Month: January 2015

Pages 168-176

The next afternoon I went again to the Gypsy encampment, accompanied by the same companions. They would not let me visit alone, and I was pleased, because I much needed the help of their Spanish speech to supplement my own limited vocabulary; furthermore I liked their friendly company. We approached the camp in bright sunlight, the heat of the sun being such that the unpaved street surface burnt my feet through my sandals.

For my second visit I had purchased more nourishing food for Bella’s hungry sons, and some attractive things for Maria’s household. By that time I was very depleted of money. I had my rail ticket booked to Granada, but it had become impossible to achieve there, only sufficient money remaining for five further days in Valencia, when I would then be penniless and would have to return to Paris fasting. Since leaving Paris I had not purchased one restraint meal, and had kept my living expenses very low by sleeping out often, and living on an unchanging diet of goat cheese, bread and cherries and strawberries, throughout my travels in Provence and Spain, all inexpensive foods in those countries and delicious. The time had come, and it was in Valencia, when my purse was almost empty and I was having to count every centavo and peseta (Spanish coins). Even so, I could not go to the Gypsies empty-handed.

Rico and Plata were on watch for me long before the encampment was reached, and seeing them again, I was thankful that I had decided to fill my basket for the Gypsies, and leave out the cheese from my own diet during the time that I would remain in Valencia. The Gypsy lads, remembering my pleasure in their dancing and singing of the yesternight, commenced performance of both as soon as they reached my companions and me. That noon Rico was further amusing, for he was continually thrusting out his cupped hand and hanging his head in a posture of much suffering, all in the true begging manner, in which he had been well schooled by his mother: “Bread! Bread!” he whined. Although he was at that time play-acting, his need was real enough, as was well shown by the fury in which he devoured all food that I put into his thin, grimed hand.

Now in the sunlight I could see well the small Gypsy brothers. I was amazed at the filth of the, which had not been very noticeable in the yesternight’s light of stars and fire. The hair of the Gypsy boys was matted so that combing would be impossible, scissors would be necessary to break through the matted tufts; their clothing was in tatters and stained with grease and dirt; and the layers of filth accumulated upon their bared chests and their forearms and legs, lay so thickly it could have been scraped away in spoonfuls and would have filled canisters. Yet I loved the little lads; they were so vivid and their brown feet so lightsome upon the earth. Their eyes peering out through the low-falling hair, were brilliant, long and as black as poppy-seed, and so highly expressive the they made the thin child faces appear quite beautiful.

Bella was outside her tent to greet us, dressed before in the torn dress, which in the sunlight showed to be of faded blue cotton, revealing much of her brown-skinned firm body through the many rents. She was well pleased with the food gifts that I brought to her and at once began to distribute fair shares amongst her three sons, which were consumed wolfishly by all of the. From the tent wherein lay Zo-Zo I could hear the same frantic swallowing of food and the gulping which accompanies things taken too hastily. I went to speak with Zo-Zo and he told me that his rat was away – “Hunting and killing snakes and biting off babies’ ears and toes”, and that the animal would be back with him by eventide.

Bella endeavored to keep some of the food gifts for another day, or perhaps for herself, for on both of my visits she had eaten nothing, the children taking all. But Rico and Plata would not let her do so. For the two boys, aware that all the food had not been distributed, then became momentarily maniacal as soon as their own shares were consumed and their mouths once more empty. In unison they commenced leaping at their mother, punching her breasts, kicking at her legs, getting their spittle upon her dress.

“Hoben. Hoben! (food)” they screamed in Gypsy speech. They were not play-acting at mongering (begging) then, as they had been earlier in the street.

“But Bella proved that she could be master of her sons when she had the wish. She whacked their heads powerfully, took hold of Rico by one leg and swung him against Plata, thus flattening both of the boys into the rubble dust. Then, placing the remaining bags of food within the big tent, she forbade the boys to approach near there.

Rico and Plata arose from the ground and shook the dust from their hair and their rags, and wiped their faces dry of their tears, leaving long black smears down the grimed flesh. Then Rico immediately commenced another Gypsy dance for my benefit, this of flamenco style. Sad and slow, slow, slow, as if in keeping with the present mood of the little lad. The thin-limbed body in the tattered clothing, swaying as a clump of wind-blown fennel weed amongst the rubble.

The flamenco dance ended, I dusted further sand from the dancer’s hair, and with the end of my scarf cleaned up his thin, hard face. “I love you,” I said to him, “I shall always love you.”

He opened wide at me his dark lustrous eyes, and then set off into a further dance of very different character. No longer sad flamenco, but one of crowing cockerel prancing in which he had excelled at the previous night’s performance.

“Ole! Ole!” I called. And my companions joined me “Ole! Ole! Gitano!”

Bella made excuses for the trouble over the food. She told me: “Those chauvis (children) of mine are so greedy they would eat themselves motto (drunk), eat until they burst their bellies open, if I didn’t check ’em. There’s no end to their greed.”

I said nothing. I thought of the children of the rich, picking without appetite at the over-abundance of artificial foods with which their plates are loaded daily, and I knew that it was better as it was with the Gypsy children of Isabella, to be able to devour plain black bread, and green apples, and raw roots, and such like. For all their state of filth the little Gypsy brothers were unusually lithe and active, and their keep glittering eyes behold of inner health. They were certainly more alive to the pulse of the earth than were most children of their age. And they were rhythmical as the dancing birds-of-paradise.

I asked Bella’s consent to take a photograph of her with her two sons – Zo-Zo being unable to leave his bed – and I promised to send her enlargements later. The Gypsy woman and her two wild chauvis then posed for me against their tent, and gave me one of my best Romany Photographs.

As I was photographing Bella and her sons, a Gypsy woman visitor arrived by Bella’s tents, and stood watching the procedure, she meanwhile giving a performance of a state of high impatience, coughing, clapping her hands as at the final of a theatre act, and unceasingly tapping at the earth with her feet which were shoe-clad. She kept commanding: “Bella! Bella! Enough! Enough! Come, come!”

I had sufficient difficulty in getting the wild boys to stay quiet for one photograph, without the further trouble of the impolite interruptions of the newcomer which fretted them. Therefore I was determined not to let the visitor hurry me unduly. If anything I prolonged the photography.

The impatient Gypsy was a young woman of medium stature and build, her coloring unusually pallid for a Romany. Her eyes also were pale and very prominent; their expression predatory. Her teeth were bad and her shoulders very rounded. She was arrayed in a stage-version type of Gypsy dress, consisting of a scarf of pea-green satin bound tightly across her brow, long-sleeved blouse also of green satin, and a skirt of royal blue velvet, much worn of its pile, ragged of hem and many sizes too big for the thin body which carried it.

The photography ended, the woman in the thin angry voice began to reprimand Bella for having kept her waiting. Bella then informed me that the young woman was wanting me to visit the tent of her people and to photograph them, and had come to Bella for that purpose, to lead me to her family. She explained further that the woman was one of a party of Roumanian Gypsies camping on the site; and that she had promised them that she would ask me to visit their tent.

“They are very high-blood Gypsies,” Bella informed me in some awe, looking in respect towards her impatient visitor, who was still performing much toe-tapping and angry head-tossing. “They’re real Hungaros, and have much pride. They’ll be very angry with me if you do not visit them this day.”

I turned therefore to the ill-tempered Hungaro, and told her: “Very well, if your people wish it, I’ll be happy to visit your tents and take photographs.”

The Hungaro then immediately took my arm, her fingers so tightly pressed into my flesh that I again thought of a predatory being. She led the way at fast pace to her people’s tents at the far end of the site. Isabella and her two sons followed after us, and also my three Spanish companions.

The family tent of the Hungaros was a big one, the largest and grandest on the site. It was indeed a marquee of grey canvas, with tasseled decorations of cord on the upper parts of the outside walls. On entering within at the Hungaro’s command, what a strange scene was to be beheld! For richness of color, and for the bizarre, grotesque and dramatic qualities, it was of the nature of a painting of Goya: Goya who was himself a friend of the Gypsies.

There were near twenty Gypsy figures gathered in the ill-lit interior; three men and the rest of the company, women of all ages. There was not one child to be seen. The men were in ordinary clothes, apart from their wide-brimmed hats, which all were wearing dispute the sultry atmosphere of the tent. Only the weathered appearance of their faces and their fierce eyes gave evidence of Gypsy blood. The women were almost all dramatically arrayed in theatrical Gypsy clothes after the style of the young woman who had brought us to the tent. It was obvious that they had dressed themselves thus for the occasion of my visit, and doubtless that was one reason for the impatience of Bella’s visitor, whom I learnt bore the name of Helena-Lena.

From traveling chests and baskets, the Hungaro women must have pulled out their head scarves, their shawls and blouses and skirts, their high-heeled shoes. Their apparel was a collection of faded silks and satins, velvets, and even a fur-cape worn by one grey-faced crone. All the clothing was very greased and drab-looking and smelling powerfully of garlic, with which many Gypsies pack their clothes and rugs as a protection against destruction by moths.

I was thankful for the pungent garlic aroma, for there was in the tent a loathsome smell of unclean human bodies and hair, not the pleasant wood-smoke and earthy smell of the habitual country-living Gypsy. The atmosphere was rank and oppressive, and how the flies swarmed and troubled the air with their shrill chorusing; a black insect plague every-where and upon everything, whilst on the ground the sand ants, too, moved in red processions. Many of the women held fans of folded newspapers, with which they sought to beat away from themselves the pestering insects above and below, and also to create some air flow.

Most of the gathering of women were pale-skinned, with reddish-hued hair showing under their loosely fitting head-scarves. Further red of eyebrows, and pale eyed, either red-lashed or very pink-lidded and without lashes. The noses of the majority of them were long and curved, looking to me much like the beaks of carnivorous birds. Only four women of the company looked of Spanish Gypsy type; and they were not in festive wear as were the others, but plainly dressed in black, they most likely being neighbors from the camping site, merely invited into the marquee of the Hungaros for my visit.

One of the men, a bent faded figure, wearing a big black hat of beaver-felt, which being many sizes too large for him hid his eyes from sight, was smoking at a big hookah pipe. That was the first time that I had seen such a pipe in use, outside the small room of my childhood home in Manchester, where my father had kept all of his special Turkish property, and which room we had all known simply as “The Turkish Room”. The centre piece of the tent, however, was not the hookah pipe, but a big silver samovar, newly polished and of which the Hungaros seemed very proud, considering the many times they called attention to that object. I think that the article also had been brought out from storage for my benefit, as it appeared to be merely a thing of ornament, and was not in use for the brewing of Russian tea.

The gifts of food which I had been keeping for Maria and her children, for my visit to the street of the Gypsies, I gave to the crone in the fur-cape, who appeared to be the head woman of the party of Hungaros. It thus meant that I would have to purchase further gifts for Maria, and as my money was at an end I would be compelled to endure one footless day as a result of my visit to the marquee of the Hungaros. Yet I had no regrets; the scene within the tent was such that I was unlikely to meet with elsewhere in my lifetime. The very atmosphere was electric with human emotions, while the bad smells and the chorusing flies and swarming ants added to its strangeness.

The people in the tent talked with me for half an hour, mostly questioning me as to my travels, and whether the Gypsies whom I had met had been rich in possessions or poor in possessions. “Very Poor,” I told them, in truth, and my answer seemed not to please them.

I passed round amongst my collection of photographs of English and French Gypsies, which they well enjoyed. I found that they knew very many of the Romany words in general use with the English Gypsies, and their emotions were childlike as they translated my Romany words back into the peculiar type of Spanish that they spoke.

One word was certainly known to Lena, who had been seated herself at my side and was sharing with me one of the soiled cushions which gave us some seating protection from the ants. Lena’s word was love (money) and this she importuned unceasingly  as an under-chorus to the shrill string orchestra of the flies: “Lova! Lova! Lova!” Sometimes she broke her mono-word chorus with a second Romany lav (Romany word), which was tuvlo (tobacco): “tuvlo! tuvlo! tuvlo!”

As I was enjoying myself so well among the strange com pay, feasting my eyes upon the peculiar and very individual Romany faces, I finally gave heed to Lena’s importunings, and paid her love enough to buy tuvlo for all the people gathered in the tent; thus ensuring for myself a second foodless day before I departed from Valencia. That money she handed to one of the men, and sent him forthwith away to buy cigarettes.

I will speak what good of Lena I am able, and tell that she was not mean with the cigarettes when they were brought to her, but distributed one each to all, including Bella and my three non-Gypsy companions.

I do not smoke, but as I sat in the marquee surrounded by smokers, I was much tempted to ask the man with the hookah to let me have some pulls at his pipe. But his teeth being so black and his person so greasy and all-over filthy, I would not give such speech to my desire.

The cigarettes all consumed, Lena began then to chorus at me a further word of: “Hoben! Hoben! Hoben!” That had been the hunger cry, earlier, of RIco and Plata.

“You already have food,” I told her, my voice sharp. I was by then much determined to resist all further pestering from Lena. “I gave the lady in the fur-cape many bags of good food for you all.”

“I’ve much hunger,” persisted Lena. Then holding out her hands dramatically, an adult imitation of the begging act of Rico, she screeched: “I have bauro bokaloben! (big famine, bokaloben also means “lucky” in many Romany dialects). Lova! Lova! Por konna. (a meal)”

I was already knowledgeable of the Romany art practiced by many a Romany, upon the gawje (non Gypsy) especially, of willing money and other objects away from chosen victims. The art is usually practiced by women members of the kawlo rat (dark blood). I have spoken with many gawje women who have parted entirely unwillingly with things which they valued, when under the spell of a Gypsy woman’s persuading. Only twice before on all of my meetings with Gypsies through the many years, had the mongering art been practiced in such a form upon me, and neither time with success. I must here admit to having employed the art myself on few occasions, to obtain things that I much desired, but which further the victims could always well spare. Whereas at the time of my meeting with the Hungaros I was in a state of penury, and could not spare one further peseta for the unceasing wants of Lena. Therefor, with finality, I told the Gypsy:

“No!” and my voice was loud and determined. “Nothing! Nothing!” With that declaration I left the cushion and went towards the tent opening; movement proving difficult owing to the crowding people. I heard an oath of anger from Lena, followed by an equally indignant murmurous chorus from the rest of the party of Hungaros. I had some difficulty in finding the door aperture, it being hung with rugs of animal skins, in oriental style. Each rug was formed from the skins of several animals, complete with head, fastened together with leathern thongs. At first I had thought the skins to be of dogs, but close view showed me that they were pelts of wolves.

I was angry at Lena’s lack of traditional Gypsy hospitality and the fact that the other women had supported her in her mongering. It was the first time that I had been inited to a Romany home and treated with discourtesy: I felt ashamed that my non-Gypsy friends should have witnessed the rudeness. The Gypsy caravan or tent, and the fireside, are traditional places of hospitality; there, always, the guest can be confident of good treatment. Away from the two places there is no telling what treatment may be met with; but in general the Gypsy is kindly to the visitor.

Pages 161-168

As Gypsies Wander img pg 161

At once the tent front was parted and a woman came out into the night. She was handsome, I could tell that at once despite the dim light. Her good looks came from her abundant smooth black hair, worn with a centre parting, and framing her still young face of an attractive oval shape and with fine lineaments. Except for a torn dress she was naked, her feet too being bare. Her form was shadowy in the blue light of the stars and the starving fire.

Immediately I put into her hands bags of cherries and cakes, I telling her, “I’m staying in Valencia, and want very much to talk with Spanish Gypsies.”

The Gypsy laughed excitedly at my words, and threw back her head and clapped her hands. She then called to her children in the tent, telling them to put some clothes upon their bodies and come forth and meet with a stranger from overseas who herself looked like a Gitana. Next she kicked her fire back into life, and further, crouching in the dust, blew fiercely upon the embers in the familiar skilled Gypsy way, until orange crocus flowers of the flame were soon pushing forth from the black ashes, and those she fed with handfuls of straw and sticks. As she worked at her fire she told that her name was Isabella, and she lived in the encampment with her three young sons.

Two of Isabella’s children soon appeared, they being fully revealed in the brightness of the rekindled fire. The two small boys were grotesque figures with their thin, scarecrow-like bodies decked in the most tattered of clothing, and their brilliant, wild-looking eyes shining through low-hanging fringes of unbrushed hair.

I told Isabella my name, and asked her the names of the two boys. I was informed that one was Rico (Rich), an abbreviation of Frederico, the other Plata (Silver {Spanish}), ironical names regarding the emaciated ragged forms of their owners. When Rico and Plata beheld the food that I had given to their mother, which she had placed on the far side of the tent, and of which they, with quivering nostrils, had, like truffle hours, pounced upon all, and fighting and yelling at each other, quickly ate up everything including, seemingly, the cherry stones, Isabella fought with her wild children, shouting at them that they must leave some food for their other brother, but hunger and the presence of food put the boys beyond her control. In short time not a scrap of anything remained, and then Rico ate also pieces of paper bag where the cakes had left grease marks. It was real hunger that I witnessed, and yet the children seemed happy enough, vivid and lively and full of wit and naughtiness.

Isabella then took me to see her third son, who was older than Rico or Plata. He lay in the small tent, bedded on a pile of sacks; an ashen-faced boy with a bandaged head. I gave him cherries from the small store that I had been saving for the house-dwelling Gypsies whom we were to visit later. “Zo-Zo”, the mother named her third child, and tragic he looked in the candlelight that Isabella brought into the tent. Gypsy children are so unused to sickness they fret themselves when confined to a bed. The child brought from under the sacking covering him a big, black living rat, and told me that it was his special friend and kept him good company during the days that his bad head was causing him to be in bed.

“He is the king of the rats of Spain,” he told me, and swung the ugly creature by its long, naked tail. He then shared some of his cherries with the rat.

Soon Isabella led me outside to my companions. She then worked on the fire again until a good flame was achieved, and then coming to my side took my hand and began to peer at it. She asked me if she could give my hand a reading, and for answer I drew a piece of silver across her forehead. She pulled me down by the fire, and the Gypsy lads grouped themselves on either side of me. My future was told in a mixture of Spanish and French, most of which I was able to understand. Isabella’s words came in a ready flow, proving  her adept at such work, but all that she said was entirely apart from my own way of life, and was only of entertainment value to me, and therefor I encouraged her in her fantasies of rich men and big houses, I disliking both.

In the midst of the session of palmistry, another Gypsy woman appeared. She was one of the dirtiest-looking human beings that I have ever beheld, her rags lacking the general quality of the picturesque, they being so begrimed and evil smelling. Her body was enormous with pregnancy, and her confinement must have been within the week. She spoke no word at all, but merely came amongst us and indicated the condition of her body and then stretched out her hand in begging gesture. When she had been given money she went away, still not having spoken to any of us, including her fellow Gypsies. Isabella, meanwhile, continued her reading of my hand, where I continued to meet with rich men and live in big houses.

When the palmistry was ended, Bella called to her sons to give an entertainment of song and dance. That they did, admirably, in the poppy glow of the fire, which their mother fed well with twists of straw and with slats of wood which she tore from old boxes, she wishing to keep a good light for the dancing performance. Firstly the boys performed the slow, sad dances of Spain, eyes downcast in the traditional manner. Then came the leaping, passionate dances of the Gypsies, with eyes then held half-closed in almost trance-like manner. We, the audience, clapped our hands, struck our hips and chorused “ole’s” to inspire the young dancers into a true frenzy of a Gypsy zam bra. Fantastic scene! The ragged cild dancers, small and brown, and lithe as salamanders in the firelight; their setting of rubble-piled earth and litter of bottles and old tins, the surrounding tents, and above, the brilliant Spanish stars; it gave to me one more Gypsy impression that I shall remember always.

The dancing was followed by Gypsy songs, shrill and wild and very unskilled, yet so heart-stirring that I heaped upon the two performers the cherries and other foods that I had been keeping for the house Gypsies. I would have stayed at the encampment the night long.

However, I was no longer alone with my companions and Bella and her sons, for the dancing and singing and our applauding, had brought many other Gypsies from their tents. Although the new audience stood beyond the firelight and were merely huddled, watchful shapes in the crowding darkness which even the stars could not light, their presence caused much uneasiness to my non-Gypsy companions, and they commanded that I should leave the place immediately with them. Bella had been hopeful that she would read the hands of the further three visitors but they would not stay. As they had shown me much kindness in accompanying me to the Gypsies, I did not want to disobey a further time the request to leave and therefore I turned away from the fireside.

I promised Bella that I would return on the morrow afternoon, and show to her some of my Gypsy photographs, and photograph her and her sons, if she wished. I then followed after my friends, staying as I passed the ragged tent wherein lay Zo-Zo, to fling on his bed handfuls of cherries and biscuits that I had kept for him and his king rat. Rico and Plata accompanied us a goodly distance from the encampment, they providing entertainment all of the time, shouting, dancing and acerbating; two small Gypsy clowns, very endearing and yet pathetic as clowns are always pathetic.

Safely away from the camping ground my friends were in god humor with me again, and were agreeable to guiding me to the street of the Gypsies, despite the lateness of the hour. They said that the house-dwelling Gypsies were law-abiding and safe people. The street was only a short distance from the place of the tent dwellers, and we were soon there. It was not only my imagination that the street of the Gypsies possessed an atmosphere different from any of the others which I visited during my daily explorations on foot of the exquisite and enthralling city of Valencia: there was great difference. There were more animals in the Gypsy street than elsewhere. Although it was late, many big dogs yet played in the roadway, moving growling into house doorways at our coming. In the courtyards goats were to be seen, and I further had sight of donkeys and mules. There were much poultry roosting on wooden perches in tall cages, or tied with cords to posts, by their legs, to prevent their straying away. As many of the Gypsies of Valencia are flower-sellers, and keep their wares in the coolth of their yards, exquisite flower-scents met us as we walked by, especially the favorite of Spain – the carnation. Despite the time being night, twitter of birds and sometimes trills of sweet song, came from the habitations of the bird-catchers. Much activity could be heard in the houses, through the open windows clamor of voices where people crowded into small rooms; and often enough the music of guitars and the throb of castanets.

“Wherever the Gitanas are there’s music and song,” commented my friends.

“That is true,” I agreed, “always music and song.” And I recalled to mind the unearthly street music of the French Gypsy Django and, further, all the skilled guitarists of Les Saintes Maries -the singing of Fernandez- and the constant accompaniment of the tamarisk trees there. I was wearing the ear-rings given to me by the Alsace-Lorraine Gypsy, Jean Beau-Marie.

Not many Gypsies were in the street and the few that we passed stared after us, doubtless wondering what affairs had brought us to their place at late night. The little that I could see of them in the wan lamplight, showed all to be of the true Spanish type, lithe and swarthy and very vital.

When we were close by the end of the street a woman of some thirty years, who had been walking short paces ahead of us, turned to my companions and greeted them. She told that they were known to her from the restaurant, where her brothers and sisters sometimes danced and sang during the summer season. She told her name, which was Maria. Her features were of the same attractive type as Bella’s, and she was of similar figure. But where as Bella had been of disheveled appearance and clothed in rags, Maria was well kept and dressed; her black hair binding her brow being as swathes of jet-hued satin. She wore ear-ings of pearl and gold, and her gown was of modern design, made of brilliant red satin, partly covered by a black cape. Her shapely feet were in red leather shoes, with high Spanish heals, a golden bangle was worn around one fine angle. Fashionable Paris would have welcomed her. She was very friendly and laughter-lit, her ready laughter being much to her advantage, because it called attention with such frequency to her perfect teeth in their setting of beautifully curved peony-red lips.

When my friends told her their reason for being in the street of the Gypsies she immediately invited us into her house. The room into which she took us was well-kept and very orderly. Gypsies in houses are inclined to collect much rubbish around them, I have observed; so that often enough there is little space left for movement.  They are especially apt to crowd their rooms with animals, many dogs and often enough poultry and goats; and I have met with colts and donkeys in the living-rooms. Also implements and materials for their various handicrafts occupy much space. Indeed, Gypsies possessing houses oftentimes crowd the rooms with litter and animals, and themselves live out i the yard; perhaps returning to the house at night for sleep. I do not blame them. There was no litter in Maria’s house, nor animals, only sleeping children.

The centre piece of the room was a wide mattress, occupying much of the uncarpeted floor, on which lay the forms of three children in deep sleep, covered by a quilt of brilliant colors, heavily embroidered. Close by the bed was a brazier filled with glowing charcoal and in one corner of the room there was a pile of charcoal and also olive roots, to provide further feed for the fire. There was little furniture and no chairs, which is not unusual in a Romany home, Gypsies habitually preferring to sit upon the floor. This I found true also of the Mexican peasants who are so much Gypsy in their ways; and furthermore, very typical of the Arabs who likewise are very Gypsy: all three peoples are beloved to me. The walls were hung with many religious pictures of bright prints such as seen in Catholic peasant homes, the pictures framed plainly in wood. On one wall side there were fixed rows of hooks, holding much clothing. In the Gypsy house it seemed strange to see hanging there a coat of fur and many American-style dresses. The general impression of the room was of cleanliness and happiness.

Maria talked with us a goodly time, telling about the Gypsy life of Valencia. From her I learnt that in Valencia also, the Romanichals follow their traditional trades: flower-sellers, chair-menders, basket-makers, glass- and copper-workers, tinsmiths, horse smiths, horse, mule and donkey traders, bootblacks, and above all – and more general to the Spanish and Oriental Gypsies than elsewhere- popular entertainers, dancers, singers, guitarists, and acrobats, also bull-fighters. Always trades where the Gypsy can live indecently of a master: a Gypsy works for himself only, and his family, whenever possible. Other work is casual, such as seasonable fieldwork and sometimes factory work, where their swift and deft hands make them popular.

Maria talked also about Gypsy weddings, and promised me that if I could stay long enough in Valencia she would invite me to a Romany bod a (Gypsy wedding), where I would experience some o the best entertainment in Spain, for to such festivities thronged the finest Gypsy dancers and singers, also the toreadors. The entertainers gave freely of their talent and time, the bull-fighters their esteemed patronage – all in payment for the wines and the food provided at such celebrations. She told us that only a week past there had been a Gypsy wedding in the port district of Valencia, and the feasting had continued throughout three nights.

I apologized for having come as a stranger and a visitor into her house, with empty hands, so contrary to Gypsy custom. I promised her that if she would let me visit her again I would bring sweetmeats for her children. I told her how I had not been able to resist giving all that I carried to the hungry boys of the Gypsy encampment. Maria said that they were bad Gypsies there, a place of thieves, and that we should not have gone near there after dark.

My friends then nodded their heads at me: “You see! It is as we warned you,” they reproached me. But I thought of the ragged tents and the children prancing like salamanders in the firelight, and was pleased with my visit and knew that I should return on the morrow.

Our chattering voices awoke the sleeping children, and they were fretful and uneasy as are all children disturbed in their night-time sleep. And the hour by then being near midnight, we told Maria that we must leave her. She promised me that she would tell many Gypsy friends of my next which she hoped would be on the morrow, when I would then be able to see many of the reputed most beautiful Gypsies of Valancia, goodly numbers of them living in the street where I was then visiting.

As I was passing through the door in the rear of my friends, the Gypsy put her hand on my arm and then said: “I’ve formed a bit love for your ear-rings, will you change them for mine?”

Such a request was not of great surprise to me, it is a very general thing for Gypsy men to chop dicklos (swop neck-scarfs), and the women their head scarves and various trinkets. But Maria’s earrings were fine finer than my own, being of gold and pearl and finely carved. Mine were of slight monetary value, made only of light beaten copper set with blue glass stones; but their sentimental value was infinite, they being a gift from a Gypsy chief who had fastened them on to my ears with a blessing of Gypsy luck, and they were further a constant reminder of the fantastic Gypsy fiesta of Les Saintes Maries. I knew that I must refuse Maria, but I did not want in any way to offend her, she having been most hospitable and kindly in her home. Therefore I took much trouble to explain to Maria all the circumstances of the coming of the earrings to me; and she forgave me my refusal. She was indeed amused to know that it was a Gypsy man who had given them, and that fact was at the heart of her forgiveness. Yet before she finally let me go and ended the subject, she took one of her own handsome rings from her ear and placed it in my hand, where the weight of the metal felt heavy. She then told me with Gypsy shrewdness: “If one day you meet with a new Gypsy man, and loving you he will not wish to see in your ears rings given to you by another, but want you only to wear those of his own giving; will you think of Maria and remember her want for them with the blue brilliants.” And she touched my ears with her fingers.

“Oh Maria! Maria! you Gypsy!” I teased. “Yes, I give such a promise to you.” I thought then of the rings in the ears of the Golden Gypsy, M., and such an overwhelming sadness came down upon me that I could have sat then in the gutter and wept.

But my companions urged: “Come, come, hurry. How late it is. At home they’ll be filled with fears for us.”

It was indeed a late hour; yet from open windows the music of guitars and castanets could still be heard in the street of the Gypsies.

Pages 159-160

As Gypsies Wander img pg 160

Chapter IX

The Bad and the Good Gypsies of Valencia

I travelled to Valencia from the Gypsy fiesta of Les Saintes Maries, and on my second evening there I went to visit two communities of Gypsies. The in where I was staying, in the port district, was within a short walk of a Gypsy encampment and also a street of Gypsies. Three members of the inn proprietor’s family agreed to guide me to both places.
I purchased din as (gifts) for the Gypsies, sweetmeats and cakes and cherries, and went by starlight for my first meeting with Spanish Gypsies in their own land. The encampment came before the Gypsy street, and proved to be a square of wasteland crowded with tents, the waste having been created by bomb destruction during the Civil War. Amongst the rubble still lying there, were pitched the Gypsy tents, of black and brown canvas, and some merely of sacking pulled over iron rods. The starlight being dim, made it difficult to see much of the scene, there being little other light than the stars and flickering flames from the fires which burnt mostly in small braziers placed close by the tents. The night was very cold, with a sea-wind blowing and lifting clouds of sand from the rubble and sending it swirling like smoke around the encampment. The cold had driven all of the Gypsies within their tents, and the deserted place made a sinister scene, enhanced by the various sounds coming from the closed dwellings.
From a near tent the thin wailing of a babe, on and on, unceasing. From another a woman’s voice in song, with a man contributing notes, both voices raucous and unbeautiful, doubtless lit by wine. Melody from a mouth-organ came from a small tent constructed only of sacking and sheets of cardboard, fixed together by string, and which must have been a sorry shelter at times of rain. That dwelling seemed to be the home of children, for from within came the chatter of shrill treble voices, much resembling the clamor of starlings gathering on city buildings in winter evenings. While from the majority of the dwellings issued a sound common to many Gypsy encampments, a gale of human snoring; lusty and far-carrying, greatly imitative of the noise with which in childhood days my sisters and brothers and I used to indicate the slumber of giants in castles or mountain caverns.
My friends told me: “Almost all are in sleep; we should go from here.”
The man of our party of four, who was a clerk, then promised: “To-morrow afternoon I have freedom from work. We can return then and you can bring your camera and take good pictures in the sunlight.” At first I would make no reply. I was sad and disappointed at the suggestion that we should go from the encampment. The place enthralled me. The indigo shadows thrown by the surrounding buildings, the weird shapes of the hillocks of rubble, the forms of the tents themselves, and the orchestra of strange sounds. When one woman unexpectedly began to chant in Arabic, that thin piercing wail which my father had loved so well, I knew that I could not leave the encampment thus soon. I felt like a child about to be taken away from the pantomime before the curtain had risen on the first scene.
“I would stay a little longer,” I told my companions. The clerk replied: “It is night now and very dark, these are not good places to be near after darkness.”
I could not take away my gifts unused. Close by where we stood there was one black tent, and behind it a small one of low height, doubles for children. Both the tents appeared very poor-looking tattered things, when momentarily illumined by spurts of flames from the almost dead fire belonging to them. Whoever lived in those two tents certainly would be glad of cherries and cakes. So thinking, I moved defiantly from beside my companions, and stepping to the larger of the tents called within: “I’ve a gift for you.”

Pages 153-158

The canvas of my memory is crowded with interesting figures whom I met at the Camargue Gypsy fiesta. M., in the center, and then the others arrayed around him: so many wonderful people.
There was Jean Beau-Marie, Gypsy chief from Alsace-Lorraine. A strange figure, sombre as his own shadow. Dressed entirely in black: white-faced, black fanatical eyes, black hair coming low down his neck and in long side chops. His pallid face notable for the sadness of its expression. The Nazis had turned him thus: Jean had seen his brother hanged by them. He carried many papers of honorable mention from the French military in recognition of his work throughout the war. (Very many of the French bohemians, knowing that there was no survival for the Gypsies under the Hitler regime, served with the Maquis, carrying out works of sabotage in which, owing to the elusive nature of the true Romany, they had an especial skill.) Jean was the bell ringer in the church for the Gypsy fiesta, and there was something prophetic in that sombre figure pulling at the ropes which sent the great bells clanging and summoning. Ring out the bad and the cruel: ring in the new and the better.
qJean was a constant friend to me throughout the fiesta. He accepted my love for M. and knew that such an emotion cannot be shared. He escorted me to Gypsy balls and guitar playing contest, and he being one of the most popular and esteemed Gypsies at the fiesta – on account of his anti-Nazi work for his people – introduced me to many of the important Gypsy personages.
Before he left Camargue he placed on my ears a pair of antique Gypsy ear-rings, of beaten copper set with blue stones the color of the kingfishers which flash across the pools in the Camargue marshes. He gave me also a pink double rose which he says will hold its scent for ever. I still have Jean’s rose, many years have passed away since the Camargue fiesta and the flower still retains its lovely perfume.
Dr. Paul Fenet was one of the Gypsy notables to whom Jean introduced me. He was the first Gypsy doctor whom I had met. Jean brought the doctor to me during a guitar-playing contest. and we conversed to that background sound of crying, sighing music. As soon as I beheld the doctor I knew that I was meeting with an outstanding personality and character. The man was crippled and walked with sticks, he always since being attended by a faithful Gypsy servant. His figure was lean and lithe as a Gypsy lurcher dog, and the eyes as keen and quick and far-seeing, though paradoxically they were also mystical of expression. His dress was picturesque: being a tan, wide-brimmed felt hat, khaki twill jacket adorned with a deep collar of natural lambskin, narrow-legged fawn trousers, and bright tan leather shoes, hued and as polished as horse chestnuts newly dropped from their green shells. The wide hat and the lambskin collar well set off the Gypsy’s wonderful face which, in shape and expression, seemed to me to resemble an Eastern prince. Certainly that face was remarkably oriental, with high cheek-bones, strong nose with unusually arched nostrils, and long dark eyes with such attracting express. This Gypsy doctor was famed for his skill not only with human beings – he specializing in psychology – but also in true Gypsy tradition he was an expert in the veterinary care of racehorses and cattle.

The guitar music played on unceasing as the beating of sea waves, and the doctor and I – with Jean beau-Marie often acting as interpreter for my limited French and Spanish – conversed in its ebb and its flow, telling of herbs and their wonderful powers to restore and to cure. The doctor himself had fallen down a mountain ravine when searching for medicinal herbs and been injured so severely that had he been without his herbal knowledge which he had applied to his injuries after rescue, he would have succumbed. As it was he was crippled for life. We talked on into the heart of the dawn: and then when the herbs of the Camargue were opening out their flowers to greet the new light, we went to our beds to close our eyes in long delayed sleep.
Artists and photographers throng at the Les Saintes Maries fiesta, and it was a Gypsy whom I found the most memorable of them all. Pascal Durand is an artist who during the winter lives in Montreuil, Paris, working in oils on the rough but exquisite pencil sketches of Gypsies which he makes during hi spring and sumer travels. For, possessing the true spirit of the Romany, he must escape fro the imprisonment of the towns when the trees show their youngest leaves in each new year. This, he told me, was due to his love for the adventure of the roads and the quiet and the mystery of the mountains, and again for the natural gaiety of the Gypsy people – so different from the artificial gaiety of the town cafes – and their abundant beauty.
Pascal is of half-French half-Hungarian parentage. He has the face and body of a French peasant, an almost simple face except for its good shape of nose and jaw – and the eyes! It was the eyes that revealed his Gypsy blood: wild, flashing, magnificent. When first I beheld him he was sketching a little Gypsy girl, holding her fascinated by his talk; and ever afterwards whenever I met with him he was at work, sketching ceaselessly. At a Gypsy ball I saw an incident which was typical of Pascal and his work. During the ball a fight with knives commenced between two brothers, and all the dancers fled the ballroom, knowing well the danger of such combat; it was extraordinary how quickly the crowded floor of the bar where the dance was being held was emptied. But Pascal stayed on there, busy with his pencil and pad, recording the horrible combat which the Gypsies finished afterwards amongst the tamarisk trees. Along with his painting Pascal possesses a great love for poetry and music and is very knowledgeable concerning the French poets and musicians. He himself resembled a brilliant Gypsy painting, with the bright colors of his ungroomed thick black hair, glittering, restless sea-blue eyes set in ruddy-fleshed face, and then his habitual attire (for I never saw him clothed differently) of ragged brown trousers and sun-faded red shirt, daubed with a multitude of paint-marks so numerous that they made almost a pattern upon the shirt.
There thronged also at the fiesta the fortune-tellers; and Louise Batista attracted me most. Her face was typical, legendary Gypsy with its high cheek-bones, compelling fierce eyes, proud mouth and deep bronze complexion and skin-weathering of life-long exposure to sun and wind. She was a most likable personality with her shrewd young and quick wit and her passionate love for her one daughter which is the flame in her strange and tragic life. I visited Mme Batista daily, loving her conversation and finding much pleasure also merely in regarding her fine proud face. Always she was seated upon the ground, being a true Romany with that close kinship with the earth; and she would croon to the fire to bring it into flame sufficient to cook the contents of the big black stew-pot. Her long-skirted dress of faded lilac cotton enhanced the fine lines of her tall, lithe body and revealed how she moved with the grace of a gazelle – swift she was, too, as a gazelle.
From her I increased my knowledge of fortune-telling, hand-reading. Mme Batista was unusually skilled, possessing those clairvoyant powers essential to the true fortuneteller. And yet she was poor – as so many of the truly talented are poor whilst the shoddy and make-believe prosper – so poor that she was only able to stay for the first day of the fiesta, and then moved onwards leaving but the charred scaring of her fire. I sorrowed because of her departure, but such being general to Gypsies the world over one must learn to rejoice in their presence and not be hurt by their constant leave-takings; consider them as one considers the migratory birds, most precious because so soon away, and maybe, alas! not to return.
Then furthermore – and the biggest group of all at the fiesta – were the musicians and the singers. And when I think upon all whom I met with at Les Saintes Maries, it is Fernandez Caulas who steps before my eyes. Or indeed strolls before my eyes; he a strolling player, a troubadour, being skilled in both music and song, the sweet love songs of France and Spain and above all of his own people – the Gypsies.
Fernandez was born in Algeria, of a Spanish Gypsy father and French non-Gypsy mother. He tells proudly that his Romany grandmother was a sorceress, his uncle a great singer. His father was a hunter, always in the forests or on the mountains, trapping animals and birds for their skins and plumage. Years ago he failed to return from a hunt in mountains of Algeria and has been seen no more, although Fernandez and others have searched long for him. The early years of Fernandez’s life were spent in Paris where he learned to read and write, and in this he differed from most of the Gypsies at Les Saintes marries – and the works over indeed. With the black, lank shining hair of the Spaniard, and wide eyes the light blue of chicory flowers, reeded by long black lashes, Fernandez was one of the handsomest Gypsies at the fiesta, having also a face beautifully formed, with the sensitive mouth and broad brow which indicates a romantic quality of mind. His voice was tenor, and really did possess that far-carrying throbbing quality of the nightingales at love-time.
I met Fernandez on the last evening of the fiesta, when the Golden Gypsy had gone “over the hill an’ far away” and I was consumed with loneliness. Always I shall bless his music and his songs for distracting my mind from the pain of M.’s departure. Fernandez proved to be very entertaining, for he conversed well on the subjects of white and black magic, phantoms and warlocks, land-sprites and menfolk; he was knowledgeable also concerning the ways of the bygone troubadours of France and Spain, and possessed much information on the history and location of the old chateaux of France especially of Provence.
I left Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer with Fernandez and his cousin Toni (also a half-Gypsy: with an Italian mother and a Spanish Gypsy father), a skillful accordion player and musical partner to Fernandez – when they have not quarreled with each other. During the train journey across the flat green marshes of the cam argue, the two men in typical Gypsy fashion, sang and made music, and the passengers, recognizing their talent, paid them generously, so that when we reached the town of Aries, we were able to enjoy an excellent meal and many bottles of the red wine of Provence. The wine – and the shimmering golden sunlight – inspired more music ad song from Fernandez and Toni, and thus we passed our day, wafering along the sun-gold paths near the river Rhone. Pink roses of intoxicating scent tossing in the river breezes against the azure Provencal sky, wild canaries flitting through dark copses, poppies and marigolds kissing our feet: the ending of the fiesta.
At dusk I was taking a train further southwards to Spain the two Gypsy men were going in other directions to Marseille. I remember well how the spell of the Gypsy fiesta in the Camargue was so powerful upon me, that I being in such dreaming state, took the wrong train, and went northwards as far as Lyons, were I had to remain the night on the station and retrace my way south in the dawn of the next day.