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An Excerpt from the Manolo’s Forthcoming Autobiography, Super Fantastic
Manolo says, the earliest memories of the little tiny Manolo were of shoes, beautiful, glittering women�s shoes on the feets of beautiful, glittering womens striding past the little Manolo as he sat on the sidewalk in front of the Teatro de la Zarzuela in Madrid begging pitiably for the alms. Perhaps the little Manolo, he was four or five years old, the age at which the young gypsy children are first taught the dark arts of survival.
Yes, it is true, the Manolo was born into the family of itinerant Calé, gypsies who roamed the countryside dancing, singing, begging, sometimes stealing, for their next meal. And when the time arrived for the tiny Manolo to be put out onto the sidewalk, the hat by his elbow, the look of carefully cultivated despair upon his little face, he proved to be the tiny master of mendication, one who was capable of stirring up the most tender emotions in those who passed by.
During those earliest years, the family of the Manolo it was the happy one. The little Manolo, he was the thirteenth of the fourteen children of the Maria Jesus and the Gustavo Blavatsky, the next to the last save his tiniest brother, the evil Maximo.
Who, you may ask, were these parents of the Manolo? The Gustavo Blavatsky, he was indeed not the ordinary gypsy father. Although many may have doubted it, he was the full-blooded Polish aristocrat, the bankrupted count exiled from his home in the years following the War of the Second World. Twice, the unlucky Gustavo was forced to flee Poland, first from the scourge of the Nazis in 1938, and then, at the end of the war from the hated communists. The second time, he found himself in Sevilla, where he supported himself by tap-dancing in the manner of the Nicholas Brothers on the corners of the streets for spare change, the skill he had learned in what could be called the “unconventional” childhood. However, it is needless to say, that in the impoverished Spain of the Franco, the market for the tap-dancing, exiled and bankrupted Polish counts was not strong. And so he would have moved on, perhaps to Tangiers, or Marseille, except he had, at the first sight, fallen in love with the Maria-Jesus, the soon-enough-to-be mother of the Manolo.
What is there to say about the Maria-Jesus, except that she was the great Roma beauty of the dark flashing eyes, the billowing skirts, and the fiery temper. The Gustavo was smitten from the first instant he saw her, near the Alameda de Hercules, attempting to work the elaborate grift involving the be-manged elderly monkey and the wallet of the unsuspecting passerby. Moony-eyed, the Gustavo gaped at the beauty of the Maria-Jesus, blowing for her the gaff. She angrily retaliated by trying to pick his pocket of threadbareness, only to find instead his great poverty and manifest confusion. Out of pity she took him home, as one takes in the lost dog, to feed and care for. And so the Count Gustavo Blavatsky, the handsome payo man of honesty, honor, and cheerful stupidity was adopted by the Romani, the thing so rare as to be almost unheard of, although there was perhaps never one less suited to the life of the gypsy.
Of the course, this it is not to say that the route of true love was without trouble. Indeed, the very idea of the gitana girl in love with the gacho man was more than some, including the grandfather of the Manolo, could tolerate. Many were the attempts to keep the Gustavo and the Maria-Jesus apart, and many were the failures�they were both so terribly in the love. Yet, over time, Gustavo, who then lived in the caravan of the distant cousin, came to be accepted by the tribe and by the Manolo�s grandfather, and thus the wedding was arranged.
More than anything else, it was perhaps the way the not-yet-the-father of the Manolo rode that won for him the respect and love of the Manolo’s grandparents. Almost from the beginning of time, the family of the Manolo had two disgraceful horses to pull the caravans, Bruja the Unmanagable Mare, and Beto the Accidental Gelding. Many were the times the Manolo could remember when the Gustavo would unhitch the Bruja, and ride her into the nearest village to fetch back the necessities. He sat the mare in his own peculiar fashion, not like the slumping, barely aboard gitano, nor like the arrogant Spanish hidalgo born to the mount, but instead he rode as if he were leading the futile charge against the phalanx of panzers tanks, as straight and grim as the ghoul of reaping, racing down the road at full roar. The man such as this was to be respected and valued for his sterling qualities, even if they did not lay in the direction of the dance.
So this unconvetional match between the straight-backed outsider and the beautiful gitana was arranged and consummated, and within the prescribed number of months the Maria Jesus was with the child who would become the first born of this unlikely and impoverished pair. They named him Gustavo, like the father, and the father of the father before that, for the simple reason that he would someday inherit the title Blavatsky, the title which had never, even in the best of the days, included more than the tumbledown great house and the marshy fields, the ancient toothless retainers, and the tradition of this name Gustavo.
Within the second year of this marriage, the second child was concieved, who appeared nine months later as the girl, more alert and lively than her stolid brother. And the year after that was the next child, and the next, and the next, each child more precious and precocious than the last, as if the dullness of the honest Pole had leaked away with each birth to be replaced by the quickness and temper of the gypsy. By the time the teeny Manolo made his entrance as the thirteenth in this blessed line, it was from all appearances the pure gitano baby that the midwife laid upon the now matronly bosom of the Maria-Jesus.
“Ayyyyyy! He shall be the dancer!” shouted the Abuelita of the Manolo, “Look at the feets!”
“Or the bull-fighter,” said the Grandfather when he was given the news, “He shall be Manolo, in honor of the Manolete!”
And the elder Gustavo, who had long before exhausted the supply of his family names, agreed to this; agreed with the silent shoulder shrugging gesture he had developed as the put-upon father of the dozen unruly half-gitano children.
And there was joy in the encampment.