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Month: June 2016

Music

20160618_124245_resizedI have just returned from the blue skies of Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, the city where ‘Reconquista’ is set, to grey old London town. I came back to vote in the EU Referendum, but I’m missing Jerez already.

There’s a lot of music in Jerez right now.  The city has a Conservatory of Music, there are lots of flamenco schools and there are concerts in many of the city’s old monuments, like the 13th century Alcazar and the monastery cloisters, as part of JerezView9the ‘Noches en Verano’ programme of summertime events ( the photo, right, was taken at a concert in the Alcazar ).  One of the town’s largest squares, Plaza Arenal, where the tournament takes place in ‘Reconquista‘, has a 20160618_122717_resizedbeautiful, old carousel in place, which plays music as it turns every day.

There was probably music in Jerez in the distant past too.  King Alfonso X ( The Wise King ) wrote songs himself, the music and the lyrics.  I heard some of these performed in the Alcazar last year.

The songs, or Cantigas, are about the miraculous interventions of the Virgin Mary Cantigas1in the lives of ordinary citizens, usually when they are in trouble or need her help, but sometimes to chastise them when they have been boastful or vain.  The King also wrote satirical songs which poked fun at people and love songs.  The Cantigas were written in Galician-Portuguese a ‘lyric’ language of the court, not Castilian, the everyday language used by ordinary people, but not Latin either. Most of the King’s writings were in Castilian, so that ordinary people could understand them.  This was quite unusual at that time ( though not in Spain ). Chaucer was one of the first English people to write books in English and his Canterbury Tales were very unusual when they were published in the 1380s, over a hundred years later.

The music is interesting, as are some of the instruments used to play it, in part because the lute or guitar-like instrument ( see illustration above ) has something in music-800582_1280common with today’s flamenco guitar.  Medieval Moorish influences are clear in the flamenco rhythms and music which you can hear in Jerez today. Have a listen to the video clip attached to this article – Lamento – about a flamenco performance earlier this year in Jerez, the influence is obvious.

drums-58550_1280However, the Cantigas were set to types of tunes well-known in the Middle Ages, such as the rondeau and the virelai.  They were played on a variety of instruments, like guitars, lutes, drums and other percussion, flutes and pan-pipes.  Sometimes the songs were unaccompanied. This type of singing, like the chants by monks in a church, is called a cappella, literally ‘of the chapel’.

20160619_183606_resizedBut when I was in Jerez last Saturday I saw a completely different sort of musical performance, this was a charity gala performance of Mary Poppins, entitled ‘El Viento del Este‘, in the Teatro Villamarta.  Everyone clapped and sang along to the songs and afterwards people ( of all sizes ) had their photos taken with the cast. Supercalifragilisticexpialidoso!

You can read more about King Alfonso’s songs and listen to one of them, called Strela do Dia, or Star of the Day here.

The Wise King

220px-Alfonso_X_el_Sabio_(José_Alcoverro)_01Although he isn’t well known in the English-speaking world, King Alfonso X, of Castile and Leon, is widely admired in Europe and the Americas.  He is known as ‘The Wise’ ( El Sabio ) and he appears as a character in ‘Reconquista‘.

So why is he called ‘The Wise’?

First, because he believed that a King should not just rule over his people, but also try to make their lives better. He wrote his ideas in the ‘Siete Partidos‘ or Seven Divisions of the Law, which set out how people should be governed, by a system of laws which applied to everyone, not just in favour of those who were stronger or more powerful. Very forward-looking for the time, these weren’t introduced during Alfonso’s lifetime –170px-Monument_to_Alfonso_X_El_Sabio,_La_Puebla_del_Rio he constantly had problems with his Barons, who wanted more power for themselves.  But it was eventually introduced in Spain and became part of the legal systems in the South American territories conquered by the Spanish conquistadors, including the lands, like California and Louisiana, which became part of the southern United States.

Also because he commissioned scientists, historians and other scholars to write works of science and literature. He was particularly KingAlfonsointerested in astronomy and astrology ( although the two were treated as part of the same discipline in Alfonso’s time ).  The learning of the ancient world, of Greece and Rome, had been lost to western Europe with the fall of the Roman Empire.  But their ideas and writings had been preserved in the East, translated into Arabic. Alfonso asked Moorish and Jewish scholars to draw this together and translate it into Latin and, where possible, into the language of the ordinary people.

So, much knowledge which had been lost became available again. One example was LibroDesJuegasAlfonXAndCourtthe work of a number of Islamic astronomers, based upon work of ancient Greek astronomers like Ptolemy. The King commissioned the Alfonsine Tables, tables of data which allowed astronomers to compute the relative positions of the Sun, Moon and planets.  They were in general use for over three hundred years. The Tables, along with other works, were circulated 220px-Alfonso_LJ_97Vwidely in Europe.

Alfonso was also considered wise because he believed that culture – music, art, poetry and architecture – was important in life. He wrote poetry himself, as well as commissioning works from others and was particularly fond of poems set to music. The Cantigas de Santa Maria or Canticles of the Holy Mary are four hundred and twenty poems set to music, some of which are ascribed to the King himself. We know that he also enjoyed writing love poetry and he enjoyed satirical verses as well.

If you want to know more about King Alfonso’s life you can read more here.  Or there are history books about him and his life.

The Journey Continues

Since ‘Reconquista‘ was published I have received lots of kind comments from questions-1328466_1280readers. Thank you for all your encouragement, I am pleased like readers like the book and I will put all the questions and answers into an ‘Ask the Author’ page, but the question I am asked the most is ‘When will the next book be out?’

Of course, people want to know what happens to their favourite characters and ‘Reconquista‘ ends with lots of things unresolved.  What will Nathan decide to do?  Will he leave Jerez with the former galley slaves? What happens to Don Reza, will Atta and Uncle Taf rescue Grazalema2him from the bandits’ stronghold in the mountains? How does Rebecca respond to Ben’s proposal of marriage? Will Simon be left all alone?

I can’t answer most of these questions ( and I won’t answer others ). This is, in part because I don’t yet know how everything will play out.  I do know some of the answers, but don’t know how they are arrived at. My characters may surprise me. This is all part and parcel of writing a sequel.

Right now I am writing an out-line, chapter by chapter, of the plot. Once I have this skeleton I will begin to put flesh upon it, showing how my characters develop and JerezJulyPlaterosreact to events and to each other. They have all changed since they were last all together in their home town, after all, and need to get to know one another again. And there are the reactions of the towns-people to cope with.  The ‘snippet’ at the end of ‘Reconquista‘ show readers some of what Rebecca meets when she settles down to life in the Plaza Plateros house with Simon.

corsica-224716_1280I also need to do a lot more research, especially about the mountains to the east of Jerez de la Frontera. The peaks around Ubrique and Grazalema are part of a protected nature reserve, so will not have changed that much for many years.  The pine forests there are very old. It is to the fastnesses of the Sierra Pinar and El Endrinal we go, to the acrstic landscape of Evergreen Gorge and Ever Dry Valley, the disinctive peak of San Cristobal and Torreon, the highest point in Cadiz province. There are deep caves and sharp limestone ridges.

Of course there were no tarmac roads in the thirteenth century, the roads were summit-1331728_1280either old Roman paved thoroughfares or dirt tracks and travel was much, much slower.  In ‘Reconquista‘ Atta had maps to help him cross these mountains, but still it took him two months. The maps weren’t  detailed either, indeed, this area wasn’t mapped properly until much later.  Only locals would know the hidden valleys and deep gorges.

ImperialIberianEagleThe mountains are, of course, also the natural frontier between the west of Al Andalus, now ruled over by King Alfonso and the east of Al Andalus, ruled over by Emir Muhammed of Granada.  So expect some confrontation!

I will be returning to Jerez in ten days time, with a view to finding out even more about this landscape  I’ll write about it when I return.

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