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Posts Tagged ‘Romani’

Do you ever feel like the entire universe is conspiring to get your attention?  Normally I’d say it’s the old hags, the Fates, but this was far more rigorous and vigorous than the Fates are capable.  But I’m sure the Fates were in on it.

At the root of their conspiring were the infamous nomadic Romani people.

It started last week when the international news contained several stories in honor of International Roma Day.  These India-originating nomadic peoples are possibly the longest persecuted people I’ve ever read about.  And their struggle to maintain traditions and culture in modern society only increases.  What a rich (not talking wealth) culture it is too!  Though not without its problems, as news two days later would prove.

Two days later, stories began flooding the European newspapers about breaking a ring of child traffickers who would take children from the Romani in Eastern bloc countries, mutilate them, then smuggle them into the United Kingdom to beg.  Mutilated children earn more, you see, because they play better on people’s pity, especially in times of recession.

As it happened, a day after that, someone asked me about Woodlawn Cemetery on the edge of UD’s border.  Several famous people were buried there?  Yes, quickly ticking off the obvious–the Wright Brothers, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Erma Bombeck, Charles Kettering, John Patterson, George Huffman and George Mead.  But most interestingly, Levi and Matilda Stanley, king and queen of the U.S. Romani tribe.

Kings and queens in Dayton, Ohio?  I hear you doubting.  But it’s true.

In the mid 1850s, a group of Romani under the leadership of the Stanley “reign” emigrated from Europe to America.  The tribe first settled up the road in Troy, but soon migrated to Dayton appointing it the center of American Romani culture.  It remained so for 50 years.

That’s right.  Not only are the king and queen of the U.S. Romani tribe (and subsequent kings and queens) buried in my figurative backyard, my literal backyard likely shared living history with Romani tribe members from all over the United States. Most especially likely when, in 1878, Matilda Stanley died.  It took nearly eight months to have her funeral so that word could spread and people could travel.  Nearly 20,000 Romani from North America and Europe did travel.  Stories of the funeral, shared orally and written, note that the city nearly shut down for being overcome with the infusion of people.

Gypsies, tramps and thieves.  They were called that too.  But mostly the local and national press called them “colorful” and “expressive.” Still, some feared trouble.  As it’s officially recorded the funeral was heart wrenching and heartwarming in its simplicity.

Perhaps it was all this attention to gypsies that jarred loose something in my mental filing cabinet, but as I continue to struggle to understand my personal legend and align my passions, I began to have recurring remembrances of a time not that long ago, but oh so distant.

New Orleans.

I went there with my then-love; he for business, me for pleasure.  On our second morning, we awoke early and decided to walk down to the river for a beignet.  As we strolled leisurely hand-in-hand, we came upon three old women setting up chairs, rolling and righting barrels to act as make-shift tables.  “Have your fortune told, my beauty?” one called out meeting my eye directly.

She looked worn and weary, but radiated vivacity. And I remember feeling comfortable with the extremely intense gaze.  My love nudged me forward.

I left his side and joined hers, sitting down before realizing she already held my right hand.  I don’t remember offering it.  She motioned my love away without looking at him.  Farther.  Keep going.  Okay, there.

She asked me one question.  My name.

“Monica”

She told me about my past, most of it fairly generic and easily contrived as accurate…or not, depending on my mood and willingness to believe.  She told me that my love was not the man for me; the man I sought was overseas.  She told me things for my future.  Again, generic and easily applied or not depending on my desire.

She had not looked at me the entire time, and I thought nothing of it until I paid her.  Her brown eyes suddenly seemed to deepen as she looked into mine.  She moved her other hand to my wrist, pulling me to within a few inches of her nose.

“You will often doubt your calling.  You will forsake it.  You will deny it.  But you will always know what it is.  Let me be clear to you so that you are clear to yourself.  You are a writer…but not any writer.  You are a truthseeker and a truthspeaker, a storyteller of great compassion and capacity.  You must write.  It is your destiny.”  She held my eye contact and my wrist, and I began to shiver as pure energy travelled through my skin.  “Now go.”

She released me, but I couldn’t move.  I had not told her anything except my first name.  She shooed me away, but held my eye contact.  How did she know I was a writer?  I finally broke her gaze so that I could check my hand for visible signs of ink or pen indentation.  There were none.  I walked slowly to where my love stood anticipating.  I still half doubted, but didn’t want to lose any of what she said.  “I need a pen and paper…quickly before I forget!” I felt frantic as if every moment would wash away her message like waves wipe clean the sand.

My love handed me a pen from his pocket, and I found an envelope in my purse.  I hurriedly wrote down everything, including her last words with quotation marks around them, then I shared the story with my love who gave it proper attention, wonder and amusement.

Days later, I carefully transcribed those words to my journal where they have remained hidden from my eyes for nearly seven years.  Until today.  I freed them out of curiosity, and perhaps a desire to disbelieve, to match my memory with the words written moments after the event.

The words in my mind were a near-perfect match to those I had written on that envelop and transcribed into my journal.

My love-of-that-time and I have separated as predicted.  And for nearly all of 2008 and 2009, I forsook writing, assigning it a guilt I stupidly acquired from my next love-who-is-no-more.  As I continue to contemplate my personal legend, I find that I often still deny my writing.  It’s merely one skill I have–feeling, perhaps, like the shepherd momentarily considering and dismaying at the importance and status of the baker.  At least he knew his heart, he knew he wanted to travel.  I also know my heart, but I only see the barriers and have learned to convince myself differently.  Its another skill I have.

Could it be that these fragments were meant to be connected?  That like an alchemist I’m meant to transform myself through knowledge of the Language of the World?  That like a gypsy, I’m meant to find my color and expression through the travel I so desperately deny?  That like a mmews, I am free to worship at the alter of wordsmithing?

As a student of science, I still try to disprove it.  As a mmews–and a descendent from one line of matriarchal ethereal prowess and another line of nomadic artisans and musicians (who’s dark, curly hair almost never grays)–I just believe.

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