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Judith Cohen checks in from Rome, Barcelona, Palma …

I get so little news about Jewish life or celebrations in Europe, and even fewer fun to read, that I requested permission from Jewish ethnomusicologist/chanteuse extraordinaire, Judith Cohen to reprint this message sent this morning to the Jewish-Music mailing list about her recent travels with her daughter, Tamar Adams:

hi, I'm here and there in Rome and Spain without a lot of internet access. … Tamar and I had a few interesting experiences singing and giving workshops—all-Sephardic (with a touch of Balkan and Yiddish) in Rome—from our base housed by the organization who invited us—in what seemed to be a converted cell, at a convent hostal next to the Vatican and opening onto a wonderful open street fruit and vegetable market.. The little bespectacled Rumanian (originally) nun who directed the place could occasionally be spotted driving an equally little car, with fierce determination, in the mad traffic around the Vatican—once, from the bus, I caught sight of her caught in a typical Roman snarl of vehicles waving her arms in the air over the steering wheel and shouting (apparently) imprecations which, regretfully, I couldn;t hear…. She had also made an agreement with the scruffy little bar next door to give convent guests coffee and a croissant every morning, and, to their own surprise, they turned out to have wifi which the owner's son had installed and forgotten about.

I visited the main synagogue to look at it, very imposing, but someone suggested to me that the melodies were more interesting at the small synagogue very few people know exists (so I won;t say here on the list where it is); there were very few people at it for Kabbalat Shabbat but those who were there did indeed sing pleasant melodies very tunefully . If anyone's going to Rome and is interested, ask me offlist.

I happened to be in Madrid for the historical first-ever lighting of a Hanukia in a public space. The "Gran Rabino" (Sephardic) of Israel was there, and did the main berakhot, which the local main rabbi translated into Spanish, mostly for the benefit of the curious neighbourhood people walking babies and dogs in the twilight. The music was loud, blaring Israeli music blasted over loudspeakers—Israeli dance tunes and songs in pop arrnagements. Most Jews in Madrid are Sephardic, or if Ashkenazi often Argentinian, and automatically joining hands to dance a basic hora doesn;t seem part of their background. Especially since the most traditional dance in Spain, which most people can do, the jota, is done in couples with hands free. A few made some desultory stabs at it and I joined in but it never really happened. The youth group had been advertised in the little programme as presenting "traditional Israeli dances", they showed up early and appeared to be practicing some routine but in fact they never did it. Finally, a non-Jewish recreational folk dance group showed up and set up their own iPod+loudspeakers system with a programme of Israeli dances they'd prepared for the occasion (they weren't invited, just heard about it), so I danced with them for an hour or so—the Jews didn't stick around for this.

Tamar and I did a concert for one of the three Hanuka events in Barcelona on the first night, in a community arts centre where Jewish events have not been held before; it was full, with about 50 people on the street who couldn't get in, and a lot of fun; we dug up some dreidls and invited the little kids in the audience to come up in stage and play with them whenever we sang relevant songs.

Today in Palma, back to my usual Spain favourite activity—off to do some fieldwork in a village here in Mallorca where a friend has found an 85-year old woman (not Jewish) no one has ever recorded here (and that's hard—a lot of field work happens in Mallorca) and whose family wants me to record her songs; so I'm charging the camcorder battery, then being picked up for Shabbat lunch by a Turkish Sephardic woman I met last night, who'll then take me out to the village…. Home a week from today (and hoping York U's strike, which has cut out my pay cheque since November, is over.).