Monday, August 17, 2009

An artist who is infusing your world with beauty, whether you know it or not.

My celebrity heartthrob is a man who died before my parents were born. Federico Garcia Lorca, in addition to the eye candy, is arguably Spain's greatest playwright and poet. I was lucky to be introduced to him in 5th grade Spanish class where I first fell in love with his poetry.

When I'd get drunk in college I'd start scribbling letters to Lorca on bar napkins, shutting out the rest of the world unless they wanted to listen to me recite his poems. He has that effect. In Spain he is rarely referred to as Garcia Lorca. It is usually just Federico.

Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, and Leonard Cohen are some of his devotees, cultivating that elusive, fiery earth spirit called
duende that Federico passionately describes in his brilliant treatise on the subject. It is a must-read for any performing artist. L. Cohen talks about how he first discovered Lorca in a bookshop in Montreal when he was a teenager. He says, 'I stumbled on a book by a great Spanish poet and in this book he invited me to enter a universe of ants, crystals, arches, minnows and flies that slipped away like herds of tiny fish. I entered that world, and I am so happy to say I never left it.'

Federico was also a talented composer, actor, theater director, and visual artist. The worlds he created are full of music, imagery, and raw emotion. They envelop. He is as much a great teacher (he would hate to be called a muse) as he is a writer, inspiring important works of music, dance, poetry, film, theater, and visual art in his time up through the present day.

Federico set Spain on fire for flamenco, heightening the prestige of this homegrown gypsy art form so that it could be seen as a jewel of Spanish culture throughout the country and around the world. He was a champion of the rights of gypsies and women, coming from a place of privilege and power, even as his open homosexuality may have cost him his life.

I spent a couple of months in Spain making a pilgrimage to all of his beloved places, as well as a somber trek to the dusty little town outside of Granada which contains what is believed to be his unmarked grave.

On August 19th, 1937 at the age of 38 he was murdered by 'nationalist militia' during the Spanish Civil War. The details of his murder are still obscured, and his death is an open wound. But while the anniversary of his death is a reminder of how much we lost that day, his writing and spirit are bathing the world in passion and beauty every minute.

Casida IX (translation below)
De la palomas oscuras

Por las ramas del laurel
vi dos palomas oscuras.
La una era el sol,
la otra la luna.
Vecinitas, les dije,
donde esta mi sepultura?
En mi cola, dijo el sol.
En mi garganta, dijo la luna.
Y yo que estaba caminando
con la tierra por la cintura
vi dos aguilas de nieve
y una muchacha desnuda.
La una era la orta
y la muchacha era ninguna.
Aguilitas, les dije,
donde esta mi sepultura?
En mi cola, dijo el sol.
En mi garganta, dijo la luna.
Por las ramas del laurel
vi dos palomas desnudas.
La una era la otra
y las dos eran ninguna.

Qasida of the Dark Doves

Through the laurel's branches
I saw two dark doves.
One was the sun,
the other the moon.
Little neighbors, I called,
where is my tomb?
In my tail, said the sun.
In my throat, said the moon.
And I who was walking
with the earth at my waist
saw two snowy eagles
and a naked girl.
The one was the other
and the girl was neither.
Little eagles, I called,
where is my tomb?
In my tail, said the sun.
In my throat, said the moon.
Through the laurel's branches
I saw two naked doves.
The one was the other
and both of them neither.

(trans. Catherine Brown)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Pop Culture Loss that Stings

I was startled by the appearance of a pretty English boy dawdling at a green market stand in NYC recently.

He was so pretty that he looked like an alien. His eyes radiated blueness and his blond hair gleamed. His teeth were so white that they made the sound of a struck metal triangle when he smiled.

As it turned out, he had recently been hired to act on Guiding Light, the oldest running television show in existence, which had just been canceled. The hearty gal at the farm stand had little sympathy for his despair over the lost gig, but I did, because I am sad to see the show go.

I remember watching it with my mother and grandmother in my grandparents' place when they
still got away with calling me 'wee Kate'.

I'd sit on a little embroidered stool drinking tea out of a porcelain cup and eating smiley faced cookies (the best, which also don't exist anymore) while we watched Phillip and Beth's impossible love unravel as evil, evil Roger schemed.

I remember flipping on the T.V. in college to learn that Beth was coming back from the dead yet again. The storylines recycled themselves infinitely.

My family was made up of British ex-pats, and as Guiding Light came on at tea time that was the soap we watched.

My great grandmother had listened to it on the radio whenever she was in the States. My grandmother had picked up the habit, as had my mother.

I guess I dropped the ball. I got complacent. I didn't watch. I thought that it would always be; like the sun. But the show's symbol was a lighthouse, and lighthouses are always being torn down.