Scars, Pain, and Duende

Cristina Hoyos in Carlos Saura’s film of El Amor Brujo (1986)

Just over five weeks since the operation. I’ve been going out for a walk every day, making the most of the sun while I can – it’s officially the start of Autumn next week, though I’m trying to deny that colder weather is coming! Having been able to manage walking for 20 minutes without too much of a problem, I decided to change my route a couple of days ago in order to make it up to 30 minutes, and see how that felt. What I hadn’t bargained for was that this new route involved some quite steep uphill walking so I had to go much slower than on the flat. This meant that the route actually took me 40 minutes to walk instead. Even though going at a fairly slow pace, I was really tired when I got back home. But in a good way. The muscles in my operated leg were a little sore, though not feeling damaged, just that they had been used. After sitting down for a while afterwards I got got up, and my un-operated hip was very stiff and painful, whereas the operated one felt fine. This was good to be aware of the change. And also, I wouldn’t have even contemplated being able to do a 40 minute walk before the operation. So even though I needed to rest the next day, and been doing my original route with a bit added to make it up to 30 minutes, it does all feel a sense of progress.

The other thing I did this week was to look at my scar for the first time. I haven’t felt able to do this before. To be honest, the thought of having two large scars, one on each leg, was one of the reasons I kept putting off the operation(s). This wasn’t just about vanity, but tied into the reality that once the replacement is done, there’s no going back – you can’t have the original hip put back in. So whatever the result of the operation is the reality of how I’d have to live, and this thought was quite scary. It was only when the pain got so bad that I felt that whatever the outcome of the operation would be better than living with the pain, that I was able to face both the operation, and the scars afterwards. In fact, looking at the scar in the mirror, it’s not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. It’s 15 cm long, and a visible indentation in the skin, but the colour and texture don’t stand out as much as I thought they might. I can live with this scar, it’s now part of me, inscribing a chapter in my life experience. I have another much bigger scar on my back from when I had a patent ductus operation when I was five. Nowadays, that operation is quite standard, and I think even done through keyhole. In 1973 it was a very big open heart surgery, leaving me with a large and visible scar that I was very self-conscious about all through my childhood and teenage years. Going swimming meant I had to explain what it was, and I never wore strappy dresses. As I grew older, I changed my view of the scar, knowing that I wouldn’t be alive now without the operation, so the scar is a marker of that. Similarly, the scar on the side of my leg is a permanent marker of this process of accepting and living with a new body designed to make my life better. Scottish poet Alasdair Paterson wrote two lines in his poem ‘Age of Bronze’ that I think about in relation to this:

the wound your survive
is the scar you can live with

Yes, I’ve survived, am learning to survive, so I can live with the scar. And the second one I’ll have after the next operation. At least they’ll be symmetrical! I took a photo of my leg pre-op as a reminder of how my skin looked: unblemished, whole, smooth. At some point I’ll take one of the scar, and know that I can live with the changed skin, changed body, changed mind.

Having been living with ‘pain’ for a long time, I also think about what pain is, and how we experience it. It’s a word that can encompass many things, many ways of feeling and being. And it can also be culturally-determined in different forms. Spanish playwright and poet Frederico Garcia Lorca used the word ‘duende‘ to describe an intense physical and emotional reaction to a performance or work of art that can feel like a form of pain. He related this particularly to the performance of flamenco music and dance. I love listening to flamenco, and watching the intensity of both musicians and dancers being so absorbed in the deep expression of the rhythms, melodies, words, and movements. I was thinking this morning of the voice of Cameron de la Isla, a flamenco singer who often performed with the wonderful guitarist Paco de Lucia. Cameron’s deep, rasping, emotional voice immediately gives me a visceral reaction, a deep yearning pain that vibrates through my whole being. It may not leave a visible scar, but the sounds feel like beautiful wounds expressing a depth of emotional experience. Here’s Cameron singing the lullaby, ‘Nana Del Caballo Grande‘, from Lorca’s play ‘Blood Wedding‘. I particularly like this version as he’s accompanied by a sitar rather than a guitar, linking together flamenco and Indian music (that’s another story to do with the possible connection between these).

The experience of love, and the loss of love, certainly also causes pain, and singing of this can expose those inner, invisible wounds and scars that we live with. Violeta Parra was a songwriter and singer from Chile, and the instigator of the revival and reinvention of Chilean folk music. One of her most famous songs is ‘Gracias a la Vida’, made all the more poignant by the fact of her suicide in 1967, Here’s the original lyrics and translation, courtesy of wikipedia:

 Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto
Me dio dos luceros que cuando los abro
Perfecto distingo lo negro del blanco
Y en el alto cielo su fondo estrellado
Y en las multitudes el hombre que yo amo

Translated into English:
Thanks to life, which has given me so much
It gave me two bright stars that when I open them,
I perfectly distinguish the black from white
And in the sky above, her starry backdrop
And within the multitudes the man I love

One of my favourite of her songs is ‘Que He Sacado Con Quererte‘. I first heard this on a cassette tape in 1989, performed by the wonderful late Argentine singer Mercedes Sosa. I was listening to her singing it this morning, thinking of the wounds we survive, and the scars we live with.

These are the lyrics with a translation done for me by the mother of my friend Lorraine:

 que he sacado con la luna, ayayai
What did I get from the moon,
que los dos miramos juntos, ayayai
that we both looked at together?
que he sacado con los nombres, ayayai
What did I get from the names,
estampados en el muro, ayayai
imprinted on the wall?
como cambia el calendario ,ayayai
Just as the calender changes,
cambia todo en este mundo, ayayai
everything in this world changes.
ayayai ay
que he sacado con el lirio, ayayai
What did I get from the lily,
que plantamos en le patio, ayayayi
that we planted in the patio?
no era uno el que plantamos , ayayai
It wasn't one that we planted,
eran dos enamorados, ayayai
they were two in love.
hortelando, tu plantio, ayayai
Gardener, your plot of land
con el tiempo no ha cambiado, ayayai
has not changed over time.

que he sacado con la sombra, ayayai
What did I get from the shadow,
del aromo por testigo ayayai,
of the witness-like myrrh tree,
y los cuatro pies marcados, ayayai
and the four footprints marked,
en la orilla del camino, ayayai
at the border of the path?
¿que he sacado con quererte, ayayai?
What did I get from loving you?
clavelito florecido ,ayayai
blossomed little carnation.
ayayai ay.

Aqui esta la misma luna, ayayai
The same moon is here,
en el patio el blanco lirio, ayayai
in the patio  -  the white lily.
los dos nombres en el muro, ayayai
The two names on the wall,
y tu rostro e(n?) el camino, ayayai
and your face on the path.
pero tu palomo ingrato, ayayai
But you, ungrateful dove
ya no arrullas en mi nido, ayayai
no longer coo/whisper sweet nothings in my nest.
ayayai ay.

Pain, wounds, and scars are caused by many things in our lives, and mark us, whether visibly or not, telling the story of what we have experienced. And what we have survived.

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