When I got scammed by the rosemary women of Córdoba
Do you believe in fortune tellers? Those, who gaze into crystal balls and predict the next big thing in your life. Or those, who read the lines on your forehead or palms to inform you that you’re in for a heartbreak. Or for that matter, do you get curious whilst biting into a fortune cookie, which comes with your cuppa? If yes, then you’d probably be on my side when I tell you that I was curious to meet up with the Rosemary Women of Córdoba, Spain. A quick Google search on Córdoba will familiarise you with the tricks of these ladies. Or let that be; travel to the streets facing Mezquita Cathedral de Córdoba, and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Mezquita is one of the most popular spots here, and it deserves more than one visit. It’s impossible to not fall in love with the great mosque, surrounded by orange, cyprus and palm trees. During the two days we spent in the city, we visited the UNESCO protected monument; it was originally constructed in 785!
Around the outskirts, are souvenir shops, each selling the same wares. And in one corner stand the Rosemary Women. My partner and I ran into them several times, whether we were picking up knick-knacks or deciding upon which restaurant to stop by for some grapes. Their faces became familiar to us, although they didn’t seem to be bothered about telling one tourist from the other.
Colloquially, they are referred to as the gypsy ladies who will offer you a gift. As you walk down a street, near the cathedral, a woman would emphatically give you a fresh rosemary sprig. Next, the woman will grab your hand and start to make predictions. Of course, a minute later, before you can realise what’s going on, she’ll ask you for money for the gift!
The old trick used to be to put a carnation into a gentleman’s top pocket and then remove the contents (from the pocket) when told they didn’t want it.
I always read thoroughly about a place before a visit so, of course, I was familiar with this common travel scam in Europe. Yet, I fell into their trap, voluntarily. Well, curiosity has its reasons for existence and needs to be satisfied, right? So, as we walked out from a restaurant, having eaten enough paella and indulged in a live salsa dance performance by men only (their gorgeous moves made the women dancers appear amateurish); a gypsy lady grabbed my hand. As I tried to refuse to accept the rosemary (you’ve got to pretend at least), she started to talk about my career goals, marital bliss, health challenges, and more. Blabbering in broken English, the predictions ticked a few boxes — lame, applicable for all, and ah, predictable.
Our hands parted merely 45 seconds later and she demanded the money, settling for a few coins. I obliged. “I am not going to be cooking, with the herbs in the kitchen,” I told her, “You may take it back!” She threw it on the floor and headed back to her group to continue chatting, yawning.
I lift the sprig, dust it off, and leave it to dry in the pages of a book.
So, who are these women? They have been up to these tricks for years; they’ve moved on from heather to rosemary. They aren’t particularly interested in making money. They simply stand there in tiny groups and chat. They don’t even want to shift spots, in the hope of attracting a new set of tourists. They move, only if they wish to soak in the warmth of the sun. They don’t care if they approach you more than twice, they are not making any notes.
You can successfully ignore them, gracias. Or you can give in and become part of a tradition, a scam and a trick by parting away with a few coins.
What would you choose?
This piece was first published in Khaleej Times.