Pages 182-187

We walked in brilliant sunlight to the Street of the Gypsies. On the way there I filled my basket with more gifts for Maria. I had reached the state of thought when I dared not stay to consider how I was to eke out my money for the last few days. I had reached the state of thought when I dared not stay to consider how I was to eke out my money for my last few days. I had my dog to feed, I had to get my luggage to the station and across Spain and France, and I had little more than my return tickets left. I refused to think; and gave my eyes to the interest of the sunlit Street of the Gypsies.

We were only a short distance down the street when we were met by a crowd of the most beautiful Gypsies that I have ever beheld. I knew surely that should I travel the world I would be unlikely to find other humans to excel those Valencian Gypsies gathered in the street that June noon. I might again find their equal, but nothing more perfect. There was so much chatter and laughter there, it brought again to my heart memory of one of the feasts days of Les Saintes Maries Gypsy festival. That brought a state of sadness to me: how soon the lovely things do pass, how swiftly soon. Standing in the street amongst the carefree, good humored, beautiful Romanichals, I felt further sadness then for their fellow Gypsies in the poverty, misery and squalor of the nearby encampment. There can be no denying that extreme poverty and ugliness of surroundings blight the human soul. Flowers cannot grow in full beauty from sour earth, or on rubble-heaps, and likewise human bodies and souls have difficulty in coming into full flowers. But at that gathering in the Street of the Gypsies, there were human flowers everywhere. Some like pink and ivory roses, also the carnations of Valencia, others flamboyant as tiger-lilies, or the blossom of pomegranate trees, others sultry and mysterious as passion flowers and forest orchids, and the majority tawny and sun-warmed and radiant as blooms of the sunflower: ah, that is how it was! a multitude of swaying sunflowers similar to the wild-growing groves of that flower through which I had walked on the mountains above the sea in the exotic fabulous countryside of Mexico’s Baja California. Dear God! what beauty you created in those Gypsies. Swarthy, flashing, oriental beauty.

When one beholds Gypsies such as those who had gathered in the Valencian street, then the old thought dominates the mind: Who are the Gypsies and from whence? Hitler destroyed the Gypsies in the same black hate as that in which he destroyed the Jews. Have they some kinship with each other, the Gypsies and the Jews? The two most hated races on earth and yet the most indestructible. The Jews forsaking in modern times the commandments taught to them by Moses, and later by Christ the greatest Jew of all, which teaching were to keep them eternally a great and united race, and again worshipping ardently the golden calf, have in many tribes become absolutely unbeautiful, and over many are “a mock and a laughing stock for the peoples”, as fore-warned in the Bible: and yet they are the descendants of the peerless man and woman described in the Song of Songs. But the Gypsies who follow no gold worship have remained amongst the most beautiful people on earth. Could they be descendants of Hagar, Sarah’s bondwoman, who bore Abraham a son, Ishmael? (There is a widely accepted theory that it is the Arabs who are descendants of Hagar.) For God promised Abraham: ” “And also of the sun of thy bondwoman Hagar will I make a nation, because he is thy seed”. And God was with the lad; and he grew and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer…and, his mother took him a wife out of the land of Egypt.” Thus had I pondered as I stood and marveled at the beauty of that Gypsy gathering in Valencia.

In the company of Maria and my three friends, I spent many happy hours in the street of the Gypsies. I held their babies and took photographs, and must admit to some romancing with the very handsome men thronging there. But it was all happiness and gaiety there in the sun, with Gypsy song and the music of guitars to make all the more memorable. When after several hours I had to leave the Gypsy company, there came calling in the distance the familiar Gypsy words of friendship:

“Come again back to the Romanichals. Come soon. Come soon. We shall not forget thee.”

And the children came running, bringing gifts of heavy perfumed carnations from the flower-sellers, and one lad presented me with a tamed lizard attached to a string, which he said was a piece of Gypsy luck and also a souvenir from his street. Only the lizard I declined, not wishing to take that creature of the sun away from the warmth of Valencia to the chill air of Paris.

I have no regrets concerning my footless days in Valencia, for if I had failed in my determination to stay until the ending of my final week in Spain, I would never have met with the Gypsy actress Rosa Gimmenes – La Diamante Negra. On my last night in Valencia, Rosa came to the inn to dance for me. She came to dance and sing for me without payment, the other Gypsies having told her about the ending of my money. The Gypsies also sent me dishes of food (and the inn also would have fed me for nothing) but all the food seemed to be soaked in olive oil or fried, therefore for me it was just uneatable, and I kept to my cups of water. The tramps of England always declare that when they are entirely without money and thus without food, they can always be sure of a good meal from the Gypsies, if they should meet with a family of them by the wayside. Years after my Valencia visit, whenI was again without money when in Granada, the Gypsies of Sacra Monte said to me: “Here there are one hundred Gypsy cuevas (cavern home of the Granada Gypsies) where you will be made welcome. Be neither without food no bed, there are both for you here with the Gypsies always – siempre (forever, spanish). Make this cueva your first stay.”

Thus La Diamate Negra came to dance for me for friendship, because the Gypsies of Valencia had told her of my years with the Gypsies and my love for them. Not only did she bewitch me with her talent, but she remains also unforgettable for her personality. My high opinion of Rosa was shared by others more knowledgable than I concerning dance and song, for she has a place in the theaters of Valencia and her fellow Gypsies praise highly her art. The day that she came to visit me she was celebrating a new theatrical contract and was in high excitement.

To write a true portrait of the fascinating Gypsy actress is not possible: for who can describe with pen or brush the fire that is within a fine and well-cut diamond. The name of Black Diamond is not unique to Rosa, a famous Gypsy bullfighter carries the same name; but there could have been no other name better suited for Rosa. In spite of the glitter and the fire, the Gypsy was very dark, so that there was much that was almost negroid about her appearance – the beauty of the negro. The fineness of the dark-hued flesh with the golden glow upon, the lightness of body, the wild and brilliant eyes, the strong teeth. Her mouth lacked beauty, the lips being over big. But her smile was rare and put much beauty upon her face, and gave revelation of the fires that had hearths within her, in the dancing feet and the throbbing breasts and throat, and charged the blood with their heat and their gold and crimson rays: all precious stones possess incandescent fires, and the diamond is especially rich.

Rose possessed none of the too general mundane quality of the professional actress. She was more the type of a singing bird in the woods, light of heart and swift and excitable. My shy Afghan hound loved her as soon as she came into the inn, and laid herself at the Gypsy’s feet, a most unusual demonstration. With Rosa was a small Gypsy girl of five years, who travelled always with her, and had been trained by Rosa in dance and song and was already skilful, also charmingly imitative of her teacher and foster-mother. La Diamonte Negra was unmarried as yet, for in her twenty-two years she had met with no man whom she could love sufficiently for marriage. She told me that for the present she had little thought for me, she wanted only to dance, to dance, to dance, and to sing. But I well saw that her vitality and her wonderful body, together with her talented dancing and singing must prove irresistible to men. The photographs that I took of Rosa on the sands of Valencia, poised in dance, have attracted the attention of every man who has seen them. Who is she? Where is she? are questions always demanded when the photographs of La Diamante Negra are produced.

Rosa herself was notable aware of her Gypsy blood. When the floor of the dining-room of the inn was cleared of tables and chairs for the Gypsy’s dancing, and she had enthralled us with the magic of her art, she between each performance and as if making excuse for the passion of her dancing and singing, would thrust out her slender rhythmical arms at me and declare with panting breath: “Sangre Gitano! Sangre Gitano!”

And always I made reply, adoring her: “The best blood in the world.”

After the dancing was over Rosa stayed on at the inn, talking with me. Talking of the Gypsy life of Spain, and the life of the theatre, two subjects of twin enchantment for her and for me. That night we wove a strong bond of friendship between us; I shall remember her. Rosa typifies the best of the true Gypsy character.

On the day of my departure from Valencia, a Gypsy woman presented me with a diminutive basket, hand-woven from green rushes: a doll size thing, fine and beautiful. I was traveling with her in the tram on my way to the station. Her arms being loaded with baskets of all types and sizes, I took from her her wailing babe, and hushed it and turned the tears into laughter.

When the Gypsy came to leave the tram before me, she put into my hands the sweet green basket in place of her brown baby. That Gypsy basket I shall keep carefully, it being representative of the Romanies. A simple product of hand-skill – those supple swart hands of the Gypsy – and made from Nature’s materials and having the green color of Nature; given to me in generosity and love. Despite what other writers have stated to the contrary concerning the Gypsies, I have found that they give nearly always as much as they take; often enough, they give more. Before leaving the Spanish frontier I filled the basket with wild lavender pulled from the crags of the Pyrenean mountains, the breath of which flower perfumes the mountain range. Souvenir all of sun-drenched Gypsy days.

Pages 177-182

When my companions observed that I was leaving they all nodded their heads at me in assent and also rose up to go.

Lena, too, got to her feet very hurriedly, and called to me in strident voice, demanding: “Where? Where?”

When I did not answer she said: “Stay! You must stay! You cannot go yet.”

I replied to her: “No! I will leave you now, for I’ve no more love for you and you keep asking all of the time. You must know that I’ve no money left for my own use, not enough to keep me in food during the few days left to me before I go from Spain.”

Lena well understood my words. I saw astonishment overcome her, causing her to open wide her mouth like a young cuckoo, and she was rendered momentarily as speechless as one. Her voice then returning, she turned to the Hungaros explaining well my words to them. I could tell the form of her conversation, although I knew not the language which she then spoke, it being neither Spanish nor Romany; possibly it was Roumanian or Hungarian. The consternation then manifested by all of the Hungaros was remarkable. As a result it was only then that I understood the whole sorry story of their inviting me into their tents, and the reason for all of the tarnished finery they had mustered for my benefit. Their theatrical clothing, the samovar, the wolf-skin rugs, all indeed for my benefit. They must have obtained from Bella the information that a person of wealth was visiting the encampment, and consequently the Hungaros had planned amongst themselves, to obtain much spoil from me. It was pathetic, in truth, and I felt compassion for them all. I too have known the disappointment of expecting very much from a visitor in time of need, and then getting nothing at all. And considering the expectations of the Hungaros, it was in truth as if they had got nothing at all from me.

The murmuring voices of the women discussing my declaration of poverty, were becoming sonorous as a storm wind uprising in the tent, with the eat of the Arabian Khamsin within it. And as I stood in the doorway I felt that Lena, if she had had the power, would have used her sorcery to turn the wolf-skins back into living animals, and have them devour me.

“Come quickly,” I told my friends, and they followed me from the tent immediately. Seeing our determined departure the swelling resentment of the Romanies then became real hostility. One woman of the party, who was dressed in crumpled purple satins and velvets, was especially strident in her anger. She bore a name strange for a Roumanian Gypsy -Bessarabia- which name I never heard shortened to Bess or Rabia whilst I was with the family. She was very thin of body and I think also very old. Almost toothless, and what hair could be seen pushing out beneath her voilet-hued head-scarf was heavily died with henna.

Her body, gowned in shabby splendor, panted as she cried at me in Spanish: “Embuste! Embuste! (false tale)” Her Voice followed me into the sunlight outside the marquee.

It seemed good indeed to be back in the sun again, and away from the fly swarms and the ants and the malodorous atmosphere of the tent. The Hungaros followed speedily after us; they came indeed in the manner of a wolf pack.

Bessarabia shouted further concerning me: “She tells that she’s without love, look upon her fine eezaw (clothes)!” That statement was a foolish one, for my dress was but a plain blouse and skirt of grey cot tong which had become much worn during my travels. My only adornment was a green scarf purchased for a few shillings in a French market-place. Indeed I looked as drab as a sparrow compared with the peacock finery of Bessarabia herself.

The angry woman then took me by surprise, for approaching close by me, she made a sudden snatch at my scarf, seizing one end as if she would strangle me. The choking act by means of the neck-scarf which most Romany men and women wear as part of their habitual clothing, I have much discussed when in conversation with Gypsies, and I have learnt concerning it; therefore I was soon free of the woman’s attempted hold upon myself; and with my green scarf still in my possession.

My friends were very troubled. “Come away at once,” they urged. And I agreed.

I warned, however: “We mustn’t turn our backs on them and run. That would bring bad trouble for sure, for they’re very excitable you can see. We soon can be away from them, and surely Bella will help us.” But Bella seemed powerfully under the influence of the Hungaros, especially Lena. Neither she nor her high-spirited sons had spoken one word within the marquee, but had sat grouped together in seemingly constrained silence.

Meantime, Lena always with a liking for high drama, was bringing from behind the marquee two cur dogs, which came forward with much rattling of heavy chains. Those two dogs she then endeavored to set upon me. Doubtless she had in her foolish head some dramatic picture of myself falling upon the ground in terror, and then when she had removed the man-eating dogs from me, I rewarding her with a great fortune for having saved me from such punishment. But surely the special fourth sight of the true Gypsy should have informed her that no dog can create fear in me, I having worked for too long amongst dogs of all types to know any fear, and in the past have indeed won some repute for the training of hounds considered as being incurably savage.

The two curs that Lena urged at me were mean-looking, uncourageous creatures. When they ran at me I was able to deal with them within a few minutes. On the smaller dog I inflicted a well-placed blow at the side of its head; the larger I treated by bringing up my clenched fist beneath its jaw and thus knocking the lower and upper teeth together. The two dogs departed from me in a panic, their tails curved beneath their bellies.

The dog skirmish occasioned much laughter and applause from the Gypsy men, who all, from then onwards, were entirely favorably feeling towards me; and I knew, therefore, that I and my companions need have no further fear from that company of Gypsies on the encampment. I promised thus to my companions, but they seemed not to share my confidence. And when Bessarabia made a further attempt upon my scarf, the clerk was indeed angry with me for staying further. A Gypsy youth, however, frustrated Bessarabia, and spoke angrily with her.

I then said to the clerk: “You see, all is well. Let us leave in dignity and not run from them.” He agreed with me. They had indeed proved to be good companions, few people would have entered the marquee of the Hungaros at all, and they had stayed with me throughout. I realized that the clerk felt much responsibility for the three women whom he was escorting.

The man who had been smoking the hookah, and who was named Zoltan, then requested that I should photograph the Hungaros as I had promised earlier.

“I will do so now,” I agreed. “But we must leave you immediately afterwards, for friends await us in the Street of the Gypsies.” That news seemed to impress Zoltan, and I was pleased that I had told him.

“Come quickly, quickly for the photos,” he summoned all of the family and they came crowding around me.

It was a strange thing then, that immediately the Hungaros had come forward to be photographed, the sun, which had been brilliant in the sky throughout the day, was covered by a suddenly formed group of clouds, and left the scene almost in darkness, the gathered clouds being so black and so screening. A thought then came to me, and I decided that I would trouble the Hungaros for their shameful treatment of their guests. I therefor indicated the sun and declared:

“All this day the sun’s been very bright in the sky, it was so when I photographed Bella and her sons, as she’ll tell you. Now the sun’s hidden itself. I think that our Gypsy Sainte Sara has sent away the sun in her anger with you all, because you ill-treated me when I came to you as a friend. For Sainte Sara, whose shrine I have left lass than one week ago, knows well that I am a true friend to her Gypsy people.”

“The sun will return,” the Hungaros said.

“No sun, no photography,” I stated. “The film in my camera is only for bright light.”

The sky remained in heavy darkness, and I observed the Hungaros looking anxiously in its direction as they arranged the scene for their photograph. They were then quite friendly, taking pleasure in arranging a magnificent scene for me to photograph. I noticed that Lena was foremost in the production of the theatrical setting. Only Bessarabia stood apart, vengeful and sulky. The rugs of wolf-skins were spread upon the dusty ground, the samovar was placed in the centre, and Zoltan’s pipe was also prominently displayed. The women grouped themselves upon the rugs and then summoned the men. But the men would not join them. Such refusal to be photographed I have met with often amongst the Romany men; I think they feel that the procedure is too much like a thing of the hated police; their photographs at some time may inform against them, so Gypsies have told me.

I faced the large group of women and made ready my camera. Bella and her boys were not allowed to sit with the Hungaros for their photograph; they, in their banishment of them, appearing to consider them of too low caste to be on the same photograph as themselves. I waited patiently but the sun came not forth. The Gypsy group facing me I found to be of such picturesque and dramatic quality, that soon I too was hoping that the sun would appear, even though thereby it would destroy my story of Sainte Sara’s wrath; for I wanted to photographs so much. However, the sky remained in unusual darkness. My three companions, understandably, became very impatient with me. Therefore I felt compelled to tell the Hungaros that I would await the sun only for a further quarter-hour; the clerk would keep time upon his watch, if the sun were still away from the sky when that time be past, then I would have to depart with my friends, and no photographs could be taken.

During the quarter-hour I told the Hungaros of my impressions of Sara, saint of the Gypsies. Meanwhile the Hungaros watched the sky for the reappearance of the sun, as anxiously as children ready to leave home on a picnic and fearing rain which would cause the adults to cancel their excursion.

Soon the clerk called out the passing of the agreed time period and we prepared to leave the encampment. The darkness of the sky had further increased, and I myself was beginning to have belief in the wrath of Sainte Sara: therefore the thoughts of the Hungaros could be well imagined.

“Come!” said the clerk to me with finality, and he commenced to walk from the encampment followed by his women. I then closed my camera, and telling my regrets to the Hungaros, began to move away in his wake.

In a chorus the Hungaros then commanded me: “Wait! Wait!”

“No,” I replied. “It is not possible. I might wait with you all the noon long, until night-time, and Sainte Sara keep the sun from the sky.” And I walked onwards resolutely. As I passed by them, I said a special farewell to Bella and her sons, thanking them for the pleasure of the yesternight. I controlled my feet at a slow pace, being determined not to hurry unduly.

Then it was that the true fury of the Hungaros was released, all of their pent-up feelings being given full expression: and I did not blame them. They yelled and screamed after me, and began to pelt my back with a hailstorm of varied missiles. Pieces of rubble, stones, tin cans, bottles, old bones and boots, fire embers, all were hurled in my direction. As is usual wit things flung in much anger, they failed to reach their target, on a few hitting me, and no harm was done, and I hope that thus the Hungaros were able to cure themselves of their anger. I was sorry to see that Bella’s sons were amongst the most active of the missile hurlers. I stayed to call to the little boys: “Rico! Plata! I love you. Remember that I love you.” THen unexpectedly, for they were savage children, they dropped their handfuls of stones and went and hid themselves behind their mother. “I love you!” I called again: in truth I did love the wild brothers.

Soon my friends and I were away, and we could laugh well concerning our strange meeting with the Hungaros. We had left the encampment but five minuets when the dramatic quality of the visit was increased by the sudden return of the sun. Out from the screen of clouds the sun came, shining in all its former brilliance, and a wind accompanied it, and blew out of sight all the clouds in shortest time, leaving the sky an unsmutched glorious blue. Nor did the clouds come back into the sky for the rest of that noon and evening. I wondered greatly what would be the thoughts of the Hungaros concerning the remarkably early reappearance of the sun, and I felt sure that should I have desire to return amongst them, on any further visit they would treat me with much respect.

Pages 168-176

The next afternoon I went again to the Gypsy encampment, accompanied by the same companions. They would not let me visit alone, and I was pleased, because I much needed the help of their Spanish speech to supplement my own limited vocabulary; furthermore I liked their friendly company. We approached the camp in bright sunlight, the heat of the sun being such that the unpaved street surface burnt my feet through my sandals.

For my second visit I had purchased more nourishing food for Bella’s hungry sons, and some attractive things for Maria’s household. By that time I was very depleted of money. I had my rail ticket booked to Granada, but it had become impossible to achieve there, only sufficient money remaining for five further days in Valencia, when I would then be penniless and would have to return to Paris fasting. Since leaving Paris I had not purchased one restraint meal, and had kept my living expenses very low by sleeping out often, and living on an unchanging diet of goat cheese, bread and cherries and strawberries, throughout my travels in Provence and Spain, all inexpensive foods in those countries and delicious. The time had come, and it was in Valencia, when my purse was almost empty and I was having to count every centavo and peseta (Spanish coins). Even so, I could not go to the Gypsies empty-handed.

Rico and Plata were on watch for me long before the encampment was reached, and seeing them again, I was thankful that I had decided to fill my basket for the Gypsies, and leave out the cheese from my own diet during the time that I would remain in Valencia. The Gypsy lads, remembering my pleasure in their dancing and singing of the yesternight, commenced performance of both as soon as they reached my companions and me. That noon Rico was further amusing, for he was continually thrusting out his cupped hand and hanging his head in a posture of much suffering, all in the true begging manner, in which he had been well schooled by his mother: “Bread! Bread!” he whined. Although he was at that time play-acting, his need was real enough, as was well shown by the fury in which he devoured all food that I put into his thin, grimed hand.

Now in the sunlight I could see well the small Gypsy brothers. I was amazed at the filth of the, which had not been very noticeable in the yesternight’s light of stars and fire. The hair of the Gypsy boys was matted so that combing would be impossible, scissors would be necessary to break through the matted tufts; their clothing was in tatters and stained with grease and dirt; and the layers of filth accumulated upon their bared chests and their forearms and legs, lay so thickly it could have been scraped away in spoonfuls and would have filled canisters. Yet I loved the little lads; they were so vivid and their brown feet so lightsome upon the earth. Their eyes peering out through the low-falling hair, were brilliant, long and as black as poppy-seed, and so highly expressive the they made the thin child faces appear quite beautiful.

Bella was outside her tent to greet us, dressed before in the torn dress, which in the sunlight showed to be of faded blue cotton, revealing much of her brown-skinned firm body through the many rents. She was well pleased with the food gifts that I brought to her and at once began to distribute fair shares amongst her three sons, which were consumed wolfishly by all of the. From the tent wherein lay Zo-Zo I could hear the same frantic swallowing of food and the gulping which accompanies things taken too hastily. I went to speak with Zo-Zo and he told me that his rat was away – “Hunting and killing snakes and biting off babies’ ears and toes”, and that the animal would be back with him by eventide.

Bella endeavored to keep some of the food gifts for another day, or perhaps for herself, for on both of my visits she had eaten nothing, the children taking all. But Rico and Plata would not let her do so. For the two boys, aware that all the food had not been distributed, then became momentarily maniacal as soon as their own shares were consumed and their mouths once more empty. In unison they commenced leaping at their mother, punching her breasts, kicking at her legs, getting their spittle upon her dress.

“Hoben. Hoben! (food)” they screamed in Gypsy speech. They were not play-acting at mongering (begging) then, as they had been earlier in the street.

“But Bella proved that she could be master of her sons when she had the wish. She whacked their heads powerfully, took hold of Rico by one leg and swung him against Plata, thus flattening both of the boys into the rubble dust. Then, placing the remaining bags of food within the big tent, she forbade the boys to approach near there.

Rico and Plata arose from the ground and shook the dust from their hair and their rags, and wiped their faces dry of their tears, leaving long black smears down the grimed flesh. Then Rico immediately commenced another Gypsy dance for my benefit, this of flamenco style. Sad and slow, slow, slow, as if in keeping with the present mood of the little lad. The thin-limbed body in the tattered clothing, swaying as a clump of wind-blown fennel weed amongst the rubble.

The flamenco dance ended, I dusted further sand from the dancer’s hair, and with the end of my scarf cleaned up his thin, hard face. “I love you,” I said to him, “I shall always love you.”

He opened wide at me his dark lustrous eyes, and then set off into a further dance of very different character. No longer sad flamenco, but one of crowing cockerel prancing in which he had excelled at the previous night’s performance.

“Ole! Ole!” I called. And my companions joined me “Ole! Ole! Gitano!”

Bella made excuses for the trouble over the food. She told me: “Those chauvis (children) of mine are so greedy they would eat themselves motto (drunk), eat until they burst their bellies open, if I didn’t check ’em. There’s no end to their greed.”

I said nothing. I thought of the children of the rich, picking without appetite at the over-abundance of artificial foods with which their plates are loaded daily, and I knew that it was better as it was with the Gypsy children of Isabella, to be able to devour plain black bread, and green apples, and raw roots, and such like. For all their state of filth the little Gypsy brothers were unusually lithe and active, and their keep glittering eyes behold of inner health. They were certainly more alive to the pulse of the earth than were most children of their age. And they were rhythmical as the dancing birds-of-paradise.

I asked Bella’s consent to take a photograph of her with her two sons – Zo-Zo being unable to leave his bed – and I promised to send her enlargements later. The Gypsy woman and her two wild chauvis then posed for me against their tent, and gave me one of my best Romany Photographs.

As I was photographing Bella and her sons, a Gypsy woman visitor arrived by Bella’s tents, and stood watching the procedure, she meanwhile giving a performance of a state of high impatience, coughing, clapping her hands as at the final of a theatre act, and unceasingly tapping at the earth with her feet which were shoe-clad. She kept commanding: “Bella! Bella! Enough! Enough! Come, come!”

I had sufficient difficulty in getting the wild boys to stay quiet for one photograph, without the further trouble of the impolite interruptions of the newcomer which fretted them. Therefore I was determined not to let the visitor hurry me unduly. If anything I prolonged the photography.

The impatient Gypsy was a young woman of medium stature and build, her coloring unusually pallid for a Romany. Her eyes also were pale and very prominent; their expression predatory. Her teeth were bad and her shoulders very rounded. She was arrayed in a stage-version type of Gypsy dress, consisting of a scarf of pea-green satin bound tightly across her brow, long-sleeved blouse also of green satin, and a skirt of royal blue velvet, much worn of its pile, ragged of hem and many sizes too big for the thin body which carried it.

The photography ended, the woman in the thin angry voice began to reprimand Bella for having kept her waiting. Bella then informed me that the young woman was wanting me to visit the tent of her people and to photograph them, and had come to Bella for that purpose, to lead me to her family. She explained further that the woman was one of a party of Roumanian Gypsies camping on the site; and that she had promised them that she would ask me to visit their tent.

“They are very high-blood Gypsies,” Bella informed me in some awe, looking in respect towards her impatient visitor, who was still performing much toe-tapping and angry head-tossing. “They’re real Hungaros, and have much pride. They’ll be very angry with me if you do not visit them this day.”

I turned therefore to the ill-tempered Hungaro, and told her: “Very well, if your people wish it, I’ll be happy to visit your tents and take photographs.”

The Hungaro then immediately took my arm, her fingers so tightly pressed into my flesh that I again thought of a predatory being. She led the way at fast pace to her people’s tents at the far end of the site. Isabella and her two sons followed after us, and also my three Spanish companions.

The family tent of the Hungaros was a big one, the largest and grandest on the site. It was indeed a marquee of grey canvas, with tasseled decorations of cord on the upper parts of the outside walls. On entering within at the Hungaro’s command, what a strange scene was to be beheld! For richness of color, and for the bizarre, grotesque and dramatic qualities, it was of the nature of a painting of Goya: Goya who was himself a friend of the Gypsies.

There were near twenty Gypsy figures gathered in the ill-lit interior; three men and the rest of the company, women of all ages. There was not one child to be seen. The men were in ordinary clothes, apart from their wide-brimmed hats, which all were wearing dispute the sultry atmosphere of the tent. Only the weathered appearance of their faces and their fierce eyes gave evidence of Gypsy blood. The women were almost all dramatically arrayed in theatrical Gypsy clothes after the style of the young woman who had brought us to the tent. It was obvious that they had dressed themselves thus for the occasion of my visit, and doubtless that was one reason for the impatience of Bella’s visitor, whom I learnt bore the name of Helena-Lena.

From traveling chests and baskets, the Hungaro women must have pulled out their head scarves, their shawls and blouses and skirts, their high-heeled shoes. Their apparel was a collection of faded silks and satins, velvets, and even a fur-cape worn by one grey-faced crone. All the clothing was very greased and drab-looking and smelling powerfully of garlic, with which many Gypsies pack their clothes and rugs as a protection against destruction by moths.

I was thankful for the pungent garlic aroma, for there was in the tent a loathsome smell of unclean human bodies and hair, not the pleasant wood-smoke and earthy smell of the habitual country-living Gypsy. The atmosphere was rank and oppressive, and how the flies swarmed and troubled the air with their shrill chorusing; a black insect plague every-where and upon everything, whilst on the ground the sand ants, too, moved in red processions. Many of the women held fans of folded newspapers, with which they sought to beat away from themselves the pestering insects above and below, and also to create some air flow.

Most of the gathering of women were pale-skinned, with reddish-hued hair showing under their loosely fitting head-scarves. Further red of eyebrows, and pale eyed, either red-lashed or very pink-lidded and without lashes. The noses of the majority of them were long and curved, looking to me much like the beaks of carnivorous birds. Only four women of the company looked of Spanish Gypsy type; and they were not in festive wear as were the others, but plainly dressed in black, they most likely being neighbors from the camping site, merely invited into the marquee of the Hungaros for my visit.

One of the men, a bent faded figure, wearing a big black hat of beaver-felt, which being many sizes too large for him hid his eyes from sight, was smoking at a big hookah pipe. That was the first time that I had seen such a pipe in use, outside the small room of my childhood home in Manchester, where my father had kept all of his special Turkish property, and which room we had all known simply as “The Turkish Room”. The centre piece of the tent, however, was not the hookah pipe, but a big silver samovar, newly polished and of which the Hungaros seemed very proud, considering the many times they called attention to that object. I think that the article also had been brought out from storage for my benefit, as it appeared to be merely a thing of ornament, and was not in use for the brewing of Russian tea.

The gifts of food which I had been keeping for Maria and her children, for my visit to the street of the Gypsies, I gave to the crone in the fur-cape, who appeared to be the head woman of the party of Hungaros. It thus meant that I would have to purchase further gifts for Maria, and as my money was at an end I would be compelled to endure one footless day as a result of my visit to the marquee of the Hungaros. Yet I had no regrets; the scene within the tent was such that I was unlikely to meet with elsewhere in my lifetime. The very atmosphere was electric with human emotions, while the bad smells and the chorusing flies and swarming ants added to its strangeness.

The people in the tent talked with me for half an hour, mostly questioning me as to my travels, and whether the Gypsies whom I had met had been rich in possessions or poor in possessions. “Very Poor,” I told them, in truth, and my answer seemed not to please them.

I passed round amongst my collection of photographs of English and French Gypsies, which they well enjoyed. I found that they knew very many of the Romany words in general use with the English Gypsies, and their emotions were childlike as they translated my Romany words back into the peculiar type of Spanish that they spoke.

One word was certainly known to Lena, who had been seated herself at my side and was sharing with me one of the soiled cushions which gave us some seating protection from the ants. Lena’s word was love (money) and this she importuned unceasingly  as an under-chorus to the shrill string orchestra of the flies: “Lova! Lova! Lova!” Sometimes she broke her mono-word chorus with a second Romany lav (Romany word), which was tuvlo (tobacco): “tuvlo! tuvlo! tuvlo!”

As I was enjoying myself so well among the strange com pay, feasting my eyes upon the peculiar and very individual Romany faces, I finally gave heed to Lena’s importunings, and paid her love enough to buy tuvlo for all the people gathered in the tent; thus ensuring for myself a second foodless day before I departed from Valencia. That money she handed to one of the men, and sent him forthwith away to buy cigarettes.

I will speak what good of Lena I am able, and tell that she was not mean with the cigarettes when they were brought to her, but distributed one each to all, including Bella and my three non-Gypsy companions.

I do not smoke, but as I sat in the marquee surrounded by smokers, I was much tempted to ask the man with the hookah to let me have some pulls at his pipe. But his teeth being so black and his person so greasy and all-over filthy, I would not give such speech to my desire.

The cigarettes all consumed, Lena began then to chorus at me a further word of: “Hoben! Hoben! Hoben!” That had been the hunger cry, earlier, of RIco and Plata.

“You already have food,” I told her, my voice sharp. I was by then much determined to resist all further pestering from Lena. “I gave the lady in the fur-cape many bags of good food for you all.”

“I’ve much hunger,” persisted Lena. Then holding out her hands dramatically, an adult imitation of the begging act of Rico, she screeched: “I have bauro bokaloben! (big famine, bokaloben also means “lucky” in many Romany dialects). Lova! Lova! Por konna. (a meal)”

I was already knowledgeable of the Romany art practiced by many a Romany, upon the gawje (non Gypsy) especially, of willing money and other objects away from chosen victims. The art is usually practiced by women members of the kawlo rat (dark blood). I have spoken with many gawje women who have parted entirely unwillingly with things which they valued, when under the spell of a Gypsy woman’s persuading. Only twice before on all of my meetings with Gypsies through the many years, had the mongering art been practiced in such a form upon me, and neither time with success. I must here admit to having employed the art myself on few occasions, to obtain things that I much desired, but which further the victims could always well spare. Whereas at the time of my meeting with the Hungaros I was in a state of penury, and could not spare one further peseta for the unceasing wants of Lena. Therefor, with finality, I told the Gypsy:

“No!” and my voice was loud and determined. “Nothing! Nothing!” With that declaration I left the cushion and went towards the tent opening; movement proving difficult owing to the crowding people. I heard an oath of anger from Lena, followed by an equally indignant murmurous chorus from the rest of the party of Hungaros. I had some difficulty in finding the door aperture, it being hung with rugs of animal skins, in oriental style. Each rug was formed from the skins of several animals, complete with head, fastened together with leathern thongs. At first I had thought the skins to be of dogs, but close view showed me that they were pelts of wolves.

I was angry at Lena’s lack of traditional Gypsy hospitality and the fact that the other women had supported her in her mongering. It was the first time that I had been inited to a Romany home and treated with discourtesy: I felt ashamed that my non-Gypsy friends should have witnessed the rudeness. The Gypsy caravan or tent, and the fireside, are traditional places of hospitality; there, always, the guest can be confident of good treatment. Away from the two places there is no telling what treatment may be met with; but in general the Gypsy is kindly to the visitor.

Pages 161-168

As Gypsies Wander img pg 161

At once the tent front was parted and a woman came out into the night. She was handsome, I could tell that at once despite the dim light. Her good looks came from her abundant smooth black hair, worn with a centre parting, and framing her still young face of an attractive oval shape and with fine lineaments. Except for a torn dress she was naked, her feet too being bare. Her form was shadowy in the blue light of the stars and the starving fire.

Immediately I put into her hands bags of cherries and cakes, I telling her, “I’m staying in Valencia, and want very much to talk with Spanish Gypsies.”

The Gypsy laughed excitedly at my words, and threw back her head and clapped her hands. She then called to her children in the tent, telling them to put some clothes upon their bodies and come forth and meet with a stranger from overseas who herself looked like a Gitana. Next she kicked her fire back into life, and further, crouching in the dust, blew fiercely upon the embers in the familiar skilled Gypsy way, until orange crocus flowers of the flame were soon pushing forth from the black ashes, and those she fed with handfuls of straw and sticks. As she worked at her fire she told that her name was Isabella, and she lived in the encampment with her three young sons.

Two of Isabella’s children soon appeared, they being fully revealed in the brightness of the rekindled fire. The two small boys were grotesque figures with their thin, scarecrow-like bodies decked in the most tattered of clothing, and their brilliant, wild-looking eyes shining through low-hanging fringes of unbrushed hair.

I told Isabella my name, and asked her the names of the two boys. I was informed that one was Rico (Rich), an abbreviation of Frederico, the other Plata (Silver {Spanish}), ironical names regarding the emaciated ragged forms of their owners. When Rico and Plata beheld the food that I had given to their mother, which she had placed on the far side of the tent, and of which they, with quivering nostrils, had, like truffle hours, pounced upon all, and fighting and yelling at each other, quickly ate up everything including, seemingly, the cherry stones, Isabella fought with her wild children, shouting at them that they must leave some food for their other brother, but hunger and the presence of food put the boys beyond her control. In short time not a scrap of anything remained, and then Rico ate also pieces of paper bag where the cakes had left grease marks. It was real hunger that I witnessed, and yet the children seemed happy enough, vivid and lively and full of wit and naughtiness.

Isabella then took me to see her third son, who was older than Rico or Plata. He lay in the small tent, bedded on a pile of sacks; an ashen-faced boy with a bandaged head. I gave him cherries from the small store that I had been saving for the house-dwelling Gypsies whom we were to visit later. “Zo-Zo”, the mother named her third child, and tragic he looked in the candlelight that Isabella brought into the tent. Gypsy children are so unused to sickness they fret themselves when confined to a bed. The child brought from under the sacking covering him a big, black living rat, and told me that it was his special friend and kept him good company during the days that his bad head was causing him to be in bed.

“He is the king of the rats of Spain,” he told me, and swung the ugly creature by its long, naked tail. He then shared some of his cherries with the rat.

Soon Isabella led me outside to my companions. She then worked on the fire again until a good flame was achieved, and then coming to my side took my hand and began to peer at it. She asked me if she could give my hand a reading, and for answer I drew a piece of silver across her forehead. She pulled me down by the fire, and the Gypsy lads grouped themselves on either side of me. My future was told in a mixture of Spanish and French, most of which I was able to understand. Isabella’s words came in a ready flow, proving  her adept at such work, but all that she said was entirely apart from my own way of life, and was only of entertainment value to me, and therefor I encouraged her in her fantasies of rich men and big houses, I disliking both.

In the midst of the session of palmistry, another Gypsy woman appeared. She was one of the dirtiest-looking human beings that I have ever beheld, her rags lacking the general quality of the picturesque, they being so begrimed and evil smelling. Her body was enormous with pregnancy, and her confinement must have been within the week. She spoke no word at all, but merely came amongst us and indicated the condition of her body and then stretched out her hand in begging gesture. When she had been given money she went away, still not having spoken to any of us, including her fellow Gypsies. Isabella, meanwhile, continued her reading of my hand, where I continued to meet with rich men and live in big houses.

When the palmistry was ended, Bella called to her sons to give an entertainment of song and dance. That they did, admirably, in the poppy glow of the fire, which their mother fed well with twists of straw and with slats of wood which she tore from old boxes, she wishing to keep a good light for the dancing performance. Firstly the boys performed the slow, sad dances of Spain, eyes downcast in the traditional manner. Then came the leaping, passionate dances of the Gypsies, with eyes then held half-closed in almost trance-like manner. We, the audience, clapped our hands, struck our hips and chorused “ole’s” to inspire the young dancers into a true frenzy of a Gypsy zam bra. Fantastic scene! The ragged cild dancers, small and brown, and lithe as salamanders in the firelight; their setting of rubble-piled earth and litter of bottles and old tins, the surrounding tents, and above, the brilliant Spanish stars; it gave to me one more Gypsy impression that I shall remember always.

The dancing was followed by Gypsy songs, shrill and wild and very unskilled, yet so heart-stirring that I heaped upon the two performers the cherries and other foods that I had been keeping for the house Gypsies. I would have stayed at the encampment the night long.

However, I was no longer alone with my companions and Bella and her sons, for the dancing and singing and our applauding, had brought many other Gypsies from their tents. Although the new audience stood beyond the firelight and were merely huddled, watchful shapes in the crowding darkness which even the stars could not light, their presence caused much uneasiness to my non-Gypsy companions, and they commanded that I should leave the place immediately with them. Bella had been hopeful that she would read the hands of the further three visitors but they would not stay. As they had shown me much kindness in accompanying me to the Gypsies, I did not want to disobey a further time the request to leave and therefore I turned away from the fireside.

I promised Bella that I would return on the morrow afternoon, and show to her some of my Gypsy photographs, and photograph her and her sons, if she wished. I then followed after my friends, staying as I passed the ragged tent wherein lay Zo-Zo, to fling on his bed handfuls of cherries and biscuits that I had kept for him and his king rat. Rico and Plata accompanied us a goodly distance from the encampment, they providing entertainment all of the time, shouting, dancing and acerbating; two small Gypsy clowns, very endearing and yet pathetic as clowns are always pathetic.

Safely away from the camping ground my friends were in god humor with me again, and were agreeable to guiding me to the street of the Gypsies, despite the lateness of the hour. They said that the house-dwelling Gypsies were law-abiding and safe people. The street was only a short distance from the place of the tent dwellers, and we were soon there. It was not only my imagination that the street of the Gypsies possessed an atmosphere different from any of the others which I visited during my daily explorations on foot of the exquisite and enthralling city of Valencia: there was great difference. There were more animals in the Gypsy street than elsewhere. Although it was late, many big dogs yet played in the roadway, moving growling into house doorways at our coming. In the courtyards goats were to be seen, and I further had sight of donkeys and mules. There were much poultry roosting on wooden perches in tall cages, or tied with cords to posts, by their legs, to prevent their straying away. As many of the Gypsies of Valencia are flower-sellers, and keep their wares in the coolth of their yards, exquisite flower-scents met us as we walked by, especially the favorite of Spain – the carnation. Despite the time being night, twitter of birds and sometimes trills of sweet song, came from the habitations of the bird-catchers. Much activity could be heard in the houses, through the open windows clamor of voices where people crowded into small rooms; and often enough the music of guitars and the throb of castanets.

“Wherever the Gitanas are there’s music and song,” commented my friends.

“That is true,” I agreed, “always music and song.” And I recalled to mind the unearthly street music of the French Gypsy Django and, further, all the skilled guitarists of Les Saintes Maries -the singing of Fernandez- and the constant accompaniment of the tamarisk trees there. I was wearing the ear-rings given to me by the Alsace-Lorraine Gypsy, Jean Beau-Marie.

Not many Gypsies were in the street and the few that we passed stared after us, doubtless wondering what affairs had brought us to their place at late night. The little that I could see of them in the wan lamplight, showed all to be of the true Spanish type, lithe and swarthy and very vital.

When we were close by the end of the street a woman of some thirty years, who had been walking short paces ahead of us, turned to my companions and greeted them. She told that they were known to her from the restaurant, where her brothers and sisters sometimes danced and sang during the summer season. She told her name, which was Maria. Her features were of the same attractive type as Bella’s, and she was of similar figure. But where as Bella had been of disheveled appearance and clothed in rags, Maria was well kept and dressed; her black hair binding her brow being as swathes of jet-hued satin. She wore ear-ings of pearl and gold, and her gown was of modern design, made of brilliant red satin, partly covered by a black cape. Her shapely feet were in red leather shoes, with high Spanish heals, a golden bangle was worn around one fine angle. Fashionable Paris would have welcomed her. She was very friendly and laughter-lit, her ready laughter being much to her advantage, because it called attention with such frequency to her perfect teeth in their setting of beautifully curved peony-red lips.

When my friends told her their reason for being in the street of the Gypsies she immediately invited us into her house. The room into which she took us was well-kept and very orderly. Gypsies in houses are inclined to collect much rubbish around them, I have observed; so that often enough there is little space left for movement.  They are especially apt to crowd their rooms with animals, many dogs and often enough poultry and goats; and I have met with colts and donkeys in the living-rooms. Also implements and materials for their various handicrafts occupy much space. Indeed, Gypsies possessing houses oftentimes crowd the rooms with litter and animals, and themselves live out i the yard; perhaps returning to the house at night for sleep. I do not blame them. There was no litter in Maria’s house, nor animals, only sleeping children.

The centre piece of the room was a wide mattress, occupying much of the uncarpeted floor, on which lay the forms of three children in deep sleep, covered by a quilt of brilliant colors, heavily embroidered. Close by the bed was a brazier filled with glowing charcoal and in one corner of the room there was a pile of charcoal and also olive roots, to provide further feed for the fire. There was little furniture and no chairs, which is not unusual in a Romany home, Gypsies habitually preferring to sit upon the floor. This I found true also of the Mexican peasants who are so much Gypsy in their ways; and furthermore, very typical of the Arabs who likewise are very Gypsy: all three peoples are beloved to me. The walls were hung with many religious pictures of bright prints such as seen in Catholic peasant homes, the pictures framed plainly in wood. On one wall side there were fixed rows of hooks, holding much clothing. In the Gypsy house it seemed strange to see hanging there a coat of fur and many American-style dresses. The general impression of the room was of cleanliness and happiness.

Maria talked with us a goodly time, telling about the Gypsy life of Valencia. From her I learnt that in Valencia also, the Romanichals follow their traditional trades: flower-sellers, chair-menders, basket-makers, glass- and copper-workers, tinsmiths, horse smiths, horse, mule and donkey traders, bootblacks, and above all – and more general to the Spanish and Oriental Gypsies than elsewhere- popular entertainers, dancers, singers, guitarists, and acrobats, also bull-fighters. Always trades where the Gypsy can live indecently of a master: a Gypsy works for himself only, and his family, whenever possible. Other work is casual, such as seasonable fieldwork and sometimes factory work, where their swift and deft hands make them popular.

Maria talked also about Gypsy weddings, and promised me that if I could stay long enough in Valencia she would invite me to a Romany bod a (Gypsy wedding), where I would experience some o the best entertainment in Spain, for to such festivities thronged the finest Gypsy dancers and singers, also the toreadors. The entertainers gave freely of their talent and time, the bull-fighters their esteemed patronage – all in payment for the wines and the food provided at such celebrations. She told us that only a week past there had been a Gypsy wedding in the port district of Valencia, and the feasting had continued throughout three nights.

I apologized for having come as a stranger and a visitor into her house, with empty hands, so contrary to Gypsy custom. I promised her that if she would let me visit her again I would bring sweetmeats for her children. I told her how I had not been able to resist giving all that I carried to the hungry boys of the Gypsy encampment. Maria said that they were bad Gypsies there, a place of thieves, and that we should not have gone near there after dark.

My friends then nodded their heads at me: “You see! It is as we warned you,” they reproached me. But I thought of the ragged tents and the children prancing like salamanders in the firelight, and was pleased with my visit and knew that I should return on the morrow.

Our chattering voices awoke the sleeping children, and they were fretful and uneasy as are all children disturbed in their night-time sleep. And the hour by then being near midnight, we told Maria that we must leave her. She promised me that she would tell many Gypsy friends of my next which she hoped would be on the morrow, when I would then be able to see many of the reputed most beautiful Gypsies of Valancia, goodly numbers of them living in the street where I was then visiting.

As I was passing through the door in the rear of my friends, the Gypsy put her hand on my arm and then said: “I’ve formed a bit love for your ear-rings, will you change them for mine?”

Such a request was not of great surprise to me, it is a very general thing for Gypsy men to chop dicklos (swop neck-scarfs), and the women their head scarves and various trinkets. But Maria’s earrings were fine finer than my own, being of gold and pearl and finely carved. Mine were of slight monetary value, made only of light beaten copper set with blue glass stones; but their sentimental value was infinite, they being a gift from a Gypsy chief who had fastened them on to my ears with a blessing of Gypsy luck, and they were further a constant reminder of the fantastic Gypsy fiesta of Les Saintes Maries. I knew that I must refuse Maria, but I did not want in any way to offend her, she having been most hospitable and kindly in her home. Therefore I took much trouble to explain to Maria all the circumstances of the coming of the earrings to me; and she forgave me my refusal. She was indeed amused to know that it was a Gypsy man who had given them, and that fact was at the heart of her forgiveness. Yet before she finally let me go and ended the subject, she took one of her own handsome rings from her ear and placed it in my hand, where the weight of the metal felt heavy. She then told me with Gypsy shrewdness: “If one day you meet with a new Gypsy man, and loving you he will not wish to see in your ears rings given to you by another, but want you only to wear those of his own giving; will you think of Maria and remember her want for them with the blue brilliants.” And she touched my ears with her fingers.

“Oh Maria! Maria! you Gypsy!” I teased. “Yes, I give such a promise to you.” I thought then of the rings in the ears of the Golden Gypsy, M., and such an overwhelming sadness came down upon me that I could have sat then in the gutter and wept.

But my companions urged: “Come, come, hurry. How late it is. At home they’ll be filled with fears for us.”

It was indeed a late hour; yet from open windows the music of guitars and castanets could still be heard in the street of the Gypsies.

Pages 159-160

As Gypsies Wander img pg 160

Chapter IX

The Bad and the Good Gypsies of Valencia

I travelled to Valencia from the Gypsy fiesta of Les Saintes Maries, and on my second evening there I went to visit two communities of Gypsies. The in where I was staying, in the port district, was within a short walk of a Gypsy encampment and also a street of Gypsies. Three members of the inn proprietor’s family agreed to guide me to both places.
I purchased din as (gifts) for the Gypsies, sweetmeats and cakes and cherries, and went by starlight for my first meeting with Spanish Gypsies in their own land. The encampment came before the Gypsy street, and proved to be a square of wasteland crowded with tents, the waste having been created by bomb destruction during the Civil War. Amongst the rubble still lying there, were pitched the Gypsy tents, of black and brown canvas, and some merely of sacking pulled over iron rods. The starlight being dim, made it difficult to see much of the scene, there being little other light than the stars and flickering flames from the fires which burnt mostly in small braziers placed close by the tents. The night was very cold, with a sea-wind blowing and lifting clouds of sand from the rubble and sending it swirling like smoke around the encampment. The cold had driven all of the Gypsies within their tents, and the deserted place made a sinister scene, enhanced by the various sounds coming from the closed dwellings.
From a near tent the thin wailing of a babe, on and on, unceasing. From another a woman’s voice in song, with a man contributing notes, both voices raucous and unbeautiful, doubtless lit by wine. Melody from a mouth-organ came from a small tent constructed only of sacking and sheets of cardboard, fixed together by string, and which must have been a sorry shelter at times of rain. That dwelling seemed to be the home of children, for from within came the chatter of shrill treble voices, much resembling the clamor of starlings gathering on city buildings in winter evenings. While from the majority of the dwellings issued a sound common to many Gypsy encampments, a gale of human snoring; lusty and far-carrying, greatly imitative of the noise with which in childhood days my sisters and brothers and I used to indicate the slumber of giants in castles or mountain caverns.
My friends told me: “Almost all are in sleep; we should go from here.”
The man of our party of four, who was a clerk, then promised: “To-morrow afternoon I have freedom from work. We can return then and you can bring your camera and take good pictures in the sunlight.” At first I would make no reply. I was sad and disappointed at the suggestion that we should go from the encampment. The place enthralled me. The indigo shadows thrown by the surrounding buildings, the weird shapes of the hillocks of rubble, the forms of the tents themselves, and the orchestra of strange sounds. When one woman unexpectedly began to chant in Arabic, that thin piercing wail which my father had loved so well, I knew that I could not leave the encampment thus soon. I felt like a child about to be taken away from the pantomime before the curtain had risen on the first scene.
“I would stay a little longer,” I told my companions. The clerk replied: “It is night now and very dark, these are not good places to be near after darkness.”
I could not take away my gifts unused. Close by where we stood there was one black tent, and behind it a small one of low height, doubles for children. Both the tents appeared very poor-looking tattered things, when momentarily illumined by spurts of flames from the almost dead fire belonging to them. Whoever lived in those two tents certainly would be glad of cherries and cakes. So thinking, I moved defiantly from beside my companions, and stepping to the larger of the tents called within: “I’ve a gift for you.”

Pages 153-158

The canvas of my memory is crowded with interesting figures whom I met at the Camargue Gypsy fiesta. M., in the center, and then the others arrayed around him: so many wonderful people.
There was Jean Beau-Marie, Gypsy chief from Alsace-Lorraine. A strange figure, sombre as his own shadow. Dressed entirely in black: white-faced, black fanatical eyes, black hair coming low down his neck and in long side chops. His pallid face notable for the sadness of its expression. The Nazis had turned him thus: Jean had seen his brother hanged by them. He carried many papers of honorable mention from the French military in recognition of his work throughout the war. (Very many of the French bohemians, knowing that there was no survival for the Gypsies under the Hitler regime, served with the Maquis, carrying out works of sabotage in which, owing to the elusive nature of the true Romany, they had an especial skill.) Jean was the bell ringer in the church for the Gypsy fiesta, and there was something prophetic in that sombre figure pulling at the ropes which sent the great bells clanging and summoning. Ring out the bad and the cruel: ring in the new and the better.
qJean was a constant friend to me throughout the fiesta. He accepted my love for M. and knew that such an emotion cannot be shared. He escorted me to Gypsy balls and guitar playing contest, and he being one of the most popular and esteemed Gypsies at the fiesta – on account of his anti-Nazi work for his people – introduced me to many of the important Gypsy personages.
Before he left Camargue he placed on my ears a pair of antique Gypsy ear-rings, of beaten copper set with blue stones the color of the kingfishers which flash across the pools in the Camargue marshes. He gave me also a pink double rose which he says will hold its scent for ever. I still have Jean’s rose, many years have passed away since the Camargue fiesta and the flower still retains its lovely perfume.
Dr. Paul Fenet was one of the Gypsy notables to whom Jean introduced me. He was the first Gypsy doctor whom I had met. Jean brought the doctor to me during a guitar-playing contest. and we conversed to that background sound of crying, sighing music. As soon as I beheld the doctor I knew that I was meeting with an outstanding personality and character. The man was crippled and walked with sticks, he always since being attended by a faithful Gypsy servant. His figure was lean and lithe as a Gypsy lurcher dog, and the eyes as keen and quick and far-seeing, though paradoxically they were also mystical of expression. His dress was picturesque: being a tan, wide-brimmed felt hat, khaki twill jacket adorned with a deep collar of natural lambskin, narrow-legged fawn trousers, and bright tan leather shoes, hued and as polished as horse chestnuts newly dropped from their green shells. The wide hat and the lambskin collar well set off the Gypsy’s wonderful face which, in shape and expression, seemed to me to resemble an Eastern prince. Certainly that face was remarkably oriental, with high cheek-bones, strong nose with unusually arched nostrils, and long dark eyes with such attracting express. This Gypsy doctor was famed for his skill not only with human beings – he specializing in psychology – but also in true Gypsy tradition he was an expert in the veterinary care of racehorses and cattle.

The guitar music played on unceasing as the beating of sea waves, and the doctor and I – with Jean beau-Marie often acting as interpreter for my limited French and Spanish – conversed in its ebb and its flow, telling of herbs and their wonderful powers to restore and to cure. The doctor himself had fallen down a mountain ravine when searching for medicinal herbs and been injured so severely that had he been without his herbal knowledge which he had applied to his injuries after rescue, he would have succumbed. As it was he was crippled for life. We talked on into the heart of the dawn: and then when the herbs of the Camargue were opening out their flowers to greet the new light, we went to our beds to close our eyes in long delayed sleep.
Artists and photographers throng at the Les Saintes Maries fiesta, and it was a Gypsy whom I found the most memorable of them all. Pascal Durand is an artist who during the winter lives in Montreuil, Paris, working in oils on the rough but exquisite pencil sketches of Gypsies which he makes during hi spring and sumer travels. For, possessing the true spirit of the Romany, he must escape fro the imprisonment of the towns when the trees show their youngest leaves in each new year. This, he told me, was due to his love for the adventure of the roads and the quiet and the mystery of the mountains, and again for the natural gaiety of the Gypsy people – so different from the artificial gaiety of the town cafes – and their abundant beauty.
Pascal is of half-French half-Hungarian parentage. He has the face and body of a French peasant, an almost simple face except for its good shape of nose and jaw – and the eyes! It was the eyes that revealed his Gypsy blood: wild, flashing, magnificent. When first I beheld him he was sketching a little Gypsy girl, holding her fascinated by his talk; and ever afterwards whenever I met with him he was at work, sketching ceaselessly. At a Gypsy ball I saw an incident which was typical of Pascal and his work. During the ball a fight with knives commenced between two brothers, and all the dancers fled the ballroom, knowing well the danger of such combat; it was extraordinary how quickly the crowded floor of the bar where the dance was being held was emptied. But Pascal stayed on there, busy with his pencil and pad, recording the horrible combat which the Gypsies finished afterwards amongst the tamarisk trees. Along with his painting Pascal possesses a great love for poetry and music and is very knowledgeable concerning the French poets and musicians. He himself resembled a brilliant Gypsy painting, with the bright colors of his ungroomed thick black hair, glittering, restless sea-blue eyes set in ruddy-fleshed face, and then his habitual attire (for I never saw him clothed differently) of ragged brown trousers and sun-faded red shirt, daubed with a multitude of paint-marks so numerous that they made almost a pattern upon the shirt.
There thronged also at the fiesta the fortune-tellers; and Louise Batista attracted me most. Her face was typical, legendary Gypsy with its high cheek-bones, compelling fierce eyes, proud mouth and deep bronze complexion and skin-weathering of life-long exposure to sun and wind. She was a most likable personality with her shrewd young and quick wit and her passionate love for her one daughter which is the flame in her strange and tragic life. I visited Mme Batista daily, loving her conversation and finding much pleasure also merely in regarding her fine proud face. Always she was seated upon the ground, being a true Romany with that close kinship with the earth; and she would croon to the fire to bring it into flame sufficient to cook the contents of the big black stew-pot. Her long-skirted dress of faded lilac cotton enhanced the fine lines of her tall, lithe body and revealed how she moved with the grace of a gazelle – swift she was, too, as a gazelle.
From her I increased my knowledge of fortune-telling, hand-reading. Mme Batista was unusually skilled, possessing those clairvoyant powers essential to the true fortuneteller. And yet she was poor – as so many of the truly talented are poor whilst the shoddy and make-believe prosper – so poor that she was only able to stay for the first day of the fiesta, and then moved onwards leaving but the charred scaring of her fire. I sorrowed because of her departure, but such being general to Gypsies the world over one must learn to rejoice in their presence and not be hurt by their constant leave-takings; consider them as one considers the migratory birds, most precious because so soon away, and maybe, alas! not to return.
Then furthermore – and the biggest group of all at the fiesta – were the musicians and the singers. And when I think upon all whom I met with at Les Saintes Maries, it is Fernandez Caulas who steps before my eyes. Or indeed strolls before my eyes; he a strolling player, a troubadour, being skilled in both music and song, the sweet love songs of France and Spain and above all of his own people – the Gypsies.
Fernandez was born in Algeria, of a Spanish Gypsy father and French non-Gypsy mother. He tells proudly that his Romany grandmother was a sorceress, his uncle a great singer. His father was a hunter, always in the forests or on the mountains, trapping animals and birds for their skins and plumage. Years ago he failed to return from a hunt in mountains of Algeria and has been seen no more, although Fernandez and others have searched long for him. The early years of Fernandez’s life were spent in Paris where he learned to read and write, and in this he differed from most of the Gypsies at Les Saintes marries – and the works over indeed. With the black, lank shining hair of the Spaniard, and wide eyes the light blue of chicory flowers, reeded by long black lashes, Fernandez was one of the handsomest Gypsies at the fiesta, having also a face beautifully formed, with the sensitive mouth and broad brow which indicates a romantic quality of mind. His voice was tenor, and really did possess that far-carrying throbbing quality of the nightingales at love-time.
I met Fernandez on the last evening of the fiesta, when the Golden Gypsy had gone “over the hill an’ far away” and I was consumed with loneliness. Always I shall bless his music and his songs for distracting my mind from the pain of M.’s departure. Fernandez proved to be very entertaining, for he conversed well on the subjects of white and black magic, phantoms and warlocks, land-sprites and menfolk; he was knowledgeable also concerning the ways of the bygone troubadours of France and Spain, and possessed much information on the history and location of the old chateaux of France especially of Provence.
I left Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer with Fernandez and his cousin Toni (also a half-Gypsy: with an Italian mother and a Spanish Gypsy father), a skillful accordion player and musical partner to Fernandez – when they have not quarreled with each other. During the train journey across the flat green marshes of the cam argue, the two men in typical Gypsy fashion, sang and made music, and the passengers, recognizing their talent, paid them generously, so that when we reached the town of Aries, we were able to enjoy an excellent meal and many bottles of the red wine of Provence. The wine – and the shimmering golden sunlight – inspired more music ad song from Fernandez and Toni, and thus we passed our day, wafering along the sun-gold paths near the river Rhone. Pink roses of intoxicating scent tossing in the river breezes against the azure Provencal sky, wild canaries flitting through dark copses, poppies and marigolds kissing our feet: the ending of the fiesta.
At dusk I was taking a train further southwards to Spain the two Gypsy men were going in other directions to Marseille. I remember well how the spell of the Gypsy fiesta in the Camargue was so powerful upon me, that I being in such dreaming state, took the wrong train, and went northwards as far as Lyons, were I had to remain the night on the station and retrace my way south in the dawn of the next day.

Pages 147-153

CHAPTER VIII

 

Gypsy Fiesta in Provence

Much of this chapter appeared in the Gypsy Lore Society Journal, Vol. XXIX

There is a Gypsy shrine in the Camargue: the most mysterious part of mysterious Provence. Those far-stretching plains and marshes pasture wild black bulls and near wild horses; in the reed-beds dwell eotic birds of Africa – the sunset plumaged flamingoes and the moon-white egrets; the Little Rhone shimmers and flashes on its way to the Mediterranean sea to marry its waters with those of the Great Rhone, and along the shores rise camel humps of tawny sand dunes bearing dark crowns of tamarisk trees. There could be no better setting for the Gypsies.

They come! they come! the wild dark people. From all parts of France – whereto belongs the Camargue; from Italy, Spain, Portugal, Roumania, Hungary, Yugoslavia – even from America. For days before the annual pilgrimage on the 24th and 25th of May, the sound of the oncoming caravan wheels and horses hooves, is as thunderous as one of the stormy seas at the mouth of the Great Rhone. The modern Gypsy of France and Italy travels often enough in lorries or motor-driven caravans, the rich from Spain – the professional dancers, musicians, and bull-fighters – come in limousines, the poor of all countries make their way on foot carrying their tents on their backs, as Gypsies have done through all time – since their beginning.

The shrine which brings the Gypsies to the Camargue is the tomb of the only saint possessed by the Romanies, Sainte Sara, ‘la Vierge Noire’. Now the Gypsies are celebrated tellers of tales, being people who gather around fires to converse and romanticize, and thus countless legends have being about their patron saint Sara. The principal seem to be that she was the servant of the two Marys – Salome and Jacobe, who fled from Palestine after the crucifixion of Christ. As the Marys left the shore, the faithful servant, the black-fleshed Gypsy girl Sara, cried out to the departing Marys to take her. The boat was gone some distance across the sea, but Mary Salome cast her cloak upon the waves and Sara rode upon it to the out-heald arms of her mistress. The boat in a storm lost provisions and oars, but Sara, powerful with the travelling instinct of the Gypsies, guided the ship by the stars and by the far scent of land, and brought the two Marys safely to the Camargue. She begged there garments from the Provencal fisher-folk, to clothe the saintes (thus originating the Gypsy right to receive old clothes from the gawje (non-Gypsy); earlier she had stolen the nails which held Christ to the cross and taken away his crown of thorns, thus giving the Gypsies the right to steal small objects). It is told that the reason for Sara remaining virgin was, at the time, there were not Gypsies in the Camargue, and she would not wed with a non-Gypsy. This last belief concerning Sainte Sara is of especial significance to the Romanies, because they well realize that the survival of their disliked and persecuted race is much dependent upon the avoidance of mixed marriages. A Gypsy wedding with a gawje is always a time for lamentation amongst the kawlo rat (black blood Gypsy). The fiesta of Les Saintes Maries has long been an occasion for the making of Gypsy unions. Many a chal (lad) has met his chai (girl) in the gathering of the tribes in the Camargue; it is Yugoslavian Romany mating with Spanish, Hungarian, with French – black blood with black blood for ever: the continuance of the ancient race.

Long before I was able to attend the Gypsy fiesta at Les Saintes Maries, I had read and heard much concerning it. I had listened to radio recordings of the Gypsy procession to the sea, for the traditional benediction there of the statue of Sainte Sara, by a high cardinal of Rennes – benediction in the sea. I well remember hearing the hysterical praying of a party of Spanish Gypsies, amongst them the voice of a young woman, keening in flamenco, wild and hot-breathed as the Minstral wind itself which storms over Provence. I was made determined to attend a fiesta. In 1949 I fulfilled my desire.

The 1949 fiesta was notable for two things unusual, the sadly diminished attendance of the Romanies, and the constant sunlight. Usually the weather is ill-favoured for the “fiesta de Gitanes”, but that year there was an abundance of sun which, following three weeks of incessant rain over France, inflamed the Gypsy temperament, and the wild tempest of their music-making, which filled not only the days but also the nights, was indicative of the general feeling of high festival. Unforgettable, that Gypsy music! It felt like a great Romany heart throbbing incessantly in and around Les Saintes Maries: those low thrumming guitars and mewing mandolines – so sad and haunting all, absolute sign of the presence of the Gitanes.

The small numbers of Gypsies attending the 1949 fiesta was typical of the times. The modern mania of forms and formalities, passports, visas, ration cards, finger prints and photographs, and many other bureaucratic impositions, have all made travel both odious and impossible for the true lawless Romanichal. Then there was the further important fact of the 75 per cent extermination of the Gypsies by the Nazis in all occupied parts of Europe, including countries where they had been exceedingly populous. For instance there was only one small party from Hungary, all women and the most beautiful of all seen at the fiesta; they in their exquisite head scarves and long dresses, hand-painted and brilliant as ranunculae flowers which in springtime carpet the plains of their country.

In Gypsy camps were some magnificent horses, and one black stallion from northern France I will never forget. The arched neck, wonderfully muscled body, imbs fine and yet stalwart, the wind-streaming mane and tail, black all and glancing with blue lights as the plumage of ravens: setting a lilac-mauve ending sky streaked blood – from the dying sun, foreground, a brazier charcoal fire glowing the sullen red of rubies, and all around the low-walled black Gypsy tents.

Horses were too few at the fiesta, again the fault of modern times, concrete-surfaced roads overcrowded with motorists who know not of the nature of horses, all making horse travel difficult and often perilous, as I myself have experienced trying to drive a pony and trap in England. But in true Gypsy fashion most of the families had their packs of dogs with them, the majority trained for “la chasse” and as skilled in silent poaching as the Gypsy lurchers of Britain.

When not engaged in the various celebrations associated with the fiesta, men women, and children occupied themselves with basket-making, wood-carving, and card and dice playing. The women also spent much time in begging food and clothes from the gawje (tradition of Sainte Sara!), usually with success because they were so beautiful; also in fortune-telling. Amongst the French Gypsies I found generally the handsome brilliant-eyed faces, the thick shining hair, and the lovely lithe bodies of the true kawlo rat. The children were fascinating, and my admiration must have been recognizable, for two women offered to sell me one of their teeming progeny. The offers greatly tempted me, they being made with all the Gypsy art of persuasiveness; but who can buy another woman’s child and expect true happiness? Certainly not I.

Mention must also be made of the Gypsy dancing, for it was carried on everywhere, and all the time, throughout the “fiesta”, among the little groups of people gathered in the streets, the cafes, or on the sands, to the clapping of hands and cick of castanets, and oftentimes to the music of guitar, mandolin and tambourine. The wild Gypsy fandangos and ritual fire-dances or the sad flamenco. Gypsy dancing! how fantastic and absolutely inimitable it is. This rhythm of the dance above all separates the Gypsy from the gawje. Gypsy dance, like Gypsy music, is spontaneous and improvised, and comes as easily to the performers as their breathing. For my own part I am able to ride with the Gypsies, buy and sell horses and dogs with them, practice herbal medicine as successfully as they, and tent out in the winter months with the hardiest – but when it comes to Gypsy dancing then I find myself as a clumsy-winged heron endeavouring to flight with the soaring brown swifts – which at twilight seem to mount the stars.

Apart from all the other memorable events of the fiesta, there was my meeting with the Gypsy patron saint – Sara. She is entirely the kind of saint whom I can adore. A saint of the people – of the poor, the homeless, the true wanderers. Herself simple and earthy, no simpering tinselled figurehead she; carved of wood, painted a swart Gypsy hue, black haired, dark-eyed, gowned in faded blue, the paint of her strong lips literally kissed away by the warm mouths of the host of Romany chauvi lifted to her in the arms of their parents to receive the blessing of “La Sainte” – through the centuries. (I have seen in Le Figaro, 1952, that a new statue of Sainte Sara is now in use – made 1951. The pity of it! What has become of the old, the beautiful?) Her decoration throughout the fiesta was but a crown of milky roses, which hung pale as stars upon the night-black paint of the head of the Gypsy saint.

I was summoned by the saint herself to her crypt. This was one of those events of Gypsy magic which have occurred many times in my life. It was my intention to stay away from Sainte Sara’s crypt until the end of the fiesta, when the vigil of the Gypsies by the tomb of their saint also ended.

I had been told that the Romanies resented the entry of any who are not full-blooded members of the race, and I wished not to bring annoyance to my friends.

Yet wishing to visit the mysterious-looking ancient church of Les Saintes Maries, I brought candles for the Mary saints and proceeded to the church. The young daughter of the Armenian Gypsy from whose booth I purchased the candles, asked to be allowed to accompany me, and I was pleased to have her. Then within the church, at the shrines of the two Marys, my candles strangely refused to light. There was no stir of air within the church, the atmosphere indeed was sultry, but candleflame after candleflame blew out, and then the candles fell from their places where I had stood them amongst a big collection of others. The only one candle I achieved to bear a flame, then fell backwards upon my arm, inflicting a burn and extinguishing itself.

It was then that the Armenian girl said to me earnestly and consolingly: “It’s not the fault of the candles, my mother’s candles always burn well, many of them here are purchased from her. Let us try them for our sainte Sara.” The girl then took my hand and led me towards the Gypsy crypt.

There indeed my candles all kindled immediately, burnt brightly and stood upright as madonna lilies. The dark eyes of the finely carved figure of the black virgin smiled down upon me in kindliness, strange and mysterious in the swart painted face all marigold tinted by the candles’ flaming.

“Tatchoavel me kushti pens (welcome, my sweet sisters).” she said to the Gypsy girl and me.

“Rinkeno ta kushto miduvels tatcho gairi (beautiful and good angel or lit. My God’s true woman),” I said back to her.

I was alone in the crypt with the Gypsy girl, and I stayed until the entry of a party of Gypsies well litten by wine, and then I went out into the sunlight again.

In that underground crypt I had sensed a definite and forceful presence, as others have also testified. When during the fiesta I returned to Sainte Sara to ask her aid in an affair of the heart, she heard me and helped me.

She, granted me her aid, sent a one-legged musician, Django, and his wonderful and haunting music, to lead me to a Gypsy man whom I had lost through a misunderstanding: he angry with me, and I with him, for no reason at all, only the prevalent fault of loving each other too much. But who, who has not veins filled with lymph instead of blood, can fail to love in such a place at such a time! The days and nights of music, heart-searing as the screaming of the swifts over summer skies, the dark people themselves so bewitching with their Gypsy magic, and the setting of the Camargue – the green, the blue, the gold – and the whispering and sighing tamarisk trees, those trees which Virgil tells interest themselves in the fortunes of lovers…”The tamarisks weep, for gallus, lying by his lonely rock, dying of love for Lycoris.”

So, at the 1914 Gypsy fiesta I loved M., the Golden Gypsy; he like a wild golden antelope. For ever he will be for me the golden heart of that wonderful Gypsy fiesta. And having known him will make me love all Gypsies more for always – indeed all men more.

    M. was not free, he had a jumel (woman) of his own, and they had been happy together for two years and had two children: and I cannot cause sadness. So it was but a few golden hours of the fiesta and then “good-bye, good-bye” for ever.

The Gypsies uphold monogamy, one woman for one man. If a woman be unhappy with a man, she is easily able to leave him for another, and she takes the children with her. It is the woman usually who does the changing. If a man desert his wife, then it is general for her family to search him out and bring him back. A Gypsy man may have many passing loves provided that he does not leave his wife; though some do leave. The Gypsy attitude to love is natural and fresh as the wild flowers of the fields. “Woman is made for man and man for woman; then why not love. When men and women love they do not kill or rob: they become givers. Love is creative not destructive. It is natural to love.” those are the words of a Tunisian Arab spoken to me, but they are entirely the sentiment of the Gypsies. The Gypsies but insist that a woman loves truly. Loves a man only for himself, for his person and voice and his thoughts, not for the caravans or horses or dogs that he may possess, or the trinkets and gowns that he may give to her, to love materially is unforgivable…and I was loving M. only for himself, and Sainte Sara gave her help to us. But the story of the Golden Gypsy is too personal a thing for this book. Perhaps one day he will come stepping into a novel, beautiful as a dream, golden as the sunlight of Provence.

 

Pages 145-146

As Gypsies Wander - photo page 145

When in March, 1953 Dr. Aubrey Westlake of Fordingbridge, asked me to speak to a meeting of the Rural District Council of Ringwood and Fordingbridge, on behalf of the New Forest Gypsies, I spoke mostly what I have written here. The meeting was held to consider the problem of a Gypsy compound, known as Tin Town, which had become infested with wire-worm and over-crowded with humanity owing to far too many homeless Gypsies having settled there. Dr. Westlake wanted to obtain from the council a resolution restoring to the Gypsies their traditional right to wander in the New Forest, which had been revoked since 30 years. Two true friends of the Romanies, Augustus John and Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald, wrote in support, and I made my speech! I found it a true ordeal having to address, and then be questioned by, such a gathering: Officers of Health, Education, Sanitation! – and so forth: the civilised. But I had friends amongst the Gypsies of Tin Town, and thus was given courage. All the council, with one exception, voted in favour of restoring to the Gypsies the right to wander in the New Forest. A great victory gained for the freedom of the individual.

A flat-cart was being well cleaned, the garlands of red hedge berries woven for the horse which was to draw it: for the coffin of the child was to be borne on a Romany cart to the cemetery gates where it was then to be given up to the cemetery authorities for a church burial on church ground.
Once Gypsy corpses had always been interred in lonely places, on the heaths where the wind blew sweet and fresh, but such burials are prohibited by the present day law and have become too difficult for the Gypsy, and consecrated church ground is now almost always used.

The winter evening settled quickly over the downs, and by the time that White Will and his companions had the cart clean and ready for the morrow, the sun was westering, turned into the angry hue of a winesap apple and shrunken to the size of one, strange-looking in the plumbago frost-bound sky. White Will told me that yesternight the backs of the men keeping vigil had been whitened with frost, and the hair of their heads below their hats or caps frozen hard: snow might well fall. He pointed out to me the homecoming procession of Gypsy men who had been far afield foraging wood for the night’s funeral fire. The figures of the men were etched against the sky, their backs bent low by the weight of the bundle of tree-boughs and brushwood that each one carried for the feeding of the ever-ravenous red horses of the fire.

The women by then were all in their caravans, only the men were to keep vigil: many of the women weeping shrilly for the dead child, their voices coming from the vans shuttered against the cold of the night. I believe also that they wept because the encampment was under police dispersal orders, and most of the families knew not where they could go to live out the winter until the spring made road travel possible again.

I did not want to be present when the coffin came, I was made sad enough without that further pain: so I said my farewells to the Gypsies and went from the light of their fire into the gloom of the night and the cold and long journey back to Leatherhead. I thought in some bitterness that White Will was wise to be buying forgetfulness in beer and ale. For me forgetfulness of the sad scene would not be possible: it would remain nailed into my memory. “crowded and keen the country grows….”

Pages 140-145

As Gypsies Wander - 073 img

I kept my promise to White Will and went to visit him and his family on Banstead Downs to hear from him how he had fared in the Epsom police courts. The visit was memorable because of the death of a Gypsy child and the preparations being made for her funeral. At the time of my going to Banstead, the winter had increased in severity and it was very cold. Yet, nevertheless, a Gypsy day, filled with colour and mystery. An immense crimson front sun i na sky grey and cobwebby as soiled net curtains. The dowland silvered with melted rime and swirling mists thereover, lying low and indicating that they would later form a blanket of fog. Everywhere there was robin song.

As I walked the downs in my search for the Gypsies – I trailing them only by the marks left by the caravan wheels: difficult search on the frost-hardened ground – I observed how thoroughly the Surrey Council had performed their anti-Gypsy work. On every likely stretch of good grazing for the Romany horses were to be found the eye-offending notices prohibiting the staying of the caravans. Good evidence of the persecution of a minority by the powerful.

Finally I found the encampment upon a high ridge of the downs; a row of caravans silhouetted against the grey-green winter sky. When I approached closer I found also, on a lower level of the ground, and extraordinary fire, formed of a great towering pile of brushwood, it being as tall and pyramidal as a Red Indian wigwam, with a host of the scarlet fire-horses assembled there, prancing and roaring admist the towering wood as they devoured it. It was the greatest Gypsy fire that my eyes had looked upon. Also, I found one of the greatest Gypsy gatherings, for I counted over fifty dark forms, mostly squatting upon the ground, gathered in a wide ring around the fire.

Charlotte Smith came forward to welcome me, she declaring: “Feyther’s so glad about the letter you wrote they gravvers. Us is all awaitin’ to rocker wi’ you. Feyther’s not about just now, ‘e’s out wi’ the trolli (flat-cart, Surrey Gypsy dialect), lookin’ fer you. ‘Ow did you find us now?”

I followed the weddin’ wheels an’ hoped they’d be your folks’.”

At my use of the Surrey Gypsy word for the van-tracks, which Charlotte’s family had taught me, the young woman laughed merrily, then she pressed her hand over her lips to end her mirth.

“We all be togeno (sad) thisaday. A chauvi’s dead in ‘orspital, an’ the men are sittin’ up o’ nights fer the comfertin’ of ‘er togeno bitta mulo (sad little spirit/ghost).”

The words of Charlotte explained the extraordinary fire and the large number of Gypsies gathered there: the men so sombre in black and grey, all without their bright coloured dicklos, resembled a circle of crows resting on the ground amidst the swirling mists. The firelight painted with rose glow the grim brown faces, and as Charlotte led me towards the gathering, I recognized some of the Cooper men who had shared the wild ride with me on Levi Cooper’s flat-cart many years ago. They also knew me, and called out in welcome, and them made a place for me in their circle.

The Gypsies told me about the death of a five-year-old girl child whose lungs had been affected by the winter damp and frosts. They had not thought to use the cow-dung treatment with which White Will had had such complete success on his own child. White Will had not been available at the commencement of the illness, nor had there been cows in any of the near fields. The parents had been unable to get the inflammation away from the child’s lungs, and had sought hospital treatment for her, and she had died. I thought to myself that the modern hospital, with its over-heated rooms and closed windows and chlorinated drinking water and over-use of chemical drugs, was not the place for any creature from the open-air life. I found the same with the animals of the woods and meadows: in the veterinary places they languished and faded. But I said nothing of my thoughts. I merely spoke agreement with the several men who gave opinion that: “Mebbe the chauvi be better done by to be safe and warm in hev (Heaven, also grave), wot wi’ the winter almost upon us an’ the world to-day bein’ sech a kawlo place for us needis (Gypsies, Surrey dialect).”

“Mebbe, my friends,” I agreed, “mebbe.”

I studied well the group of adult Gypsies and their crowd of children. Winter was upon the downs, it had come some weeks ago, bringing its hereditary fogs and frosts and baneful-looking moon. The winter solstice itself was soon approaching. The Gypsies had been ordered to leave their Banstead site; they knew not where to go. Their clothing was true raggle-taggle, their faces pallid and their bodies over-lean from lack of nourishment; their wagons miserable living-places, mostly carts converted into caravans by their own carpentry: canvas roofs were prevalent. Only the horses appeared well fed, for the kawlo rat (black blood Gypsies) know well how to nurse a horse on herbs and rough grazing. And yet the group held fiercely to their traditional life; the great fire that they had created seemed to be a defiance of the modern world’s disapproving and condemnatory attitude to the Romany life. “Free as the smoke of our fires,” say the Gypsies of themselves.

And yet, how true of that gathering of Gypsies, at that bitter hour for them, were words of Matthew Arnold: sensitive, often prophetic, writer, creator of the immortal Scholar Gypsy poem, who in another poem spoke thus of the Romany people:

 

The dingy tents are pitch’d; the fires

Give to the wind their wavering spires,

In dark knots crowd round the wild flame

Their children, as when first they came;

They see their shackled beasts again

Move, browsing, up the grey wall’d lane.

Signs are not wanting which might rase

The ghost in them of former days –

Signs are not wanting if they would;

Suggestive to disquietitude.

 

They must live still – and yet God knows,

Crowded and keen the country grows;

It seems as if in their decay,

The law grew stronger every day.

And they will rub through if they can,

Tomorrow on the shelf-same plan,

Till death arrive to supersede,

For them, vicissitude and need.

“My beloved Gypsies,” I lamented in silence. “My own nomad people. What is to become of you all in these unnatural times? ‘Crowded and keen’ indeed the country grows. I shall think of you all when I am away in freer lands, and shall worry and sorrow over you. When I learn of times of long rain and snow upon England, I shall lament, remembering your raggle-taggle clothes and your wretched wagons.”

My drear thoughts were ended by the appearance of White Will, coming scurrying mouse-like across the field. His face was less white than usual, due doubless to the beer which he had been taking in quantity ever since his victory in the police court: a long-lasting celebration of the triumph of justice, and also the money that he had saved thereby.

After he had spoken his thanks to me, White Will told me further concerning the vigil and funeral for the dead Gypsy child. A three-night’s vigil was being kept, and this was the last night, and the body itself was due from the hospital a goodly distance away. Hourly they were expecting its arrival. The Gypsies had made the coffin themselves from oakwood, the wood well seasoned by their tears in the making. The child’s few toys were already within the coffin – true to gypsy tradition, to prevent haunting. A ragged doll – rags wound around painted clothes pegs – a rattle made from a tin half-filled with pebbles, and a little wooden horse that her father had carved for her from hollywood.

The hospital were sending the corpse to stay with the Gypsies until the burial. A place by the fire had already been allotted. The men were to burn candles – sheltered with glass jars – upon the coffin throughout the night, and were to chanter (sing) to the little mulo (spirit, ghost) for the comforting of it. Bill Smith, White Will’s son, could play well upon the fiddle, and such an instrument had been sent for from a neighbour Gypsy camp. Song and music were kindly things for the mulo as it flitted around its former body, preparatory for the long flight to hev (heaven). Hev of the Gypsies! Duvelesko bauro poov, God’s great field. Flower-strewn and watered by many springs and brooks of sweet waters, no doubt, and filled with hares and rabbits for their dogs, and sweet bite for their horses, and not one policeman or interfering government official allowed anywhere, and always a great sun by day and a full moon by night….

When on other occasions I have been lamenting the present-day treatment of the English Romanies, gawje sympathizers have asked me of what suggestions I would make for improving Gypsy living. “What do they want of us – your Romanies?” And I have replied thus: “Firstly to tbe left alone, not interfered with. They are a race as secretive as the hares and the golden plover, they want to be left alone to wander in the quiet places as yet not ruined by man and his improving and anti-Nature works. They want to have their gatherings at horse-fairs and sucklike without the police attendant upon them (remember their treatment for the Epsom Derby day, a traditional event for the English Romanies – their caravans and tents now banned permanently from the race-course). They want to be allowed to rest their caravans by the roadside for a week or more if they wish, not to be harried and hounded everywhere with a one-to three-day limit: they want peace from the police hounds and the packs of council officials who come in their wake. Finally they want some sympathetic feeling from the gawje. Because the Gypsy is an outlaw and has retained his freedom in a world shackled by the chains of commerce and so-called progress, often the gawje is subconsciously envious of the brown people ever travelling “over the hills an’ far away”, and thus resentful, and sees only the dark side of Gypsy character, not the golden. Of the Gypsies the gawjes say: “thieves and vagabonds’: they see not the clever brown hands so skilled in field work and handicrafts, nor the big and generous hearts which succour all who are distressed and needy – as many a tramp, deserting soldier, fleeing prisoner, will give evidence: they see not the most high education in the book of Nature, how skilfully the Romanies read it’s pages, knowing the stars, the wild flowers, and creatures, the telling of the weather, the culling and eating of wild produce, all of which is almost lost to the modern settled gawje: they see not the music in the Gypsies, in their singing voices and dancing feet and their playing of instruments – be it only a Romany child beating upon a tin drum or piping on a flute made from a reed: the gawje sees only darkness around the Gypsy, and yet in truth there is golden brightness, more brightness than in most races, although the quality often has become hidden and tarnished like old gold, and needs the rub of kindness and sympathy to shine forth again.

Pages 134-140

White Will and his wife began to talk about jallin’ the drom again, for the police were now hounding the Gypsies, they sniffing like hunting dogs in the vicinity of the Gypsy encampment; and the Smiths dared not ‘atch (encamp) longer time. The friendly veterinary surgeon who had given the Gypsies the paper certifying the lameness of their horse and stating that the animal should be rested for two-three days, was himself ill, and the paper had not been renewed.

The Smiths did not want to leave me and I was made miserable at the thought of their going. Their good company and generous fires had helped me wonderously: one week having been eaten out of the darkness of the long-stretching winter through the coming of the Romanies.

There came, the last night, the family jallin’ to another tanaw early on the morrow morning as soon as the frost melted off the road. To mark the night – and to lessen the sadness of us all- White Will built a special fire. This fire featured a motor tyre, an article much used by the Gypsies when they find a discarded one by the wayside or on a refuse dump. When drunken – or angry- they have been known to take new tyres off cars and burn them. To make such a fire a stout branch of wood is rubbed with hedgehog or other grease, and kindled, the flaming end then being placed upon the rubber, which burns with a fierce heat, the wood being kept in contact with the tyre. The rubber in White Will’s fire gave out an intense heat which was very welcome – the night being one of heavy rain – even though unpleasant black fumes also were poured forth. But the fire-loving Gypsies built two yogs: the rubber tyre, whereby to dry our rain-sodden clothes, and a great one of crack, for our pleasure. We moved from one to the other.

Big Bill was away at a gadderken, drinking to forget the troubles of the present-day Gypsy life in England, and Mayday was not much with us around the fire, for she was washing clothes in a big petrol drum of boiling water which she had heated over the rubber-tyre fire. Mrs. Smith grumbled at Mayday for wanting to be clothes-washing in the late night instead of keeping proper hours like other Gypsy girls. But Mayday had little heed for her mother-in-law’s scolding, and she sang sweet as a throstle as she worked, slapping at the clothes in the foamy water.

She heightened her singing with peals of laughter, her merriment caused by the finding of little fish boiled in the river water which she was using, and at the thought of the plan that she had told us, of putting the boiled fish into the sleeves of Bill’s shirts after the drying to surprise him. For accompaniment to her singing and her laughing, Mayday had that night the music of the rushing river swollen with rain, the calling of the owls in the near coppice and, above all, the roar and crackle of the two fires. In the light of the fire the young woman’s hair showed like a russet hood framing the laughing face – her locks red-brown as were turned the beech-leaves in the copse since the frosts had come.

Inspired by the comfort of the fires, we kept up unceasing talk deep into the night. We watched the motor tyre burn quite away, and then White Will piled even higher his second fire of wood until the heat of it brought forth the damp from our rain-wet clothes in pearly steam. That night the Smith family gave me many bundles of pegs and a bunch of the artificial flowers of Bill’s making. Charlotte picked out for me a lucky peg -bokalo-fidas- which I was to keep and inscribe with the Will Smith family name. She also offered to give me her handsome fairday apron -fairus jorjofa- an article of black sateen, with deep pockets and an abundance of embroidery in bright silks, making a design of twining flowers and hearts. She told me that the fairus aprons were made and sold by German Jews at a shop in Houndsditch; many Surrey Gypsies visited there or purchases of the aprons and also for the tall-crowned black beaver hats that the older Surrey Gypsy women like to wear. But I would not deprive Charlotte of her apron.

Then, when our last night was almost talked away, I compelled myself from the fire, from its roaring scarlet passion, and set my face towards the icy-breath fields. I promised to be early back at the camping place for the morning departure, the Gypsies saying that they would be travelling as soon as the ice had thawed off the roads.

A storm of sleet met me across the river fields, for the rain was freezing as it fell I was very sad, knowing that after to- morrow morning, if I should pass that way, there would be no singing Gypsy voices to beckon and welcome me, nor Gypsy fire. The bitter sleet soddening the fields, seemed to me to be symbolic of my melancholy.

I was early at Young Street to bless my friends down the tober (road). The vans were already off the grass, and stood at the roadside awaiting my coming. When the Gypsies saw me in the distance the commenced their vans forward: I could hear the crack of the whips as the horses were sent into movement. White Will led the caravan party. He walked beside his chestnut galloway which was pulling the green and yellow vardo of his family, now a separate unit from the new family of Bill and Mayday.

As White Will’s van drew close to me, I could observe a brace of rabbits swinging on a hook above the door hatch, and hear the chorusing of the bantams within their boxes beneath the vehicle. Also the Gypsy dogs barked while they frisked around the horses, as Romany dogs will do at the commencement of a peeromus (moving away, a-roaming). Eliza was at the door with Minny who held to her heart the doll that I had given her. Loowey and Eileen were there also.

White Will waved a paper at me. The familiar white paper of a police summons. “They lelled (caught) we arter all,” he cried fiercely. They waited like ‘eron birds do wait by the paani (water) fer the matchi (fish) to grow tolu (fat), afore they eat ‘em. So they gravvers (police) did let us stay on the many divaws (days) to make up a big fine, they keepin’ careful watch on we that we does not scram (run away) afore they lel us. They came on we early saula (morning) afore the frost was off the drom (road).

“An’ they left their chik (filth) wi’ us, they graverbegs did,” Eliza yelled.

I looked towards the three children at the van door. Their faces were whiter even than usual, and very unsmiling, they fully sharing the trouble of their parents. I myself felt as angry and as miserable as the Gypsies. The family had lived so harmlessly at the roadside, doing no one ill and working with such diligence at their peg-making. Now all their laboriously-acquired earnings were to be taken from them in the police courts: it was unbearable. “Think you the fine’ll be much?” I asked the Gypsies.

“Ten bars (pounds) mebbe, or more. We’ve ‘atched ‘ere a great lot of divaws, ain’t we?” White Will answered.

“Avaali, you have. But your gry was long.”

“Gry’s still long.”

“Can’t you get the vet to certify so?”

“Naw. Vet’s in sick-bed. ‘E’s a good much (man), ‘e is, but most o’ they kind don’t like we Romanies, an’ they’ll not be signin’ no papers agenst the gravvers, not they!”

“Listen, bor (brother),” I told him. “I’ll write to the police court. I know horses and I’ve a small amount of authority in the veterinary world. Very small, because I’m only a herbalist, but it may help you. I’ll write to-day, I promise you. They I’ll come over to Banstead Down where you’ll be hatchin’ awhile and I’ll find out from you how you prospered in the police court. I’ll help you, I promise, if I possibly can. And if they fine you too heavily, I’ll write them again.”

We touched hands then to seal the promise, Gypsy fashion, palm flat upon palm. And I said farewell to my friends, my good friends. Loowey presented me with a necklace of new conkers that she had gathered and made, and I put the glowing thing around my neck.

The horseman, Joe, followed behind his father’s vardo. He rode bare-back on the grey mare and led the lame black galloway. He had on his khaki officer’s jacket and a bright-patterned dicklo. He looked very dapper, a Gypsy man in miniature, gallant and showy.

“Good-bye, dear Joe, good-bye.”

The lad stirred his horses into a trot, even the lame one, and waved gaily at me with thin pale hand.

In the rear came Big BIll, striding on foot beside his van, with the brilliant Mayday at the door, her face smiling and vital in the yellow morning light. Lil’ Bill was in her arms, he with his little hat of sparrow feathers and waving a peg in a fat white fist. Mary and Charlotte were with her, and Georgey also came to the open window, his small eyes looking very red and smutched, as if he had been weeping.

Bill halted the horse so that the young women could speak with me, and I asked Charlotte concerning Georgey, and she said that his favourite ferret had diet in his arms a few hours ago. She added: “Do you know what Georgy did for ‘is pug (ferret)? E buried ‘im in a bitta hev (small grave, or heaven), along o’ the dick (river)!”

“How sweet!” I exclaimed. Then I called to the boy who had come to the door. “I’m very sorry, Georgy, about your pug, was it the yaller one that you liked so well?”

“Aye, the yaller,” the thin voice piped.

I gave the sad chal (lad) the reddest of the apples in my basket.

“D’you know what our Georgy did also fer ‘is pug?” Charlotte continued.

“Naw?”

“E said a mong (prayer).”

“Oh, Georgey, did you really! What did you say then?”

The boy’s mouth was full of apple. His voice squeaked at me.

“I sed fer ‘im:

“Ashes ter askes,
An’ dust ter dust,
If Gawd doesna’ ‘ave you,
Some un’ must.”

 

I could well picture the small thin white lad at the riverside in the cold dawn, burying his ferret and saying his pathetic prayer. It was but one incident typical of the White Will family. It was not strange that I loved them.

“Well we’s really orf now,” Big Bill declared. “Don’t you be goin’, an’ forgettin’ we.”

“I’ll not forget you, my friends. An’ I’ll write to the police court for you against that summons. Kushto bact miri prals (good luck, my comrades).

“Kushto backt miri pen (sister).” Each Gypsy called as the van moved away.

The cavalcade of horse-drawn caravans travelled onwards, down the wide road diamond-glistening with the frost of the early; morning the Gypsies, angered and bitter on account of the police summons, not having waited for any thawing. A cock and hen robin descended upon the abandoned camping place and sought crumbs around the blackened circle of earth where the fires had burnt and the family had taken their meals of white bread and potatoes.

I duly wrote the Epsom police courts on behalf of White Will, and he was fined but ten shillings in place of the ten pounds that he had expected to pay. Concerning the Surrey police and the Gypsies, in fairness I must say that although the hounding of the Gypsies is fiendish, they do meet consideration and justice from the Epsom police-court magistrate when they have been driven into attendance there. I have further experience of this. Friends of White Will, two brothers of the Vincent family of horse-traders, were unjustly summoned for being by a caravan on prohibited land, but which was not their own van. I wrote on their behalf to the Epsom police court. The result was that the Clerk to the Court replied to me that the Gypsies appeared t0 have a favorable defense against their summons, and that if I would speak with the brothers and ensure that they appeared in court, their defense would be heard. I persuaded the men to appear; and they were acquitted.