Sunday, 17 July 2011
Jerez de la Frontera at night always feels a little haunted, a little magical, a little other worldly. Like you just stepped out of the modern world and emerge through some portal straight back into the past.
Here at night, the soft golden light of the lanterns lends the decaying splendour of the dilapidated buildings in the plazas a flattering glow. The quiet is sometimes punctuated by the high pitched whir of a city scooter, dogs barking, or the chatter and banter of people seated in the plazas and bars with a drink, escaping the unbearable summer heat of their houses that prevents them sleeping. Usually though, there is barely a soul about as you walk through the old town, listening to nothing but the sound of an owl hooting softly from a church steeple, imagining to yourself the sound of the small talk, laughter, cries and whispers of those who walked through this town over the centuries.
I've been asked to translate the word duende by Terri. It is simultaneously defined as "a spirit" as in a kind of ghost or poltergeist, and also as a state of heightened emotion and passion, usually in relation to flamenco.
Duende in the context of flamenco is a difficult, almost ethereal concept to grasp until you experience a flamenco performance that raises the hair on the back of your neck and the feeling stays with you for days afterward. There is an implication that the flamenco performer becomes in a way possessed by something other, becomes a channel for the expression of something higher than his or herself in moments of true inspiration in their performance. It is what gives you goosebumps listening to a guitarist or singer, what makes the contorted face of a young dancer or singer appear inexplicably decades older in a moment of passion. It is like the concept of all artists finding God through their art, experiencing rapture even. A flamenco performer without duende is considered to be like a writer without words, a blank page if you like, although beautiful in its unmarked purity, it says nothing.
Walking the streets of Jerez at night, this town considered the birthplace of flamenco, shrouded in the melancholy shadows of its past, in which duende seems to lurk in every corner, you begin to understand it a little better, befriend it, welcome it.
When I am not here, I like to think that when I am asleep at night, somewhere in that twilight state between sleeping and dreaming, that my soul takes flight and travels back here to walk these streets again.