Dear Casa Carmen family,
These quarterly letters have become a series of meditations and explorations on the reason for being of our task as makers and drinkers of wine, as makers and eaters of food, and as members of this community, of this humble but great house that we call Casa Carmen.
This compilation of letters have come to be my favorite corner of our website, which we have titled “In Search of el Duende.” The title is, of course, a nod to Spanish poet Federico García Lorca, who worked, perhaps more than anyone, to communicate the meaning of duende, a term that has been deemed by many not only untranslatable but undefinable.
As you have probably seen behind the label of our wine, Duende, the word originates from "dueño de casa" (master of the house) and it is said to be a spirit of inspiration, particularly in reference to art. This etymology is important because it is deeply related to its usage. In 1933, García Lorca gave a conference in Buenos Aires titled, “Theory and Play of the Duende,” which has become the foundational text for trying to understand its meaning. He explained how unlike the angels or the Greek muse, which come down from the heavens to give inspiration, duende comes from the earth, constantly dueling, struggling to emerge and create. But duende is not simply inspiration. It is more of a possession, a person yielding mind and body to an unknown power that becomes “the master of the house.” It exists in the struggle between life and death. Neither the dancer, the bullfighter, the singer, the painter, nor the poet can summon duende at will. Rather, they have to step into the abyss, holding nothing back, into the radical vulnerability of their art and their life, they have to step into the possibility of failure and death, and only then, duende might show up.
In the world of Flamenco, a good voice will get you nowhere, and neither will any impeccable technique for the guitar, or a splendid figure for dancing. But it is only duende that will transmit the ineffable and the incommunicable. It is only duende that will rouse the voices of the audience to make any smoke-filled Flamenco cave of Andalucía erupt in joy, ecstasy, and madness. García Lorca told this story back in 1933:
“Years ago, in a dance contest in Jerez de la Frontera, an eighty year old lady won against a crowd of beautiful young women and girls with liquid waists, simply by raising her arms, lifting her head, stomping her foot on the floor. But in that crowd of muses and angels, of beautiful smiles and figures, the winner had to be that moribund duende, who swept the earth with wings like rusty knives.”
Duende upturns any barren conception of beauty and aesthetics, and reminds us that beauty lies in the sincere disclosure of the human and the divine, including all the darkness and all the light. In the words of John Keats, "Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” Duende is the power that directs its dwelling place towards making something extraordinary, unique, inimitable. It is true beauty.
Our Duende is and always will be a tribute to this. Depending on the year, it may or may not come. It is, as Leonard Cohen would say, “half my fault and half the atmosphere.” But we will continue to live and work in the way one must to let duende in: being true and taking risks. We will continue leaving the window open (duende doesn’t come in through the door), and we hope that you do the same and that your life is filled with duende.