I have been under forced confinement for an injured ankle for many months this winter and spring. I was finally getting back to myself and my routines and starting to reclaim my optimistic nature when—
Anthony Bourdain killed himself.
I know. You’re probably sick of the topic by now. I’m not alone in being devastated, all the social issues, the memorials, blah, blah, blah.
But, honestly, I was wrecked. For days and days, unable to think about it without crying. It was a bewildering reaction. I’m not really into celebrity culture, and it’s not like I knew the guy.
Except, like a lot of people, I did. He was my friend. He helped me with my cooking and my writing, and I was really looking forward to the day I could tell him that, maybe ask a question I’d been saving up. I admired his work in the world as an ambassador, a man brimming with a lust for life, and I loved his writing. Mostly, I just loved that sharp, droll, incisive mind.
In those first raw days after his death, I remembered something a friend said to me once as we took a break from dancing at the Harlequin party. “Sometimes I think about all the memories I’ve collected,” she said “all the things I’ve seen and learned, and it’s such a waste that when I die it will all just disappear.”
I kept thinking about Bourdain’s mind and memories and what was lost—all those moments of laughing with some old man in Africa somewhere, or walking up a mountain with a shepherd in some village. The first taste of goat stew. That mouthful he’d always remember.
Tragic that we couldn’t download that mind and all of those memories before it was lost forever. All of it, the big mix. We have his work, of course, the books and articles and television shows, but it’s not the same as the catalogued memories of his travels and life, all of it, the ordinary and sublime and crass and disgusting.
Obviously, we would have to download the darkness in him, too. It’s part of the fabric of what made his work great. Bourdain had duende.
Duende, says Federico Garcia Lorca in his lyrical essay on the subject, is ‘A mysterious force that everyone feels and no philosopher has explained.’
“Seeking the duende, 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, that it shatters styles …The great artists of Southern Spain, Gypsy or flamenco… know that emotion is impossible without the arrival of the duende.”
What is this mysterious force?
Maryanne Nicholls at the Joy of Living writes, “Duende means having soul, expressing authenticity with passion and with no apology. In the flamenco world, it is a spirit that temporarily possess us, an essence that shines through us and is more than us. It begins with our own passions and beliefs that are turned into dance and song and music for the eyes and ears of everyone, expressing the spirit or genius, not of that person, but for all people who are touched by it.”
Duende is the dark magic, the force of Other, that enters the work and turns it from something interesting, maybe even really good, into something transcendent. It is born of the knowledge that death walks among us, that sorrow will mark you with her handprint, that we are all doomed to be forgotten. [Read more…]