Monday, April 30, 2012

But poor thing it has no speech….

I took out Isabel Fonseca's book "Bury me Standing" about the history of European Gypsies. I'll explain my particular interest perhaps at a later date.  This morning I just went over the book very quickly. It is a remarkable work And I have the impression that when I finish reading it I will understand even less about the Gypsies than I do now, though perhaps I will know more.

Two short excerpts:

"Papusza lost more than a hundred members of her family during the war. But even this was not the tragedy that would shape her. She wrote at a critical moment in her people’s history, in Poland and (unknown to her) everywhere else- life along the lungo drom, life on the road-was coming to an end and nothing recognizable or tolerable looked like taking its place.

O lord, where should I go?
What can I do?
Where can I find
Legends and songs?
I do not go to the forest,
I meet with no rivers.
O forest, my father,
My black father!

The time of the wandering Gypsies
Has long passed. But I see them,
They are bright,
Strong and clear like water.

You can hear it
When it wishes to speak.

But poor thing it has no speech….

…the water does not look behind.
It flees, runs farther away.
Where eyes will not see her,
The water that wanders.

Nostalgia is the essence of Gypsy song, and seems always to have been. But nostalgia for what? Nostos is the Greek word for a “return home”; the Gypsies have no home, and, perhaps uniquely among peoples, they have no dream of a homeland. Utopia-ou topos- means “no place”. Nostalgia for utopia: a return home to no place. O lungo drom. The long road." (pp. 4-5)


"At fifteen, Karoly Lendvai lost everyone. From his town of Szengai, seventy-five miles southwest of Budapest, he and his family were rounded up by Hungarian police and forced to walk forty miles north to Komarom, to the notorious Csillag internment camp which was run by the Arrow cross, the Hungarian fascists. Fifty years on, Karoly Lendvai’s memory was undimmed.

“As we marched through, others joined our group, more Gypsies and more gendarmes,” he told a Reuters reporter in the summer of ’94. “Some babies died along the way, and some would-be escapees were shot, left by the roadside. No one knows who they were….  We were in the camp about two weeks with hardly any food…. More people died as typhus broke out, and others were killed. The dead were thrown into a huge pit, covered with quicklime. There were layers upon layers of dead. I do not know when the pit was finally filled because one day we were herded into cattle cars to be taken to who knows where.”

Lendvai was saved by an air raid. In the confusion of sirens and bombings he escaped into woods “for about a year….[and] I never saw the others again.” Lendvai hadn’t heard the word Holocaust and, at sixty-five, he still couldn’t quite believe that all of this happened simply because Gypsies were Gypsies; but he knew that his family had all been been murdered. Prisoners of the Csillag internment camp were transported to Auschwitz.

“Rot you Jew-Gypsy!” Lendvai remembered an Arrow guard screaming at him as he was being pushed onto the train. The curse still troubled him: “Why,” he interrupted himself to ask the journalist, "why did he call me a Jew?” (pp. 252-253)


The Romani word for the (Gypsy) Holocaust is Porraimos, the Devouring. In addition to a haunting evocation of the events themselves, ‘the Devouring” usefully describes the continuing suppression or denial of the Gypsy case. (Appropriately, porraimos is a term even less well known among Gypsies than "Holocausto”)"  (p.253)



""It’s no accident that Lorca came to understand the duende as a result of watching and listening to Andalusian Gypsy singers, whose troubled voices defy virtuosity. The best among them drag a spirit of revelation up into the room, and when this happens, the duende has been wrested from his den. And the songs that make such revelation possible in the first place are always—always—about struggle. They are always a kind of serenade to the resilience and the resistance that struggle creates—and offers proof of its success.

Any poet who is honest with him or herself recognizes a struggle very near the impetus to write. The Gypsy struggle might be described as the struggle to subsist, to resist absorption by a larger more powerful culture. It’s a struggle, literally, not to disappear. This struggle is not exactly the case for most poets in American society. But in one way or another, there is a connection with the Gypsy's plight. There are two worlds that exist together, and there is one that pushes against the other, that claims the other doesn’t, or need not, exist. The duende stirs as a way of saying: you will only stay whole by moving—day after day, note after note, poem after poem—from one world to the next."

 Where fatigue is great, the mind
Will invent entire stories to protect sleep.

Dark stories. Deep fright.
Syntax of nonsense.

(Tracy K. Smith)


At 9:40 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A wonderful word.

At 7:37 AM EDT, Anonymous Will James said...

Beautiful post. Vividly captures the sense of what was lost, for all of us.


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