Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Gypsy field trip

 I was looking for manouches, French gypsies last year, and couldn't find any in Paris. So hopping on the train for the Essone region, about 40 minutes outside, I got off at Longpont-sur-Orge where my friend lives. The medieval cathedral almost rivals Notre Dame.

 This is the country; horses, farms and not so, so long ago people wore the traditional sabots, wooden clogs.
 Martine, my friend, worked as a home health nurse in the Longpont village and surroundings. Retired now, she still kept in contact with all her former clients - les manouches. Martine had been the only French home health nurse to treat them as the other nurses refused. She knew I wanted to meet les manouches at home, see their life. Lucky me, since they're not prone to talk to outsiders and curious Americans.  Les manouches, are French-born citizens who don't mind being called Roms but not Roma, the Eastern European gypsies.

Martine had lots of stories. For more than 20 years she'd visited their caravans and treated their babies. I tagged along with Martine.
 They don't live in these wooden caravans anymore but the ones I met lived in sparkling clean caravans/motor homes.
 It's hard to see here, but the family, which seemed like a loose clan of related family, lived in caravans in a long compound and with that smaller house on the right where people cooked.
This family were related to Django Reinhardt, the hot jazz guitarist, and it seems everyone in this village had some connection to Django.

We spent an hour with this couple who proudly showed us their wedding picture and have great-great-great grandchildren. He carved the wagons and she laughed all the time.
Cara - Tuesday


  1. Cara, thank you for this introduction. Here is a link to Django playing "La Mer," emblematic of his French and Gypsy roots. One of my favorite all time jazz cuts. I have not tired of it in fifty years!

  2. Holy Defecation! "great-great-great-grandchildren?" Assuming they're new-borns, that's still 6 generations with five of them having to be old enough to have had kids. Let's assume this couple is 90, that's an average age of having your first child at 18...generation after generation after generation, and probably younger than that. Hmm... still, being the youngest child of the youngest child, I never even knew my dad's parents, so the idea of SIX generations all alive at the same time is... just weird.

  3. EvKa I might be exagerating a tad but in her day women married young ie 14, still now too.

  4. They sure seem to be nice enough folks with a little different lifestyle, maybe considered a subculture. Wish I was related to Django Reinhardt. I first heard him nearly forty years ago and have been amazed ever since.

  5. I find it difficult to choose the right name in writing about Gypsies. That name itself is I understand offensive to some, as is Roma, Rom, so I settled on using the Greek name--Tsigani--which I was assured was not offensive. But I wouldn't bet on it. They lead a life that Aleksandr Pushkin once glorified for their choice of the "wild life," but as you well know, suffer for it far more, I'm sad to say.

    1. We have had the same problem with 'Bushman'. San refers to a certain group, and the Batswana term - Barsawa - also has pejorative connotations. The First People sounds a too formal and it's an invented name anyway.
      Complicating things, the Bushman don't have a word for themselves; it's sort of 'us' and 'them'. Eventually we chose to use Bushman but explained the issue in an authors' note. So far so good...

  6. Jeff, the Italian word is very similar--"zingari." Which inspires me to return to my role as self-appointed custodian of the soundtrack for this post. Here is a link to music by Verdi, which many Americans will recognize from Bugs Bunny cartoonS. We call it The Anvil Chorus, but its real name is "Coro dei Zingari."

    Here is a translation of the words:
    The Anvil Chorus

    See how the clouds melt away
    from the face of the sky when the sun shines, its brightness beaming;
    just as a widow, discarding her black robes,
    shows all her beauty in brilliance gleaming.
    So, to work now!
    Lift up your hammers!
    Who turns the Gypsy's day from gloom to brightest sunshine?
    Who turns the Gypsy's day from gloom to brightest sunshine?
    Who? Who from gloom to brightest sunshine?
    His lovely Gypsy maid!

    Fill up the goblets! New strength and courage
    flow from lusty wine to soul and body.
    See how the rays of the sun play and sparkle
    and give to our wine gay new splendor.
    So, to work now!
    Who turns the Gypsy's day from gloom to brightest sunshine?
    Who turns the Gypsy's day from gloom to brightest sunshine?
    Who? Who from gloom to brightest sunshine?
    His lovely Gypsy Maiden.

    That said, I invite you all to join me in congratulating Cara on her starred review in Publisher's Weekly for the upcoming MURDER ON THE CHAMPS DE MARS!!!

  7. One my favourite pieces of music to train to. That in my ears can inspire me up the toughest hill!

  8. Thank you for this blog, Cara. This is not an easy group to get to know & your sensitivity (and your friend's!) helps to open a door to their culture for the rest of us.