Authors: Alli Sinclair
Tapping her fingers on her thighs, Charlotte asked, âAny idea why it wasn't signed?'
âThis Syeria, she never put her signature on the paintings because she believed her art was the collaboration between her heart and soul and nature. A team effort, you might say. Many people think they have an original Syeria Mesa Flores GimÃ©nez, but it is only a fake. But this,' the professor smiled with appreciation, âthis is the real thing. I would bet my career on it.'
âDo you have any idea who the dancer is?'
âNo, I do not, but I will say this is linked to
La Leyenda del Fuego
, the “Legend of the Fire”. You know it?'
âI'm afraid I'm not well versed on my Spanish legends.' Yet another aspect of Spain Abuela could have passed on, but chose not to.
âIt is a shame you do not know much about your heritage, but you could be forgiven in this case. The legend is more of the obscure type, known in the region of Granada and commonly heard in
, gypsy, circles. See this?' The professor pointed to the woman dancer clad in a deep red dress, her ample cleavage only slightly exposed. With a simple red rose tucked behind her ear, her thick dark hair flowed down her back and her skirt caught the breeze. Her large, brown eyes looked towards the stars twinkling in the inky sky and her arms reached upward, as if giving thanks. The woman's long legs stretched out as she leapt over the
campfire, her red shoes matching the dress.
âIt's technically beautiful. The hues are â¦ they're amazing.' Charlotte's eyes welled up, once again overcome by the magnificence.
âYou have a good eye.'
âThank you.' Keen to avoid any topic that involved art appreciation, Charlotte cleared her throat. âIs there additional information you can give me, or steer me towards, to find out more about this artist?'
âThere are some important things you must know first.' The professor glanced at the old-fashioned clock then drew her brows together. âI will need to be fast. I cannot keep my students waiting.'
âI'm sorry for turning up here without an appointment.'
âIt is okay. It is not every day I witness the splendour of a talented artist from an era that is no more. Tell me, what is your name?'
âAh, you are Irish, yes?' The professor gestured towards Charlotte's natural red hair, blue eyes and pale skin.
âNo Irish in my family, I'm afraid. However, I do get my looks from my grandmother.' Charlotte couldn't remember how many times people had been surprised at Abuela's flaming red hair and Spanish heritage.
âReally?' The professor looked at the clock again and pushed back the chair. âYou walk with me, yes?'
Professor Fonseca gave the artwork one last, longing look before handing it over. Charlotte put it gently in the calico bag and tied a knot while the professor grabbed a folder, laptop and pen. The door locked behind them as they took off down the dark hallway, Charlotte straining to keep up with the professor's short legs, but long strides.
âThis Syeria Mesa Flores GimÃ©nez specialised in painting
legends from her clan.
La Leyenda del Fuego
, the fire legend, was her favourite and she painted many works with this theme.' She tucked the pen behind her ear. âHave you ever had a piece of music or painting that has spoken to your soul?'
âYes,' Charlotte said, casting her mind back to the countless hours she'd spent in a little-known gallery in South Yarra in her hometown of Melbourne. The gallery was her favourite place to discover unknown artists whose work left her reeling with an array of emotions that cut through to the core. These days, though, she preferred to stay away from
galleries because they brought back the pain of her one and only exhibition.
âDo you know of
?' Professor Fonseca asked, click-clacking down the stone steps. They crossed the busy courtyard, the crowds of students parting as the professor powered through.
âEvery artist wants to achieve this, right?' Dreams that had long gone clawed to the surface, but Charlotte shoved them back down into the murky depths of memories best forgotten.
âYes, it is true, but the
I speak of, the one that is depicted in Syeria Mesa Flores GimÃ©nez's artwork, is more complicated than you and I could ever comprehend. In
La Leyenda del Fuego
, the flamenco dancer is so overwhelmed by the feelings within, he or she is pulled towards the
, the flames, that signify the fire in their soul. When the dancer leaps, it is a symbolic leap of faithâby doing so they open up their heart to experience
in its purest form.'
Entering another building, they started up a flight of stairs.
âDoes the fire
happen to many dancers?'
âNo,' said the professor, âthe person must be a member of the GimÃ©nez clan, but even then there are no guarantees. It is like being the chosen one and it is beyond everyone's control. Like other forms of
La Leyenda del Fuego
cannot be forced. It must be organicâa connection of pure love with spirit, heart, and flamenco.'
Charlotte hesitated, then asked the question brewing in her mind. âAs an academic, do you think the legend could be true?'
They stopped outside the lecture theatre and the professor's lips formed a slow smile. âIt does not matter what I think. I
the GimÃ©nez clan believe this, so who am I to argue? I have not heard of
La Leyenda del Fuego
happening for decades, but I am not privy to what goes on inside a
Charlotte nodded. She'd never been one to foist her beliefs on others, either, unlike her father.
âI cannot offer any more information on the painting belonging to your
. As with any clan of the
culture, it is closed to outsiders. They do not wish to speak of the past and do not keep written records, so there is no historical information.'
âSo how do people know about Syeria Mesa Flores GimÃ©nez?' Charlotte asked.
âThey know of her existence because an art collector wanted to make her a showpiece, promote her as a gypsy artist. She painted for love, not money. She disappeared from the eyes of the public sometime around 1919. No one saw her again.'
âShe didn't use the
network to hide?' This was way more interesting than an ABC miniseries.
âThere are rumours she left the country and never returned. No one knows for sure. It is a good mystery, yes?'
A lanky student with shoulder-length hair rushed through the open door to the lecture theatre, knocking Charlotte's arm into the doorframe. A sharp pain gripped her elbow, but she managed to keep hold of the painting that raised more questions than answers. The student threw a hurried â
and continued into the room brimming with students.
The professor raised an eyebrow. âI am sorry for my student. Here, take this.' She produced a business card from her folder then hastily scribbled a name on the back. âYou would be best to speak with the GimÃ©nez clan who, I believe, live outside the city in a settlement. They keep to themselves and follow their own rules. The only way to get access to them is to befriend someone they trust.' Waving the card, she said, âThis man is not
, but he has the connections you need. You will find him at Club AlegrÃa. It is home to many flamenco greats. He is there most nights and if anyone can help, it will be Mateo Vives.'
Professor Fonseca handed over the card.
âThank you.' Charlotte smiled. âWish me luck!'
The professor drew her brows together. âYou will need it.'
* * *
The cool night air clung to Charlotte's skin as she wove through the streets of Sacromonte, Granada's neighbourhood famous for flamenco and
, and hopefully, the place where she would track down Professor Fonseca's contact. She travelled up the hills and along the narrow cobblestoned streets crowded with whitewashed houses, colourful doors and windows, all protected by elaborate wrought-iron grilles. As Charlotte sauntered past, she glimpsed inside the caves carved into the hillside that once housed the Moors but now served as restaurants, shops, galleries and dance and music schools.
Studying the map in the fading light, she made her way up, up, up, her calves burning with every step. All those times she'd avoided the gym because she was too busy with work, now haunted her as she slogged up the winding, steep streets. Luckily, studying the stunning architecture took her mind off the painâfor a fleeting moment. As she rounded another corner, Charlotte switched into top gear and her skin tingled with anticipation.
The aroma of fresh onions, potatoes, and spices wafted down the alley and guided her to Club AlegrÃa. Hesitating outside the door, she observed the patrons laughing and eating, drinking wine and beer. Nerves tingled at the back of her neck. She hated going into places she didn't know. There was always a risk of not being accepted, a fear she'd developed in her teenage years that still plagued her. Assessing risk every day, in the world of insurance, didn't help Charlotte deal with her issues but what could she do? Her father had pushed her into the family business and there was no feasible way out. Leaving would be â¦ risky.
A waiter dressed in white and black waved her in.
Do this for Abuela. Swallow the fear.
Taking a deep breath, Charlotte crossed the threshold into the cave. Nausea grew in her belly. Despite a lack of space, the bar was cluttered with people of all ages sitting on dark wooden chairs at tables that looked a century old. At the back of a room was a small, empty stage.
Capturing the attention of the waiter she said, â
Estoy â¦ buscando
â¦' Why wouldn't the words come? â
The waiter held up his hand and smiled. âIt is okay. I speak the English.'
âSorry about my Spanish.'
âIt is all right. You try.' He flipped a pristine cloth over his shoulder. âYou say you look for a man? This is not the right place.'
âI'm looking for this man in particular.' She passed him the professor's business card with
scribbled on it. The waiter studied it intently, flipping it over in his fingers, then he handed
. This Mateo Vives, he is, how you say, good eggs?'
âHe's a good egg.' Charlotte smiled. âSo you know him?'
The waiter motioned for her to sit at the table with two chairs near the stage. âYes, I know him. Wine?'
She nodded, figuring she'd more than earned an alcoholic beverage, plus
her legs and nerves needed a break. The waiter disappeared into the crowd which left Charlotte to her own devices. Her fingers twitched and she grabbed her phone, checking her work email again. Nothing had arrived since she'd boarded the flight in Melbourne and the lack of communication made her uneasy. The phone always accompanied her and if she wasn't talking on it and negotiating contracts she was sending and receiving emails.
And now she had an empty inbox thanks to her father banning staff and clients from contacting her while she was away on âimportant family business'.
Dropping the phone back in her bag, she placed her hands on her lap and took in the surroundings. Large posters advertising concerts lined the walls, some in artistic stylings of the 1930s and 40s. People chatted and laughed, an air of joy hanging in the tiny bar, while Charlotte wondered what it would have been like for Abuela when she danced in Granada. Did she spend her early years in these bars before moving on to bigger venues? And what had killed the passion she'd once held for flamenco?
The waiter arrived and set down a carafe of wine and a glass, along with a plate of tapasânibbles the bars of Granada generously provided. The pile of almonds, olives, chorizo and cheese croquettes made her stomach growl.
Looking up at the waiter, Charlotte said, âSorry. I should have said I only wanted a glass of wine.'
âYou look thirsty.
' He nodded towards the full carafe then scurried away before she had a chance to ask more about the professor's mystery man.
Standing, Charlotte craned her neck to look over the crowd so she could get the waiter's attention, but he'd already vanished. Tapping the corner of the professor's business card on the table, Charlotte sipped the very nice, but potent, wine and contemplated her next step. Lollygagging in a bar in Spain would not get the answers she so desperately needed for Abuela.
âAre you lost?' A tall, dark and handsome clichÃ© gave a lopsided grin, his dark chocolate eyes framed by impossibly long, black lashes.
âNot lost, but I've lost someone. Did you see where the waiter went?' Man, this guy was attractive. So flipping attractive, he would scare most women into speechlessness. Not Charlotte, though. She'd dealt with every type in her line of work, including men who had the world at their feet
because of their looks.
âHe is busy, yes? Perhaps I can help?'
âThank you, but I don't think so.' She sat down again.
âMay I?' He motioned towards the spare chair and she couldn't say no without appearing rude, which was not in her nature.
She gestured for him to sit and he did so, leaning back and placing his hands behind his head. âSo, what brings you to Club AlegrÃa? Flamenco? Wine? Tapas? My scintillating company?'
She furrowed her brows, not sure whether his questions were born of sarcasm or arrogance.
âI am doing the joking thing.'
She gave a polite laugh.
âSo â¦' He lifted an eyebrow in a questioning manner.
âCharlotte.' She held out her hand, which he took and planted a light kiss on her skin. Goosebumps broke out involuntarily and she subtly moved her arm away.