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Main > Spain folktales > Fairy tale "Good St. James, and the Merry Barber of Compostella"

Good St. James, and the Merry Barber of Compostella

Just close to the cathedral of Compostella lived a barber whose real name was Pedro Moreno, but who was better known by that of El Macho, “the mule,” because he was so stubborn that if he happened to be playing the guitar, he would not leave off though a dozen customers were waiting to be shaved. But in Spain a barber also applies leeches, draws teeth, and extracts corns, so that it was very annoying for a man who was suffering from tooth-ache, and wanted his tooth taken out or stopped, to have to wait until the barber had finished playing on the guitar.

He was also a soothsayer, and could repeat the whole of the prophetical Buena Dicha by heart. He was, in fact, the most useful man in Compostella, and had cultivated the art of shaving the face and head from the commencement which consists in watching the flies when standing close to the master who is showing off his skill on a customer, to being able to play the guitar with such proficiency that, holding the neck in his left hand and pressing the cords with the fingers, he shall, by thumping the instrument on the big toe of his left foot, cause it to vibrate the air of the immortal Cachucha or the Bolero, while with his right hand he plays the castanets.

A barber may have his brass chin-basins, which hang outside the door, burnished every day; his fly-catcher renovated every month; his bottles containing leeches nice and clean; and he may know all the scandal of the town, which is decidedly a part of his duty; but if he cannot play the guitar and the castanets at the same time—which he can only do by calling the big toe of his left foot into requisition—he must not be considered a barber of the first class. He may do for shaving poor priests and water-carriers; but he may not shave an abbot, nor an archbishop, still less a grandee of Spain, who may sit before the king with his hat on.

In other countries the position of a barber is somewhat less important than it used to be when cleanliness required of a man that he should appear at early mass on the Sunday well shaved; but in Spain, cleanliness of the face is a great recommendation, for a rough chin never earned kisses.

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