Monday, February 6, 2012

Gypsy Gal

When it appeared that all was lost, that both mother and child would soon perish, Olney sent word to the gypsies to send someone who could help deliver his wife from her suffering.

Three gypsy women arrived and his son was born within the hour. Partly out of gratitude and partly from delirium, the young father asked the gypsies to bless his son. The women wept and said it would be a privilege.

The boy, who was named Thomas after his father, was placed in the midst of a circle of candles. A strange ritual followed, with incantations in strange languages. The women rubbed a foul ointment on the infant's forehead and proceeded to prophecy. "One day, when this boy is a man, he will be permitted the gift of having one wish granted by the gods, when he wishes for it with all his heart. It will be like a dream, and the world will never be the same."

The prophecy was accompanied by a curious feeling of both elation and dread, which pierced Olney's heart like a thorn. He wondered what it would be that his son would wish for. And he wondered how the world would be changed.

~Excerpt from my short story "Unremembered History of the World"

When I wrote this story, which is now published and available in my first collection of published stories, I didn't know all that much about gypsies. Or rather, my understanding of gypsies was a fuzzy one associated with scenes in movies, fortune tellers and a sense of the exotic. One of our dogs, a black border collie, is named Gypsy.

So I woke this morning thinking about gypsies because the Bob Dylan song Spanish Harlem Incident was playing in my head. Spanish Harlem Incident appeared on his third album, Another Side of Bob Dylan.

Gypsies are not a homogeneous entity, however. According to the Joshua Project, there are approximately 266,000 people in this ethnic group that originated in India. They were musicians, entertainers and metal workers who were pushed out of India and went to Persia where they eventually broke into two branches, one group moving into Europe and the other remaining Middle Eastern. But there are also Scottish gypsies, and according to Wikipedia there were a number of different groups of these as well, tinkerers and the like.

According to the Smithsonian Education Project, on a page titled Migrations In History, there are as many as six groups of gypsies in the United States. Each has cultural, historic and linguistic traditions. Hungarian, Rom, Ludar, and "Black Dutch" are a few of these.

In many respects these gypsy groups reflect the sense of being strangers and pilgrims in a weary land, of being outcasts. Those who have their heart's hope set on a better place often feel as if "this world is not my home." Gypsies and many other groups through history have known this feeling of being outcast, this sense of apartness.

The word gypsy conjures up an image of something foreign yet fascinating. While the Beatles were singing I Want To Hold Your Hand, Love Me Do and She Loves You, and Gale Garnett was making popular his We'll Sing in the Sunshine, Dylan was scrawling lyrics like these from another dimension of the lyric universe.

Spanish Harlem Incident

Gypsy gal, the hands of Harlem
Cannot hold you to its heat
Your temperature’s too hot for taming
Your flaming feet burn up the street
I am homeless, come and take me
Into reach of your rattling drums
Let me know, babe, about my fortune
Down along my restless palms

Gypsy gal, you got me swallowed
I have fallen far beneath
Your pearly eyes, so fast an’ slashing
An’ your flashing diamond teeth
The night is pitch black, come an’ make my
Pale face fit into place, ah, please!
Let me know, babe, I’m nearly drowning
If it’s you my lifelines trace

I been wondrin’ all about me
Ever since I seen you there
On the cliffs of your wildcat charms I’m riding
I know I’m ’round you but I don’t know where
You have slayed me, you have made me
I got to laugh halfways off my heels
I got to know, babe, will you surround me?
So I can tell if I’m really real

Copyright © 1964 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1992 by Special Rider Music

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