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.”