We’ve lost track of time here in Andalucía.
Or rather, we have a magical sense of it. Sure, there’s the jet lag factor. We’re 9 hours ahead of home, after all, and the earth is curved by the time you get to Europe so maybe time is, too. R likes to say, tempus fugit, time flies. We wake up and suddenly, even though the sun is still beaming away, it’s 5 in the evening and we haven’t even eaten breakfast. It’s strange here like that.
But time isn’t the only thing that’s morphed in Andalucía; days are, too. Yesterday, as we were sitting in Rosatti’s, the best Italian restaurant in this part of Spain, having our breakfast of fettuccini and pesto (it was 7 p.m.), I asked R, “What day is it anyway?”
“Don’t know,” he said like a man sailing through thick fog. “Somewhere between Monday and Wednesday, maybe Duende?”
That got me to thinking about Federico García Lorca’s ideas on el duende, and remembering when we’d lost track of time before. My understanding is that having the duende involves a sense of immediacy, of sudden inspiration that is nearly overwhelming in its impact. In In Search of Duende (New Directions Publishing Corporation,1998), Lorca talks about the experience as “…the blush of all that is truly alive, that the performer is creating at a certain moment.” The duende “…manifests itself among musicians and poets of the spoken word. There is a quality…of reality so heightened and exaggerated that it becomes unreal and this is characterized by a remarkable time-distortion effect which is frequent in nightmares.”
Nightmares aside, this happened the first time to R and me when we were watching the late Llasa de Sela sing “La Payanda” on a stage in Vancouver, B.C. I don’t know if there’s a way to show you what happened, but I have this image of Llasa going through so much pain as she grieved out the words and collapsed into a pile of sorrow on the stage floor that everyone in the audience ceased breathing and experienced her anguish as if it were her or his own. Time did not exist, nor did we. Lorca called this magical singing “deep song,” which is what an accomplished cantaor or cantaora, a flamenco singer, may achieve when his or her voice reaches the root, the core of what it means to be human.
Even more extraordinary, years ago at the Spiritual Music Festival in Vancouver, Ann Mortifee and Pepe Danza’s deep song spun us, and at least one hundred others in the audience, into a state of timelessness from which we have not yet fully recovered. Pepe walked out onto the stage carrying an eagle feather. Ann carried herself, draped in scarves and flowing fabrics patterned in white, gray and black, her long silver hair cascading down her back. Nothing was said, as I recall. Pepe began to blow on his feather, which sounded exactly like an eagle. The sound was beautiful and gave us goosebumps.
And then Ann began to sing, and that’s when time stopped and reality ceased. Nobody breathed. This was no ordinary song. And we were in no ordinary place. There was an eagle soaring in the background, and up front Ann was making familiar sounds that were of this world, but not of this world. Gentle at first, her voice began a gradual ascension until it met the eagle’s cry and the two were soaring together. And then it happened. Ann tipped her head back in an impossible angle. The audience gasped as her lower jaw elongated until it became that of a gray wolf howling so intensely that it was all we could do to keep from howling, too. Perhaps some did. Many were crying because the energy in the room was clearly more powerful than the sum of our combined energies, and we were beginning to disappear. An icy wind swept through the room. The brilliant green and pink curtain of the aurora borealis shimmered before us. Ann’s single voice became a full chorus of eerie howls we somehow understood. And then the song was over.
Ann was no longer a wolf. Pepe was no longer an eagle. He took her hand and they smiled and bowed through what seemed like an endless standing ovation. And then they were gone, leaving a few feathers and enough tufts of white, gray and black fur behind so that we would never forget power of the duende.