oldest and most used greixonera, bought years ago in Mallorca .

pilotes, Mallorcan meatballs Pilotes - Mallorcan Meatballs

I expect later to be able to add recipes for some of the dishes I learned to make at Helen’s side.

Continue on to Chapter 10......The Straw Basket

Go back to Chapter 8......The Apartment

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Apartment

Chapter 8

Helen and her father, Mr. G., lived in a modest rental apartment in the Son Armadams area of Palma, where I was to stay until I had found my own accommodation. Mr. G. had previously lived in Canada as well as on his family's estate in Portals Nous, but when he opened his guitar factory in Palma he needed to be closer to town. Helen had been studying in England but had returned to Mallorca to make preparations for her upcoming wedding to her Spanish fiancé. As Mr. G. no longer had a wife, Helen was housekeeping for him until her marriage.

Sharon in Palma 1968
Above: Wearing the yellow cotton dress I made.

The second floor apartment was sparsely furnished. In the living room was a leatherette sofa, two armchairs and a round wooden dining table with four chairs. The large windows, fitted with pale green venetian blinds, overlooked an outdoor balcony and the street below. Down the single hallway were the bedrooms, the bathroom and a tiny kitchen. There was just enough room for two people to work in that kitchen as long as they didn't move around too much. From the small kitchen window one could see the next block of apartments and the patio below.

stone urn Palma
The owner of the apartment building lived over in that second block of flats and every morning his small granddaughter, Mari Cati, would play down on the patio. At some point in mid morning, she would be placed in her highchair and spoon fed her lunch. It amazed me to see how everyday routines such as that could be conducted outdoors. It was a revelation for me to see how a warm climate could so affect one's upbringing and lifestyle. Many more everyday tasks were done outdoors in the warmth of patios and public parks.

Palma street 1968
And hot Mediterranean evenings saw chairs taken out from ground floor homes and placed in a row along the pavement, facing inwards so the residents could sit outdoors in the street or front patio to watch their black and white television, placed in the doorway, while waiting for a cool evening breeze.

Palma 1968
I was not accustomed to having dinner during the early part of the day, as Canadian dinner time was around five or six pm.. Spanish dinner hours were from one to four and so women who cooked for their families went in the early morning to the market to shop and once home, they prepared a dinner. I found it hard to comprehend how cooking was to be done during the hottest part of the day. Wouldn't it make more sense to do it later ? But no, I was to find out that the Mediterranean summer heat and humidity lasted far into the night and some nights it never seemed to cool down. Besides, the Spanish system of shop closings from 1 to 4 was firmly entrenched and business people as well as shop assistants would lock up, leave their place of work and take a bus or walk home for their long afternoon family meal and siesta. In the late afternoon they would return, again by bus or on foot, to reopen their shops and continue their business day until the 8 pm closing time.

Continue on to Chapter 9......Cooking in The Apartment

Go back to Chapter 7......Around Palma 1968
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