August 17, 2015


‘Those black eyed children begging in Bucharest
are all pickpockets,’ smiled our exquisite hostess,
who had set a table for us with fresh cucumber,
and sliced tomatoes. ‘From the country,’ she explained
the delicacy, rare in present-day Romania.

Crossing the gaunt and treeless plain near Craiova,
We noticed houses painted like caravans,
With curving roofs and colours quaintly Asian.
Our driver said they were owned by rich Gypsies,
‘They go to East Germany and steal Mercedes.’

‘You know, Gypsies are hated over there,’
I mused to my London newsagent, looking at
a headline about stowaways caught in Dover.
But he, with his sad Pakistani eyes, replied,
‘Why are they so hated? They must be bad.’

Elaine Feinstein

(Elaine Feinstein is a prize-winning poet, novelist, playwright, biographer and translator. As a poet, she began to write under the influence of Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, the Objectivists – notably Charles Reznikoff – and Black Mountain poets. In 1959 Charles Olson sent her his famous letter defining breath ‘prosody’. Alive to her family origins in the Russian-Jewish diaspora, she developed a close affinity with the Russian poets of this and the last century. Her versions of the poems of Marina Tsvetaeva , for which she received three translation awards from the Arts Council were first published in 1971 and remain in print. Her poems have been widely anthologized. Her Collected Poems and Translations (2002) was a Poetry Book Society Special Commendation. In 1990, she received a Cholmondeley Award for Poetry, and was given an Honorary D.Litt from the University of Leicester.)

The Silence of the Bulls…?

September 10, 2009


So, the decision is made. We’re to “explore” Andalucía. Constantly on the move, a pair of transient sundrenched gypsies, living out of a battered suitcase. We will go where we will go. Wherever the whim or road takes us.

Will we come back? One can never be certain hence the question. Surely we will, is the hesitant response. I will remain in touch with the world via emagic.

And no sooner is this decided, than we are in this burned-out, blasted landscape. Europe’s most southern point, so they say – but I think it’s Africa’s most northern incursion into the European continent…the sun here bleaching the life from everything. Including the people.

My Spanish friend, Samuel, talks obsessively about the olive oil: “It’s so much better than the Italian oil. The Spanish are the world’s largest suppliers of olive oil.” I nod my head and make polite noises but remain far from convinced by some of his claims. Here land is priced by the number of olive trees growing on it – 350 euros per tree, I believe. Red-brown earth, desiccated as the wrinkled nut-brown faces of the old women in the villages we pass through, how can anything grow here in this sun cursed soil?

Then there are the bulls, and Flamenco, the gypsies – los Gitanos – many of whom are nothing more than skeletal junkies, trapped within the narcotics trade in order to feed their own addictions. The Flamenco, of course, is pure passion. It is the merciless Andalucían sun in the blood. Vivid emotion. But there are rules. Yes, always there are rules. The rasping complexity of sung Flamenco in the traditional style – the raw depths, the control, the pitch of voice. The guitar. The violent rattle of heels on dusty floorboards. The flaming red swirl of a black-eyed senorita’s dress, the flash of white petticoats.


And the bulls?

Well, I’ll return to them. And to the horses. All in good time.

In Seville we find ourselves seduced by the cities sensuousness, by the lisping Andalusian accent, by the heady scent of orange blossom; the narrow streets, squares and fountains are charming. The oranges, of course, are inedible. Here one can eat stewed bull’s tail – a specialty of the area. The flesh of bulls killed in the arena is eaten – it is greatly in demand by aficionados – but is very tough. It’s to do with the muscle tension of violent death. The tails gently simmered in tomato sauce and garlic for hours on end are marginally more palatable, so I’m told. Although most of the tails come from those bulls not chosen for the arena. I stick to salad with roasted peppers and achingly cold white wine that leaves a slightly metallic aftertaste in the mouth.


C is captain of our expedition: organiser, arranger, and protector of my good self; she, like all intrepid explorers, takes the lead and boldly goes where no one (in their right mind) has ever gone before (willingly). She it is will have us on a ten mile route march during the hottest part of the day. She is indomitable – too indomitable by far to succumb to anything as mundane as heat stroke. She proudly explains to Samuel that when she lived and worked in Morocco, she drank the water – tap and well water – without ill-effect. Samuel, himself once a sufferer of the Tangier trots, seems duly impressed.

“I want to visit the art gallery,” I say.

“It’s a good place to see virgins, lots of virgins, lots of fat priests, lots of suffering Christs.” Samuel is dismissive, not that he is affected by my desire to attend, but his attitude casts a shadow over C’s (hesitant, tentative) agreement to this suggested visit.

“I can’t stand religious art,” she says, ominously.

Oh, well…shit happens as they say!

I’ll write more on this…later.

While the EU worries about cash and contributions to the central budget, Gypsies are being murdered in eastern Europe. Now, why does that sound familiar? With Hungary all but bankrupt racial tensions are on the increase – as they are across eastern Europe. See here. And here.