Monday, April 10, 2006 

It has been a truly educational visit here for both Newt and myself. One of the first things I noticed is that all the signs, newspapers, and handbills are all in spanish. Now you might think me a dolt for stating the obvious, but if you think about it, in the United States, most billboards, newspapers, and other public information places cater to several languages - not just the national language. Outside of the international airports, Spain does not publish signs and handbills in any language other than its national language. Many of the residents speak english, in addition to their native language, but do not expect that everyone naturally understands english. It is as foreign to them as spanish is to a US citizen.

The people love faeries, and consider a gecko on the house to be good luck. So Newt fit right in and is considered the perfect travelling companion. Magda said we would have much luck on our journey, so hopefully that means we will complete our journey on time and win the bet!
Americans, on the other hand, are not always considered wanted visitors because they are rude and demanding. Sometimes the locals are as suspicious of the Americans as they are the gypsies. Why? Because they never know what to expect from the Americans. Most of the people they encounter are friendly, and courteous guests, while others forget they are guests here and act as if the local population is here to serve them.

I've mentioned the local opinion of the gypsies several times, but have not explained why. I sometimes forget you cannot see the expressions on the faces of the people.

The history of the gypsy people varies greatly, depending on who you talk to, because their history has been handed down through the generations by means of story telling. As a result, some stories contradict each other because their oral history has been distorted over time and was not recorded for many centuries.

It is thought that gypsies first lived in the Punjab region of India, but fled about 1000 years ago, during the wars between the Mongols and the Arabs. Many settled in Egypt, and after a time, began to identify with that region. Again, because their history was not recorded in any way, many following generations forgot their roots. Consequently, the gypsies (who call themselves Rom) were dubbed 'Gypcians' in English, and was later changed to gypsies. Today, in Spanish, they are known as gitanos, but in Old Spanish this word referred to Egyptians.

Linguistic research has provided much of the gypsy history known today, but because they are a nomadic people, their language, Romani Chib, while varied in different regions, still presents evidence of a common origin, with elements of Punjabi, Hindi, and Dardic languages. European gypsies have also borrowed from the Armenian and Iranian languages, as they passed through areas where those languages are spoken on their way to Europe. The gypsies of Spain, in the far west of Europe, even show linguistic evidence of having sojourned in Greece before arriving in Spain.

After their arrival in 1425, the gypsies moved to various regions throughout Spain, and were forced to steal and beg for money. This earned them a bad reputation which still exists today. Because they were a small, scattered population and not a political threat, gypsies were not tortured to the same extent as the Moors and Jews in the 16th Century. Some were, however, persecuted during that time due to their non-Christian beliefs. Some were forced into Christian marriages, and society deliberately excluded the gypsy people by banning them from events and denying their language and rituals. Even in the 18th Century, the gypsies were still feared and forced to live a certain distance outside of Spanish cities.

Gypsies have more rights than their ancestors did, but they are still nomadic, and negative stereotypes are still common. In Spain's larger cities, beggars and pickpockets are common, but these are not necessarily real gypsies. Contrary to their reputation, many gypsies are hardworking people.

As you probably already have guessed, while some gypsies do work that is readily accepted by mainstream society, such as flamenco dancing or tatting lace, others earn their livelihood by less accepted practices. While many Spanish gypsies have adopted the Catholic beliefs of the people around them, they have not given up their Romaniya beliefs. These include such practices as fortune telling, which they do for profit, but not among themselves; another type of fortune telling which they do practise among themselves, called 'advising', which is a kind of healing ritual; and last but not least, curses.

Gypsy Rules of Etiquette

If you wish to avoid a gypsy curse, you must first remember that the gypsies really do believe in things that society might think superstitious. So it is probably a bad idea to giggle or scoff if an approaching fortune teller claims to know your destiny, and who your true love shall be.

Sometimes gypsies perform on the street. Gypsies are well known for their beautiful flamenco dancing, and in such places as Las Ramblas in Barcelona, you can often catch a lively performance. As with any street performance though, you should always throw a coin if you decide to take a picture of the dancer. Otherwise, you ought not be surprised if the gypsy dancer chases you down and forces you to pay.

Finally, gypsies who are skilled in crafts often sell them on the street. For example, outside the cathedral in Segovia, Spain, several gypsy women regularly sell exquisite handmade lace tablecloths. As with any street merchant, they can be somewhat aggressive, so if uninterested, you might choose to avoid them altogether. However, travellers need not be afraid to buy something. You need only to take out the money discreetly before approaching them, as with any street merchant. Then after a bit of bartering, you can walk away with a gorgeous handmade souvenir.

While the gypsies may seem frightening to some, they do add components of mystery and even beauty to Spanish culture.

Sunday, April 09, 2006 

This is a place holder for a tour of spain

Monday, March 20, 2006 

In Cadiz, Ash Wednesday is Carnival, the last festival before Lent. Wild parties are the plan of the day, and everyone consumes mass quantities of food and beverage with reckless abandon. Traditional dress is not limited to the wild, rhythmic Flamenco dancers. We will see many women - both young and not so young - with bright, colorful dresses; the men also dress in their traditional bolero jacket and pants. You will meet many people - everyone is welcome - and they encourage you to speak their language. It's okay if your dialect isn't perfect - we won't make fun of you. Newt claims to have family in Puerto de Santa Maria, so when he made the mistake of using Mexican slang (vice Castilian spanish) we really let him have it! He may not live that one down. But it's all in good fun. Also, be sure to try drinking sangria from a bota. A bota is a special decanter for wine. Most are made from leather bags, but others are made of glass. The glass bota is sometimes mistaken for a bong, but the only thing smokin' here are your feet as you dance flamenco!

What's Castilian spanish? That's the dialect you learn in traditional spanish classes that you may have taken in high school or college, or learned on the street. In southern California, and other areas close to the Mexican border, many proper words are changed into slang - just like humans do in the United States, Canada, and other countries throughout the world.

Be forewarned! During Carnival, the sangria and Cruz Campo is flowing freely, and fights may break out among the locals and the gypsies.
These are not pretty sights. Sometimes people are knifed, some wind up in the hospital, and others die. Personal property can be damaged by the occasional brick flying through the air, so be on guard - and Have Fun!

Monday, March 06, 2006 

Hola! Last night we stayed in a gypsy camp with some of Newt's friends. The first thing I noticed was the overwhelming scent of garlic and olive oil. Yes, that's right - olive oil, in the air. Olive oil is used in nearly everything here. If it's fried, baked, boiled, or raw, olive oil is used to flavor it. It takes a bit of getting used to though.

We arrived just in time for a feria. A feria, en Espana, means festival. In Spain, there is a religious festival for darn near anything and every saint ever named. The ferias last anywhere from 3 days to a week, depending on the occasion. Tonight they celebrate our arrival! The spanish people just love faeries. Poor Newt was overlooked - he looks like your common gecko - which are in every darn corner I look! Urrrrr - they give me the willies! Anyway, the feria grounds are nicely trimmed, with soft grass that gently caressed our feet as we explored. A giant tent is held in place by wire frames, and brightly colored lights are everywhere. The sound of guitars attracts our attention, and we are drawn to the center tent where humans are on a stage, clapping and stomping as they dance madly around the floor. A strangely dressed man tells me it is - a marvelously flamboyant dance originating with the Andalusian gypsies. Every song tells a story ranging from love to history and politics. It is considered Spain's folklore music and combines dance, movement, feeling, with meaningful song.

Tonight we had the best time! One of Newt's old flames, Magdalena, is one of the local gypsies. "Lana," as she likes to be called, was more than happy to show us around. First we went "tapa hopping" at the Taxi Bar.
Tapas are the spanish version of an appetizer or hors d'oerve. We had pinchitos - which is spicy meat cooked on a skewer. The meat tasted a bit different - not quite like beef, but it definitely wasn't pork. The spices were harder to identify, and was a little like curry with a kick. After someone commmented on the lack of hounds roaming the street, I decided I'd had enough of the pinchitos, and concentrated on the kamikaze that landed in front of me. Soon after that, our guide suggested a tavern that we might like.

The White Horse Tavern, was a nice little pub that served Guinness, Stout, and domestic Spanish beer. My favorite was Cruzcampo, although many of the humans preferred San Miguel. I know this because most of the empty bottles were labeled San Miguel. In fact, the label was painted on, which surprised me. One of the bar flies told me the reason he preferred San Miguel was because there isn't any quality control and the alcohol content varied. I'm so much better off for knowing that - not! The White Horse tavern served up a nice suckling pig, though. I'm not much of a meat eater - especially pork - but the skin was nicely salted and crisp. Just as Newt was fixin' to get into a tiff with one of the local geckos, I asked Lana to show us a nice bodega. Since it was getting late, she suggested we take a trip out to Tio Pepe's in Jerez tomorrow. It is a nice bodega that offers tours to visitors, and even serves samples of different types of sherry. I can't wait!