The Italians have the all best games

(Even if they can’t make a decent paella.)

One of Iberian nationalists’ myriad minor moronisms is the dispute about whether Modern Chess was invented by the Catalan, the Valencian (sounds like Giles Tremlett fell for Francisco Camps’ hospitality), or the Spanish Nation, each of them una, grande y ever so slightly slightly tiresome. However, it’s reasonable to suppose that “Italian” and other foreign traders living in “Cataloonia/Valencia/Spain” were responsible for a fair proportion of the innovations nowadays claimed as their own by the local rabbit-stranglers, having got around somewhat more. A simple Homeric ballad, first noted in 1605 and apparently based directly on Gallic models, throws a brief ray on contemporary beliefs. A knight returns disguised to his wife, and, in order to test her love, recounts that [he] has been killed by a man from Milan at a game resembling backgammon in the house of a Valencian Genoan, whose daughter right bitter wept, the slut:

Caballero de lejas tierras,
llegáos acá y paréis,
hinquedes la lanza en tierra,
vuestro caballo arrendéis.
Preguntaros he por nuevas
si mi esposo conocéis.
-Vuestro marido, señora,
decid ¿de qué señas es?
-Mi marido es mozo y blanco,
gentil hombre y bien cortés,
muy gran jugador de tablas
y también del ajedrez,
En el pomo de su espada
armas trae de un marqués,
y un ropón de brocado
y de carmesí al envés;
cabe el fierro de la lanza
trae un pendón portugués,
que ganó en unas justas
a un valiente francés.
-Por esas señas, señora,
tu marido muerto es;
En Valencia le mataron,
en casa de un ginovés,
sobre el juego de las tablas
lo matara un milanés.
Muchas damas lo lloraban,
caballeros con arnés,
sobre todo lo lloraba
la hija del ginovés;
todos dicen a una voz
que su enamorada es;
si habéis de tomar amores,
por otro a mí no dejéis.
-No me lo mandéis, señor,
señor, no me lo mandéis,
que antes que eso hiciese,
señor, monja me veréis.
-No os metáis monja, señora,
pues que hacerlo no podéis,
que vuestro marido amado
delante de vos lo tenéis.

The version collected by Kurt Schindler in the late 1920s makes the husband a dice man whose mortal game ends in a house of gypsies–another standard ethnic plot device–while other versions sensibly abandon the gambling motif altogether. I may sing some of them after lunch, interspersing ritornelli on the Valencian bagpipes.

Is Karpov & Kasparov a better or worse promotional deal for Valencia than Woody Allen was for Barcelona? Are the Russian (they don’t look Azerbaijani) ladies who appear to have followed the camp followers of the famous double act perhaps more to Mr Camps’ taste than la Cruz? Who actually gives a toss?

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