On a Sunday morning the Rastro, Madrid’s largest open-air market, stretches its fingers around the narrow, cobbled streets of the city’s oldest Barrio. Shops, before barely noticed under thick drapes of shade, push back their awnings and spread their wares upon the pavement. Stalls arise where the traffic has been and float like an Armada of little ships above a sea of swarthy Spanish faces, their sails a colourful clutter of shirts and shorts and leather jackets.
Each street has its speciality: furniture; handicrafts; clothing or bric-a-brac. Saints and scenes and dew-eyed girls are propped ten-deep in dusty piles, these gaudy splashes done in oils to keep the dark away.
One street is an exception. Framed at its entrance stands a goat and its three gypsy attendants. The goat is small, slightly cowered and with a high-arched back. It balances on a roughly lathed circle of wood barely broad enough to accommodate its feet, which in turn is perched on a tall wooden stool.
The goat does nothing, save for an occasional shuffle to secure its position, whilst all around it is frantic motion. The three acolytes pivot and sway, orbiting the creature in a trance too deep to be induced by the sun-strained jangling of a tambourine.
The street is otherwise empty, or at least the twist of shining cobbles stretching up a hill and out of view, hiding the tumble of overcrowded tenements and laundry filled courtyards which lie beyond. Few will pay the entrance toll that the guardians demand, though they doff a cap at every passing stranger. No one will enter without paying.
For this is the gypsy quarter, a place apart and older, it is said, than the city itself. And the little goat is the devil incarnate, though its eyes speak only of passive subjugation. It leads the dance, but it is not the desperate, drug induced jig of the Egyptians. It is a flamenco, a dance of avoidance, as passers-by and a whole city spin in pretty market dresses to avoid their hollow core.
An old man hurries by, struggling with a battered old instrument case. He understands. He pays. This is the shorter way home. These are the Roma people, their culture more ancient than the country itself. The hollow quarters of Spain are the chambers of its heart. And the heartbeat resonates as it tells the real story through the guitar, as this old man sits on his balcony and plays.
©2020 Andrew Grant
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Andrew Grant works with various local communities around the world whilst leading school overseas expeditions from the UK.