Thursday, January 09, 2003

Here's a translation of an article from today's Vanguardia by Paloma Arenós. The headline is " 'Royal' wedding in Sant Cugat / Thousands of guests camp in the city for the wedding of a 'gypsy queen' ".

They're having a major celebration and they've taken over some private lands to show it. According to her parents, inhabitants of France but of Hungarian origin, on January 16 the "gypsy queen" will get married in Sant Cugat del Vallés (a Barcelona suburb). Since the beginning of the year, a trail of 200 trailers from all over Europe--yesterday they were still arriving--have installed themselves on a vacant lot near the Boehringer company's building, between Rubí and Sant Cugat, with the intention of celebrating a big caló wedding. Beginning tomorrow, Friday, there will be ten days of unstoppable partying, and it's predicted that 300 more trailers will arrive from Italy, Germany, France, Switzerland, and even Morocco.

The protagonist of the event is Moraica Lobis, a 17-year-old adolescent, whose father, José Lobis Costa, "is a Hungarian gypsy prince, according to our tradition," says Josefa, the proud mother of the bride. Moraica will marry a boy fom Naples. Why have they come to Sant Cugat? "We have a lot of relatives that live here and in Rubí, and it was a very good meeting point," some say. "Besides, we didn't have anywhere else to go, and we're having a wedding with the whole international gypsy people invited," Lobis points out. The mother of the bride explains that "We don't have any money to move on somewhere else," and yesterday asked for some open lands, offering to "pay whatever". Josefa explains that they wanted to put up a gazebo on the vacant lot to "celebrate a big wedding," but continual police surveillance--they record license numbers and ask for ID every time someone enters or leaves--has put a damper on their plans. "We're afraid they'll kick us out," she comments.

Now some French musicians are playing, some little kids are running around between the trailers, the Mercedes, and the BMWs, farther along some women are showing off their party dresses...This squatting has not pleased the Sant Cugat city government at all. The mayor, Lluís Recoder (CiU--Catalan nationalist), ordered the thousands of people concentrated on a vacant lot on Calle Prat de la Riba to give up "this illegal campsite" before 2 PM this afternoon. If this decree is not obeyed, Recoder will call in the National Police and the Mossos d'Esquadra (Catalan regional police) to carry out the order.

The city government laments that since the various families arrived, "they haven't stopped giving different excuses to stay: first they've camped here because they have sick relatives, then their vehicles have broken down, and the last one is the wedding of the alleged bride." The president of the FAGIC (Federation of Gypsy Associations of Catalonia), Manuel Heredia, was surprised at the news of this massive campsite. "Neither the city government nor anybody else has told me about this officially. Tomorrow (today) I'm going to investigate to find out their plans, " he said, after pointing out that the area "has traditionally been used by nomadic gypsies." Heredia wants to make sure people know that "In the Spanish, French, and English gypsy traditions, the figure of the gypsy queen does not exist. Perhaps they're calling her that in an affectionate way, as if they were saying she was beautiful."

This is not the first time the city council has had to deal with a gypsy campsite. Along with the FAGIC, they have been working for months for the sociolaboral integration of another group of gypsies who in April moved out of some government housing in Rubí and camped next to the Molins de Rei highway within the Sant Cugat city limits.

I love that phrase, "sociolaboral integration". I think it means "get a job and move out of your house trailer".

This is what I know about gypsies, and it's not a whole lot. There is a group of at least several hundred who have lived here in Gràcia for years and who are "sociolaborally integrated" just fine. They've adopted the Catalan language and have a perfectly respectable reputation. There is another group in the downtown Raval neighborhood around the Calle de la Cera who are also sociolaborally integrated; they're known for producing musicians like Peret. These people never cause any problems, either, and are a welcome addition. However, there's a group living up on El Carmel, a hillside above the city, and they've got a nasty reputation as thieves, drug dealers, and general dirtbags that is at least partially deserved. I won't go up there, mostly because I have no reason to. And the worst neighborhood in town is Can Tunis, down between Montjuic and the commercial harbor, which is Barcelona's hard-drugs supermarket. Taxi drivers won't go there. Some of its inhabitants are gypsies. All of them are criminals. They're isolated out there on the other side of the Ronda Litoral, the coastal-side loop around the city. Every couple of weeks some junkie gets himself run over trying to cross the freeway on foot. Can Tunis is as bad as any neighborhood in Kansas City.

You will see gypsies working as scam artists on tourists downtown; the most common is the woman who pushes a carnation upon you and asks for one peseta. If you let yourself get distracted or, even worse, get out your wallet, your pocket will be picked. The ketchup scam is pretty common; they'll squirt ketchup on you while you're sitting outside and then, while "cleaning you up", among a thousand apologies, they'll steal your wallet. Another one is that of asking a tourist for directions to someplace really obvious, like the Ramblas, and picking his pocket while he's trying to say "Over there" or something like that. Groups of kids surrounding you, waving pieces of cardboard in your face to confuse you while they go for your wallet, are now a lot less common than they used to be.

Gypsies in Spain have always been severely discriminated against; Spaniards almost universally dislike them, though leftists won't admit it, and many gypsies have become famous musicians and dancers. Gypsies are all thought to rob, cheat, and steal, and it doesn't help their cause that a lot of them do. Nomadic gypsies are more disliked than those who have settled down; some of those who have settled down, like our gypsies here in Gràcia, are quite well-liked. Of course, none of them rob, cheat, or steal. The gypsies are considered to have a different culture from Spaniards in general and to live according to their own code of behavior and laws. They're thought to be secretive around non-gypsies. Common stereotypes are that "Gypsies won't steal from each other, but they think it's all right to steal from payos (non-gypsies)", "Gypsy men don't work, only the women work", "Don't mess with gypsy women if you value your life, because the men are really jealous", "Gypsies all carry knives and are expert knife-fighters", "Gypsies look poor but they really have a lot of money", "Gypsies eat dogs and cats", and the like. I once read this, written by a Spaniard whose name escapes me, "The Americans and the English think we are savage, hot-blooded, passionate, jealous, violent; they think of us in a way not dissimilar from the way we think about gypsies." From what I can gather, Spanish gypsies all can speak Spanish, but they also have their own language called caló. I've never heard caló spoken, but there are some songs that use it, even by a group as poppy as the Gypsy Kings.

Most Spaniards are very curious about gypsies but don't really know very much about them. I certainly don't, and a lot of what I know comes through the filter of the prejudices of Spaniards. By the way, I'm not dissing the Spaniards as bigoted racists. Some of their stereotypes have foundation in truth. Gypsies commit crimes in disproportionate numbers. With honorable exceptions, they do not tend to be model citizens. They openly flout many of society's established norms. That's not the reputation you usually get if you, as a group, are hardworking, studious, and sober. I mean, say, the Germans are hardworking, industrious, and sober, at least most of the time. The gypsies are the anti-Germans, if that makes any sense.

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