As a youth I would hear stories about Jan Gordon and his guitars, for example one about a border crossing at which the customs officer charged duty on a cheap new guitar and nothing on an old and valuable instrument. The story deepened for me on reading "Poor Folk in Spain" and "Misadventures with a Donkey in Spain"; and then even further, in the summer of 2009, when we followed in the footsteps of Jan and Cora Gordon with their donkey, Colonel Geraldine, on the second of their Spanish journeys.
Both Jan and Cora made some fine paintings, drawings and etchings during and after this journey, such as this one by Cora and this by Jan (the favourite picture of "Telephones" on their return to London in 1931). Perhaps my favourite of their Spanish works is the etching shown below.
Paco, the chief of police, plays guitar at José’s in Puerto Lumbreras.
The wonderful thing about this picture is how well it illustrates the narrative in the book (from 90 years ago now):
“Pepe Macho perched on a superior packing-case high above us ... some wandering sign-painter had depicted clumsily enough the figure of a semi-nude woman running with a bottle in her hands, her body wrapped round with a flag to advertise some popular brand of anisado.”
A prettified painted version of this scene, now in a Glasgow gallery, has lost the spontaneity of the image shown above, as well as the anisado-bearing nude.
Delightfully, it is still possible to find great flamenco in Almeria, a place with a very strong guitar tradition and the home of Antonio de Torres (1817-1892), who is credited with establishing the design of the modern guitar.
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Jan and Cora Gordon visited Albania in the summer of 1925 and in 1927 published the book " Two Vagabonds in Albania ." Two phrases from this book resonated when I first read it: " Now and again a wolf howled from far away, and somewhere a kid, lost or smelling some wolf-taint in the air, bleated with persistent terror " pg. 138. and " As we came down into the cultivated fields of the valley we found ourselves walking through clouds of red-winged grasshoppers, which sprang up on all sides with a clattering flight ." pg. 139 The book begins with "Don't stay in Durazzo." From Durazzo they made a clockwise loop to the south, passing through Tirana, Elbasan, Berat, Kelcyre, Permeti and Gjinokastro before returning north to Tirana. The second leg of the journey was an excursion to the north, from Scutari up into the mountains. Map of prominent places visited on the southern loop described in "Two Vagabonds in Albania"
During the second of the Paris art shows described in Jan Gordon's "GRADUS AD ... MONTPARNASSUM" (Blackwood's, March 1929, under his "Salis" pseudonym) a lady poetess "swore that De M---, the great French actor, must see Claribel's [Cora Gordon's] drawings. But, alas! De M--- was in bed." The poetess took Cora in a cab to see the actor, along with the more exotic and esoteric of her drawings (according to Jan Gordon, Cora's designs were "mostly of semi-nude dancers making arabesques of themselves to a counter rhythm of draperies and cats.") Left in an antechamber, she found herself "in the midst of a weird collection", every piece in the crowded assemblage "picked for some sinister or erotic quality." "At intervals a creaking voice uttered French words of considerable impropriety" - this was a parrot. Behind a curtain was a bathroom in which the bath was scooped in the black marble floor. &qu
On a quiet Sunday afternoon, rereading Jan Gordon 's " GRADUS AD ... MONTPARNASSUM " (Blackwood's, March 1929, under his "Salis" pseudonym) I wondered who the character known only as "K" might be. The text states that, "K --- has since climbed to eminence, the button of the legion of honour, the front page of a great daily, poems in profusion, and a number of plays; but in those days he clung to a paper which hung on the edge of bankruptcy, and was the author of one slim book of verse in praise of opium dreams, a long way after Baudelaire." "K" chose Jan and Cora Gordon to exhibit their work at the art gallery of a fashionable photographer he "had been of service to", referred to in the text as "M". The show "was noticed favourably" and Cora sold (to a diplomat, perhaps Paul Morand ) "a big exuberant drawing in colour of the Cleopatra-cum-anachronism period." Jan Gordon was not