IN Madrid the Gitanos chiefly reside in the neighbourhood of the 'mercado,' or the place where horses and other animals are sold, - in two narrow and dirty lanes, called the Calle de la Comadre and the Callejon de Lavapies. It is said that at the beginning of last century Madrid abounded with these people, who, by their lawless behaviour and dissolute lives, gave occasion to great scandal; if such were the case, their numbers must have considerably diminished since that period, as it would be difficult at any time to collect fifty throughout Madrid. These Gitanos seem, for the most part, to be either Valencians or of Valencian origin, as they in general either speak or understand the dialect of Valencia; and whilst speaking their own peculiar jargon, the Rommany, are in the habit of making use of many Valencian words and terms.
The manner of life of the Gitanos of Madrid differs in no material respect from that of their brethren in other places. The men, every market-day, are to be seen on the skirts of the mercado, generally with some miserable animal - for example, a foundered mule or galled borrico, by means of which they seldom fail to gain a dollar or two, either by sale or exchange. It must not, however, be supposed that they content themselves with such paltry earnings. Provided they have any valuable animal, which is not unfrequently the case, they invariably keep such at home snug in the stall, conducting thither the chapman, should they find any, and concluding the bargain with the greatest secrecy. Their general reason for this conduct is an unwillingness to exhibit anything calculated to excite the jealousy of the chalans, or jockeys of Spanish blood, who on the slightest umbrage are in the habit of ejecting them from the fair by force of palos or cudgels, in which violence the chalans are to a certain extent countenanced by law; for though by the edict of Carlos the Third the Gitanos were in other respects placed upon an equality with the rest of the Spaniards, they were still forbidden to obtain their livelihood by the traffic of markets and fairs.
They have occasionally however another excellent reason for not exposing the animal in the public mercado - having obtained him by dishonest means. The stealing, concealing, and receiving animals when stolen, are inveterate Gypsy habits, and are perhaps the last from which the Gitano will be reclaimed, or will only cease when the race has become extinct. In the prisons of Madrid, either in that of the Saladero or De la Corte, there are never less than a dozen Gitanos immured for stolen horses or mules being found in their possession, which themselves or their connections have spirited away from the neighbouring villages, or sometimes from a considerable distance. I say spirited away, for so well do the thieves take their measures, and watch their opportunity, that they are seldom or never taken in the fact.
The Madrilenian Gypsy women are indefatigable in the pursuit of prey, prowling about the town and the suburbs from morning till night, entering houses of all descriptions, from the highest to the lowest; telling fortunes, or attempting to play off various kinds of Gypsy tricks, from which they derive much greater profit, and of which we shall presently have occasion to make particular mention.
From Madrid let us proceed to Andalusia, casting a cursory glance on the Gitanos of that country. I found them very numerous at Granada, which in the Gitano language is termed Meligrana. Their general condition in this place is truly miserable, far exceeding in wretchedness the state of the tribes of Estremadura. It is right to state that Granada itself is the poorest city in Spain; the greatest part of the population, which exceeds sixty thousand, living in beggary and nakedness, and the Gitanos share in the general distress.
Many of them reside in caves scooped in the sides of the ravines which lead to the higher regions of the Alpujarras, on a skirt of which stands Granada. A common occupation of the Gitanos of Granada is working in iron, and it is not unfrequent to find these caves tenanted by Gypsy smiths and their families, who ply the hammer and forge in the bowels of the earth. To one standing at the mouth of the cave, especially at night, they afford a picturesque spectacle. Gathered round the forge, their bronzed and naked bodies, illuminated by the flame, appear like figures of demons; while the cave, with its flinty sides and uneven roof, blackened by the charcoal vapours which hover about it in festoons, seems to offer no inadequate representation of fabled purgatory. Working in iron was an occupation strictly forbidden to the Gitanos by the ancient laws, on what account does not exactly appear; though, perhaps, the trade of the smith was considered as too much akin to that of the chalan to be permitted to them. The Gypsy smith of Granada is still a chalan, even as his brother in England is a jockey and tinker alternately.
Whilst speaking of the Gitanos of Granada, we cannot pass by in silence a tragedy which occurred in this town amongst them, some fifteen years ago, and the details of which are known to every Gitano in Spain, from Catalonia to Estremadura. We allude to the murder of Pindamonas by Pepe Conde. Both these individuals were Gitanos; the latter was a celebrated contrabandista, of whom many remarkable tales are told. On one occasion, having committed some enormous crime, he fled over to Barbary and turned Moor, and was employed by the Moorish emperor in his wars, in company with the other renegade Spaniards, whose grand depot or presidio is the town of Agurey in the kingdom of Fez. After the lapse of some years, when his crime was nearly forgotten, he returned to Granada, where he followed his old occupations of contrabandista and chalan. Pindamonas was a Gitano of considerable wealth, and was considered as the most respectable of the race at Granada, amongst whom he possessed considerable influence. Between this man and Pepe Conde there existed a jealousy, especially on the part of the latter, who, being a man of proud untamable spirit, could not well brook a superior amongst his own people. It chanced one day that Pindamonas and other Gitanos, amongst whom was Pepe Conde, were in a coffee-house. After they had all partaken of some refreshment, they called for the reckoning, the amount of which Pindamonas insisted on discharging. It will be necessary here to observe, that on such occasions in Spain it is considered as a species of privilege to be allowed to pay, which is an honour generally claimed by the principal man of the party. Pepe Conde did not fail to take umbrage at the attempt of Pindamonas, which he considered as an undue assumption of superiority, and put in his own claim; but Pindamonas insisted, and at last flung down the money on the table, whereupon Pepe Conde instantly unclasped one of those terrible Manchegan knives which are generally carried by the contrabandistas, and with a frightful gash opened the abdomen of Pindamonas, who presently expired.
After this exploit, Pepe Conde fled, and was not seen for some time. The cave, however, in which he had been in the habit of residing was watched, as a belief was entertained that sooner or later he would return to it, in the hope of being able to remove some of the property contained in it. This belief was well founded. Early one morning he was observed to enter it, and a band of soldiers was instantly despatched to seize him. This circumstance is alluded to in a Gypsy stanza:-
'Fly, Pepe Conde, seek the hill;
To flee's thy only chance;
With bayonets fixed, thy blood to spill,
See soldiers four advance.'
And before the soldiers could arrive at the cave, Pepe Conde had discovered their approach and fled, endeavouring to make his escape amongst the rocks and barrancos of the Alpujarras. The soldiers instantly pursued, and the chase continued a considerable time. The fugitive was repeatedly summoned to surrender himself, but refusing, the soldiers at last fired, and four balls entered the heart of the Gypsy contrabandista and murderer.
Once at Madrid I received a letter from the sister's son of Pindamonas, dated from the prison of the Saladero. In this letter the writer, who it appears was in durance for stealing a pair of mules, craved my charitable assistance and advice; and possibly in the hope of securing my favour, forwarded some uncouth lines commemorative of the death of his relation, and commencing thus:-
'The death of Pindamonas fill'd all the world with pain; At the coffee-house's portal, by Pepe he was slain.'
The faubourg of Triana, in Seville, has from time immemorial been noted as a favourite residence of the Gitanos; and here, at the present day, they are to be found in greater number than in any other town in Spain. This faubourg is indeed chiefly inhabited by desperate characters, as, besides the Gitanos, the principal part of the robber population of Seville is here congregated. Perhaps there is no part even of Naples where crime so much abounds, and the law is so little respected, as at Triana, the character of whose inmates was so graphically delineated two centuries and a half back by Cervantes, in one of the most amusing of his tales. (44)
In the vilest lanes of this suburb, amidst dilapidated walls and ruined convents, exists the grand colony of Spanish Gitanos. Here they may be seen wielding the hammer; here they may be seen trimming the fetlocks of horses, or shearing the backs of mules and borricos with their cachas; and from hence they emerge to ply the same trade in the town, or to officiate as terceros, or to buy, sell, or exchange animals in the mercado, and the women to tell the bahi through the streets, even as in other parts of Spain, generally attended by one or two tawny bantlings in their arms or by their sides; whilst others, with baskets and chafing-pans, proceed to the delightful banks of the Len Baro, (45) by the Golden Tower, where, squatting on the ground and kindling their charcoal, they roast the chestnuts which, when well prepared, are the favourite bonne bouche of the Sevillians; whilst not a few, in league with the contrabandistas, go from door to door offering for sale prohibited goods brought from the English at Gibraltar. Such is Gitano life at Seville; such it is in the capital of Andalusia.
It is the common belief of the Gitanos of other provinces that in Andalusia the language, customs, habits, and practices peculiar to their race are best preserved. This opinion, which probably originated from the fact of their being found in greater numbers in this province than in any other, may hold good in some instances, but certainly not in all. In various parts of Spain I have found the Gitanos retaining their primitive language and customs better than in Seville, where they most abound: indeed, it is not plain that their number has operated at all favourably in this respect. At Cordova, a town at the distance of twenty leagues from Seville, which scarcely contains a dozen Gitano families, I found them living in much more brotherly amity, and cherishing in a greater degree the observances of their forefathers.
I shall long remember these Cordovese Gitanos, by whom I was very well received, but always on the supposition that I was one of their own race. They said that they never admitted strangers to their houses save at their marriage festivals, when they flung their doors open to all, and save occasionally people of influence and distinction, who wished to hear their songs and converse with their women; but they assured me, at the same time, that these they invariably deceived, and merely made use of as instruments to serve their own purposes. As for myself, I was admitted without scruple to their private meetings, and was made a participator of their most secret thoughts. During our intercourse some remarkable scenes occurred. One night more than twenty of us, men and women, were assembled in a long low room on the ground floor, in a dark alley or court in the old gloomy town of Cordova. After the Gitanos had discussed several jockey plans, and settled some private bargains amongst themselves, we all gathered round a huge brasero of flaming charcoal, and began conversing SOBRE LAS COSAS DE EGYPTO, when I proposed that, as we had no better means of amusing ourselves, we should endeavour to turn into the Calo language some pieces of devotion, that we might see whether this language, the gradual decay of which I had frequently heard them lament, was capable of expressing any other matters than those which related to horses, mules, and Gypsy traffic. It was in this cautious manner that I first endeavoured to divert the attention of these singular people to matters of eternal importance. My suggestion was received with acclamations, and we forthwith proceeded to the translation of the Apostles' creed. I first recited in Spanish, in the usual manner and without pausing, this noble confession, and then repeated it again, sentence by sentence, the Gitanos translating as I proceeded. They exhibited the greatest eagerness and interest in their unwonted occupation, and frequently broke into loud disputes as to the best rendering - many being offered at the same time. In the meanwhile, I wrote down from their dictation; and at the conclusion I read aloud the translation, the result of the united wisdom of the assembly, whereupon they all raised a shout of exultation, and appeared not a little proud of the composition.
The Cordovese Gitanos are celebrated esquiladors. Connected with them and the exercise of the ARTE DE ESQUILAR, in Gypsy monrabar, I have a curious anecdote to relate. In the first place, however, it may not be amiss to say something about the art itself, of all relating to which it is possible that the reader may be quite ignorant.
Nothing is more deserving of remark in Spanish grooming than the care exhibited in clipping and trimming various parts of the horse, where the growth of hair is considered as prejudicial to the perfect health and cleanliness of the animal, particular attention being always paid to the pastern, that part of the foot which lies between the fetlock and the hoof, to guard against the arestin - that cutaneous disorder which is the dread of the Spanish groom, on which account the services of a skilful esquilador are continually in requisition.
The esquilador, when proceeding to the exercise of his vocation, generally carries under his arm a small box containing the instruments necessary, and which consist principally of various pairs of scissors, and the ACIAL, two short sticks tied together with whipcord at the end, by means of which the lower lip of the horse, should he prove restive, is twisted, and the animal reduced to speedy subjection. In the girdle of the esquilador are stuck the large scissors called in Spanish TIJERAS, and in the Gypsy tongue CACHAS, with which he principally works. He operates upon the backs, ears, and tails of mules and borricos, which are invariably sheared quite bare, that if the animals are galled, either by their harness or the loads which they carry, the wounds may be less liable to fester, and be more easy to cure. Whilst engaged with horses, he confines himself to the feet and ears. The esquiladores in the two Castiles, and in those provinces where the Gitanos do not abound, are for the most part Aragonese; but in the others, and especially in Andalusia, they are of the Gypsy race. The Gitanos are in general very expert in the use of the cachas, which they handle in a manner practised nowhere but in Spain; and with this instrument the poorer class principally obtain their bread.
In one of their couplets allusion is made to this occupation in the following manner:-
'I'll rise to-morrow bread to earn,
For hunger's worn me grim;
Of all I meet I'll ask in turn,
If they've no beasts to trim.'
Sometimes, whilst shearing the foot of a horse, exceedingly small scissors are necessary for the purpose of removing fine solitary hairs; for a Spanish groom will tell you that a horse's foot behind ought to be kept as clean and smooth as the hand of a senora: such scissors can only be procured at Madrid. My sending two pair of this kind to a Cordovese Gypsy, from whom I had experienced much attention whilst in that city, was the occasion of my receiving a singular epistle from another whom I scarcely knew, and which I shall insert as being an original Gypsy composition, and in some points not a little characteristic of the people of whom I am now writing.
'Cordova, 20th day of January, 1837.
'SENOR DON JORGE,
'After saluting you and hoping that you are well, I proceed to tell you that the two pair of scissors arrived at this town of Cordova with him whom you sent them by; but, unfortunately, they were given to another Gypsy, whom you neither knew nor spoke to nor saw in your life; for it chanced that he who brought them was a friend of mine, and he told me that he had brought two pair of scissors which an Englishman had given him for the Gypsies; whereupon I, understanding it was yourself, instantly said to him, "Those scissors are for me"; he told me, however, that he had already given them to another, and he is a Gypsy who was not even in Cordova during the time you were. Nevertheless, Don Jorge, I am very grateful for your thus remembering me, although I did not receive your present, and in order that you may know who I am, my name is Antonio Salazar, a man pitted with the small-pox, and the very first who spoke to you in Cordova in the posada where you were; and you told me to come and see you next day at eleven, and I went, and we conversed together alone. Therefore I should wish you to do me the favour to send me scissors for trimming beasts, - good scissors, mind you, - such would be a very great favour, and I should be ever grateful, for here in Cordova there are none, or if there be, they are good for nothing. Senor Don Jorge, you remember I told you that I was an esquilador by trade, and only by that I got bread for my babes. Senor Don Jorge, if you do send me the scissors for trimming, pray write and direct to the alley De la Londiga, No. 28, to Antonio Salazar, in Cordova. This is what I have to tell you, and do you ever command your trusty servant, who kisses your hand and is eager to serve you.
'That I may clip and trim the beasts, a pair of cachas grant,
If not, I fear my luckless babes will perish all of want.'
'If thou a pair of cachas grant, that I my babes may feed,
I'll pray to the Almighty God, that thee he ever speed.'
It is by no means my intention to describe the exact state and condition of the Gitanos in every town and province where they are to be found; perhaps, indeed, it will be considered that I have already been more circumstantial and particular than the case required. The other districts which they inhabit are principally those of Catalonia, Murcia, and Valencia; and they are likewise to be met with in the Basque provinces, where they are called Egipcioac, or Egyptians. What I next purpose to occupy myself with are some general observations on the habits, and the physical and moral state of the Gitanos throughout Spain, and of the position which they hold in society.
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