Big, Fat, Gypsy anecdotes (2)

My Italian-American friend was moving back to the States and had to get rid of the contents of a fully-furnished flat at very short notice. He asked me if I wanted to buy a massive plasma screen telly (which I couldn’t afford), or if I knew anyone who could house a vast coffee table, a double bed, a bathroom’s worth of towels and a load of cooking implements. Being half Italian he had everything a kitchen could possibly need: a mini-grill, strainers, drainers, pasta-makers, shot-glasses (which I graciously accepted but have never used), rolling pins, wooden spoons, garlic-crushers, wooden toast extractors, suede pan-holders, bottle-stoppers for those bottles of wine you allegedly open but don’t finish, chefs’ aprons with the logo of Tuscan cookery schools on the front, above illustrations of fat-faced cherubs, oven-gloves, slicers, dicers, graters, shakers, every implement you could imagine.

‘I’ve got books, dvds, sheets, cushions, I don’t know what the hell to do with it all,’ he said. ‘I don’t even care if people can give me cash or not, or if they give me whatever they can afford, except for the tv.  I need to sell the tv, I can’t give that away, it cost a fortune. I just don’t want to leave it for the landlord, he’s a mean old bastard, he wriggled his way out of giving us back the deposit, like they always do. I don’t want him making money out of us.’

‘How about giving it to a charity?’ I suggested. ‘I’m working at the Gypsy Charity, I can ask if they have some kind of system if you like, I’m sure they’d come and pick it up for you. Someone must be able to use all of that stuff.’

‘Gypsies?!’ he exclaimed incredulously. ‘Are you kidding me? They can all drop dead, they’re not getting a thing out of me, I’d rather build a big fire and burn the lot of it.’

He lived in the heart of tourist night-life Madrid, in a busy street between Huertas and Sol.

‘Do you know how many times those fuckers have robbed me and my girlfriend round here?’

‘Yeah, and me too, I’ve been robbed, but isn’t that just a bit racist? And this charity is to help them get educated and integrated so they can work, and so they stop-‘

‘Nope.’ He was adamant. One of the most compassionate and kind people I know was intransigent on this point.

‘Fuck ‘em. No way am I giving anything to some Gippo charity. Like I said, I’d rather burn it.’

‘Todos somos un poco racistas’ (We are all a little bit racist) one Spanish saying goes. And I am not claiming moral superiority over anyone. Once, in Tirso de Molina, which twenty years ago was nothing like the cheery, terrace-lined plaza full of flower beds and water features that it is today, in the days when you had to step over clapped-out junkies shooting up in doorways to get to your hostal, I was accosted by a mournful gypsy woman while climbing the stairs with my mother and a male friend.

‘Please…’ she moaned, her head on one side and one hand outstretched pitifully, clutching at my skirts, while the other furtled, unnoticed, in my handbag, ‘Please, give me some money, just a few pesetas, so I can eat, I’m hungry, please help me, for the love of God….’ Our male companion chased her down the stairs with a sharp cry of,

‘Oi, fuck off, you!’ My mother was as equally outraged by the hammy acting as by the sneaky attempted robbery.

The only time I have ever had a knife pulled on me was when I was a student, living in Madrid. One of the few places then where you could buy hashish was near Plaza Santa Ana, now a gentrified tourist-trap, crammed with café tables, accordion-wielding buskers and scuttling waiters, overlooked by a sleek, plastic-fronted hotel, alledgedly owned by some supermodel’s boyfriend. Back then it was dark and sleazy, like much of Madrid, badly-lit, with figures lurking in doorways and in the shadows. A friend and I went to score there, and a teenage gypsy dealer sold us some hash, except he refused to give us the change from our note, when we had haggled the price with him down to a reasonable one. In reply to our protests, he pulled out a small and rather pathetic pen knife, but a knife nevertheless. We backed off, obviously. It was not worth getting stabbed over 300 pesetas. I remember not being particularly scared, more surprised. It was the way he did it, he just showed us the blade, looked at it, and then back at us, hardly a lunge for the jugular- more of a nod and a wink. I could use this on you, you know. Don’t make me, but I could.

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