Ham and Passion
Ham and Passion
By Carlos Pons Guerra
There is always a leg of ham on the kitchen table of my parents' home, back in Gran Canaria, with different amounts of meat left on it, depending on the time of year. Its almost classically pointed trotter becomes the centrepiece of the passionate dramas that are an intrinsic and daily reality to Spanish life; the spectacles of living that, in Spain, tend to unfold and climax, in all their clamorous, gesticulated splendour, at the dinner table. For my mother, cooking becomes the crucial task of the day, the backbone of life, and it is between the chopping of onions and the slicing of chorizo that her life, and ours, plays out.
If I wanted to explore what it is to be Spanish there was no way of avoiding the leg of ham or the flamenco dancer. We Spanish are folkloric by nature (or perhaps due to thirty years of dictatorship), is what Canarian drag queens Dafne del Giorgio and Miss Claudia II explained during my research for Passionaria, where I set out to investigate the intimate relationship between national identity and Spanish female impersonation. The two artistes are fully conscious of the liberties they now enjoy, compared to the drag artists of the Civil War and dictatorship, a time of absolute fear they describe like Christopher Isherwood describes pre-Nazi Berlin. Out of their feisty, guerrilla-like attitude the character of Anna La Passionaria was born, a fictional unsung hero whose sequined, backstage political conflict, I hope, reminds us of the atrocities committed by the Fascists, so that we can hear their echoes resounding in current political struggles.
The dead don’t die in the villages of Spain. Manuel de Falla’s score for El Amor Brujo- a haunting symphonic tale of gypsy mysticism, passion and exorcism- was a perfect soundtrack for La Passionaria’s own exorcism, not only of the spectre of the man she has killed, but of the social, political and religious phantoms that haunt her and prevent her from realizing her true identity. It is hard to let our dead go, especially when they don’t want to leave, and through Passionaria I explored the banishing rituals we all have to face.
Food also defines gender roles in Spain. My mother chops the onions but only my father slices the ham. The realm of the cured meats is the rodeo of the Spanish macho. When I analyzed the masculine image of the great dancers that have performed the iconic lead role in Roland Petit's Le Jeune Homme et la Mort (Babilée, Nureyev and Le Riche to name my favourite), and decided to create my Spanish Young Man!, I realized that the grease and fat of the ham and chorizo were essential props for the gendered costume of the macho. A creature that must pretend to have no emotions, that daily puts on the outfit of the matador. His hyperbolic virility made me wonder: what if by some accident of nature, he were to feel a glint of homosexual desire? What are the consequences of years of historic guilt and self-loathing?
How do you solve a problem like Maria? My fascination towards macho performance is perhaps equalled by my interest in the significance of the Virgin Mary to the Spanish- an image of purity and eternal suffering who, I thought, was never asked if she wanted to become the icon of virginity and chastity she is, but rather, it was announced that such was her destiny. O Maria was further inspired by my realization that, for all the transformations that occur in the Bible, there is no miraculous sex change. If Leviticus tells us that sodomy is as old as the human race- surely some resident of Nazareth must have dreamed of transgendering? With this question in mind I set out to explore what our divine icons would do if asked to deal with modern notions of gender and sexuality.