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May 24, 2013

"Pero yo ya no soy yo"

When life abroad slows down, you're left to face the melancholy music of your thoughts.

Yo sólo quiero caminar…

The most beautiful woman in the room stands near the corner. She is not, like most of the others, in full flamenco regalia—the dress with its many ruffles, the gigantic flower blooming from the side of the head. She is in jeans and a T-shirt. But she dances beautifully, hands and arms following the twists of her body in a single fluid motion. Everyone else on the dance floor does the same, weaving backward and forward, left and right, every step in perfect synchrony.

It looks choreographed. But this is the Feria de Abril. The dancers aren’t professionals, but migrants from southern Spain who grew up learning the steps. For one week in the springtime, they set up tents in Barcelona, recreating the festivals of Seville and Granada in a fairground by the sea.

It feels like a time out of time. The stomps of feet on wooden floors resound from every direction. Sherry fills and refills each cup.  Middle-aged couples stroll the grounds, transformed in elegant outfits saved just for the occasion. For a few hours, the constant grind of la crisis seems to recede.

But flamenco does not lend itself to idealism. It groans. It keens. Often, the singer’s voice appears on the verge of breaking. If the immediate concerns of the moment disappear as you listen and watch, it’s only because, at its best, it takes you deeper and darker, to a place that’s at once profoundly sad and immensely reaffirming. Immensely human. It’s wine-thick with a bittersweet longing, a sense of loss that you’ve felt before but can’t quite name.

…como corre la lluvia del cristal…

I’ve grown to relish the opportunity to walk home alone, drunk, late at night through the alleys of the old part of the city. If I’m lucky, I come across a plaza, empty except for a guitarist. It’s 2 a.m. and he can’t possibly be looking for tips—just the lonely sound of the instrument, bouncing back to him off the freshly washed pavement.

…como camina el río hacia la mar…

Munich. “Duende,” my friend explains, illuminated in the dark bar by the light of his phone. He is reading the definition. It is art’s dark accomplice: the thing that strikes you deeply, sending chills crawling up your spine. It is authentic. Earthy. Death feels always present.

Lorca quotes a master of the guitar. “‘The duende is not in the throat: The duende surges up, inside, from the soles of the feet.’ Meaning, it’s not a question of skill, but of a style that’s truly alive: meaning, it’s in the veins: meaning, it’s of the most ancient culture of immediate creation.”

We trade examples back and forth. The blues. Goethe. Post-coital depression.

…lorei lorei loreilo...

Two days later, sitting on a train, I want to write something. I don’t even know what. Just to get everything banging on the inside of my skull onto paper and then to sleep for a very long time.

An American couple boards at the same station, sits next to me, and strikes up a conversation. They’re far too chipper. Isn’t Europe awesome? Isn’t the size of beer mugs here hilarious? Don’t I love all the clubs in Barcelona?

My answers get shorter and shorter and I can’t understand why they want to talk about entrance fees to Razzmatazz here and now. It takes 35 minutes to get from Dachau back into Munich. I wonder if the tracks we ride on were the same used to transport prisoners to the concentration camp. When I get off the train, I don’t much feel like writing anymore.

My mother calls. I rush to wrap up the conversation. I don’t want to talk about how your business is doing poorly, I don’t want to talk about how I’m doing post–break-up, I don’t want to talk about how badly we both miss grandpa, I love you, good-bye.

The line goes dead and I am immediately angry with myself for being so distant.

…Repicando campanadas...

For the first time I can remember, I have vivid dreams, at least weekly. Most are tinged with an extravagant Spanishness that makes me worry my subconscious is terribly cliché.

I am harvesting olives in the hot sun.

I am being led to a firing squad for a crime I didn’t commit.

A monk lies dying in his cell. There’s a cut on his arm, from which trickles a thin line of holy water. My mind renders the scene in the dark colors of Goya’s last paintings, the ones he made in the House of the Deaf Man, fearing insanity, waiting for death.

… la torre de las campanas…

I make a million plans for the summer. I am going to teach myself how to draw. I am going to learn how to play the guitar. I will pick up sticks and a knife, become a skilled whittler. I have made such promises before. As if the problem of expressing oneself fully, meaningfully, is a question of format and not of content.

As if frustration is to be overcome.

…y un rayo de sol alumbra…

“Seeking the duende,” Lorca writes, “there is neither map nor discipline. We only know it burns the blood like powdered glass, that it exhausts, rejects all the sweet geometry we understand.”

He uses the word “struggle” six times in that lecture.

…la cárcel de la mañana…

I leave here in a week. I am less at peace—not more. If I know myself better, it’s only to the extent that I’m more aware than ever that I don’t know myself very well.

I alternate between feeling excited, creative, energetic and overwhelmed, worthless, shallow. I can’t decide from one moment to the next if this is a moment of possibility or hopelessness.

I am lost—terribly, terrifically. Though I wouldn’t say I’m even close to miserable, I can’t say I’m happy either.

But there is this: I find myself, just a little more than when I arrived, open to that darkness woven deep in the flamenco. The uncertainty. The despair. The steadfast refusal to turn away.

And I’m willing: There’s a certain strange joy there too. Its truths don’t feel uniformly comforting, or pleasant, or easy. They are almost always the opposite—it is a struggle.

But it does feel like living.

…y aguruuguuu aguruguuuu aguruuguuuuuuaaaa…

David Kaner is a third-year in the College majoring in Law, Letters, and Society.

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