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.