Ann Tashi Slater

Gypsy Cante

Inside my mother’s clos­et it was cool and dim. Everything fell away: the sound of raised voic­es, clos­ing doors. I’d breathe in the musky scent of a pash­mi­na embroi­dered with vines and lilies, run my fin­gers over a bead­ed clutch the azure of the Himalayan sky—things my moth­er brought from India when she board­ed the plane that long ago day in the 50s and flew to America. I’d look through her jew­el­ry: a bracelet with prayer wheel and bud­dha charms; a tear-shaped turquoise pen­dant her father gave her when she left for New York; a Tibetan coral-and-sil­ver amulet, worn for pro­tec­tion on a jour­ney. Nestled in her silk scarves, my moth­er always kept a bar of Myrurgia’s Maja soap, wrapped in the dis­tinc­tive red-and-black paper with a fla­men­co dancer on the label. Because my father—an American my moth­er met in med­ical school—had been sta­tioned at the Rota naval base, near Cadiz and the Strait of Gibraltar, I was born in Spain and we stayed there for two years. I remem­bered noth­ing of those days but I’d heard sto­ries: My par­ents drank fino sher­ry in bars and ate tapas made from tiny spar­rows and wild boar. On warm evenings, the lev­ante wind blow­ing in from the sea, they chat­ted with friends on their jas­mine-wreathed patio. They spent New Year’s Eve in the 15th-cen­tu­ry con­vent hotel at the Alhambra in Granada, gaz­ing out over the moon­lit Moorish gar­dens. But after we moved back to the States, there were arguments—over mon­ey, how the chil­dren should be raised, my father’s love of intel­lec­tu­al dis­cus­sion vs. my mother’s love of cock­tail par­ties. My father began spend­ing more and more time at his office. I’d sit in my mother’s clos­et and inhale the Maja fra­grance of vetiv­er, rose, gera­ni­um, clove, and dream of my par­ents in Rota: my father hand­some in his Navy uni­form, my moth­er slim and love­ly in one of the suits she’d had made in Jerez de la Frontera. I’d hear the fla­men­co records my father still played, the yearn­ing gyp­sy cante from Andalusia, the south of Spain, where I was born and my par­ents had been happy.


Ann Tashi Slater’s work has appeared or is forth­com­ing in Shenandoah, Gulf Coast, fail­bet­ter, and Kyoto Journal, as well as in American Dragons (HarperCollins), an anthol­o­gy of work by Asian American writ­ers. Her trans­la­tion of a novel­la by Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas was pub­lished in Old Rosa (Grove). She is work­ing on a mul­ti-gen­er­a­tional nov­el based on the Tibetan side of her fam­i­ly and a trav­el mem­oir, from which “Gypsy Cante” is tak­en. A long­time res­i­dent of Tokyo, Slater teach­es American lit­er­a­ture at a Japanese uni­ver­si­ty. Visit her web­site and her Huffington Post blog.