Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bury Me Standing Too

I just finished reading this book on an ethnicity whose history, lifestyle, philosophy, and physiognomy I have long felt a particular intrigue and even semblance to. This book details the vast spectrum of idiosyncrasies privy to this people, through the eyes of an outsider who spent years among them. I will not go into all of what I learned, except for a short sampling of morsels.

The term "Gypsy" is old Greek for "Egyptian", and though they may have spent time there (along their centuries long journey), their origin (and that of their idiom) is somewhere in the vicinity of Rajasthan (India). Misunderstandings concerning them are abundant the world over, not to mention their perpetually unmentioned mistreatment in the hands of reluctant host cultures. The names they are known by are as varied as the regions they inhabit, some of which can be easily confused with other meanings. For example, "Roma" has nothing to do with Italy's capital city. "Romani" has nothing to do with the eastern European country that ironically happens to be home to the highest concentrations of them (only because they had at one point been imported as slaves). Rom, Dom, Lom, Sinti, Gitano, Tsigani, Ziguener, Manush, and Kale are a few of the titles they wear.

Call it romanticizing, but I have an internal propensity towards sharing in the traditional Gypsy male's custom of wearing the same single suit, all the time, regardless of occasion or weather, until it falls to pieces and has to be replaced.... or even the bright color mosaic of the female Gypsy. I desire as much a knack for multilingual fluency (3 is not enough) and declamatory accordion skills (add flute and xylophone) as I have for photographic memory of cartographic layouts and the sophisticated contents of city blocks and rural roadsides.

I wish to be passionately free of meaningless materialism and permanent, sedentary anchorage. I want to be an adjunct Bulibasha, though I'm allergic to Biznitsa (money not earned through manual sweat). As a ubiquitous cabdriver, I by default have a reputation for dishonesty, though I've done everything possible to live honorably. I'm wanted and detained for my talents, not crimes, though those talents are often mistaken for crimes. I assign value and priority to all events equally, though serially (per moment). I can't stay still and I can't follow someone else's orders if they oppose my principles. I have all the markings of a zingaro. The only thing I'm terrified of is being shiftless, a trait that frequently creeps up on us members of the Leo sign, though it might be least expected of us.

It fascinates me that the Rom and the Jews have shared a guilt of showing too much initiative (of the wrong kinds). This book points out several similarities and dissimilarities among these two and other groups as well: "labored on their own in the jobs that no one else could or would do and sold their goods and skills door-to-door. But this for the moment is where the parallel between Gypsies and Jews as migrant middlemen ends. Far from the start of a brilliant career, their situation in the Balkans came more to resemble that of American blacks."

I can feel the ear bursting clamor of wandering musicians, the clairvoyant hustle of free and spirited tradesmen, the scraped subsistence of mudlarks, and the solemn silence of segregated servants. The preening of and being preened by the intimacy of a tightly knit community.

Limitation can force one to be resourceful. One of my favorite quotes in the book was: "The Masai of east Africa are said to believe that all cattle belong to them; the Roma of eastern Slovakia, it seems, feel the same way about potatoes." Foppish, raucous, and fecunditious were a few of the new words I learned in this book. Not that I'll remember them for long. If you don't read this book, perhaps at least watch 'Latcho Drom', which may not answer many questions, but may uplift your spirit when watched with an open mind. As a passenger in my cab once said, "I hope that extensive genealogies become less expensive so that we may collectively rid ourselves of our ingrown xenophobias." My wish for such a drop in cost for that service goes a small step further. So I may put to rest the mystery behind my Romanian roots, slightly darker skin tone than Ashkenazis in my family, and my pre-Romanian ancestry.