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The secret language of the Spanish fan

The secret language of the Spanish fan

The secret language of the Spanish fan

A cultural symbol of Spain known around the world, the Spanish fan exudes romance and passion. So much so, it is an important symbol on the cover of my new novel, Indiscretion:

While the fan may have begun its life in Spain back in the 14th century as a practical object for staying cool in the sultry heat, when flamenco dancers began incorporating them into their dances, the nobility took notice. Then, when the design of fans became ever more beautiful, they secured a place as an essential accessory for all Spanish women. Soon, they came in all manner of colours and sizes, and were adorned with everything from lace to feathers. Many Spanish women built up quite the collection!

With fans so commonplace and so versatile in their movement, they became the ideal means by which to communicate without words – a sort of semaphore via fan. Thus the señoritas of the 19th century developed their own secret language of the fan. This was a time when young ladies were always chaperoned, and speaking to a prospective beau was nigh-on impossible. But in time an interested young man could discern the lady’s mood or desire simply by watching how she moved her fan.

Here’s a look at the some of the common ways to communicate with the fan:

  • Short, fast sweeps across the chest: I’m unavailable to you.
  • Slow, seductive sweeps across the chest: I’m available to you.
  • Closed fan carried hanging in the left hand: I’m available and on the lookout.
  • Open fan touched to the cheek: I like the look of you!
  • Open fan covering the mouth with smouldering eyes: I’m blowing you a kiss.
  • Closed fan tapped urgently on palm: Careful! We’re being watched.
  • Hitting fan on dress: I’m jealous.
  • Giving fan to the young man: I’m yours.
  • Pointing the fan: Meet me over there.
  • Covering face with fan: It’s over between us.
  • Fiddling with fan: Hurry up!

Fascinating, don’t you think? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to attend a traditional ball, dressed up beautifully, and to forbid words entirely, so that the only sound is the room is music and all communication is carried out by way of the fan and facial expressions? I think that would make a beautiful scene in a film – imagine the seductive tension in the room!

If, like me, you find fans beautiful and their history very interesting, these museums worldwide are worth a visit:

  • The Musée de l’Éventail (Fan Museum) in Paris, located within the Atelier Anne Hoguet, a workshop for fan-making and restoration.
  • The Hand Fan Museum in Healdsburg, California, which has more than 2,500 fans in its collection.
  • The Fan Museum in Greenwich, London, which has 4,000 fans, on rotation, the oldest of which dates from the 10th century.

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