Torda Chica (the mare that Billy the Kid and I are riding) is following the pink-tailed cat appeared earlier on this dreamtime journey. The feline has joined us again after our visit to the second Wild West theme park of the Tabernas Desert in Almería. As we were exiting the set, where the Kid shared his impressions of films shot there about his life, the cat popped out of a bursting cloud, like a feline version of the White Buffalo Calf Woman of Lakota fame. The four-legged did not carry a pipe in his paws like the divine lady, but he brought us a vision. As we were headed to the third set of this Fake Wild West World to build Billy’s heart fort at the Yellow Rose saloon, an apparition depicted two children on a seesaw: allegedly Billy as a young boy and a girl his mom called his imaginary friend. Billy was adamant: the girl was real, and he told me the story of their precious connection through dreams.
The synchronicity of the cat’s reappearance and this seesaw vision has convinced me to obey the feline anew, veering off our initial route for what feels like an important detour. Hypnotized by our mare’s slow motion as she follows the cat, I am getting lost in the recreation and resonance of my recollections of Billy’s words. A moment of our conversation has just emerged to make me smile. I distinctly hear the Kid again, earlier on our Tabernas adventure, telling me:
-Thanks to your trip here in Spain to come for your kitties, I was able to see you again in spirit, here on set. To be honest, you didn’t see a thing back then, so it was quite lonely!
Now I know why he felt lonely, desperately blowing on the petrified embers of my sleepy soul with very creative smoke signals I failed to see! Before my kitty “rescue” trip, he had put in someone’s mouth words that didn’t make sense to me. The person had asked me why I could not apply for a “grant” that would pay for the trip expenses to go get my cats. I deemed the suggestion surreal THEN, but now I understand that it was meant at infiltrating my memory with that conversational ‘glitch’, so that I could revisit it one day with a more open, symbolic and metaphoric mind. Only doing so would I recognize the invitation to dig deeper in the story of New Mexico and the tragic consequences of the land grants inequities, of which Billy was a collateral victim, together with so many other Nuevomexicanos. I guess more than a reader will consider my decrypting explanation too far-fetched to be likely, but I know how my favorite “smoke signaler” functions…
Right now Billy, his ghost that is, has fallen asleep. He is “leaning” on my back as we ride. This is a strange sensation. He weighs as little as a feather, but I do feel his etheric head peacefully resting against the soft space between my shoulder blades. Finally he has relaxed enough to lean on me! Yes, Billy, you and I do “have each other’s backs”, even though we sometimes show it in very strange ways that follow Spirit’s logic only… Oftentimes it feels as though we were compelled, time and again, to “grill” each other over our authenticity through life’s painful tests. The roasting expression conjures up the funny visual of a “campfire crane / seesaw”. In my mind’s eye I have become the statue girl sharing the seesaw game with Billy, and we take turns pivoting on our seesaw axis to burn our proverbial asses in a pendulum motion…
To be honest, Billy has often “burned my ass,” or chosen to kick it with a wonderlandish croquet mallet. However I always end up “getting” the lesson, and being thankful for it, even though I may need some time to stop pouting over his modus operandi…
Now as the Kid naps behind me, cradled by Torda Chica’s gentle walk, I feel happy and grateful to him for showing increasing trust, and for allowing me to learn new “esoteric” truths like… who knew ghosts could feel ‘jaded’ too? The desert afternoon heat and the sound of the cicadas must have lulled Billy into sleep, as our mare takes us through the ‘arroyo’ or rambla. Mediterranean cigarras are better equipped than American cicadas to strum soporific melodies. In the Spanish desert their “nanas” (lullabies) –sand sirens’ songs ceaselessly composing their summery soundtrack– weave a web so thick that it slowly imprisons their inadvertent audience. Haggard from the heavy haze, those bewitched by the screeching sound are summoned to perform a petrified dance move in Spider Woman’s Womb of Dreams.
Spanish cigarras have a much less “metallic” sound than their overseas cousins. The very first time I heard cicadas in the United States, back in 1997, I mistook them for a transmission tower power surge. To this day, they convey to my foreign ears a strange electric feel. This thought is triggering events from the mid-nineties to cascade down memory lane, laser-cut sharp in my sensory mind. By then I lived in a village called Cijuela, en la Vega de Granada, in the plains region where the poet Federico García Lorca was born. The electric metaphor of the cicadas’ American song has reignited a potent “shock” I experienced one day in that Spanish village, which once belonged to the mother of Boabdil, last Muslim Ruler of Granada. Workers of La Sevillana, the Andalusian power company, had accidentally overloaded Cijuela’s electric system, forever damaging the appliances of countless households. Minutes before the “fizz frenzy”, a neighbor on my Núñez de Balboa street had come pounding on my door, begging me to go check what was happening at her place: “¡¡¡Natalia, mira a ver lo que pasa con la luz de mi casa!!!” The light bulb hanging from her living room ceiling was sputtering its energy in all directions, turning the room in a mini Vegas vomiting a blue neon-light overload, its furious filaments the bifid tongue of a fire-spitting dragon eager to turn it all into sparks. It felt as though the Vega village would soon sizzle on the altar of a nasty Fairy Electricity transformed into the Wicked Witch of the West, a wild sight indeed.
The witchy, geographic reference borrowed from Oz makes me wonder: La Vega / Las Vegas… What is hiding behind the green curtain of the same Spanish name for such distant and distinct places? La Vega de Granada, huddled at the foot of the Andalusian Sierra Nevada, is the fertile plain where Federico García Lorca’s father became immensely rich, occasionally using somewhat two-faced or “bifid” methods in the process, triggering envy and resentment among neighbors and distant relatives. Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, is where Ramón Ruiz Alonso took refuge after Spanish dictator Francisco Franco died. Ramón fled to join the only daughter who had not disavowed him for arresting the poet. Ramón cruzó el charco, he crossed the pond, because he felt his life might be in danger for his past deeds under the Fascist regime… Lorca’s life was not only endangered by that man. It came to an abrupt end after Ramón arrested Federico who was hiding at the house of Falangist friends, the Rosales family.
“Yes, that Ramón of the bifid tongue sure ‘turned me into a spark’ on the fiery altar of his resentment and political ambition… He plucked me like a fading rose. I had become my own Rosa Mutabile, reluctantly leaving lonesome Doña Rosita’s greenhouse to turn pale and lose my petals in the rosebush family, la familia Rosales…
Dentro del vergel /moriré / dentro del rosal / matar me han.
Yo me iba, mi mare, / las rosas a coger, / hallara la muerte / dentro del vergel.
Yo me iba, mare, / las rosas a cortar, / hallara la muerte / dentro del rosal.
Dentro del vergel / moriré, / dentro del rosal / matar me han…
Who knew those ‘rose’ verses I picked for my talk on ‘el Duende’ would be so prophetic…”
I am startled. Is this hoarse voice really Federico García Lorca’s!? That voice, esa voz so many would like to rescue from oblivion?? One of them is my friend Raúl Alcover, whose musical tribute to the poet is titled, precisely, La Voz de Federico.
“Sí, estás escuchando la voz de Federico…” confirms the voice, apparently born on the wavelength of my electric allegory.
“Federico, this is… such an honor, such a… an incommensurable pleasure…” I stammer in awe.
“Haha, it’s all right,” laughs Federico. “Don’t be so ceremonial, we’re among Granaínos after all… We will always be family: the sons and daughters of Granada’s Nasrid Memory.”
“That’s beautiful, thank you. It is true; it’s exactly how I feel. No matter where I go, I will always be a daughter of Granada’s Nasrid Memory. There will always be a piece of me within its walls. What did bring you to my humble storytelling world?”
“My soul was hovering over the Almería desert, and I sensed the previous title of your saga, “Al Final de la Rambla”. It made me think of Salvador…”
“Salvador, you mean… Dalí?”
“Of course, ¿acaso hay otro Salvador? Haha… He was so full of himself. But hey! You can thank him for my presence today, in voice that is, because as I came closer to spy on your story, I wanted to be part of it…”
“I am truly honored,” I say, still struggling with the idea that I am indeed speaking with the poet, who goes on talking about his once friend Dalí.
“Salvador hated it so much when those who loved him could see through him as in an open book… We were a few not to be mistaken by the painstakingly-built boastful bravado he displayed to conceal his shyness. So he shunned us. Típico… He was born in a house that still stands ‘al final de la rambla’, in his charming Figueres. Gigantic pictures of his family’s past now cover the façade. I think it is –or will be– a museum, like my own childhood house in La Fuente…”
“I didn’t know that…” I admit. “I don’t know much about Cataluña, truth be told, even though I once lived on Calle Cataluña in Málaga!”
“Maybe it was an invitation…” Federico suggests. “Ah, Málaga… y el Café de Chinitas…”
“Believe it or not, in 1993, when I worked at the University of Málaga, I somehow ended up being member of the jury for University songs contests, la Tuna, where the Café de Chinitas stood!”
“¡¡Me encanta la Tuna!!” Federico enthusiastically exclaims.
“And did you love tunaS (prickly pears) too?”
“Prickly Pears? I only know them as chumbos,” answers Federico, who does not get the joke.
“Oh true, ‘tunas’ is the Mexican word for them… Sorry, I’m starting to mix my ‘Spanishes’!”
“Your Spanishes… I like that! All writers should have their own personal language, as infinite as melodies, like… Tuna melodies! I don’t know if I was fonder of the century-old attire of the musicians or the music! Their notes nurtured my soul.”
“I love it too… My Málaga ‘stopover’ sure had an important purpose for my soul as well,” I add, then softly humming “♫♪ De Cádiz a Gibraltar, ¡qué buen caminito! El mar conoce mi paso por los suspiros. Ay Muchacha, Muchacha, cuánto barco en el Puerto de Málaga, cuánto barco en el Puerto de Málaga… ♪♫”
“What a nice melody for my poetry!” Federico says, delighted.
“Yes, my friend Raúl composed it…” I say.
“Remind me of thanking him,” begs Federico.
“Sure thing. He will be happy! Maybe he’ll write a song about Cataluña too… I actually visited the Dalí museum in Figueres. I don’t know why it feels so remote, or… surreal in my memory. I visited a total of three Dalí museums!!! The second one was in St Petersburg, Florida, another important ‘soul stopover’, and then in Montmartre, Paris.”
“You are a true fan! I’m impressed,” Federico acknowledges.
“Well,” I wish to nuance, “I am completely fascinated by his art, but the more I learn about his actions and personality, the MUCH harder a time I have admiring him, and this is an understatement. I can’t even fathom how he let out a shocking ¡OLÉ! when he learned of your passing.”
“Did he??? Ouch…” reacts Federico.
“Yes, although later on he tried to explain away his ‘aficionado cheer’ as the actual recognition of your triumph: you had achieved one of your obsessions, death that is….”
“I see…” says Federico, still a bit shocked.
“But then, it is also said that the last intelligible thing his caretaker heard from his mouth was ‘mi amic Federico’. And a look at his Port Lligat home’s extravagant decoration feels a bit like an ode to your world, our Nasrid Granada. There are, I think, two reproductions of the Alhambra Court of the Lions fountain, whose statues share their space with bullfighter figurines…”
“Really??? Wait, ¡¡¡CLARO!!! Now I DO see!! I guess when he shouted ¡OLÉ!, in his mind Salvador was elevating me to the level of my dear Ignacio Sánchez Mejías, whose death by goring was the ‘best’ death a matador can dream of, even though it leaves his loved ones destroyed. Ignacio would always say that a bullfighter only became legend through dying in the bullring… You know, at the Residencia de Estudiantes, I would always play a rather macabre game, in which I literally played dead.
As a spirit now, I grasp many more layers of consciousness than I did ‘down below’. I think nobody was ready for what Salvador was trying to convey to the world. In my times, and still in yours, many people are too literal AND visceral, taking everything personally. While alive I hated it when those I considered my friends criticized my work; and they were very good at it! I took it as a personal attack and couldn’t handle it at all. I would go pale, pinch my lips together, shut down to all and leave, retreating to my den like a wounded lion, thinking of a way to get even, usually through my quill.”
“I can’t really blame you,” I answer. “I think you were right to take as a personal attack the ‘subliminal’ messages in the so-called “surrealist masterpiece” of Un Chien Andalou. Such an absurd and hurtful film Dalí made with Buñuel, that envious nitpicker pole vault freak who could only dream of being the ‘real McCoy’ of arts! Zebras rotting on a piano… What a stupid and repulsive image! Did you know that Buñuel had the audacity to dismiss assisting Abel Gance on his Napoleon movie???”
“Wow! It feels great when one lets out built-up bitterness, doesn’t it! Haha! Good for you! Maybe you’re ‘a tiny bit’ excessive in your judgment of Luis and Salvador’s piece though? Of course, I was too, back then. Everything in that film was targeting me. Who do you think would play the piano for our evening concerts at the Residencia… Speaking of which, and just for the record, in THEIR version, the animal corpses were donkeys, not zebras.”
“What do you mean ‘their version’???? Is there another one?”
“Not another version: the original idea of the strange biker in the first street scene of ‘their work’ is mine… They took it from my not-so-well-known Paseo de Buster Keaton…” Federico reveals.
“I had no idea…” I admit.
“Oh yes! Luis and Salvador used several concepts I had imagined for my ‘impossible script’ of Buster Keaton’s Walk. In that surreal story of mine, the main character falls off his bicycle, and at some point he says: ‘I wish I were a swan. But it can’t be, even though I’d like to!”
“A swan??” I interrupt Federico. “Dalí’s Port Lligat house is full of stuffed swans! I mean the real birds, not plush toys… He would also use them in some of his Gala portraits.”
“This tends to confirm my hunch, then…” says Federico, who sounds rather happy to discover that after all, Dalí did love him, in his own strange way.
“But please go on with that Buster Keaton story. What happens after he wishes he were a swan?” I ask.
“So, the character says he cannot become a swan ‘because, where would I leave my hat? And what would I do with my shirt collar and my moire tie?’ Doesn’t that remind you of THEIR biker and his strange little box and its content, used by the lady who is ‘piecing him together again’ on the bed?
If you take a close look at that scene, you’ll notice that everything in it has stripes. Even the pleated lampshade is a reminder of ‘my stripes’… You see, at the end of my surreal story, a young woman faints and falls off her bicycle. And here’s how I describe her: ‘her striped legs shiver on the lawn like two agonizing zebras.’ ¿Qué te parece?”
“What I think? I think it’s insane how they blatantly stole from your story to make fun of you!” I say.
“Exactly,” Federico sighs. “The idea for my silly story had come from a discussion with Salvador, after we watched a silent film together at la Residencia de Estudiantes. I thought the actor in that famous scene of the man hanging from the clock on an American skyscraper was Buster Keaton, and he said I was wrong, arguing the man was Harold Lloyd. He loved cinema so much… His opinion was correct, of course.”
“Now silly me,” adds Federico, “I was mad at myself for that mistake, so I decided to make something out of it, and the script for Buster Keaton’s Walk came quite naturally. I am convinced that Dalí, subconsciously maybe, was also influenced by that famous clock scene when he started painting his soft watches. Of course, the deep meaning of his incredible creation went far beyond the…” Federico struggles to find the adequate word.
“…the ‘clock hanger’,” I suggest, tongue in cheek.
“Yes, the clock hanger, haha! You know, what really bothered me in Un Chien Andalou, even more than the mockery, was my friends’ hypocrisy. How they denied the obvious, hiding behind surrealists’ obsession with the absurd, fiercely defending the absolute meaninglessness of their work. Such cowardly liars… There is no such thing as a meaningless creation, even though the creators themselves may be unaware of its depth when creativity first arises. But in this case, they knew what they were doing, believe me…”
“I do believe you. I think that back in your time, artists barely scratched the surface of the possibility surrealism was actually offering from the deepest core of their subconscious. Regarding what you said earlier about Dalí resenting those who knew him best, precisely for that reason… I think he hated being ‘busted’ by people like you, who could see through his creations. But at the same time, he couldn’t help expressing his true feelings in his art! He was compelled to follow his muse, even though he knew it would eventually reveal his deepest secrets…”
“Aren’t we, creatives, all in the same boat…” agrees Federico, who then adds: “It can also apply to how we think we remember things. Regarding those zebras, it is strange that you would use them in your description of the film, since you didn’t know about my Buster Keaton piece. Where do you think this distorted memory came from, when you mentioned the dead creatures rotting on the piano?”
“I don’t know… Maybe I was mixing up images stored in my psyche. There’s that tiny store in Madrid, New Mexico, with a zebra standing on the roof. For some reason it stuck in my mind’s eye! And speaking of ‘eye’, I think half of the planet still needs to recover from that scene in Un Chien Andalou where the woman’s eye is split open by Buñuel’s razor blade.”
“That eye… Yes, yucky. Also, I’m pretty sure Dalí wanted it to be a woman’s eye to let me know ‘which side’ he had chosen, regarding his love interests… The obvious parallel between the eye cutting and the cloud ‘slicing’ the moon was one among many other nasty ‘winks’. One night at the Students’ Residence I had taken Luis outside to look at the moon, in the hope he would understand our Andalusian ways, our poetic view of the night sky and our inclination for reverie. With that juxtaposition of images he was clearly telling me ‘I’ll forcibly make you keep your eyes open to see what Salvador and I think of you and your world.’”
“Wow…” I say in shock. “You know, Federico, ‘the cloud slicing the moon’ also makes me think of that drawing Dalí had made of your bust earlier in your friendship. It’s a strange-looking face, almost like the cartoonish image of a haunted house, where shapes like bats seem to fly by your gaping black eyes. I can’t help drawing a parallel with his confession of how he was jealous of your shine… Tenía mucha envidia de tu don de gente y tu aura.”
After a silence, Federico says: “Dalí could be quite envious, it’s true; just like I could be quite resentful too. For the rest of my life on Earth after Un Chien Andalou, I felt angry and betrayed; discarded, hurt and mocked. But then, once on the other side, I sometimes peeked over Luis Buñuel’s life through the veil. He was deeply saddened by my demise, and I could tell he regretted many things. He wished he had acted differently. But it’s in his nature to be un criticón! He couldn’t help criticizing others. And his jealousy came from deep-seated insecurity. Like the rest of us… You know, once we drop our earthly ego, we realize why certain hurtful things actually need to happen for our growth. If artists faithfully obey the Muse, sometimes the effect of their creations will trigger others, but it will also help those ‘others’ to evolve, if they’re capable of moving past the hurt…”
“I get what you mean, I assure you. However it does not make their actions right,” I vaguely protest.
“Well, people often fail to comprehend this soul’s growth factor while alive, unless they broaden their doors of perception. Speaking of which, when Luis Buñuel lived in the United States, he met that other writer who appears to be important for you, from what I’ve gathered in your writings: Aldous Huxley, mentioned earlier in this story.”
“Oh really?” I say, much calmer now. “I’m glad to know Buñuel met Huxley, and that he still loved you in the end.”
“Of course he did. Plus he was just playing the role our souls had agreed upon before incarnating as ‘Luis Buñuel’ and ‘Federico García Lorca’… Believe it or not, that whole silly story of the Andalusian Dog aka me, had a greater purpose, on a soul level. It opened my eyes to new depths. Yes, just like that dark eye cut open by the dreadful razor blade…
It helped me grasp double meanings that not even Luis or Salvador were aware of as they made the film. Maybe Dalí was closer to grasping them, through the lens of his soft watches bending the space-time, and his mustache in the shape of infinity… The seemingly senseless story was hiding soul clues in plain sight for me. When back in our ethereal essence, we learn a lot as observers from the beyond. After remembering the circumstances of my own soul, of which I was completely unaware when I was “just” Lorca, I understood what that film was really telling me. So I learned to value the divine motive behind the apparent insult, and I learned to forgive…”
TO BE CONTINUED…