‘When you die you’ll leave that big house. When I die I’ll leave this [little one]. What’s the difference?’ he says as he puts out his cigarette on the stained carpet of his living room floor. The carpet itself, a mere buffer between their home and the soil beneath. ‘The difference being,’ he continued, ‘that I’ll have sang and danced, while you’ll have been chasing all those things.’
This anecdote in many ways summed up my experiences of the attitude to life of the basket- making Gypsies I stayed with in Northern Romania. It was a culture in which ambition was met with confusion and indifference. A world in which aspirations towards success were not an essential part of life. In other words, everyone seemed refreshingly content and relaxed. There was no desire for a ‘better’ standard of living, instead the desire was for a life well-lived.
It is easy to look at this and suggest that it is based on a certain level of ignorance or naivety and to arrogantly propose that they would wish to live in ‘our’ world given the opportunity. However, I must admit that to take the opposite perspective and to idealise and romanticise a world in with a toilet consist of a hole in the ground scantily-clad with sticks and tarpaulin is equally misled. For me, I believe that the truth of the situation lies somewhere in the grey area between these two poles and any reasonable opinion is coloured by certain personal biases.
However, what I will say is that it is a world which exudes a sense of unparalleled community spirit and beauty. A society in which it is declared, ‘when you are hungry – dance!’ It is a world in which the outsider is met with excited curiosity and an undeniable undertone of fear. A society that lives deeply rooted in its own cultural traditions and beliefs. That exists outside the cultures around it – namely Romanian and Hungarian – however, are coloured and subject to them also.
The daily routine consists of waking with the light and passing the time involved in some way in a natural, community-driven assembly line. Some people cut the reeds that are used to make the artisan baskets. Others shed them of their bark, while others still are involved in the more skilled process of constructing the baskets. Everyone goes about their daily routine with an unmistakably tranquil attitude and yet with a speed, skill and communal spirit that is admirable. It is a world far removed from the soulless modern factory and yet in many ways the social perfection of it. Instead of producing a product in the most efficient and capitalistic way, it is done in the most peaceful way imaginable that still produces a community’s living.
It is one of the most interesting and original cultures that I have ever had the pleasure of – however briefly – experiencing. And one which will always – if not with unreserved conviction – be a community and culture that influences my outlook on how I live my life. Even if I lack the conviction to fully adapt to their way of life.
I went with http://tzigania.com/tours.html which is an amazing organisation and well worth travelling with.