The man who made Spain the magical capital of the world

As an adult, Tamariz pursued her vocation with monastic focus, not only refining her technique – sometimes accompanied by a metronome – but studying philosophy and art history to apply them to his developing ideas. His biggest breakthrough came not from a fellow magician but from a historian: Mircea Eliade, a Romanian scholar of religion known for his writings on esoteric subjects like alchemy and shamanism. In his book “Mephistopheles and the Androgyne”, Eliade offers an exegesis of a legend (probably apocryphal): the Indian rope trick. The story, in its many variations, describes a magician raising a rope, of his own accord, up into the sky until the far end disappears from view. A boy is ordered to climb it by the magician; after he too disappears from sight, the magician throws his knife skyward and the limbs of the hapless assistant fall to the ground. In the end, the boy comes back in one piece. Later scholarship found scant evidence that the trick was ever actually performed, but Eliade’s concern was the pervasiveness of the rumor, which he found documented not only “in ancient and modern India but also “in China, the Dutch East Indies, Ireland and ancient Mexico.” Like an ancient resurrection myth, according to Eliade, the Indian Rope Trick used symbols to re-enact both cosmic and mundane events: the origin and end of the universe, the life cycle of death and the Renaissance.

Tamariz began to see a symbolic dimension in all of the classic effects of magic. The most obvious case is the Cut and Restored Rope, in which a rope is cut in two and reunited by magic, setting the stage for the parable of destruction and resurrection that recurs in myth. But the same principle applied to such a frivolous trick as the Egg Bag, in which an egg disappears and reappears in a black bag. For Tamariz, there could hardly be a more literal manifestation of the creation of life. It was even apparent in such an abstract effect as the ambitious card, made famous by Canadian magician Dai Vernon, who tricked Harry Houdini with a version of it during a historic encounter between the two magicians. A card chosen by a spectator is repeatedly inserted in the middle of a deck, but is again and again uncovered at the top. For Tamariz, the trick is a hero’s journey: the card, representing the viewer, experiences a surge, an ascent and a release.

Tamariz’s most detailed description of the experience of magic comes from an essay in his book “La Vía Mágica”, titled “The Theory of False Solutions and the Magical Way”. The path is depicted in a painting by Tamariz’s companion at the time, Marga Nicolau. The spectator rides on a carriage drawn by two horses, one winged and the other terrestrial. The path takes various turns, some of which represent false solutions – any idea the viewer may have for the method behind the effect. The magician must prevent the spectators from accepting even the false solutions, also leading them away from the real one – leaving the impossible as the only logical explanation. The magician makes use, in other words, of our own capacity for empirical observation: our active interpretation of the matter of perception can enable us, if we are well guided, to see what is not there.

I had followed Tamariz through his English-language editor, Stephen Minch, who warned that it might be difficult to coordinate with the Maestro, given the number of projects he had in the works. Long after I first wrote to Tamariz suggesting I visit the following spring, I heard nothing and began to think the idea might never come to fruition. But in February, I received a response. “Mid-March is fine,” he wrote, and not much else. Even after we agreed on dates, I wondered if I would go to Spain and never manage to find him. One of Tamariz’s current engagements, Minch mentioned, was a documentary about her life and work produced by R. Paul Wilson, a Scottish magician and filmmaker. I emailed Wilson and we found out that Tamariz had booked us twice to visit her at the same time.

In the middle of the 20th century, at the request of Ascanio, Spanish magicians like Tamariz learned English in order to study the canonical literature of the craft then emerging from North America and the United Kingdom — in a way, a small act of rebellion against the parochialism of the Franco regime. But today, Wilson is one of many magicians of his generation who learned Spanish to study Tamariz’s work. He discovered that an exclusive coterie of magicians around the world had done the same. More importantly to me, a Duolingo dropout, he ended up acting as my translator.

When I visited, Tamariz lived on the sixth floor of an unassuming building along one of the narrow streets in the Argüelles neighborhood. Wilson and I arrived together, rang the doorbell, and were greeted by Tamariz and his wife, Consuelo Lorgia, herself a Colombian magician. We walked into their living room, which was filled with art history books and a large collection of VHS tapes, including American films like “Atrapado en el Tiempo” – “Trapped in Time” or, as we know, “Groundhog Day”. Before the twist of fate that would launch her career, Tamariz spent the late 1960s studying film at the Escuela Oficial de Cinematografía, inspired by the European avant-garde of Bergman, Fellini and Antonioni. “I didn’t want to become a film director,” he told me. “It was only to learn things from the art to put into my magic.” During these years, student resistance to Franco led government ministers to cut back university education harshly, and the school was closed days before Tamariz was supposed to graduate.

Times were changing in Spain. By 1975, the Franco regime had ended, not with a revolution, despite the best efforts of students like Tamariz, but with the death of the dictator from natural causes. It was that same year that Tamariz and his friend Julio Carabias entered the offices of Televisión Española, a public company, with a proposal: the magic of close-ups on television. The programming director balked; he didn’t like magic. Tamariz showed him a trick: a color-changing pocket knife. The director was impressed but not convinced. So Tamariz did something he had never done before and never done since. He gathered everyone from the office and performed the trick again with the director behind him, allowing him to witness the secret method. The scheme worked, leading to Tamariz’s debut show, “Tiempo de Magia”.


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