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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Excerpt from a Book with Staying Power

Spanish Mountain Life
Juliette de Bairacli Levy
#3 in series
Ash Tree Publishing
Available at

Note: Because this book is a re-release, The New Book Review is publishing an excerpt from titled The Gypsies to give readers a taste of why it has the staying power it does:

Oh, that flamenco singing of the night of Saint Juan!  The age-old passion and frenzy and grief of the Moors within, and without, the howl of the winds from barren Spanish plains and mountain heights, the croon of mountain streams and pouring fountains. And the beat of the tambours: tambours for war and tambours for love.

Not one of the family of the water-mill came to visit Luz that night. Patrocinio, who had mothered my baby for nearly two months and must know that she was passing from life, was too busy selling wine and soda drinks to the people making fiesta. Alone, SeƱor Jose came faithfully to bring me water from the fountain, and to carry Rafik — who was overcome by sleep while enjoying the revelry — from the courtyard to his bed.

The old woman, El Antigua, came around midnight with her daughter, declaring that I should not be alone at such a time. The daughter, Pura, told me that her own child, Carmen, had been abandoned by the doctors but had recovered.  I knew Carmen well and admired her for her vivacious nature and the brightness of her singing as she washed clothes in the river. Pura said that she would send for Carmen to confirm this and thus to give me faith.

Carmen came later, around one in the morning, and confirmed her mother’s account of her near death, and told me that she had a premonition that Luz, also, would not die.  Then the Gypsies left my room for I told them that I would not steal their sleep; I knew they all had work to do on the morrow; and furthermore Rafik was company. No matter that he was asleep; my little lad was company and also inspiration.  I was inspired! The baby had much pain from the weeks of faulty diet and improper care. Her pain had kept her from sleep for a day and a night. I suddenly bethought myself of a group of white opium poppies which I had seen in flower in the upper mill garden. Those poppies were certainly part of that night of Saint Juan, for they died away then and never came again, while I was at the water-mill, and I don't remember seeing them in flower before. I made a brew of the gray-green heads from which the white petals had fallen, and gave Luz sips of that medicine mixed with honey. This very quickly lessened the pain, but I knew that it was a desperate and dangerous medicine, for it made yet colder her already over-cold body. But she did not die. That night of Saint Juan she was as cold and white as the opium poppies themselves, but she did not die.

The next day she remained the same, but with the night, she suddenly worsened. That was the crisis. I remembered that the Gypsy Carmen had not died and she had promised that Luz would not die. I sent for the doctor, wanting him to check her heart and respiration; and then the great wound came to me.  He said, in quick Spanish to Patrocinio, that Luz was dying and she must be prepared for this.  Cuando?” (When?), I asked of him, and his face paled at my having heard his words and at the way my voice sounded.  “Any hour,” he replied, lowering his eyes.  I will not write about the symptoms of life’s ending which I saw upon my baby. But well I recall my quite childish words.  “I will not let her die!” I cried. I held Luz against my heart. I was like a child about to be deprived of a doll which she loved. I would not give her up to anyone; I would not.

Dr. Moran said that Luz must have penicillin injections.  That was a great test for me. I am absolutely opposed to injections. Always they are a shock to the body and do much damage to the nerves. Any medicine of any value at all should be able to be taken into the body by the mouth: the natural place for medicines. But penicillin is at least plantlike and was not evolved from cruel experiments on animals, therefore I agreed to that medical treatment.  I also continued with the opium medicine, and a further brew of dill seed with much honey, to save the tiny laboring heart. The following day a different  doctor suggested tissue infusions of the medicinal water of Lanjaron. To this, also, I agreed. Which part of the treatment saved the baby, I do not know. But she lived!  As with Rafik, so Luz’s illness also passed. The dawn came, the swallows twittered, and my baby lay safe in her Gypsy cradle. Personally, if I were to choose the treatments which I think most helped her, indeed saved her, it would be the three days’ fasting from all food, combined with an external treatment which I had learned a summer ago from Portuguese fisher-women, of massaging the stomach area time and again, night and day, with hot olive oil and pounded aniseed. To me, these were the most important remedies of all the many which kept my baby from death. And further:  Fervent prayer, and the good wishes of the Gypsies who came to Luz that night of Saint Juan and thereafter, surely saved her.  When the crisis was one week ended, Rosario Heredia, an eighteen-year-old Gypsy girl, came to offer her milk for Luz. She had a son, Juan, born close to the same time as my baby. I remember the birth of Juan: I used to send gifts of goat’s milk for Rosario, who had been rather weak at that time. Luz fed at the gypsy’s breast for nearly one month, until Rosario’s milk became insufficient. It seemed to me a Gauguin picture: Rosario with Luz at her tawny breast, red geraniums in her charcoal-black Gypsy hair, her short strong body squatting — Native American-fashion — upon the green turf by the mill-stream in the shade of the quince trees, which were at that time decorated with their pale green-yellow lamps of fruit. Rosario sang to Luz, songs almost as endless as the chant of the coursing mill-stream, Gypsy songs and other songs of Spain. The one which Luz seemed to like best and which Rosario sang most often was a sweet and simple thing:

Oh green eyes! Green as the eyes of cows,

Green as the first tassels of the wheat

And green as the early lemons.

Rosario had none of the sweetness and kindliness of my other Gypsy friend Maria of the basket-makers. Rosario was tawny and fierce as a tiger; perhaps she reminded me of a tiger because she preyed on others. She was an incurable monger — a Gypsy word for beggar. She came from a mongering family. From her equally tiger-like but very tall mother to her youngest sister, all pestered me for money and articles which I was often in need of for my own family. I never gave to that begging family one peseta. But to Rosario I gave a new green apron, and a green and white skirt which she chose, of exactly the same material and pattern as my own.  We looked like sisters when we went into the town together!  And I gave her also a gaudy scarf such as the Gypsies love, for her milk had greatly helped my baby.  I found Rosario intelligent and humorous and I loved to talk with her because, as with most mongerers, her speech was fanciful. For instance, she told me once of another water-mill which was to be rented. She described a paradise!

 Excerpt from Spanish Mountain Life

By Juliette de Bairacli Levy

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