• scissors
    August 2nd, 2010adminCulture Clash!, Gypsies, Istanbul
    Carmen, Manet

    Manet painting -- "Gypsy with Cigarette"

    Here in Eurasia, my romantic vision of gypsies has been crushed. And rather quickly, at that. Of course, I’ve seen gypsies in Greece, Hungary and other countries. Five years ago, I spent a wonderful day with Spanish gypsies in Berlin. They played beautiful music, joked and generally made merry. But there’s also the harsh reality of their lives (or many of their lives), which includes tragically bad parenting — beyond the scale of what we expect from a European country. Children, covered in dirt, are left alone in shopping carts, as their gypsy mothers haggle with partial-bums down the block. Crying babies are left unattended. Sad, doe-eyed boys are left late into the night, working hustler street-jobs, and they run the gamut from terrified to ruthless in demeanor. So many of these children are so dirty, desperate and neglected. Of course, in the United States, they would be grabbed by Child Protective Services in no time. But this is Turkey. And it’s just accepted as the gypsy way. No matter how disgusting. No matter how public. And I’ve seen it all around Europe.

    Last summer, in Athens, I came upon an open street bazaar, right by the ancient aristocratic cemetery. Gypsies sold all sorts of useless, dirty and potentially stolen trinkets. Everybody said they were ambiguously “Greek.” Nobody admitted they were Roma or gypsy. But they were. Obviously. And there I saw, rolling around in the dirty-sandy earth, their young children. Barely clothed. Looking like Mogli from the Jungle Book. Despite my liberal background, and no matter my acceptance of (at least partial) cultural relativism, I do have my limits. And I was horrified.

    From a distance, I have always had a deep interest in gypsies. Maybe I relate to a people “with no home,” a wandering people divided by centuries of diaspora. Maybe I like their old tziganes, their music and their stories and songs and the mystique of the gypsy fortune-teller. Even as a kid, I was fascinated by the idea of Carmen and memorized the “Toreador” song, which I sang when I was bored in idle moments.

    But this stuff is just sick. And sad. I don’t consider myself prejudiced against gypsies. But it’s hard seeing a young kid looking so damn desperate.