Perambulating the Bounds

Monday, October 22, 2007

Gypsy history

The Gypsies themselves have no heroes. There are no myths of a great liberation, of the founding of the “nation,” of a promised land. They have no Romulus and Remus, no wandering, battling Aeneas. They have no monuments or shrines, no anthem, no ruins. And no Book. Apart from just over a hundred words and phrases notes by three non-Gypsies in the sixteenth century, there are no samples of early spoken Romani. But they do have myths of ancestry and of migration. Or any rate such myths have been attributed to them.

Isabel Fonseca, Bury Me Standing

Maria’s been encouraging me to read this book for years and I finally got around to it, working through it in the typical start and stop way I do with any book these days.

Loved this passage. It’s one of the reasons the Gypsies occupy such an important place in the collective imagination. They are such a complete alternative to prevailing orders, in this case even of the orders of the imagination. The idea of a society and culture that is not structured around heroes and nations has a great appeal for anyone who has trouble with the question who is your hero, or who are your top 5 favorite cribbage players. On the hero question, push comes to shove and I’ll say Pete Seeger, but that seems like a really inadequate response. There’s all sorts of people I admire and who interest me, but I don’t want to saddle any of them with the burden of heroism.

We have trouble imagining history and culture without fixating on a few figures, or at least it's more easily packaged that way. The quantity of identities and facts is otherwise overwhelming. If you find every noise band interesting, where do you start and stop. It's a lot easier to say "you need to check out Nautical Almanac" and know you've got it covered.

Isabel Fonseca's passage rings of intense idealism. Strains of John Lennon—imagine there’s no countries, imagine there’s no heaven. Just the life we’re leading. Your Gypsy kin and companions, the ones you talk to all the time, not some long-gone characters who probably weren’t anything like the way they’re depicted.


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