Month: February 2015

Pages 182-187

We walked in brilliant sunlight to the Street of the Gypsies. On the way there I filled my basket with more gifts for Maria. I had reached the state of thought when I dared not stay to consider how I was to eke out my money for the last few days. I had reached the state of thought when I dared not stay to consider how I was to eke out my money for my last few days. I had my dog to feed, I had to get my luggage to the station and across Spain and France, and I had little more than my return tickets left. I refused to think; and gave my eyes to the interest of the sunlit Street of the Gypsies.

We were only a short distance down the street when we were met by a crowd of the most beautiful Gypsies that I have ever beheld. I knew surely that should I travel the world I would be unlikely to find other humans to excel those Valencian Gypsies gathered in the street that June noon. I might again find their equal, but nothing more perfect. There was so much chatter and laughter there, it brought again to my heart memory of one of the feasts days of Les Saintes Maries Gypsy festival. That brought a state of sadness to me: how soon the lovely things do pass, how swiftly soon. Standing in the street amongst the carefree, good humored, beautiful Romanichals, I felt further sadness then for their fellow Gypsies in the poverty, misery and squalor of the nearby encampment. There can be no denying that extreme poverty and ugliness of surroundings blight the human soul. Flowers cannot grow in full beauty from sour earth, or on rubble-heaps, and likewise human bodies and souls have difficulty in coming into full flowers. But at that gathering in the Street of the Gypsies, there were human flowers everywhere. Some like pink and ivory roses, also the carnations of Valencia, others flamboyant as tiger-lilies, or the blossom of pomegranate trees, others sultry and mysterious as passion flowers and forest orchids, and the majority tawny and sun-warmed and radiant as blooms of the sunflower: ah, that is how it was! a multitude of swaying sunflowers similar to the wild-growing groves of that flower through which I had walked on the mountains above the sea in the exotic fabulous countryside of Mexico’s Baja California. Dear God! what beauty you created in those Gypsies. Swarthy, flashing, oriental beauty.

When one beholds Gypsies such as those who had gathered in the Valencian street, then the old thought dominates the mind: Who are the Gypsies and from whence? Hitler destroyed the Gypsies in the same black hate as that in which he destroyed the Jews. Have they some kinship with each other, the Gypsies and the Jews? The two most hated races on earth and yet the most indestructible. The Jews forsaking in modern times the commandments taught to them by Moses, and later by Christ the greatest Jew of all, which teaching were to keep them eternally a great and united race, and again worshipping ardently the golden calf, have in many tribes become absolutely unbeautiful, and over many are “a mock and a laughing stock for the peoples”, as fore-warned in the Bible: and yet they are the descendants of the peerless man and woman described in the Song of Songs. But the Gypsies who follow no gold worship have remained amongst the most beautiful people on earth. Could they be descendants of Hagar, Sarah’s bondwoman, who bore Abraham a son, Ishmael? (There is a widely accepted theory that it is the Arabs who are descendants of Hagar.) For God promised Abraham: ” “And also of the sun of thy bondwoman Hagar will I make a nation, because he is thy seed”. And God was with the lad; and he grew and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer…and, his mother took him a wife out of the land of Egypt.” Thus had I pondered as I stood and marveled at the beauty of that Gypsy gathering in Valencia.

In the company of Maria and my three friends, I spent many happy hours in the street of the Gypsies. I held their babies and took photographs, and must admit to some romancing with the very handsome men thronging there. But it was all happiness and gaiety there in the sun, with Gypsy song and the music of guitars to make all the more memorable. When after several hours I had to leave the Gypsy company, there came calling in the distance the familiar Gypsy words of friendship:

“Come again back to the Romanichals. Come soon. Come soon. We shall not forget thee.”

And the children came running, bringing gifts of heavy perfumed carnations from the flower-sellers, and one lad presented me with a tamed lizard attached to a string, which he said was a piece of Gypsy luck and also a souvenir from his street. Only the lizard I declined, not wishing to take that creature of the sun away from the warmth of Valencia to the chill air of Paris.

I have no regrets concerning my footless days in Valencia, for if I had failed in my determination to stay until the ending of my final week in Spain, I would never have met with the Gypsy actress Rosa Gimmenes – La Diamante Negra. On my last night in Valencia, Rosa came to the inn to dance for me. She came to dance and sing for me without payment, the other Gypsies having told her about the ending of my money. The Gypsies also sent me dishes of food (and the inn also would have fed me for nothing) but all the food seemed to be soaked in olive oil or fried, therefore for me it was just uneatable, and I kept to my cups of water. The tramps of England always declare that when they are entirely without money and thus without food, they can always be sure of a good meal from the Gypsies, if they should meet with a family of them by the wayside. Years after my Valencia visit, whenI was again without money when in Granada, the Gypsies of Sacra Monte said to me: “Here there are one hundred Gypsy cuevas (cavern home of the Granada Gypsies) where you will be made welcome. Be neither without food no bed, there are both for you here with the Gypsies always – siempre (forever, spanish). Make this cueva your first stay.”

Thus La Diamate Negra came to dance for me for friendship, because the Gypsies of Valencia had told her of my years with the Gypsies and my love for them. Not only did she bewitch me with her talent, but she remains also unforgettable for her personality. My high opinion of Rosa was shared by others more knowledgable than I concerning dance and song, for she has a place in the theaters of Valencia and her fellow Gypsies praise highly her art. The day that she came to visit me she was celebrating a new theatrical contract and was in high excitement.

To write a true portrait of the fascinating Gypsy actress is not possible: for who can describe with pen or brush the fire that is within a fine and well-cut diamond. The name of Black Diamond is not unique to Rosa, a famous Gypsy bullfighter carries the same name; but there could have been no other name better suited for Rosa. In spite of the glitter and the fire, the Gypsy was very dark, so that there was much that was almost negroid about her appearance – the beauty of the negro. The fineness of the dark-hued flesh with the golden glow upon, the lightness of body, the wild and brilliant eyes, the strong teeth. Her mouth lacked beauty, the lips being over big. But her smile was rare and put much beauty upon her face, and gave revelation of the fires that had hearths within her, in the dancing feet and the throbbing breasts and throat, and charged the blood with their heat and their gold and crimson rays: all precious stones possess incandescent fires, and the diamond is especially rich.

Rose possessed none of the too general mundane quality of the professional actress. She was more the type of a singing bird in the woods, light of heart and swift and excitable. My shy Afghan hound loved her as soon as she came into the inn, and laid herself at the Gypsy’s feet, a most unusual demonstration. With Rosa was a small Gypsy girl of five years, who travelled always with her, and had been trained by Rosa in dance and song and was already skilful, also charmingly imitative of her teacher and foster-mother. La Diamonte Negra was unmarried as yet, for in her twenty-two years she had met with no man whom she could love sufficiently for marriage. She told me that for the present she had little thought for me, she wanted only to dance, to dance, to dance, and to sing. But I well saw that her vitality and her wonderful body, together with her talented dancing and singing must prove irresistible to men. The photographs that I took of Rosa on the sands of Valencia, poised in dance, have attracted the attention of every man who has seen them. Who is she? Where is she? are questions always demanded when the photographs of La Diamante Negra are produced.

Rosa herself was notable aware of her Gypsy blood. When the floor of the dining-room of the inn was cleared of tables and chairs for the Gypsy’s dancing, and she had enthralled us with the magic of her art, she between each performance and as if making excuse for the passion of her dancing and singing, would thrust out her slender rhythmical arms at me and declare with panting breath: “Sangre Gitano! Sangre Gitano!”

And always I made reply, adoring her: “The best blood in the world.”

After the dancing was over Rosa stayed on at the inn, talking with me. Talking of the Gypsy life of Spain, and the life of the theatre, two subjects of twin enchantment for her and for me. That night we wove a strong bond of friendship between us; I shall remember her. Rosa typifies the best of the true Gypsy character.

On the day of my departure from Valencia, a Gypsy woman presented me with a diminutive basket, hand-woven from green rushes: a doll size thing, fine and beautiful. I was traveling with her in the tram on my way to the station. Her arms being loaded with baskets of all types and sizes, I took from her her wailing babe, and hushed it and turned the tears into laughter.

When the Gypsy came to leave the tram before me, she put into my hands the sweet green basket in place of her brown baby. That Gypsy basket I shall keep carefully, it being representative of the Romanies. A simple product of hand-skill – those supple swart hands of the Gypsy – and made from Nature’s materials and having the green color of Nature; given to me in generosity and love. Despite what other writers have stated to the contrary concerning the Gypsies, I have found that they give nearly always as much as they take; often enough, they give more. Before leaving the Spanish frontier I filled the basket with wild lavender pulled from the crags of the Pyrenean mountains, the breath of which flower perfumes the mountain range. Souvenir all of sun-drenched Gypsy days.

Pages 177-182

When my companions observed that I was leaving they all nodded their heads at me in assent and also rose up to go.

Lena, too, got to her feet very hurriedly, and called to me in strident voice, demanding: “Where? Where?”

When I did not answer she said: “Stay! You must stay! You cannot go yet.”

I replied to her: “No! I will leave you now, for I’ve no more love for you and you keep asking all of the time. You must know that I’ve no money left for my own use, not enough to keep me in food during the few days left to me before I go from Spain.”

Lena well understood my words. I saw astonishment overcome her, causing her to open wide her mouth like a young cuckoo, and she was rendered momentarily as speechless as one. Her voice then returning, she turned to the Hungaros explaining well my words to them. I could tell the form of her conversation, although I knew not the language which she then spoke, it being neither Spanish nor Romany; possibly it was Roumanian or Hungarian. The consternation then manifested by all of the Hungaros was remarkable. As a result it was only then that I understood the whole sorry story of their inviting me into their tents, and the reason for all of the tarnished finery they had mustered for my benefit. Their theatrical clothing, the samovar, the wolf-skin rugs, all indeed for my benefit. They must have obtained from Bella the information that a person of wealth was visiting the encampment, and consequently the Hungaros had planned amongst themselves, to obtain much spoil from me. It was pathetic, in truth, and I felt compassion for them all. I too have known the disappointment of expecting very much from a visitor in time of need, and then getting nothing at all. And considering the expectations of the Hungaros, it was in truth as if they had got nothing at all from me.

The murmuring voices of the women discussing my declaration of poverty, were becoming sonorous as a storm wind uprising in the tent, with the eat of the Arabian Khamsin within it. And as I stood in the doorway I felt that Lena, if she had had the power, would have used her sorcery to turn the wolf-skins back into living animals, and have them devour me.

“Come quickly,” I told my friends, and they followed me from the tent immediately. Seeing our determined departure the swelling resentment of the Romanies then became real hostility. One woman of the party, who was dressed in crumpled purple satins and velvets, was especially strident in her anger. She bore a name strange for a Roumanian Gypsy -Bessarabia- which name I never heard shortened to Bess or Rabia whilst I was with the family. She was very thin of body and I think also very old. Almost toothless, and what hair could be seen pushing out beneath her voilet-hued head-scarf was heavily died with henna.

Her body, gowned in shabby splendor, panted as she cried at me in Spanish: “Embuste! Embuste! (false tale)” Her Voice followed me into the sunlight outside the marquee.

It seemed good indeed to be back in the sun again, and away from the fly swarms and the ants and the malodorous atmosphere of the tent. The Hungaros followed speedily after us; they came indeed in the manner of a wolf pack.

Bessarabia shouted further concerning me: “She tells that she’s without love, look upon her fine eezaw (clothes)!” That statement was a foolish one, for my dress was but a plain blouse and skirt of grey cot tong which had become much worn during my travels. My only adornment was a green scarf purchased for a few shillings in a French market-place. Indeed I looked as drab as a sparrow compared with the peacock finery of Bessarabia herself.

The angry woman then took me by surprise, for approaching close by me, she made a sudden snatch at my scarf, seizing one end as if she would strangle me. The choking act by means of the neck-scarf which most Romany men and women wear as part of their habitual clothing, I have much discussed when in conversation with Gypsies, and I have learnt concerning it; therefore I was soon free of the woman’s attempted hold upon myself; and with my green scarf still in my possession.

My friends were very troubled. “Come away at once,” they urged. And I agreed.

I warned, however: “We mustn’t turn our backs on them and run. That would bring bad trouble for sure, for they’re very excitable you can see. We soon can be away from them, and surely Bella will help us.” But Bella seemed powerfully under the influence of the Hungaros, especially Lena. Neither she nor her high-spirited sons had spoken one word within the marquee, but had sat grouped together in seemingly constrained silence.

Meantime, Lena always with a liking for high drama, was bringing from behind the marquee two cur dogs, which came forward with much rattling of heavy chains. Those two dogs she then endeavored to set upon me. Doubtless she had in her foolish head some dramatic picture of myself falling upon the ground in terror, and then when she had removed the man-eating dogs from me, I rewarding her with a great fortune for having saved me from such punishment. But surely the special fourth sight of the true Gypsy should have informed her that no dog can create fear in me, I having worked for too long amongst dogs of all types to know any fear, and in the past have indeed won some repute for the training of hounds considered as being incurably savage.

The two curs that Lena urged at me were mean-looking, uncourageous creatures. When they ran at me I was able to deal with them within a few minutes. On the smaller dog I inflicted a well-placed blow at the side of its head; the larger I treated by bringing up my clenched fist beneath its jaw and thus knocking the lower and upper teeth together. The two dogs departed from me in a panic, their tails curved beneath their bellies.

The dog skirmish occasioned much laughter and applause from the Gypsy men, who all, from then onwards, were entirely favorably feeling towards me; and I knew, therefore, that I and my companions need have no further fear from that company of Gypsies on the encampment. I promised thus to my companions, but they seemed not to share my confidence. And when Bessarabia made a further attempt upon my scarf, the clerk was indeed angry with me for staying further. A Gypsy youth, however, frustrated Bessarabia, and spoke angrily with her.

I then said to the clerk: “You see, all is well. Let us leave in dignity and not run from them.” He agreed with me. They had indeed proved to be good companions, few people would have entered the marquee of the Hungaros at all, and they had stayed with me throughout. I realized that the clerk felt much responsibility for the three women whom he was escorting.

The man who had been smoking the hookah, and who was named Zoltan, then requested that I should photograph the Hungaros as I had promised earlier.

“I will do so now,” I agreed. “But we must leave you immediately afterwards, for friends await us in the Street of the Gypsies.” That news seemed to impress Zoltan, and I was pleased that I had told him.

“Come quickly, quickly for the photos,” he summoned all of the family and they came crowding around me.

It was a strange thing then, that immediately the Hungaros had come forward to be photographed, the sun, which had been brilliant in the sky throughout the day, was covered by a suddenly formed group of clouds, and left the scene almost in darkness, the gathered clouds being so black and so screening. A thought then came to me, and I decided that I would trouble the Hungaros for their shameful treatment of their guests. I therefor indicated the sun and declared:

“All this day the sun’s been very bright in the sky, it was so when I photographed Bella and her sons, as she’ll tell you. Now the sun’s hidden itself. I think that our Gypsy Sainte Sara has sent away the sun in her anger with you all, because you ill-treated me when I came to you as a friend. For Sainte Sara, whose shrine I have left lass than one week ago, knows well that I am a true friend to her Gypsy people.”

“The sun will return,” the Hungaros said.

“No sun, no photography,” I stated. “The film in my camera is only for bright light.”

The sky remained in heavy darkness, and I observed the Hungaros looking anxiously in its direction as they arranged the scene for their photograph. They were then quite friendly, taking pleasure in arranging a magnificent scene for me to photograph. I noticed that Lena was foremost in the production of the theatrical setting. Only Bessarabia stood apart, vengeful and sulky. The rugs of wolf-skins were spread upon the dusty ground, the samovar was placed in the centre, and Zoltan’s pipe was also prominently displayed. The women grouped themselves upon the rugs and then summoned the men. But the men would not join them. Such refusal to be photographed I have met with often amongst the Romany men; I think they feel that the procedure is too much like a thing of the hated police; their photographs at some time may inform against them, so Gypsies have told me.

I faced the large group of women and made ready my camera. Bella and her boys were not allowed to sit with the Hungaros for their photograph; they, in their banishment of them, appearing to consider them of too low caste to be on the same photograph as themselves. I waited patiently but the sun came not forth. The Gypsy group facing me I found to be of such picturesque and dramatic quality, that soon I too was hoping that the sun would appear, even though thereby it would destroy my story of Sainte Sara’s wrath; for I wanted to photographs so much. However, the sky remained in unusual darkness. My three companions, understandably, became very impatient with me. Therefore I felt compelled to tell the Hungaros that I would await the sun only for a further quarter-hour; the clerk would keep time upon his watch, if the sun were still away from the sky when that time be past, then I would have to depart with my friends, and no photographs could be taken.

During the quarter-hour I told the Hungaros of my impressions of Sara, saint of the Gypsies. Meanwhile the Hungaros watched the sky for the reappearance of the sun, as anxiously as children ready to leave home on a picnic and fearing rain which would cause the adults to cancel their excursion.

Soon the clerk called out the passing of the agreed time period and we prepared to leave the encampment. The darkness of the sky had further increased, and I myself was beginning to have belief in the wrath of Sainte Sara: therefore the thoughts of the Hungaros could be well imagined.

“Come!” said the clerk to me with finality, and he commenced to walk from the encampment followed by his women. I then closed my camera, and telling my regrets to the Hungaros, began to move away in his wake.

In a chorus the Hungaros then commanded me: “Wait! Wait!”

“No,” I replied. “It is not possible. I might wait with you all the noon long, until night-time, and Sainte Sara keep the sun from the sky.” And I walked onwards resolutely. As I passed by them, I said a special farewell to Bella and her sons, thanking them for the pleasure of the yesternight. I controlled my feet at a slow pace, being determined not to hurry unduly.

Then it was that the true fury of the Hungaros was released, all of their pent-up feelings being given full expression: and I did not blame them. They yelled and screamed after me, and began to pelt my back with a hailstorm of varied missiles. Pieces of rubble, stones, tin cans, bottles, old bones and boots, fire embers, all were hurled in my direction. As is usual wit things flung in much anger, they failed to reach their target, on a few hitting me, and no harm was done, and I hope that thus the Hungaros were able to cure themselves of their anger. I was sorry to see that Bella’s sons were amongst the most active of the missile hurlers. I stayed to call to the little boys: “Rico! Plata! I love you. Remember that I love you.” THen unexpectedly, for they were savage children, they dropped their handfuls of stones and went and hid themselves behind their mother. “I love you!” I called again: in truth I did love the wild brothers.

Soon my friends and I were away, and we could laugh well concerning our strange meeting with the Hungaros. We had left the encampment but five minuets when the dramatic quality of the visit was increased by the sudden return of the sun. Out from the screen of clouds the sun came, shining in all its former brilliance, and a wind accompanied it, and blew out of sight all the clouds in shortest time, leaving the sky an unsmutched glorious blue. Nor did the clouds come back into the sky for the rest of that noon and evening. I wondered greatly what would be the thoughts of the Hungaros concerning the remarkably early reappearance of the sun, and I felt sure that should I have desire to return amongst them, on any further visit they would treat me with much respect.