Ladino in MadridPosted: 2011/05/14
Text: Ada Aharoni
My Grandmother Regina and my mother Fortunee spoke Ladino between them, especially when they didn’t want us children to understand. Ladino is the old Spanish language of the 15th century, which the Jews kept when they fled from the cruel Spanish Inquisition, to Turkey. I tell this story in my poem To Izmir, to Izmir (see below).
When my late husband Haim and I were in Madrid, as we did not know modern Spanish, we spoke in Ladino. People stopped in the street and looked at us in wonder and asked: “Where are you from?” It was as if somebody in England started speaking Shakespeare’s English today, with the “Thee” and the “Thou” instead of “you”!
Haim answered: “We are the ghosts who fled from the cruel Inquisition during King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella’s reign, in the 15th century.” And I added, “And we have come back to visit you!”
A whole crowd of people surrounded us curiously and begged: “Please speak some more, and do you know any songs of that time?” We did, and we sang the one I mention in my poem “Izmir.” They looked at us in awe, as if we had fallen from the sky! More people joined us, and one of them said, “I am a Professor of Linguistics at the Spanish Consecho in Madrid, and if you kindly agree to accompany me to my office at the University, I would love to record you on tape. It will help us to trace the roots of the development of our Spanish language.”
We agreed, and we spent a delightful afternoon with him and his family. They loved the song we sang in old Spanish: “El Pasharo vola, El Korasson yora, Yora mi alma yora, no te deshan vivir, Tenemos mala gentes – no te deshan vivir! The Bird flies, the heart cries, weep my soul weep for there are bad people who do not let us live!”
Near the end of our visit the Professor kindly said, “You are truly Spanish citizens, this land is yours, you should come and live with us here is Spain!” I laughed and said, this is what my ancestor Regina thought, but she had to run away and leave everything behind, and it happened again and again in our Jewish history. During the Holocaust in Europe, in mid-century in Egypt and the other Arab countries. Now we have a real home of our own in Israel, and you are invited to visit us, and we will visit you. However, the Ladino language and the wonderful Spanish culture, songs and poems will always live in our hearts.
TO IZMIR, TO IZMIR
By Ada Aharoni – in celebration of the saving of the Jews of Spain by Turkey, more than 500 years ago
In Toledo, more than 500 years ago
my great, great, great grandmother Regina,
fleeing the Inquisition’s torture wheels
poured her Spanish tears into velvet black veil
and sailed over the crimson waves
with thousands of sisters and brothers to Izmir, to Izmir
She had to leave behind her beloved illuminating poems,
her ancient Bible and golden painted Haggada,
her father’s illustrious scientific parchments –
her whole Spanish Golden past floating on Golden Fleece,
as she sailed with the stars to Izmir, to Izmir
The bird stopped flying – “El Pasharo vola”
the heart stopped crying – “El Korasson yora” –
as it preened its traumatic feathers
and nestled cosily on quaint new roof
of beautiful, warm Izmir.
The Turkish mosaic haven lavished filigree hospitality
sheltering a new hope in Regina’s honey eyes
on the azure, silvery shores of Izmir, Izmir
Suddenly Regina’s beautiful, noble figure
stands majestically before me
whispering a Ladino message:
“What we should be celebrating today
is the saving of a quarter of a million
of our brothers and sisters, more than
500 years ago by brave Turkey,
and not the cruel expulsion by Spain…”
I listen closely, nod and write this poem.
Now Regina smiles again as we fly together
over the wide open gates of Izmir, of Izmir,
on the way to peace in golden Jerusalem.
To Izmir, to Izmir is put to music by Yigal Alfassi and is beautifully sung in Hebrew by Revital Levanon, a Yemenite singer in Israel, on my CD To Haim – To Life: Love Poems.