The Language of Fanspeak

It sang. It danced. It conveyed passion and despite its silence I knew exactly what it said. I was mesmerized. Enchanted. Curious.

It was my first Flamenco performance and I’d selected an intimately sized Seville venue frequented less by tourists and more by locals. The ensemble’s guitar playing, singing and dancing remain my favorite performance of the many I’ve seen since, but it was a single dance – the choreography of woman and fan that took my breath away.

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Fans originated in Egypt. It was the Japanese who invented the folding fan. Portugal imported the first fans to Spain who remains one of the few European countries that still manufactures them. You see them in shop windows in the touristy areas of Madrid and Barcelona but I waited to see learn more about them in southern Spain and in particular Seville and the surrounding Andalusian area where the fusion of Moors, Castilian settlers, Romani and Jewish cultures birthed the authentic form of Spanish Flamenco. I wanted to know how that fan spoke to me.

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It was in Ronda that I finally ventured into a small store artfully displaying handmade Spanish fans, still awestruck by the Seville performance. The owner and his wife were artists and their shop a loving tribute to the art form of hand fans.

I told him about the performance in Seville. “Fans,” he said, “communicate a language about relationships and were used by women back in the day to send messages. A good Flamenco dancer doesn’t just use the fan as a prop, she uses it as an extension of herself.”

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He tried to tell me how to do it, but I needed him to demonstrate. He willingly did. I learned the snap of a fan is all about the action of wrist and the first two fingers. That fan action can be fast and slow, each conveying a different message. That placement when open is important.

  • Open fan over the chest showing the design “Yes”
  • Open fan over the chest showing the back “No”
  • Open fan covering one of the cheeks “I like you”
  • Wave fan very fast: “I really like you”
  • Wave fan very slowly: “I am not interested”
  • Open fan covering your nose “I want to see you”
  • Open fan covering your chin “I want to talk to you”
  • Closed fan near the heart: “I love you”
  • Open fan placed over lips: “Kiss me”
  • Close fan waving; “I am thinking about it”
  • Hit close fan against hand “Leave me alone”
  • Open and close the fan: “I am upset”
  • Open fan waving energetically on one side “Don´t come now, other people around”

I bought a moderately priced gray and black fan signed by its Spanish artist that I use on hot days; flicking it back and forth in front of my face – the only practical use of a hand fan in 2016. So far, nobody has ever interpreted my fanspeak.


India: Waiting For The Train With A Cow

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This is a train station in India. Yes, that’s a cow in the foreground snoozing among sleeping passengers. My fellow board members from The India Project (I’ve posted about my work with them here, here and here) have been in the country over the past few weeks checking up on the families we support. Has the drought subsided? Mostly, but in Khajuraho where many of the families live the crops were destroyed and they have no other means of support. How are they coping medically? There were a variety of heat related medical issues and without our medical support families would have gone untreated. Are all the children back attending school after the holiday break? Yes. And with luck our first student will graduate from high school this year.

We back here in the states have been making decisions as updates have been coming in – authorizing rent for a family who was evicted from their home, medical coverage for one new baby and another on the way and struggling with ideas to help the adults become self-sufficient wage earners in an economy that discriminates against their caste and has little work for anyone who is illiterate.

If you’re interested in finding out more about our project and donating to our work, the link is here.

The in-India team sent this photo of their transportation around the country. India’s train system is almost entirely government owned. It’s the third largest rail system in the world serving 7500 stations. On any given day 20 million people are traveling by train; most of them in the class called General Compartment. There’s no air conditioning in those cars. Wooden benches. And they pack passengers in forcing them to sit in aisles and luggage racks if the benches are full. I suspect the cow isn’t traveling anywhere; the train station was just a good place to people watch.