My mother likes to say I have to buy all my friends. Well, not all, but at least my foreign ones. She says this tongue in cheek but there is a little truth nugget stuck in there, wedged between her wisdom teeth, that she can’t floss out. In general, she is referring to all my personal trainers of the past ten years. First there was Elaine, personal trainer to the housewives of Campinas, Brasil. Then there was the world-class body builder (light heavyweight division) Sammy Ayochok in Shanghai, China. Sammy was a tough nut. Now there is Senorita Palomita, as delightful a chica as you ever want to meet.
One of the benefits of the local personal trainer is that you learn a whole lot of local lingo, customs, and culture. Palomita’s father is a politician from Toledo so she and I discuss Spanish politics – I like the inside skinny. Recently, she told me about Paquito El Chocolatero (loosely translated as Little Francisco the Chocolate Person). In Spanish, “ero” equals “ist” in English. As you can see, in the case of ‘chocolatero’, this does not make much sense, at least not in the way florero, torero, and compañero do. Paquito El Chocolatero is a trumpet fueled song played at Spanish weddings in the wee hours of the morning, when all the guests are borracho. I cannot confirm this, having never been to a Spanish wedding*, but perhaps it heralds the coming breakfast of churros y chocolate. In any event, it is the equivalent of the American “Electric Slide” line dance (an East Coast wedding tradition) and La Macarena (a group dance, best performed drunk, poolside, at a Mexican beach resort).
Here, for your viewing pleasure, is a modern day interpretation of Paquito El Chocolatero performed by King Africa:
Listen carefully to the song, you Spanish speakers, because it is pretty outrageous.
Shortly after our conversation about Paquito, Ricky Martin came on the television show Glee as the character David Martinez, a substitute Spanish teacher who encourages kids to learn new languages via song. He rocked the mundo with “I’m Sexy And I Know It” and the Bamboleo/Hero mashup, demonstrating what he called his “duende”.
The next morning I asked Palomita about her duende.
“My elf?” she said.
“Not the literal translation. Your inner fire, the thing that makes you move. Your mojo,”I responded.
“No, we don’t use that here. Duende es duende, punto final. Like your duende.”
The Expat Princess’ duende? Why, yes, of course, I have one. Everyone knows that all royals have duendes. Velasquez painted scads of them, the most famous example of which is in his painting “Las Meninas”, a Spanish cultural icon.
So, naturally, one of the other things Palomita and I discuss is the other people at the gym. First, there is a couple we call “Los Famosos”. Related to, but estranged from, a museum magnet who probably owns a Velazquez duende or two herself, this couple did Pilates next to me for several months. They are regularly featured on the cover and in the pages of Hola! magazine.
Then there are the regular folk at the gym. And my duende is one of them. Middle-aged, blonde, and pale, he is a cross between the Keebler elf, a non-azul Smurf, and Snow White’s dwarf Happy, although he is of average height. He smiles regularly. Therefore, combined with the aforementioned descriptions, he does not fit my preconceived notion of a Spaniard. Perhaps his grandparents were Deutsche duendes? Sometimes he spins next to me. He is affable and polite. He is my duende, but not my duende.
For Lent this year, Mr. Understanding and I gave up booze. The Irish, as you all know, have the gift of gab, probably inspired by their immoderate consumption of Guiness and whiskey. (I would dearly have loved a little nip to help me write this blarney!) We are breaking our fast tomorrow to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day (don’t worry, I checked – it’s okay to). So in honor of the man who rid an entire island of snakes, get your duende on and raise a toast to St. Patrick and all the leprechauns in your life. Slaínte!
*we have been invited to a Spanish gay civil union ceremony this summer. Will let you know if Paquito makes an appearance.