¿Qué es el duende?
Next QSO with a Spanish ham, ask 'em about el duende. It won't get you in hot water, and might lead to one very interesting discussion. The term was developed and popularized by Spanish writer Federico García Lorca in 1933 and refers to a quality of art (including Flamenco music and dance) that evokes a strong emotional reaction and might be a pretty dark, as Wikipedia says, "gives you chills," something that is released inside the listener, the viewer and evokes a hightened sense of one's mortality among other ponderables.
We used it in fun, facetiously above, but it's really serious stuff. Love the sound of that word though, fun to pronounce it and see how some critics have used it to describe that which is beyond the arts, like individuals for instance.
The late columnist George Frazier, who wrote for Boston papers and Esquire magazine before it became a cross between GQ and Humpty Dumpty, was a big duende fan. Again, quoting Wikipedia, in turn quoting columnist Studs Terkel "Duende was George Frazier’s favorite word. It is, of course, the precise word to describe his life and his writings: roughly translated—grace, wit and class."
Frazier was a frequent guest on WBZ and WRKO Boston talk shows hosted by the late Jerry Williams to which I frequently listened, and they both did go on, tossing around los duendes in a loosey-goosey higgledy-piggledy manner that probably had Lorca Flamenco dancing with displeasure in his grave, but I dunno. To some us, at least during playtimes and aside from radios, words are among the best toys.
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Dashiell Hammutt was your basic lucky kid. Not Richie Rich lucky, but like many of us growing up in the nineteen fifties and sixties, lucky enough to be blessed with free meals, medical and dental care, presentable clothing and a warm bed and bath. Kept blissfully ignorant of his parents’ adult problems, Dash! worried about little more than his ham radio hobby, The Bomb, and what pathetic Christmas tree his father would bring home this year. In other words, Dash was burdened with your basic lucky kid’s typically full paper plate.
If Dash had not exactly outgrown that particular Yuletide embarrassment, he nevertheless devised a workaround. When his family moved from New Jersey to the upstate New York suburb of Heaviside, he vowed that his new friends would never see his family Christmas tree.
Sickness. Pestilence. Company coming. Dash tossed out excuses like candy canes to explain why, from about the twentieth of December to New Year’s Day After, he met his friends at the garage side door and escorted them very briskly and directly to his bedroom ham shack in the basement.
Upstairs loomed a cruel hoax. Always, since Dash could remember, great holes gaped in his family’s Christmas trees– voids so big you could fly a sleigh and nine reindeer through one side of the seedlings and out the other. Feeble branches, missing most of their needles, sagged under the weight of the ornaments no larger than gum machine charms. Beyond the Valley of Sad and Dreary, these little sticks were enough to give a kid a complex.
His trauma went all the way back to New Jersey, hundreds of miles south, where best friend since first grade, of equally modest, yet radically different family Christmas customs, always had the best tree in the world, if not the entire New York City metropolitan area. Each run-up to Christmas his friend’s tiny tract ranch house living room became Rockefeller Center. And the tree?
To the ceiling!
Dash’s buddy’s cool carpenter dad sometimes had to cut off a couple of feet just so their annual mother of all Tannenbaums wouldn’t punch a hole in the roof. And once he righted that mighty balsam behemoth, it was time for blue and green antique German glass balls big as any sold by Brunswick for the purpose of making that spare. These were followed by more boxes of European heirloom ornaments, along with outdoor-sized C9 Christmas lights and enough glittering tinsel to spoof the radar of a Soviet Badger strategic bomber.
Dash! was always invited to help decorate this monster and he did so with a certain rueful glee. Because he knew that as soon as the last icicle was hung with care, his buddy’s cool Christmas Dad would take but one puff on his bulldog pipe and administer the coup de grâce.
Like a gunny sack of salt dumped in the deepest wound, out came the antique electric trains with track this wide and a double-throttled transformer big as a dodge ball.
Gift of the YAGi Episode Two
Sure, Dash owned typical Baby Boomer postwar electric trains by Lionel. But these were Depression Era vintage American Flyer trains – playing controversial Ford to Lionel's Chevy with old school two-rail track and all the triple driving-wheel trimmings, the lighted dining cars, Pullman sleepers, bells and whistles and smoke juice, all arrayed beneath his friend's magnificent Christmas tree, awesome as any department store layout, with acreage set aside for presents. Of course, the cool carpenter Dad arranged it all, while Dash! and his friend soaked up the railroad romance made all the more magical by the deep colors of the oversize lights on the oversize tree.
In the cold late afternoon December dusk, Dash trudged home, wondering if his father would wait a few more days until Christmas Eve, the absolute last moment, when every decent tree had been sold, and the runts of the litter would be paired up with more ambulatory runts of the litter.
As the boy passed through a small commercial neighborhood on the way back from his friend's house, he noticed something new.
In a dim vacant lot, lit by a solitary string of lights, next to the variety store where Dash often bought his comic books, a rogue Christmas tree seller had apparently set up his wares. Yet no shady character, no inscrutable, sourball ragamuffin of an attendant was to be seen, just a wall of typically overpriced but oddly good-looking specimens, almost thumbing their noses, if they had noses and thumbs instead of branches, at Dash as he spitefully gave them his cold shoulder and slipped inside the warm variety store, making his way with all deliberate speed to the magazine rack.
Hot dog! A new issue of Atomic War Comics caught his eye and effortlessly forced his hand like a Judo master. Dash did have ten cents to his name and it burned a hole in his pocket like a flamethrower. Three days before Christmas Eve Dash couldn't believe his luck – a fresh Atomic War, something to savor and slowly desconstruct, like two fistfuls of Oreos, and kill the longest, most excruciating time of the year.
Dash walked on air out of the store, Atomic War rolled up under his arm, back into the dark and chill, glancing one last time over his shoulder toward the Christmas trees, when he thought he heard something, something like tittering, insubtantial, etherial, as if the trees were laughing at him.
Dash gripped his Atomic War like a relay race baton and speedwalked the hell down the street toward his neighborhood. Geezum, he thought. It's Christmas, not Halloween. These weren't the sort of of willies Dash savored. But they didn't follow him all the way home, so he thought.
Then came Christmas. And spring. And Dash and his family moved hundreds of miles away from New Jersey to upstate New York, to a suburb of Utica called Heaviside. Here, Dash forgot all about those Christmas willies, until four years later, to be exact, two months after the Cuban missile crisis.
To Be Continued