I don’t know the name of the old Gypsy woman who entered Roxy this morning and thrust her basket under my nose. I dropped in a few coins, which she looked at closely, then theatrically rolled her eyes in disgust at my parsimony. She moved on to the next table. Then she went to the counter, pointed through the glass to a cornetti. Soon the bar man brought her a latte to go with it. She took a seat near the door.
She’s a familiar sight here in Forio. When she’s on duty she puts on quite a performance for the rich tourists. She exaggerates her limp, and often sits on the steps of Santa Maria di Loreta and wails loudly, as if she has just lost her entire family.
The Gypsies, according to The Shoah Resource Center, a school for Holocaust Studies, are a people who have been living in Europe since the 15th century and share a common language, culture, and until recently, a wandering way of life. Also called Roma, they were among the groups persecuted by the Nazis. About 200,000 Gypsies, and possibly more, were killed throughout Europe.
The Gypsies probably originally came from India, and migrated to Iran by the 14th century. They reached Hungary, Serbia, and other Balkan countries by 1438. Next, they spread into Poland, Russia, Sweden, Spain, and Great Britain. Some Gypsies converted to Islam or Orthodoxy, but most became Catholics, while still observing much of their pre-Christian religion. Their language split into many dialects; only today is it becoming a written language.
Because of their nomadic lifestyle, the Gypsies made a living mainly from trading horses and other animals, peddling, silver and gold work, and music. They were not allowed to own land where they lived, and were often accused of stealing by the locals. Because the Gypsies were deemed different and foreign, they were treated in a hostile manner by their adopted countries.
I get the feeling she, despite first impression, is a very modern woman. Her jacket, for instance, is soft black leather. Her crutch is aluminum. She wears a silver bracelet and gold rings. Fully aware, she instantly spotted my camera and knew I was photographing her. I presume she didn’t object because I had, after all, given her a small sum. She understands a little is better than nothing at all.