This is a guest post by Estefanía García Diaz, media creative, journalist and idocument maker.
In Spain sometimes, in the middle of a conversation we hear the name “Rita,” we invoke her, we ask her to grant us our wishes and we even delegate our duties to her. Most of us don’t know who this Rita is and more importantly, why she should bother to deal with our problems.
In fact, another thing we don’t know is that there are two different Ritas: a flamenco singer and an Italian saint.
ASK RITA (I)
Imagine someone asks you to do something you are not keen on, doing and you are offended at such request. What would you say?
The British are geniuses at polite understatements meaning “No”, but the Spaniards… We are a different breed. We are very likely to say something along the lines of:
“Eso a Rita la Cantaora” (“Ask Rita the Flamenco Singer”) or “Eso lo va a hacer Rita la Cantaora” (“Maybe Rita the Flamenco singer will do that for you, because I won’t.”)
But who is this poor Rita who is lumbered with everything we hate doing?
Rita Giménez García did exist and she was a Flamenco singer indeed. She was born in Jerez in 1859 and died in Castellón in 1937. Rita had an artistic career that spanned from her youth right through to three years before her death.
Flamenco is a rich art as it is sang and danced in different palos or styles and it is extremely difficult to master them all. According to critics of the time, Rita would sing or dance anything from the up beat, mood lifting bulería, to the really sad siguirya. Moreover she, being a generous artist, would comply with virtually any encore demanded from the audience, hence the origin of the saying “Ask Rita.”
At the beginning, this expression had a positive meaning as it made reference to Rita’s singing and dancing skills. She would be asked to perform any song because she would be able to do it brilliantly. However, nowadays “Eso a Rita la Cantaora” has a derogatory sense. Apparently, the connotation shift was due to sheer envy, as rival singers regarded her disposition to perform at the audience’s request as acts of obedience rather than generosity.
Let’s not forget that envy is arguably Spain’s capital sin. Incidentally, I found in Diario de Jerez this post about fellow singers envying Rita, which I translate: “Why is it that I am not surprised about her being envied? But I must admit I am also to blame. I bought a dishwasher and called it Rita, my kids asked me why would I call a domestic appliance that name. Because, I said, from now on Rita the Flamenco singer will wash up.”
ASK RITA (II)
“Santa Rita what has been given to me should not be taken away from me.” This is an expression often made by children meaning: “Give me back my toy”
This particular Rita to whom we address our prayers for our stolen goods never sang flamenco for she was a medieval Italian Saint: Saint Rita of Cascia or Margherita Lotti (1381-1457). She was a pious woman who was forced to marry a violent man at age 12. She had a hard life as she was beaten up by her husband on a regular basis. Her husband died in a fight and she decided to enter a convent. She then was attributed some miracles, became stigmata and was beatified in 1626, acquiring the reputation as a saint of impossible cases.
Legend has it that one day a damsel came to the saint’s sepulchre to ask for a husband. Santa Rita agreed to her request and granted her a boyfriend. The couple were about to get married when the groom suddenly changed his mind. This obviously angered the damsel who went back to the sepulchre to claim that what has been given to her should not be taken away from her, hence the saying.
ASK RITA TO ASK RITA
We Spaniards are living in the midst of a deep economic crisis and we are presented everyday with a headlines depicting rampant corruption. We feel angry and at the same time hopeless. Rita is on our minds and we mention her very often. We hear of tax rises, we say: ““Eso a Rita la Cantaora” or “Saint Rita, the money that has been given to me should not be taken away from me.” We ask a politician to resign on account of his/her being under suspicion of corruption charges and we often see a smirk on his/her face that tell us he or she is thinking: “Rita the flamenco singer is resigning, not me, this position was given to me and should not be taken away for me.”
Rita is overworked, and I bet she is overwhelmed at our demands. It seems that whatever the odds one can always dump the burden of responsibility on her, be it the saint or the Flamenco singer. Maybe we should reflect on this fact and try to change for the better. But maybe we will end up asking Rita to change us for us.
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