Having just returned to Malta from a week in Sevilla, I still can’t get a particular feeling out of my mind.
A lot of things have impressed me about the city, the flower of Andalucia. A city celebrated by poets like Federico Garcia Lorca, Rafael Alberti and Juan Anton Jimenez; a city that nourished flamenco and bullfighting; a city of orange blossoms and Moorish blues.
But one memory stands out more than most at this early moment of return. As I already wrote in my previous blog I went to Sevilla on the eve of writing a new novel. The novel won’t be set in Spain but I was looking for that most unique of inspirations you could only find in Spain: duende.
A dark, brooding inspiration that lurks in the shadows, trailing death and waiting to open the curtains onto the silhouetted numinous. I found it, in glorious measure, out on the bullring.
I had been to a bullring before and seen a couple of corridas. This time there were no corridas on so I had to make do with a tour of the Maestranza, a small, ornate, charming bullring.
For the most part the tour is insipid and rushed. But then came the moment when you walk onto the arena, onto that deep golden sand, from the same entrance that the matadors walk out during a corrida. I saw the arena spread out before me and for an instant time stood still.
I could hear the crowds shouting, applauding, the paso doble music playing, and I felt elevated, truly. But that wasn’t the most important part. I then felt the presence of the dark, heavy-breathing bull. A beautiful animal that is however out there to hurt and gore. I felt fear, genuine fear, even though the only bulls around at the time were mounted on the museum walls.
And it was then I understood what duende was all about. The matador has no reason to fight that bull. Yes, it is a cruel act, a torturous, tiring performance inflicted on a graceful animal. And this is not justification I’m offering. This isn’t poetry (not yet). This is just my personal, honest opinion.
Through bullfighting – and flamenco to a lesser extent – the matador, and the people watching him, invites death down into the arena and makes it into art. If Jesus died with all of humanity’s sins on his shoulders and offered redemption, the matador takes on all of the audience’s fears and terrors, dances with them and turns them into beauty.
And yes, I will say it unashamedly, a good corrida is an act of beauty. I realised it standing in the arena, standing where the matador fights, kills and is wounded. And I realise now what my characters will have to go through in my novel.
They will also have to fight their horned, black-muscled demons. But from that struggle, something like a dance will emerge. Something, I hope, reflecting beauty; the duende that thrusts death and beauty together and forces them to sway in each other’s arms.
Here are the 3 poems I wrote straight after I left the bullring.
Onto the Sand
The walk onto the arena
Makes men into gods.
The sand hides blood
Between the lines:
Long live life.
Crowned black shadows ,
Horns breathing like waves;
An arena of prayers
And unspoken goodbyes:
Long live life.
The sand breeds adoration,
A thousand handkerchiefs bloom.
A few small steps towards death
And a subjugation of life.
A few steps into terror
And the sand screams.
Long live life!
Wind in the Arena
The wind carries orange blossoms
Across the sands.
Let me fly along.
An arena of white silence
Awaits the blood-letting.
Let me fly along.
A matador’s outstretched triumph,
Black footsteps on the hard sand;
They dance with the skirts of wind
And the Maestranza sings.
Let me fly along,
What else is there to see!
Footsteps in Blood
And the cape bleeds supernova.
I can feel the bull’s touch
Scrape my ribs.
Ole and to hell with death.
A veronica in my name
Ole and I am alive.
Footsteps in the sand
So far from the bloodstains,
They silence a cacophony of failures
Just as man’s lunar footsteps
Silenced the failures of man.
One small step