dimanche 13 juillet 2008

The Fragrant Realm of Duende (I) : The Song of Jasmine

Jasmine scares me. Jasmine is too beautiful. Jasmine makes me cry, when I walk past a bush spilling white stars over the wall of an enclosed garden, maybe because it smells like the lost South of my Marrano ancestor when he fled the Spanish Inquisition, after the fall of sweet, learned and meditative Cordoba. Did he have the time to save a sprig to bring along?

Jasmine haunts me, it makes me weep for the beauty of the Andalucian nights, beauty yielded and withdrawn in the same gesture: these tears to beauty are the very essence of what the Andalucians call duende, sung by the poet Federico Garcia Lorca. An intense beauty teetering on the edge of its own extinction, which draws us, tears us apart and leaves us panting…

“All the arts are capable of duende, but it naturally achieves its widest play in the fields of music, dance and the spoken poem, since those require a living presence to interpret them, because they are forms which grow and decline perpetually and raise their contours on the precise present.”

Couldn’t this idea of duende apply to perfume, an art born by the body, always on the brink of physical disappearance, leaving only an imprint, fleeting on the flesh, endless in memory?
Aren’t flowers the very embodiment of duende when they touch the soul in all the brevity of their flamboyant existence, sending out the last of their fragrance in moist hair and between the breasts where they were planted?

“Once the Andalusian singer, Pastora Pavon, "The Girl with the Combs," (…) was singing in a little tavern in Cádiz. She sparred with her voice - now shadowy, now like molten tin, now covered with moss; she tangled her voice in her long hair or drenched it in sherry or lost it in the darkest and furthermost bramble bushes. But nothing happened - useless, all of it! The hearers remained silent. (…)

Then the "Girl with the Combs" got up like a woman possessed, her face blasted like a medieval weeper, tossed off a great glass of Cazalla at a single draught, like a potion of fire, and settled down to singing - without a voice, without breath, without nuance, throat aflame - but with duende ! She had contrived to annihilate all that was nonessential in song and make way for an angry and incandescent Duende, friend of sand-laden winds (…)

The "Girl with the Combs" had to mangle her voice (…) She had to deny her faculties and her security; that is to say, to turn out her Muse and keep vulnerable, so that her Duende might come and vouchsafe the hand-to-hand struggle. And then how she sang! Her voice feinted no longer; it jetted up like blood…”

I know some perfumes with duende. They sing with the voluptuously raspy voice of jasmine and orange blossom.

Excerpts from "The Duende: Theory and Divertissement" by Federico Garcia Lorca (1930), provided by Music Psyche

Image: The flamenco dancer Carmen Amaya, courtesy Es Flamenco

9 commentaires:

  1. Jasmine can inspire lots of passion and heartache, can't it? Although I connect orange blossom mostly with Andalucia in particular (the sight of the orchards is something almost sacred!), jasmine plays a major role in every Mediterranean culture.
    It's lucky that I live in a place scattered with bushes of it, blooming at least 7 months a year: the waft of jasmine in bloom is evocative of a southern summer evening no matter the time.

  2. Oh, gorgeous !
    I join you in the celebration of this beauty...

    [A propos- Madini's having a sale...
    And I found their Jasmine, and Azahar-orange blossom- to be outrageously good quality, undilutedly animalic indolic - and very inexpensive.]

  3. Por supuesto que Lorca tenia este punto de vista tan evocativo, poetico, y con matices de lo enigmatico. Una voz bien autentica, y una perdida lamentable por la literatura espanola. Era una de mis favoritos estudiar.

  4. Ay, lo siento la concordancia en la frase final.

    All of this talk of Spain has me desperately wanting the petit grain candle from Le Labo, such a perfect encapsulation of a bitter orange grove. Oh, and some chorizo con queso tambien, aunque no me gusta el manchego.

  5. Helg, orange blossom will be next... I associate Andalucia with both, at different seasons. Lucky you, to be smothered in jasmine more than half the year..

  6. I haven't ordered from Madini in a long time. I find it absurd that I have to order from the States, when Tangiers is so much closer!

  7. Billy, a mi tambien me encanta Lorca. Llevé horas en Madrid buscando el libro donde se encontraba esa conferencia, hace... mucho tiempo. Pura hermosura.
    Lo que hecho de menos yo es el jamon Jabugo. Y la manzanilla de Sanlucar de Barrameda... Ay.
    Never smelled the petitgrain candle. Must remedy.

  8. What a beautiful post! My first experience with jasmine was in Greece, where I walked under a bush each day to get into my apartment. Now, I have the good fortune to walk by jasmine each day, and I am training my son to appreciate the beauty of this flower. There is nothing like it - if a scent is capable of duende, then this is it. Of course, now, whatever I have him smell, be it a rose or incense, he says, "it smells like jasmine!"

  9. Elizabeth, that's so sweet, about your son... Now he's just like the flower growers in Grasse who used to call jasmine (maybe still do) La Fleur!