Thursday, March 10, 2005

The Roma

Many mysterious cultures inhabit Planet Earth (possibly some yet remain to be discovered!). Most are mysterious because they’ve deliberately lived in isolation from generation to generation. To me, the very most mysterious are the Roma, for while they inherently segregate themselves from society at large, they intrepidly stride into the midst of society at large when it suits their purposes.

The Roma are the Gypsies. That is to say, they’re probably the most clearly definable cultural category of Gypsies. Some people consider “gypsy” synonymous with “wanderer” -- which could mean anything from an independently wealthy world traveler to a tramp on the street (of any nationality, race or creed) to a soldier of fortune, a retired RV-motoring couple, a 21st-Century hippie and all ilk of middle-class job hopper in between. The Roma, by contrast, have innate bonds of language and even of biological genesis. They officially are classed (by our erudite PC classifiers) as a bona fide “ethnic group.” They live in America, Europe and elsewhere. You may know some of them and not know it. (After all, what difference should it make? Just as an aside, if Roma friends of mine were to inquire of my personal heritage, I likely could elicit an alarmed response or two from them by revealing my family’s Plain Truth. Forget their Romany hawking and their horse trading and their encampment revelry on the outskirts of town; I have some real drama in my bag!) (So . . . you prying Thought Policepeople . . . make what case you will of that.)

We’ll examine different facets of Roma lifestyle in subsequent blogs. The point here is that Gypsies have played rich and sundry roles in period mystery/gothic literature. Too often, they’re merely hinted at. In Conan Doyle’s “The Speckled Band,” for instance, a “band of Gypsies” are referenced on the grounds of the estate where a murder has been committed -- but merely as a reader diversion. Gypsy fortune-tellers made for excellent characters in many a period mystery work; they still do.

My own perception of the Roma is rooted in what’s known of a band of Travelers here in South Carolina, from decades past, and in (not surprisingly, to those who know me) folk music. Listen particularly to two ballads by the late Scottish folk revivalist Ewan MacColl, “Freeborn Man” and “The Thirty Foot Trailer,” and tell me what you think. Confusingly, MacColl wrote of Travelers, Gypsies and other rovers in the same verses. Purists differentiate. More later. . . .


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