Along for the ride:

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Camargue, part II - Gypsies & Music

It is interesting and enriching to travel with others. Everyone has their own needs and desires, interests and passions. I was the instigator of our trip to the Camargue but there are aspects that I discovered and enjoyed through the eyes of my husband and our friends.
The old church of Ste Marie de la Mer is the resting place for much revered relics attributed to Mary Magdalene, Mary Salome and Mary Jacob, dating back to the time after the ascension of Jesus when close members of His entourage sailed away, crossing the Mediterranean and coming ashore here.  The well in the church is noted for its water's healing powers and part of the yearly ritual of the Parade of Statues takes them back down into the ocean from whence they came.
There are several stories connected to the dark faced Saint Sarah, (Sara-la-Kali), Patron Saint of Gypsies. I choose to believe the legend that holds Saint Sarah to be the local Christianized manifestation of the Indian Goddess "Kali". I learned that Gypsies or Roma are descended from musicians who were sent from India as a gift from one Royal Court to another. They have always been nomadic and colorful. Today the Romany language is still very much alive and serves to communicate when Gypsies gather from many diverse countries. I like the parallel with the older Catholics who have Latin as a common tongue.
Guitar music, singing and dancing are spontaneous and everywhere. Crowds surge and merge and the servers in the cafes find time to clap the flamenco rhythms between customers. There is not a free corner anywhere. 
On the evening after the Parade of Saints we managed to get a terrace table in the "Felibre" restaurant, across the square from the Church of Ste Marie. The clientele was a mixture of locals, tourists and Gypsies. There were many guitars and a song would begin and be answered back and forth with solo moments of prideful finger work hailed by appreciative applause and many "Ole! Ole!" encouragements.
There was a large group at one table inside the restaurant. In the center was a very old man in a snappy white suit. His shoulder-length hair was as white as his clothes and startling against his hazel-nut skin. The guitar players were taking turns to kneel at his feet and play. I fully expected the guitars to begin smoking any minute from the friction of their fingers.
Again I learned something new. This man was Manitas de Plata, (Little Hands of Silver), now in his nineties, a French Gypsy born in a rolling caravan, who has played Carnegie Hall and achieved International acclaim. For him the respect of his fellow people was as important as his many successful albums and he was there with them to share in tradition. 



  1. What nice memories. I can almost feel the atmosphere through your words.

  2. This is a lovely and transporting piece of writing. And, one of the places I would love to see in person if one day my kiddies could ever get finished with school.