Rishi Sankar: Ah Trini Travelogue

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Flamenco greatness, Jewish genocide and Trini Tapas conversation … all in a day’s work in Sevilla

Posted by Rishiray on February 24, 2010


Every country has its weird or different signs, but I wasn’t able to figure out what the following sign meant. Even the kids running with their briefcases … seriously, are Spanish kids so serious that they have briefcases? This just made me laugh, and the toaster on the sign made it doubly confusing. I have no idea what this sign is supposed to be .. maybe someone can give me a clue.

In the islands, there is a certain knowledge that you never advertise how wealthy you are. The old Spanish people obviously never heard about discretion with their wealth.  In the picture below, the older Spanish houses had clear signs of wealth.

Each millstone was supposed to represent a unit of wealth, so obviously this person had a lot of money in their time. It is said that there is a house in Sevilla where there are 25 milstones in the wall, so obviously he was the “Bill Gates” of this time. Could you ever see someone in Trinidad blatantly advertising their access to money? It’s like putting a sign saying “Kidnap me to pay your rent”

Of all the stories I heard while on tour, the story of La Hermosa Hembra was definitely one of the saddest ones I’ve heard.

A sadness lingers over the Spanish soul, a long memory that transcends generations and recalls that with each of its ancestors’ victories, part of its own kin was the victim. Andalusians today will tell you the story of la Hermosa Hembre (the female beauty). By 1480, Marranos,* or “New Christian” Jews, those who had acceded to conversion at the end of the fourteenth century in order to remain in Spain, their ancestral home for many generations, had ascended again to the highest orders of Spanish society.

No longer limited in status because of their difference of faith, Marranos were to be found among Andalusia’s most influential and powerful individuals within the royal court, the military, the Catholic Church, academia, the world of commerce, the trades, and the arts. Further, their sheer numbers, in the hundreds of thousands, made them a powerful force. For a time, “Old Christian” families married freely with the Marrano population, uniting established bloodlines with new wealth, so that in a few generations, any claim to “pure” Old Christian blood was almost certain to be false.

The woman known throughout Andalusia as La Hermosa Hembre was the daughter of an extremely wealthy merchant and leader of the Marrano community in Seville, Diego de Susan. The incredible beauty that had won her the title that would live in memory had captured the attention of many prominent men, but her heart belonged to a Old Christian noble.

Tensions that had lain dormant for generations between Old Christians and Marranos, due to the latter’s usurping of positions of wealth and power formerly reserved only for those of Old Christian blood, and fueled by highly publicized evidence of the Marrano community carrying out Jewish rites in secret, had set La Hermosa Hembre and her lover’s affair on the eve of the Spanish Inquisition.

Diego de Susan, foreseeing the danger to his community, had organized Marrano leaders. With their combined wealth, these leaders were able to amass substantial stores of arms and organize fighting men to offer resistance to the Inquisition’s inception. In a fatal mistake, La Hermosa Hembre, perhaps burdened with worry over her father’s safety, confessed her concerns and revealed the conspiracy against the Inquisition to her Old Christian caballero.

Now, in possession of this knowledge, the Old Christian saw his soul in jeopardy. Part of the terrible power of the Inquisition rested in its authoritative requirement that anyone who knew anything of plotting against its purpose confess it under danger of excommunication. Torn between love in this life or salvation in the next, the caballero chose the latter, and the Marranos were betrayed.

The Inquisition began with the arrest and trial of all the leaders involved in de Susan’s plot, and in a dramatic staging called an Auto de Fé which would come to epitomize the spirit of the Inquisition, six Marrano men and women were burnt alive at the stake. At the next Auto de Fé, the Diego de Susan himself was burnt and is said to have exhibited proud heroism to the very end.

The legend of La Hermosa Hembra goes on to relate how she was suddenly impoverished due to the Inquisition’s practice of confiscating the fortunes of those it had condemned. At first she was placed in a convent, but she soon left to face dire poverty on her own. We are left to speculate whether this decision had to do simply with her once-flamboyant personality being unsuited to convent life, or if, in addition, it evidences a adherence to the underground faith of her father.

Having left, she was eventually forced into prostitution to survive, her famous beauty having become her shame rather than her pride. She ultimately was redeemed in marriage to a humble grocer and died very young. It is said that she requested that her skull be placed above the door to her home as a warning to anyone who might see it of the terrible consequences of betraying one’s family and people. The street that displayed the skull came to be known in Seville as the Calle de la Muerte (Death Street) where Flamenco lore abounds with tales of her ghost crying, an image which calls to mind echoes of other weeping woman (Llorona) and family betrayal (Malinche) stories prevalent in the Spanish New World.

After being immersed in all that dread history, it was time for food. From a Trini perspective, Tapas would and could never really do well our culture, since Trinis like “plenty food… end of story”. Tapas are mini entrees meant to be sampled, shared and paired with wines.

This is the conversation I imagine in Chaguanas, Trinidad, if someone served them “Tapas-styled” food

  • Trini Waiter : How yuh going … welcome to TriniTapas ….
  • Random Trini : Wha’ is dis Tapas ting allyuh does serve. I hear it, nice.
  • Trini Waiter : Well tapas is a spanish appetizer ting. Is like “cutters” but with more variety and style
  • Random Trini : Dat songin real nice. What in dat?
  • Trini Waiter : Well it can lots of tings, lemme show yuh a menu nah.
  • Random Trini : Nah, just tell meh wat good. <Probably suggests Paella, Spanish Tortilla, Spicy Sausage and Cheese Tortilla, Morcilla Frita >
  • Random Trini : Wat allyuh have to drink? Ack-chally gimme a Stag
  • Trini Waiter : You ent want to try a glass ah wine?
  • Random Trini : Which part of a Stag have wine in it?
  • Trini Waiter : Aight, one Stag  < Brings out food>
  • Random Trini : <Sees food> Ah tort, you say it was Spanish food. Dis ting looking like a small bowl of Pelau, fry egg with onion and tomatoes, some meat and cheese pie and puddin. What de hell is dis??
  • Trini Waiter < Sighs in exasperation, at the thought of even explaining the whole thing> : It only looking like that, but the taste different.
  • Random Trini : Aight <Eats everything in 25 nanoseconds> … yuh have more? But wait … how much dem ting cost? <Waiter shows price list> … but wat the hell … you want to charge me $250 for some blasted small bowl of Pelau, fry egg with onion and tomatoes, some meat and cheese pie and puddin – allyuh must be frigging kidding, dis is a blasted joke
  • Trini Waiter : Look, dis is ah foreign ting … if you wanted pie, pelau and what not, then head down main road Chaguanas and get 4 doubles and an Apple J, but dis is how it is here. K?
  • Random Trini <grumbles> : Aight, nah. Fine, fine, fine ….

Some tapas are “creativo”, in that they don’t follow the “tipico” menu. For instance, I had “Curry Chicken with Cous Cous” as a Tapa … it wasn’t bad, but the Spanish should stick to ham and paella. They do those well!

This was part of a much larger array of Tapas that were ordered. The Tapas spread also included Paella Mixto, Potatoes and Pork in Mustard sauce, Potatoes in Hot Sauce and Chicken & Cous Cous  as well as house wine. The price for all that food was about €20, which was quite reasonable, when the glass of wine was included.

After all that wine and food, a digestive walk was required. A guide mentioned that there was a Flamenco demonstration being put on by the local government as part of a cultural awareness program. The fact that it happened to be free and was set in a beautiful monastery was just part of the norm. Free, good culture … one can’t really go wrong with that!

The previous night, some of the hostellers went out to see another Flamenco show, and it basically resembled a cow clattering on boards. The performance on this night was spectacular, which when combined with a gorgeous setting made for a very good night of Sevilla culture

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