Today I’m inviting you to take a musical interlude, and step back in time with a version of ‘This Masquerade’ by the Carpenters, which dates to the era of my novel Masquerade.
It’s such a haunting and melancholic song; I thought of it while writing my new novel – of Luz lost in a world of masquerade.
Searching but not finding
We’re lost in this masquerade
In my new book Masquerade, an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality dominates the location in which the story is set: Andalucía. On the one side is Andrés, a respected businessman and technology visionary, mixing in aristocratic and elite circles. On the other is Leandro, a spirited and wild gypsy, one of the Romani who live by the ocean in their own, time-forgotten encampment.
Luz, the heroine of the book, has been brought up to be like Andrés. Her family has long-avoided any involvement with the gypsies, and she has led a privileged life and has been brought up to be respectable and ladylike; in many ways, Andrés’s contemporary. And yet, when she meets the gypsy Leandro she cannot help but be intrigued by how the other half live.
Her mother’s former maid Agustina warns her: ‘Like most people who are ignorant of those tribes and their ways, you are attracted to them. And I know you, Doña Luz … You find them mysterious and romantic, yes? They have the beguiling scent of the unknown with a spicy undercurrent that spells danger. You are young and the young are often foolish … I trust you are not so.’
The word ‘tribe’ is imbued with meaning. An important element is that of belonging; this is something that keeps Leandro attached to his tribe. But what really unites the tribe is a shared belief in a way of living: an ethos. And how can Luz fail to be intrigued by the gypsies’ passionate, liberated approach to life?
Luz has a keen, enquiring mind, and in that sense she is like Andrés, who was once a student of anthropology. He explains to Luz that he travelled the world to spend time with different tribes, learning their ways, from Peru to North America reservations to aboriginal grounds in Australia and beyond. He lived in the Naga Hills of northeast India with secluded hilltop tribes whose traditions were ancient, and with the Kombai clan in Papua New Guinea. He explains:
‘I was a “kwai”, which means spirit or ghost but it’s also a term used to describe an outsider. So I was regarded with suspicion for a while, until I was befriended by the chief’s son… Suffice to say I was finally accepted into that clan, but not before one of them accused me of being a Khakhua-Kuma, a man who practises witchcraft… Cannibalism was still carried out by the Kombai as a form of tribal punishment for male witches. If the chief’s son hadn’t defended me I could have been eaten.’
Andrés tells the story with mischief glinting in his eyes – ‘Though I’m glad I escaped the pot, I think my flesh would have been rather delicious, don’t you?’ he says to Luz. But this does not belie how seriously he takes the field of anthropology. To be a ‘kwai’ is a difficult things; most people prefer to belong, and will follow the rules of a tribe in order to do so. But which tribe?
So many tribes exist. As Andrés puts it: ‘We’re all tribal. Nations, families, blood ties, class…’Luz is a woman; one tribe. She is a writer; another tribe. She is of the de Ruedas, an aristocratic Spanish family – and yet she also has English blood in her veins; two, sometimes contradictory, tribes.
Contradiction: this is problematic for the modern person. For the remote hilltop tribes Andrés lived with in India, it is easy to follow the single path; none other exists. But in Andalucía in the 1970s, all of the characters face choices and mixed allegiances.
The entrepreneur Seth Godin offers perhaps the best definition of a tribe in his book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us: ‘A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea.’The word ‘leader’ strikes me as very important.
Take the gypsies, for example, which Luz finds so compelling. They are not a co-operative; they are a tribe united under leadership of the queen, Marujita. Each member of the tribe must bow to her rule, whether they agree with it or not – Leandro included. And who is to say that a leader will always be just and kind? In Marujita’s case, they call her Il Diabolica for good reason; she is cruel and thirsty for vengeance.
The difficulty with the tribe is keeping a sense of individualism. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said:
The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.
The question is, will Luz and Andrés and Leandro have the courage to stand alone within their tribes, to ‘own themselves’? Which will win out: the tribe, or the individual?
In my new book Masquerade, the heroine, Luz, is a writer who has taken a commission to write a biography on a famous Spanish artist. The client who has hired her is the artist’s nephew, Andrés de Calderon. He is a well-respected and influential businessman, the chair of Caldezar Corporación which produces and sells olive oil worldwide.
In the Spain of the 1970s, newly emancipated from the rule of the dictator Franco, there is an energy and drive for development and growth, and Andrés de Calderon is the very embodiment of the spirit of the new Spain. Nowhere is this more evident than in Andrés’s keen interest in emerging technologies.
He has set himself up as an agent for new manufacturers around Europe, acquiring a testing laboratory that tries out new products and technologies before they are released to the public. He trials many of the innovations himself, and is then a vocal advocate and adopter of those that work well.
In the 2010s, a man interested and embracing of technologist is not remotely unusual. But for the 1970s, Andrés is a visionary and leader in the field. He is one of the first people to use a Polaroid, which of course would become wildly popular; and he gives each of his employees a calculator at a time when they are entirely novel. When Luz meets with him at his office, she discovers Andrés engrossed in TVE Teletext, brand new for the time and allowing him to keep up to date with breaking news worldwide.
‘I pride myself on being up-to-date with technology,’ Andrés explains. ‘Knowledge is success.’
Today, it is strange and fascinating to imagine this world on the cusp of the technology we take for granted today. Did you know that the following were devised in the 1970s?
Dot-matrix printer, laser printer, ink-jet printer
Liquid-Crystal Display (LCD)
Mobile phone (it was absolutely enormous and cost $4,000)
Video game (the first was called Pong)
Walkman music player
Slightly older inventions reached the mass market in this decade that began ‘the technological revolution’, including colour televisions and microwave ovens.
What now seem charmingly retro technological items were at the time life-changing. For some, that was worrying and a little frightening (plenty of people worried about the radiation from microwaves, for example). Which was why men like Andrés were needed; trusted sources who would test and then stand behind the best inventions.
Unlike his counterpart, Leandro the gypsy, who is rooted in the traditions of his Romani people in Spain, Andrés is all about breaking with tradition: with finding new, efficient, clever ways to solve problems and to enjoy life. He is leading the way into the digital revolution we are still gripped by today; his staff will not continue pushing around paper, but will be the forerunners of a new standard in business: digital communication and record keeping.
Andrés admits to Luz that transformation of any kind fascinateshim, and technology offers all kinds of means of transformation. But is there a darker side to all this transformation? In the pursuit of progress, can a man lose touch somewhat with what has come before and should ground him? In a world quickly moving to the virtual – where the golden age of video games is nigh – can he keep a firm grip on reality? Ultimately, will technological innovation strengthen this man or lead him astray: and what will be the consequences either way for Luz? Is knowledge success after all, when it comes to matters of the heart?
I will leave you with the words of technological dreamer and futurist Arthur C. Clarke:
Before you become too entranced with gorgeous gadgets and mesmerizing video displays, let me remind you that information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, and wisdom is not foresight. Each grows out of the other, and we need them all.
In my new book Masquerade, the heroine, Luz, is descended from an old and well-respected Andalucían family. But such is her manner that she usually avoids mixing with the aristocratic circles of the region, preferring instead quiet evenings spent with the same handful of friends, long walks in the countryside around Jerez and riding her mare.
To appease her parents, however, sometimes Luz must put on a beautiful dress and attend an event as one of the de Ruedas. Going to see a performance of the opera Carmen is no hardship, especially given that it is held at this spectacular theatre in Cadiz:
As her father puts it, the Gran TeatroFallain the Plaza Fragela is one of the notable monuments of Andalucía, a lovely example of the neo-Mudéjar style. It stands in the Plaza Fragela, in the north-west quarter of the Old Town, a grand and atmospheric theatre welcoming its visitors with beckoning mystery, like a magician inviting one to step back in time.
Inside, the theatre is the perfect setting for an opera attended by the gentry of Andalucía, with a handsome marble staircase, antiquated gold and claret décor, and ornate Moorish revival arches, all overlooked by a stunning nineteenth-century ceiling fresco, Felipe Abárzuza’s vast allegory of Paradise. Beautiful – but a little faded, Luz can’t help but notice. Her generation, the new blood of an emancipated Spain, is not represented here. This is an old world to which her parents belong, but not so much Luz.
In the family’s box, Luz scans the audience with a pair of opera glasses:
The lights were dimming, and she was on the verge of putting them down when she breathed in sharply. She found herself looking directly into another person’s pair of binoculars, a man seated in the box opposite. Luz just had time to notice the slow smile that curled at the side of the stranger’s mouth before the place fell into darkness. The curtain lifted and the first notes of Carmen’s overture resonated in the vast auditorium.
For the entirely of the performance, Luz is consumed by the thought of this strange man watching her. She is barely present, barely watches the show.
In contrast, a little earlier in the book Luz is a spectator of a very different kind of performance, one which holds her attention absolutely. She has found a gypsy encampment near her home, and hiding behind a large clump of bristling cactus, she watches a vibrant Romani spectacle of song and dance. Then, when night falls, a solo performance takes centre-circle. He is the gypsy who rescued her at the start of the book, and he is mesmerising as he strums the guitar and sings. The words are in Caló, the language of the gypsies, and Luz cannot understand them; but she sense that he is singing from his soul, laments of sorrow and misfortune, and declarations of passion and longing.
He sang in a kind of trance, as if reaching deep down into his soul to uproot the pain, drawing out the final notes in a prolonged, descending strain, with seemingly never-ending turns and tremolos. It was a haunting sound, so poignant Luz had great difficulty in controlling her urge to reach out to him.
Luz is supremely moved by the gypsy Leandro’s performance; in so many ways this is the show she wants to watch. This is where she wants to be, in nature, wild, impassioned: not in the theatre with the gentry watching performers pretend to be gypsies, but within the action itself.
But she does not belong in the gypsy encampment. As I write: she was not a part of these strange, passionate people, merely an onlooker, an intruder; she had no right to be there.
The two spectacles that Luz watches represent a difficult conflict in her character. She wants to be her own person in this new Spain, yet she cannot completely cast off traditions and what is deemed respectable for a young woman in the 1970s. She wants to follow her heart, but she cannot ignore the logic of the head.
Over the course of the book, Luz becomes torn between two men who symbolise this struggle between old and new, traditional and maverick, respectable and liberated. Andrés is the hidalgo, the gentleman – the kind of man who is respected in aristocratic circles and approved of by her parents. Leandro, conversely, is a gypsy, against whose people a great deal of prejudice exists; and how could Luz’s parents ever accept him, given their rocky history with the gypsies?
For Luz, falling in love forces a journey of self-definition, of who she is and what she will stand for. Does she want to attend the theatre and sit politely and silently as a performance unfolds, or does she want to stand in the circle of gypsies and stand and clap and chant her affinity with the performance? Or in fact is the very choice illusionary? Must Luz choose between one and the other; or can she find a way to embrace both?
Since ancient times, dreams have been held to have importance. The Mesopotamians thought that while sleeping a person’s soul left the body and travelled to a dream realm, and the Chinese thought a part of the soul did this. The Romans believed dreams were messages from deities, and that they told of the future. They so wanted these messages that they created sleep sanctuaries where people would repose on special beds designed to induce dreams. The Greeks took the same path, and worshipped a god of dreams named Morpheus, a winged daemon who supposedly gave prophecies to people slumbering in his temples. The Bible, of course, is full of dreams in which God speaks, and Native American cultures often saw dreams as messages from those who had passed on.
A discussion through history on the meaning of dreams that has always fascinated me is known as the dream argument. The fourth-century philosopher Zhuang Zhou told of a dream in which he was a butterfly. When he woke up, he could not decide: had he just come out dreaming he was a butterfly, or was he a butterfly who’d just begun to dream he was a man? This has become a great philosophical question, explored by great minds like Plato and Aristotle, and most notably by René Descartes in his Meditations on First Philosophy.
Where does the dream end and reality begin?
Can the dream not only come true, but be true?
These are questions I had in mind as I wrote my new novel Masquerade. What truths lie in the dream is a question that plagues the heroine Luz, who is attracted to two men – the wild gypsy Leandro and the sophisticated gentleman Andrés – but has a sense that neither is quite what he appears to be.
It is after meeting Leandro that Luz first awakens from an unsettling dream. That she has dreamed at all is unsettling; she does not usually, and when she does, she remembers nothing come the day. But when she awakes this morning the details of her strange dream are disturbingly vivid. Until that point, she has always regarded dreams as meaningless nonsense, even though in Andalusian culture, where superstitions abound, they are regarded as many as omens. Now, intrigued and ill at ease, she decides to ask her housekeeper Carmela for her interpretation. She explains:
‘I dreamt I was on a vast dark plain, in the middle of which a bright fire was burning. I went up to it with a mixture of fear and awe. It became brighter and brighter as I approached and then, even though I was scared, without the least hesitation I walked right into it. The flames were all around me. They licked me but didn’t burn, and I wasn’t afraid anymore. I walked through the fire and as I emerged from it I saw a shadow, the silhouette of a person. I couldn’t distinguish whether it was a man or a woman. The figure was a shape without features. It took my two hands and together we rose into the sky towards another fire which, when we reached it, suddenly turned into a sun.’
Carmela is certain that this is unsueñomaravilloso, a wonderful dream, which means that soon Luz’s heart will be burning with a very powerful fire, un gran amor y pasión. Luz is sceptical, and yet the dream comes again and again, and soon the fire is all-consuming and she cannot walk out of the flames.
Later in the book, after she has met Andrés, the dream that haunts Luz’s nights changes. She is in the Garden of Eden, and Leandro is there – or is it Andrés? She is not certain – and he eludes her, moving swiftly through the magical paradise.
All through her dream she could glimpse his glistening bronzed figure appearing then disappearing behind trees and shrubberies, only to resurface next to a marble colonnade and vanish again suddenly without warning, always inaccessible.
I recall, as I wrote, being inspired by the vivid colours of Henri Rousseau’s final painting, Le Rêve (The Dream).
But the calm and benign beauty in that first dream is shattered. Later, the dream transforms and in the Garden are both Leandro and Andrés, joined at the shoulder, playing hide and seek with Luz through the trees.
They were the twins, and each wore the Gemini half-mask. Suddenly they seemed to be moving towards her. As they neared, their image gradually merged into one, with the mask covering the whole face until the irises behind it were so close to her, glancing through the leaves, that a green eye and a black one stared with saturnine mockery into the horror of her own.
How much of Luz’s increasingly intense and troubling dreams is meaningful? And what meaning should be ascribed? Are the dreams omens, as Carmela would have her believe? Has the modern-day Morpheus bestowed on Luz guidance for her future?
Or are the dreams, in fact, the whisperings of Luz’s subconscious, as Sigmund Freud would have interpreted? Does Luz already know the truth, deep down? If so: will she have the courage to face what is real, to remove the mask of the masquerade?