ON THE MARRANO TRAIL
March 28, 2007
Train between Lisboa and Porto
We’re traveling to Porto and will be there this evening for the launching of the first ever Tanach in Portuguese. I am singing at this launching, just as last night in Lisboa. I’m traveling with Yaakov Gladstone, the powerhouse behind getting this whole trip happening and Manuel Lopes Azevedo the President in Lisbon of the Friends of the Marranos and blogger of Ladina a site for Portuguese Jewish history. Manuel is an amazingly knowledgeable person who also gives tours on Jewish history in Portugal and traces his ancestry to the Azores. Seeing the two of them work together in support and nurturing of the Marrano community in Portugal has been very inspiring and exciting.
The launching last night was a great success. There was a talk by the translator from Sao Paolo, Brazil, Jairo Freidlin and then I performed some Ladino songs. First Avram Avinu, a song that some people in the audience knew. I thought it would be interesting to start with the father of the Jewish people, especially because there were many present who had never heard Ladino music. There were many Marranos in the audience as well as people from the Orthodox Jewish community in Lisbon. As it turned out, some who were there came up to us afterwards tentatively and curiously asking and expressing a deep, unexplainable thirst for knowledge about Judaism. The Avram Avinu was first in an improvisatory style, low and high to challenge the listeners into deep and different places inside themselves.
The launching was in an auditorium/café in the music department store of a large shopping center in a hip part of downtown Lisbon (FNAC) and during the singing I saw many young Lisbonites (alfacinhas) peeking in from the store and standing there to see what was happening. There was a crowd of at least 80.
The next song was Moshe salio de Misrayim from Tetuán, telling the story of the burning bush and the ten plagues, ending with a line in Hebrew praising Gds mercy. This one I performed with a small drum I have from New Mexico. This small drum shows the syncretism we’re dealing with always in Sephardic culture. This drum is used by Crypto-Jews in New Mexico, and to show audiences the breadth of our adaptability, I have included it in the repertoire. It’s a tiny little drum of wood and leather.
I finished with La Serena another favorite in the Ladino repertoire. This song is an allegory of the seeker and the Shechina (the feminine presence of Gd).
One of the young men from the Marrano synagogue came up to me and said, you are like Porto, you get better with time! It put a smile on my face. I had sung a couple of songs the night before at their synagogue when I was terribly exhausted from just having arrived from Los Angeles on an 18-hour trip and after touring around downtown Lisbon all day. I guess the night’s sleep did me some good!
A young woman came up to me and said she was still trembling. She was going through a deep personal Pesaj and had had such a hard day. She said the songs just shocked her into the center of her self and gave her strength to continue. She was so grateful and enthusiastic and wanted to stay in touch, she took my information and gave me hers. All the cds I brought sold quickly.
Afterwards I was told that the President of the Jewish Community was taking many pictures and filming the whole performance. I hope he sets us up for meals for the last days of Pesaj!
Yesterday I was at the old synagogue of Lisbon built in 1902. The Gates of Hope (Sha’arei Tikva) was not allowed to face the street because at the time it was built only Catholic Churches were allowed to face the street. So there is a metal gate, cameras and a doorbell with a mirrored window where they can look out to see who you are. What a beautiful old building. Wooden benches with people’s name on their seat (their makom kavua) filled the 3 levels. The first level for the men and the next 2 levels are for the women. The shamash, Antonio, that lives behind the synagogue is from a town close to Belmonte and he told me all the stories about the synagogue. The tree outside the synagogue is a Pomegranate tree that gives so much fruit around Rosh Hashana that they have to tie it up so that the branches don’t snap off. In the hatzer (courtyard) between the synagogue and the street there is a wall of plaques of dignitaries and past members, rabbis and presidents who have passed away. There is also a small box that says esperança and one that has Chai written in Hebrew.
We’re coming into Porto. I hope the press makes it tonight and we are able to really reach more and more people and touch their souls.
Translation and Midrash on La Serena
By Vanessa Paloma
If the sea were of milk
And boats were of cinnamon
I would stain myself completely
To save my banner.
If the sea were of milk
I would become a fisherman
I would fish out my pain
With words of love.
If the sea were of milk,
I would become a salesman
Walking and asking
Where does love begin?
In the sea there is a tower
In the tower is a window
In the window is a girl
Who loves sailors.
Give me your hand, dove
So I may come to your nest
Cursed are you that sleeps alone!
I come to sleep with you.
Don’t kill me with a knife
Nor with a revolver
Kill me with your love
I will die in your arms.
If the sea were made of milk—the sea is a representation of the unconscious in nature, the unrevealed, the hidden aspect of reality. Usually it is made of water, which symbolizes Torah, truth and knowledge. Milk symbolizes nurturing and life sustaining love of a mother to its child.
Boats were of cinnamon - Boats are what we are transported in—like Noah’s ark, a vessel, a container that floats on the great unconscious. Cinnamon was a symbol for the upright.
I would stain myself completely – Leave the safety of the vessel and throw myself into the great unconscious, nurturing entity.
To save my banner – for what I stand for, for my identity, and what defines who I am.
If the sea were of milk – the unconscious and the nurturing becomes almost a mantra that carries us through the first part of the song, it’s a recurring image.
I would become a fisherman – the fisherman is he who brings out treasures from the hidden world under the surface of the water. The one who dares venture out beyond the safety of the revealed land into the unknown and brings back sustenance from there.
I would fish out my pain – what is concealed is the hidden pain of the heart, it takes a risk out into the unknown to “fish it out.”
With words of love – the hooks or nets to catch the “hard to catch” (esquivo) effemeral pain are words that show caring, love and compassion.
If the sea were made of milk – the third time the image appears and now the person is getting to the depth of the issue, first it was identity, second it is to scratch beneath the surface and fish out pain with love, now it is about the origin of love. This is where we start to connect with the Source of All.
I would become a salesman – one who interacts with many people and effects an exchange, either just an exchange of words or one of goods for money.
Walking and asking – actively searching through the walk and asking those around me, not a passive waiting for the answer to come my way.
Where does love begin? – Who is the Source of All? What is the point of beginning of the salve that will heal the pain of my wounds and give me a clear identity?
In the sea there’s a tower – Here there’s a shift in the song, this is the answer to where love starts. Now we aren’t asking the question so much as trying to understand how to connect with the Source, the place where love starts. The Tower in the Sea represents the body. The Tower symbolizes the body as a recognizable entity that exists within the sea of hidden knowledge, of the unconscious.
In the tower there’s a window – the window is the point of transition between the body, the shell that conceals the Source of Love and that Source. The window might be the eye. Eyes are referred to as the windows to the soul. The window could also be the mouth. The mouth is considered to be the point of transition between the body and the soul. It is through speaking and singing that we are able to connect with a person’s inner world.
In the window there’s a girl – At this point of transition a girl, the soul/neshama, waits expectantly, hoping to connect and to answer the earlier question of where love starts.
Who loves sailors – the sailor is the seeker. The girl, the neshama, loves those who seek her to out connect with her and she peers out of the window in her tower hoping the seeker will be looking for her.
Give me your hand, dove – Help me reach you, by giving me a hand. Make for me a point of connection, oh dove/soul. The dove (paloma) is a symbol for the soul and for Israel that goes as far back as the poetry of Yehuda HaLevi in the middle ages. The dove, being a bird of peace, has an element of transcendence because it flies and soars beyond the confines of land.
So I may come to your nest – if you facilitate my reaching you then I can come to where you dwell. The nest is also a symbol for the place where the Messiah (Moshiah) awaits his coming. It is a place of unfulfilled potential, an incubator of sorts where potential is developing until the time it is ripe to manifest in the physical world.
Wretched are you that sleeps alone! – how unfortunate, oh dove, oh neshama, oh girl, oh soul that you are alone and I had not connected with you before. You must have endured years of loneliness and wondered if I would never come seeking for you.
I come to sleep with you. – now I am ready for the connection that you deserve and that you seek. I am coming to your nest, the chamber of my developing potential and sleeping with you so we may connect on the deepest levels available.
Don’t kill me with a knife – my transformation should not come in a searing realization, like the blade of a knife that cuts through what is.
Nor with a revolver – my transformation should not come through fire, like the gunpowder of a bullet that consumes what it penetrates.
Kill me with your love – my transformation, death (mystical ecstasy) should come only through your love. I want to reach the level of losing my very life in the transformation that will take place when we are intimate.
I will die in your arms – This connection will make me transcend the previous life that I knew. In your embrace, in your sexual, mystical ecstasy embrace, I will transform into the new me, discard my old self and become the new self you lead me towards.
This whole song shows spiritual awakening and the different stages that the person must go through to reach a point of spiritual transformation that culminates in mystical ecstasy. First there is a search for identity, then a confrontation of pain, finally a question of what is the Source of love. At this point the realization of the soul comes in to the song and the desire to connect with the soul, a sadness of the time lost and the excitement of finally consummating the connection. In the final stanza the seeker requests for this awakening to come through sweetness, through love and not through painful experiences.
ON THE MARRANO TRAIL