Madrid, Lorca and Duende

Tomorrow and I revisit Madrid. I can tread the pathways of Duende, places I wrote about but have never been to. I feel as if I’ve been there as I wrote about them in so much detail so what was once imagination can now transform into reality. I even discovered that the Ballena Allegra, a cafe where Lorca used to go, is still alive and kicking. It’s a place where Jose and Nayo, my sweet little characters from Duende, used to bump into Federico and soon it will be somewhere I can walk into, too.

Ah, Madrid. The beauty and madness of Madrid. Ah, Madrid. A natural homecoming perhaps. A chance to taste and live and breathe the landscape of a novel I once wrote. A chance to taste and live and breathe the place where Lorca, the beautiful Federico Garcia Lorca, spent so much of his life. And what an impact his life’s had on my own.

With that in mind, here’s an extract from my second novel, Love at the end without dawn, which, I hope, pays tribute to Lorca because that, ultimately, is my intention:

Arriving in Madrid the following morning felt equally positive. She’d rented an apartment in the Calle de Juan Bravo, close enough to the centre while far away enough to allow for solitude. She was relieved to discover the flat was exactly as it had looked on the internet. Small yet spacious and full of light. She felt at home immediately and placed some of her books on the shelf.

 She set off to a café with wifi connection and e-mailed Alejandra to let her know her whereabouts. It was only then she felt comfortable enough to read the closing words of the book. There were people around her and the sun was shining. There was nothing to fear.

 But as she read, she wanted to cling to her surroundings and clutch the nearest hand she could:

                      This book was inspired by Professor José Ortega

                       y Gasset and his initial suggestion provoked immense          

                      terror in me. That trepidation is nothing compared to

                       what I recently experienced on discovering that my

                       friend, my beautiful and talented companion, Federico

                       Garcia Lorca, had been murdered in cold blood by

                      Franco’s Fascists. Originally, I refused to believe the

                      rumours until the harsh and bloody facts became clear.

            Rosa closed the book for a while, turning towards the people and the sun. She needed some respite for what was yet to come.

                        Shortly before he was killed, Federico wrote to me, full of

                        unnecessary apologies for being so slow to respond. If

                        only I could see his face for one last time and say how

                        much he never needed to say sorry for anything. If

                        only I could see his face for one last time. 

         Rosa could hear the catch in the writer’s throat as he attempted to navigate more objective territory:

                      In Fedrerico’s final letter, he categorically refuted

                      any Surrealist elements in his work. He spoke of

                      duende which, as I previously referred to at length,

                      lies at the heart of all of his work.

            Duende was a concept Rosa had encountered aged seventeen and she’d thought of it as the beautiful heart-wrenching ache of watching the sunset or gazing, helpless, at the fullest moon.

                        Duende, Federico told me as he said elsewhere, is

                        about the mysterious dark sounds that lie at the

                        heart of anything worthy of being called art. I should

                        be quoting here but I am choking as I do so. If I fail

                       as an academic, I succeed as a human being. I can

                       never remain objective as I write about this man.

                       He was my friend and the forces I oppose so

                       unanimously are responsible for his death.

                       I cannot stand aside and let this happen. I cannot

                       write as if, like Federico, I am no longer alive.

            Rosa lit a cigarette to take her away from this moment. She inhaled deeply as if this in itself might bring both Lorca and José Caballero back to life. As she continued reading, her sensation was echoed by what she read:

                        Duende is in the veins and in the life blood.

                        It is the driving force, the living impulse that

                        motivates the need, the raw compulsion, to create

                        something worthy of creation. Duende is about the

                        truly authentic in which the struggle between life

                        and death is paramount. Urgent and vital,

                       duende is the means by which the artist connects

                       with the fundamental forces of life, perched as these

                       are on the precipice of annilihation. The Fascists may

                       have extinguished Federico’s life but they can never

                       dim the brilliant passion of his work or the unique

                       human being that he was and always shall be.

            Rosa put her shades on and focused on her cigarette as her eyes began to smart. Not that showing emotion in public was much of a problem but she had to keep reading. She had to reach the end:

                        As I mentioned previously, Federico wrote to me

                        not long before his cruel and untimely death at the

                        hands of those who show no mercy as the word

                        does not exist in their vocabulary. The same men

                        who allow for the massacre of two thousand people

                        in a bullring in Badajoz. So much blood seeping into

                        so much sand. To murder Spain’s foremost poet

                        becomes nothing in comparison. To slaughter

                        innocents is what such killers are designed to do.

                        The idea of loving one’s neighbour, of turning the

                        other cheek, becomes  laughable in such extreme

                        circumstances. Is there any God who can force us to

                       forgive such gross atrocities?

            This summed up Rosa’s attitude to Breivik. How could the word forgiveness ever enter the equation? Certain acts are so beyond our capacity to comprehend that compassion becomes one step too far for anyone to take.

            She lit another cigarette before resuming and smiled to think that nicotine was sometimes the very thing that sustained her life:

                        Federico refuted the label Surrealism as an accurate

                        description of his work. He apologised – as if he ever

                        had any reason to say sorry – for paraphrasing things

                        he’d said before but Federico was a man who could say

                        the same thing in so many different ways. Such was his

                        mastery over language. Such was his integral command

                        of life. As he himself wrote in what were his final

                        sentiments to me, ‘Duende cannot be tamed.

                        It can only be released. And in the struggle to release it,

                        in that true, that primal and primordial struggle,

                        the artist claims his soul.’ The Fascists may have

                        claimed Federico’s body but his soul remains intact,  

                        untainted and pure. As he himself asserted:

                                    in Spain, unlike any other country, death

                                    is not an ending. In Spain, death appears and

                                    instead of closing the curtains, we open them.

                                   A dead man is more alive when he’s dead. Thus

                                   my preoccupation with life has always been an

                                  obsession with life lived to the full.

            Rosa was unable to close the book and lingered over the final words. She felt something was being opened up inside her that was the antithesis to closure. She stroked the page with her hand as if this might give her some magical contact with the author and the man he was writing about. Her touch was light and her skin tingled as it grazed against the paper. She also knew that translating La pasión de la filosofía alongside Lorca’s drama would have positive effects on both. She was certain the two projects would live and breathe within and through each other and thanked whatever God she may or may not believe in for bringing about the circumstances of their being.

            She waited until the evening sky grew dark before making her way back home. One solitary star blinked back at her as she gazed upwards before unlocking her front door. As she opened the metal barriers and wooden door of the lift, she knew she was ascending to a place she could call her own. Finding a reply from Alejandra inviting her to meet again the following Monday only confirmed this sense of security and when she lay in bed that night, patterns of flowers flickered across her drowsy eyes.


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