Sunday, January 28, 2007

And Who Are You Wearing?

Apparently the gypsies in Italy are wearing Prada - at least according to an acquaintance who is going to that country in May and has therefore been studying up on the subject. Granted it is probably last years' or maybe even the year before that - but still, I hope it isn't true.

I went to the Internet to verify. Other than two general Wikipedia articles all I could find was the debunking of a bogus "FBI Alert: Gypsy Testicle-Snatching Ring ...Any male traveling alone in the southeast is at risk. Do not attempt to take unknown women of Turkish descent to your room. Do not attempt to engage any type of sexual behavior with unknown Turkish women....These women are responsible for over 70 testicle mutilation cases."

I also Googled "gypsies Prada" and got nothing other than online stores that sold that brand's pret-a-porter, as well as gypsy styled blouses by other manufacturers.

That's good. In a post-9/11 world of alleged clear and present dangers, most of which are apparently hidden, we need something blatantly obvious about which to worry. And pretty much all through history, whether justified or not, these professed and visible villainous vagabonds (often portrayed as the agents of Satan) have played that role.

My most recent experience with the gypsies was on our October 2006 visit to Florence. Prior to that it was in Barcelona in 2002. In both of those places I actually saw them. Before that my only acquaintance with these outcast wanderers was in the pictures painted in my childhood mind by my family - frightening descriptions of kid-snatching, bath-avoiding vagabonds swooping down on unsuspecting innocents and stealing them away for sale to unscrupulous slavers or, even worse, to be kept as unwilling participants in the crude criminality of the nefarious nomads

Suffice it to say that I made it to adulthood with no such untoward confrontations but with a indelibly strong image etched in my mind and emotions.

For Barcelona we had been warned by our advance information materials, by our onsite Elderhostel handlers, and by relatives who had previously made the trip to be aware of the gypsies and their various scams. Groups of children would suddenly gather around a person grabbing at their possessions like a flock of pigeons pecking at a newly dumped pile of bird food. Beggars would distract someone while their partner picked their purse or pocket. Cutpurses would jostle against you while you waited to cross an intersection. And, my favorite, one gypsy would squirt mustard on the clothing of an unwary tourist. Their confederate would then convince the victim that they had been soiled by birds, offer to clean them up, and lure them into an alley or other non-public space in order to rob them. (The last grift actually did happen to two of our fellow travelers but they recognized it and escaped in time.)

Mars and I were therefore on guard for all of these potential pitfalls: maintaining empty space around our bodies with extended elbows when we stood in crowds, carefully watching over the other when one of us was photographing, and trying to be aware of any other suspicious persons - whatever that meant.

What I wasn't prepared for however was the fact that at least some of the gypsies actually looked and dressed like gypsies - long, loosely flowing multilayered skirts, patterned (usually horizontally striped) tights, black ballet-like shoes, head bandannas and untailored "peasant blouses" - sometimes with brightly clashing colors, but normally in black and white.

And when they came into an area the non-Romany population parted and scattered like a pile of metal shavings being repelled by an like poled magnet.

We received similar warnings about the gypsies in Florence Italy. And we saw similarly garbed representatives of the Roma in the various outdoor gathering places, and observed the same conditioned response from the touring public that we had seen in Barcelona.

For a group of alleged clandestine thieves they hardly seem to be dressed for success. And yet these purported purloiners have survived for centuries. And now apparently a portion of the tribe is even wearing the latest fashions. Since the gypsy lifestyle is a shared communal one, at least some of the tribe is doing well.

Based upon the crowd reaction and my personal response, "Gypsy" is clearly one of the strongest and most enduring labels in the world. Perhaps, like Prada and other fashion houses, the costumed gypsies are the Haute Couture part of the business - establishing the image and identity of the organization - while the "off the rack" guys do all of the day-to-day work and bring in most of the money.

Maybe, in fact, the big name designers stole that whole idea from the gypsies to begin with. And the Romany finally got fed up with being both bad-mouthed and "borrowed" from so they decided to bring some of their more prominent plagiarizers with them into their own more public circle of infamy.

"Hey! If we are supposed to be..." they said to themselves, "...the devil, where's Prada?"

No comments: