15 June 2009

Duende vs Cursi



I have a thing for Spanish words...

I worked as a park ranger at the Castillo de San Marcos in St Augustine, FL. Spanish colonialism was a real eye opener. Did you know three generations of Spanish were living in St Augustine when the first pilgrim set foot on Plymouth Rock? Amazing. One day I met a middle aged man and his wife who were from Barcelona. He was fair, blond and blue eyed and told me he played bag pipes in high school. His point being northern Spain was very different from southern Spain and I picked up that he was darned proud of that distinction.

His wife walked over to the east wall of the fort and looked over the Matanzas Bay while her husband continued his history lesson. Just then a beautiful young woman walked by us in the tightest khaki shorts the 1980's ever saw. The fellow from Spain eyed her as she walked by, blew a low whistle and said, "Que langosta." I looked up at him from the tight shorts and said, "What does a lobster have to do with her?" He smiled and said, "Where's the sweetest meat in a lobster?"

George Frazier was fond of duende. The literal translation has something to do with ghosts or goblins but it's more. It's used to describe that quality that's indescribable about a person or a place. Frazier once wrote, "...style was Joe DiMaggio's drifting back after a fly ball, but duende was DiMaggio's barring Peter Lawford from Marilyn Monroe's funeral." So the next time a young girl walks by in really tight shorts - - No, wait. I meant to say, the next time you're trying to describe something with soul and that "x" factor that's so hard to define -- you now have the perfect word. Duende.

And then there's cursi. I don't think Frazier knew about cursi 'cause if he did -- he'd as sure as hell have used it. Cursi means bad taste but includes, "one who has pretensions of refinement and elegance without possessing them." Man, that says a whole lot for only five letters. Put that on your vanity tags or your Lands' End bag. When I discovered the word cursi...my mind did the equivalent of looking around to make sure no one saw my fly was down. "Am I cursi?" I thought. Why not. I like to think I have better taste than most. But what if I'm wrong? What if I'm...cursi?

Asking that question of myself was like throwing a bucket of cold humility on my head. Who am I to turn my nose up at anything? Duck shoes, cargo shorts, flip fucking flops, Jack-ass-ville, Florida... No, it was time to stop the snooty and cynical eye narrowing at the couple from Lake Forest in the Jeep Wagonner with the Golden Lab who I named, cliche. It's time to focus on duende. Unless, of course, you want to discuss how cursi Peter Lawford was.


Anonymous said...

galicia (north west spain) is celtic the visagoths were germanic (upper classes). queen isabella - who led the final push of the reconquest, had red hair and blue eyes.
In the south (andulusia) you definitely see the darker types.

I shocked to see that the old Arab quarter in Granada is no longer just a name. There are literally mosques going up at teh foot of the grave of queen isabella.

It is pure insanity.

Anonymous said...

PS the original british were from iberia- in fact the closest genetic relatives they have are the basques.

Alice Olive said...

Having strong opinions and (generally) living those opinions is not cursi. There is definitely a difference between having pretensions and knowing what you like and also living/breathing it.

However, focusing on duende has a certain je ne said quois. (Pun intended.)

tintin said...

Anon- Northern Spain is fascinating to me. Thanks for the details. Stick around 'cause there's gonna be a Spain related theme this week.

Alice- Amazing. Thank you. Pun and all.

malcolm said...

speaking of things spanish i love this painter, currently in a huge first ever exhibition at the prado:


Anonymous said...

No worries, the condition of cursi is like crazy - if you think you may be, you probably aren't.

- King Sunny Ade

Anonymous said...

PSS Believe it or not, Washington Irving (of Sleepy Hollow fame) wrote and incredible, stirring account of the Reconquest (The Chronicle of the Reconquest of Granada)- the thing reads like an adventure novel, but is well documented.

Anonymous said...

Northern Spain may have its charms but only Catalonia has Bel y Cia.


tintin said...

malcolm- Nice impressionist. I think. I'm flashing back to Intro to Art 101.

Sunny- I do love your name. Are you the real King Sunny Ade? I'm a big fan. Anyway, thanks for that and the reminder -- only sane people think they're crazy.

Anon 17:10- Ok, I gotta check that out. Thanks.

Anon- This is why I love comments. Amazing site:

"Being discreet and keeping intimate has led us away from today's world of logos and brands."

Duende lives here.

Anonymous said...

Worry not TinTin,
I would guess most of us probably exist in a precarious balance of both cursi and duende...using cursi to our advantage only when absolutely necessary.(ie:most pick-up lines at 3am sway toward cursi)
Do we mature in to duende? I hope so! "Stay thirsty my friend".

malcolm said...

I hesitate to say this - because its kind of like saying "hey tintin, did you know there's a place called brooks brothers on 44th?" ...but here it goes, do you the famous department store in madrid, El Corte Inglés? It means 'the english cut' - meaning the cut of men's suits. It's no longer anything special, but the name is a tribute to 'how it was'

Tim said...

“Who am I to turn my nose up at anything? Duck shoes, cargo shorts, flip fucking flops, Jack-ass-ville, Florida.”

Just because one isn’t always right, doesn’t mean they must always be wrong.

Anonymous said...

I don't know, flip fucking flops might still be a little more attractive than the afore mentioned tri-colored tortellini shoes.
I think we all wonder if we are cursi, but aspire to be duende unless you are a cacafuego. D
P.s. I would kill for Fluky's hotdog.

ADG said...

Tin..I'm sure you've blown through the Frazier book by now. Interesting that he became such a strident observer of things duende while denying his South Boston..."Southie" origins. I'm sure he would have cast an eye at my best contrivance and dismissed my efforts as philistine at best. He wrote eloquently about duende in many areas of life...jazz-clothes-personal deportment etc. The author mentions that Frazier wrote about duende in dining but lived mostly on tuna fish sandwiches himself.

Anonymous said...

And Might I add that if one is interested in further plumbing the depths of meaning for duende that Lorca's poetry is a good place to start...as are the (better) paintings of Motherwell

Anonymous in NY

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the Spanish theme, Tintin. Nice touch. Half of my father's family is from Galicia. His friends simply did not believe him! We went there. We saw the family and his father's home.

Northern Spain and Southern Spain are worlds apart, separated by a giant swath of rolling wheat. Cool and green, with deep rich cobalt blue waters. White homes with mullioned windows and red tile roofs. Northern Spaniards are justifiably proud of their heritage.

Think northern vs southern California and you sort of get the picture.


Anonymous said...

Charlie Davidson once opined that almost everyone who tries to talk about duende gets it wrong. There's a worthwile essay on duende that's was originally on the forums and has since been co-opted by bloggery. Worth checking out for more comments on Frazier and the D.