Wednesday, August 22, 2012

TPThursday: Searching for Duende in Seville

Duende.  A Spanish concept as hard to define as it is to find.

But I was bound and determined to find it last year in Andalucia.

Prior to our trip, I was inspired by the writings of Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca who discussed the elusive concept in the book “In Search of Duende” (A New Direction Pearls publishers, 1975).

Lorca described duende ‘as a power, not a work. . .a struggle, not a thought.’ Likening it to a demonic ‘earth spirit that captures an artist, be it a bullfighter, Flamenco dancer or musician’  in such a manner as to cause an emotional – even physical response – by the audience.

In theory, we would know it was duende when we found it.

DCVegasSeville2011 234
With our legal and journalist backgrounds, finding such a thing would be a stretch of our ‘fact and figures’ approach to life. I anticipated it would require attending a bull fight or a flamenco performance to even have a chance at experiencing duende, but then as we walked back to our hotel in Seville late one night. . .

DCVegasSeville2011 243

We saw through the open back door of a tavern that is was packed with men in dark robes with colorful sashes, patches and a few tassels. We’d noticed similar dress on a few people we’d passed earlier on the street. It sounded like they were having fun, so curiosity – or was it that rascal duende – led us inside for a closer look . . .

DCVegasSeville2011 241. . .at the red and white sashes, the patches and other adornments on  their outfits:

DCVegasSeville2011 252

It didn’t matter that we were the only English speaking twosome in their midst; certainly the only Americans.  In our broken English/Spanish conversation we think they told us they were from various universities, they gathered annually at different locations in Spain.

DCVegasSeville2011 245To this day and despite Google searches we still aren’t sure exactly who they were or what they did, why they gather, or why they were in town. 

But sometimes that really isn’t important when you think back on an experience. . .

Especially when it was an experience like no other we had in Spain because when they picked up their instruments and began to play music. . .and sing. . .

DCVegasSeville2011 246

The atmosphere changed as first one and then others picked up instruments and joined in. . .

DCVegasSeville2011 248

The man in the center, a patron at the bar, requested a particular song and they began to sing it. . .

DCVegasSeville2011 256

A song of such power and emotion that soon the patron – with a deep, strong voice – had joined in. . .

DCVegasSeville2011 251

Here I should note that earlier in the evening Joel had told the woman in the photo that I had been searching for duende on this trip. . .

DCVegasSeville2011 258

We were caught up by the music’s intensity, the vibrancy in the small place, the spontaneity of the continuing song-fest . . .

DCVegasSeville2011 254Duende?”
You want duende?” 
This, . . . this, is duende!” she said to me.

But she didn’t need to tell me that.
I knew it was duende – I’d felt it too.

DCVegasSeville2011 250

“But there are neither maps nor exercises to help us find the duende. . . .
The great artists of the south of Spain, whether Gypsy or flamenco, whether they sing, dance or play, know that no emotion is possible unless the duende comes. . .”
- Federico Garcia Lorca

DCVegasSeville2011 168

Have you ever searched for something so elusive in your travels? Did you find it?

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  1. What a wonderful experience, Jackie! I love how they seemed to have welcomed you with open arms despite the language barriers. I think I'm still searching so I may need to borrow that book. Thanks for the recommendation!

    1. Lorca got a little deep for me at times, but the intro to the book was as good as his writings. I first learned of 'duende' in a book by Frances Mayes, "Living in the World" and she referenced it and Lorca in the chapter on Spain - you'd enjoy that book if you haven't read it yet.

  2. What a great experience! So cool :) I've never searched for a concept like that, but would be happy to into a gathering like this any day :)

    1. It was fun -- it is one of those many reasons we love to travel. . .entering the unknown and sometimes leaving it without really understanding who we've been with or why they were there.

  3. And how wonderful that you had your wits about you to photograph the entire experience. Seville is certainly the place to go looking for duende--we felt that when we were there, and I felt it again when I read Robert Wilson's mysteries set in Seville.

    1. You are the one who tipped me off to Wilson when you published the Packabook post about "A Small Death in Lisbon" -- it was a most interesting read and I do plan to work my way through those of his set in Spain as well.

  4. Mysterious (who were those people??) and exceptional experience. On the bucket list now -- to feel duende! Off to Spain for TBEX next month. Maybe I can add Seville to the itinerary.

    1. Cathy, I am SO envious of you attending TBEX in Girona next month! We'd already scheduled ourselves to Italy a bit later and couldn't change to include a stop at TBEX -- enjoy! And hope you find some duende along the way.

  5. What an exceptional post and I am so glad that I didn't miss it. Isn't the search for duende why we travel? Anywhere? There is actually the same concept in Bali, believe it or not. There it is called Ngayah and it can be applied to more than art although the results are the same!

    1. Heather, thank you for such a wonderful observation - "Isn't the search for duende why we travel?" It certainly adds a magic and a depth to the experience - and makes for the most wonderful memories. I will remember Ngayah when we get to Bali one day.

  6. Weren't you lucky to come upon this. I went to Andalusia in November but obviously didn't do the reading you did as duende is a new word and concept for me. Very interesting post.

    1. Thanks Leigh. I first read about 'duende' in a book by Frances Mayes and it was enough to make me want to read more about this mysterious 'earth spirit'. I've been hooked ever since.

  7. Such a beautiful post, Jackie. I savored every moment of it as I thought about my own duende experiences. Thank you for introducing me to the perfect word for that perfect feeling!

  8. How wonderful and exciting - and how latin! Loved this story.

    1. The idea of traveling to find a concept is a brilliant one. In Fact, I did something similar when I visited Galicia in search of 'morina', the atavistic longing of thr Galegos for their 'tierra'.

    2. Inka I love the concept of "morina" and am going to add that to my list. You may have noticed that Heather wrote about the Balinese "Ngayah" above. I may have a whole new way of traveling in the world! Thanks for writing.

    3. Glad you liked the story Sophie. It brought back some wonderful memories when I wrote it.

  9. Love this story. It reminded me of the night my friends and I ended up in a restaurant with several musicians who seemed to be having an impromptu gathering -- a tuna, is what they called it. I guess I found my "duende" though I wasn't looking for it.
    Incidentally, I Googled tuna and found this on YouTube.

  10. What a fabulous adventure you had! I loved Seville. I would love to go back and find my duende there :)


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