I find the gypsies in Paris fascinating. Before I moved here I would have looked away, if I saw them, in the past because I felt sad about their situation. Now, it just fascinates me. In college I heard the definition of "grotesque" as "that which fascinates and repels." Here, on "The Victorian Web.org" it is defined as that which is outside our reality. "We are strongly affected and terrified because it is our world which ceases to be reliable, and we feel that we would be unable to live in this changed world. The grotesque instills fear of life rather than death."
To me, the gypsies represent this definition of grotesque--especially the "mothers" with their "children" and the young teenage girls. I would not assume that it is the actual mother and birth child together. It could be their sister's or friend's.
One woman is usually stationed by the ritzy hotels the Prince de Gaulles and George V on Ave George V. (pronounced George Sank because the "V" is a "5") A few days ago I saw her in her usual spot but she was leaning on her arm and it was shaking violently. I wondered if this was an actual medical development, or if this was a new dramatic show, one of her "tricks," if you will. I didn't ask.
There also are the girls who dress up as Egyptian Mummies and stand or sit still for hours and hours, even in the hottest part of the summer. How can they do that? I couldn't suffer it.
One time I saw a boy of about eight years old, in the lap of his "mother." Obviously, going to school wasn't a big priority.
Of course, there are also the young teenage girls. These make me the saddest. They roam the metros in groups of two or three. They wait for crowds in the train and jump in at the last moment to grab what they can before escaping the closing doors. What really breaks my heart though is that I've heard if these poor girls go home empty-handed, they are raped. This, and just submitting a child to endless days of petty thievery, never knowing innocence and joy and laughter and warm embracing love and nurturing, is so tragic.
Sometimes girls, or boys, will just grab something (like a cellphone or purse) from a person at the door just as it is closing--forever leaving any possibility of capture.
Speaking of capture. If any one (or several) of these street urchins are caught, they are let go at the end of the day because French law prohibits holding minors. They're back out on the street again the next day.
Perhaps they go "home" to the grassy knolls on the A14 highway heading out of Paris. Sometimes I've seen them as we head out to the airport. Usually situated near the underpass of a bridge, there are sizable camps for these nomadic thieves.
What is also fascinating is that I know these tribes are an historical part of Parisian history. We see them in almost all theatrical works, like Les Miserables and across the Channel in Dickens' works. We don't see types like these in New York or American cities. The history and generational centuries of their existence and their role here is timeless. And I don't mean that in a romantic sense.
I am sure there are professional studies and writings on the case of these gypsies, which apparently are usually Romanian. The French, in fact, refer to them as "romani," but that is pejorative. Perhaps this post seems pejorative, but well, these are just my observations.
Tonight (May 27, 2010) I saw a gypsy family on the subway. They looked like they were heading home after their day of "work." The mother had a cane but was walking normally. The little girl had big round dangly earrings, just like you would imagine a stereotypical old-style gypsy to have. They all looked worn out and beaten from the day, and life.
Then, on another train (same night: 5/27/2010), I saw about five young girls on the platform of the metro. They looked to be less than 13-years old with the youngest looking about eight. They waited for the rush-hour train to pull in, they tried to board the last car and then at the last minute stepped out. I wonder--is someone less a watch? a wallet? a phone? They looked like they didn't get anything though, because they stayed on the platform looking forlorn. They looked like they knew they had to get "one more score" before they could go back and present their findings and receive either their reward (dinner?) or punishment (I shudder to think of it). It's really so sad.