more articles like this
The Road Taken (By Me and the Gypsies)
updated: Mar 05, 2011, 8:45 AM
Gypsies, Romanis, Blamed Nuisances - those vagabonds from Romania, more or less - seem to keep cropping up here and there around the globe. They're always po' folks, and they've always got their hands out.
They've wended their junky way through Santa Barbara County once in a while. Been doing that for years, looking for happiness; meaning a few extra bucks for doing not much of anything.
My first acquaintance with them was in Carpinteria sometime in the 1940s. I was so young that they scared me a little. Later, they amused me. They appeared around town, offering to do fast odd jobs, like fixing a dent in your car fender or mowing your lawn. They'd stay for a couple of days, then move on - to Santa Barbara, I guess. I had the impression they were headed north.
Around 1949, they amused us teenagers old enough to know what prostitution was. The State's Bracero Program brought Mexican workers to this lemon-picking area, where they stayed in a kind of camp - former highway motel - on the old Hwy. 101. This put them within easy walking distance of a sort of low-rent trailer park across the tracks, as I recall, and neighboring residents witnessed braceros trudging back and forth, far into the night, between the two encampments. This was an early exposure to sin for many of us: people prostituting their own wives, sisters, daughters … who knows how far into the family this thing reached.
Twenty or so years later, I saw a small gypsy band making its way through Marina del Rey, again headed north. They were parked on the main drag through the area and seemed to be amused by the scenery. I slowed down, honked and waved. They laughed, and honked back.
One fine autumn afternoon, near the Yugoslavia-Albania border in the mid-1980s, I sat lounging in a tour bus while the other tourists were taking photos of mountains, trees and canyons (splendid mountains there). The tourists were being hounded by a small band of Gypsies. One of them saw me staring at them through my window and ran over to me, waving some little hand-made trinket for sale.
The object turned out to be the stick figure of a skinny bird. When the operator held it up to my window and pulled a string, the bird rotated forward and clamped its beak onto a cigarette, which it then lifted out of its box.
There was something about the goofy look on the operator - a smile that said, "Isn't this the damndest thing you ever saw?" He held it closer to the window. He looked so funny and dumb, like his cigarette fetcher, that suddenly I was overcome with laughter.
This encouraged him and he nodded his head furiously and shoved the bird at the window. I rolled off the seat laughing and finally struggled up, wondering if he'd come into the bus and I'd have to fight my way to freedom.
But the driver, guide and tourists (German and English) returned and we pushed on.
Gypsies weren't funny in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria in 1999. I was at Loose Ends (a suburb of Blagoevgrad) for lunch while my wife attended Peace Corps staff meetings. (She worked as a trainer with the P.C. after she and I finished our two-year stint in Russia. I was along for the ride.) I had met an American teaching journalism at American University in Bulgaria and we were having pizza for lunch outdoors on a fine spring day. A pleasant meeting, but the mood was altered by Gypsy kids, 10 years old or so, strolling through. One stopped by our table and mumbled his spiel to the professor, who politely said, "Leave us alone, please," and waved the kid away.
The kid came back, mumbling and holding his hand out. Prof said, more firmly, "Leave us alone, please," and waved him away.
The kid came back; started mumbling and Prof made as if to slap his head and screamed, "I SAID GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE!!!"
We finished lunch in peace.
But probably the same gang/family/tribe was working the suburbs, where they lived, I think, as Sharon and I walked through en route to a dinner meeting outside of town. Another wandering kid pestered me as I walked, finally grabbing my sleeve. So I smacked him lightly on the shoulder, yelled loudly and he left. That kind of thing can spoil one's mood, although both the kid and the mark get used to it. I guess.
We found in 1993, the year Czechoslovakia broke in half, that Gypsies were (and continue to be) very much personae non grata in the Czech Republic. Our old Czech friend Milan, a professor at Charles University in Prague, told us that the city had spent thousands of crowns to dynamite and clean up after a downtown statue of Lenin when Communism was overthrown in 1989.
"Why didn't we give it to the Gypsies?" he joked. "They would have carted it away and sold it!"
He said that Prague had donated a small apartment building on the edge of town to the Gypsies so they would have a place to call home. The Gypsies moved in and immediately built fires on the living room floors to cook their dinners.
The city finally put them back on the road.
Driving through northwestern Czechoslovakia, we stopped in a small city to mail some postcards we had forgotten to mail back in Prague. The town, maybe Litromerice or Usti nad Labem, I don't remember, seemed spooky, deserted. Two cops walking on patrol waved us down and asked us what we wanted there. I told them. One held his hand out and said he would mail the cards. He took them and pointed behind us. "Now go," he said. So we drove off, wondering what th …
Found out later that there was serious civil strife going on in many areas of Czechoslovakia, with the locals fiercely persecuting Gypsies.
As we approached the Germany border, we slowed down to pass an amazingly long line of trucks waiting to pass through a border checkpoint. The trucks were inching along on the side of the highway, so we slowly passed. (Same situation on the other side of the border, coming into Czechoslovakia.)
Then our last view of Czech Gypsies: a rather cute young woman on the side of the road. She had long curly locks and a big smile. She waved to us and made very attention getting bump and grind movements aimed at us! Her mobile hips were shouting, "Boom tada Boom tada Boom!" Slowed almost to a stop to enjoy the view, I smiled, shook my head "No!" and pointed to my wife next to me.
Gypsy Rose nodded and grinned, waving "Come hither!" with both hands to signify: "OK! Her too!" I chuckled, waved goodbye, and drove into the silence of Germany, en route to Dresden, a very unfunny place.
Recent reports of Italy driving Gypsies out of the country en masse aren't funny either.
A traveling Gypsy family takes a break from their travels. . .
Send this picture as a postcard
# # # #
2011-03-06 08:35 AM
Nanny Note: Edhat encourages difference of opinion, but we will delete any comment that addresses Edhat editorial policy. Those comments should be sent by email to email@example.com. We are closing off comments on this thread because of multiple violations of this rule.
A reader has two options when reading a post. They can decide to not finish it, or they can read it and comment. On rare occasions, a post is so troubling to people, that they question whether the site hosting the piece is something they can support.
If this article had been about Jews, Mexicans, African Americans, or gay people, my reaction would have been the same.
Even the term "gypsies" is widely considered to be outdated by human rights groups. If you posted a story with slur words about the above groups, our reactions would also have been troubled.
The site is a fun, wonderful, and often thought provoking venue. I think I speak for many when I say we don't want to see wide ranging perspectives quashed, we just want to see them expressed in an informed, erudite, and logical way. This was rambling, confusing, and judgmental to a fault. You felt you had to remove the vast majority of comments. Doesn't that tell you something? I don't see that hardly ever happening.
Keep up the good work...because 99% of the time, it is.
0% of comments on this page were made by Edhat Community Members.
Comments are no longer allowed on this thread.
# # # #
9 comments on this article. Read/Add
# # # #