December 9, 2011

Gypsy Culture Club

Our friend Dave loaned us a giant book about gypsies, which we all instantly fell in love with and used as the foundation for our culture club presentation this month.  I honestly always thought that a gypsy was anyone who traveled around Europe in carnival like shows.  Like the carnies of Europe.  I had no idea they were an actual ethnic group with serious traditions all their own.  So this was a big education for me as well.

We learned about their conflicting stories of origin.  There are gypsies on every continent and apparently they don't know for sure where they came from.  One legend says that they were cast out of India over a dispute about who could and could not be married, and when they were cast out a powerful sorceress was hired to curse them that they "may never sleep in the same place twice, drink from the same well twice, or ever find peace with another people."  Seems like that has been fulfilled as they have been cast out of most every place they've ever been, abused and mistreated, rarely settling down in permanent villages and when they do, it's always in the worst parcels of land that no other person would bother to inhabit.  So sad.  As the author explained to a gypsy man what his plans were for the book, the man took the author's face in his hands, and with tears in his eyes said, "If you find out that we really are from India, would you ask them if they would have us back so that we can all be together again?"  Oh my gosh!  I cried my eyes out as I read that.  How very sad!

As part of our studies, we built a gypsy wagon, decorated the outsides, and layered the insides with lavish fabrics and appropriate furniture and storage. 

We visited a covered wagon that sits in front of a new restaurant here in town called Chuck-O-Rama (seriously, that's the name.  I can't make up stuff that good.  Makes me think of a ton of people throwing up all at once!) to see all the details of real wagon construction.  It was admittedly a little smaller than the average gypsy wagon, but we talked about how it might feel to live in just a wagon - even one 2X that size - with three generations of your family!  Forget ever having your own room or even  your own bed.  And since their culture only bathes for very special occasions and fairs, it could get pretty ripe in there.

We learned about their wedding customs and had a little incestuous gypsy wedding in our living room.  The bride and groom kneel faceing one another and the best man places bread on each knee, sprinkles it with salt, and then without using their hands, the bride and groom eat the bread from each others' knee.  The lines Haven is trying to say are, "May you love one another as bread loves salt.  And if ever salt and bread become enemies, may you still love one another."  Joe and I had a little fun imagining scenarios under which that last sentence was tacked on.  Like maybe one too many times some drunken wedding guest shouted, "Well what if bread and salt stop loving each other?  Huh?  Then what?"  Haha!

Since every gypsy woman is supposed be understand at least the basics of palm reading, we learned a little about that.  We made paint prints of our hands and decorated them like the palm in the book, but then we also looked at what all the lines are supposed to mean.  I assured the kids that this was only playing around and that if in fact there is anyone who actually has a gift for telling anything about you by looking at your hand, it certainly would never be mom while she looks it all up in a book.  Interestingly, we had a guest at our interfaith dinner the evening after we made our hand prints who asked about them and who believes very deeply that it is an essential art, so it was fun to listen to her take on palms.  Me?  I don't really know what to believe, nor do I spend much time thinking about it.  But it was fun to look at in a very lighthearted way.  Hannah Jane kept saying, "That's right!  That's me!  This is all so true!"  Hunter, on the other hand, actually got very agitated and yelled, "This is all wrong!  This is fake stuff because this is not true about me!"  Which is funny, because if the book said anything negative as it related to their hands, I intentionally left that out so as not to upset anyone.  Still, Hunter was generally annoyed that anyone would have the audacity to summarize his personality into something as small as the palm of his little hand. 

Hunter has a recent obsession with cobras.  He asks every single day to watch you tube videos of cobras, cobras fighting different animals, cobras with multiple heads...if there's a cobra, Hunter wants to see it!  So he was delighted to learn that one of the 3 major gypsy tribes is known for snake charming and carrying around cobras in baskets!  It seems they are the primary source of anti-venom in their region and so they are exulted as essential medical professionals whose services are both life saving and mystical because not just anyone has been given the gift of snake charming.  Hunter promptly stuck his cobra in a toy basket and got a paper towel tube for his flute and got to work charming the pants off of play snakes far and wide!

Hannah Jane was tasked with cooking a gypsy food to share with her Culture Club friends.  The only problem was that half of Culture Club participants are vegetarians and meat it the main staple of the gypsy diet, as they mainly hunt as they go and never stay in one place long enough to grow a crop.  They are often seasonal crop laborers, but still, it's not their food they harvest.  One of the weirdest things we saw in our book was a man proudly serving hedgehog to his honored guest.  That alone isn't all that odd, but how he killed the hedgehog had us all giggling and gagging.  He sticks a straw up the rear end of the hedgehog and blows air into its rectum until it dies.  Supposedly, this method separates the skin from the meat and leaves it tender when cooked.  We all wondered how they discovered this method in the first place!  I mean, who is going to fess up to being the first person to stick a straw in the behind of a hedge hog?  LOL!

Needless to say, we weren't going to be serving inflated hedgehog!  In order to accommodate our veggie friends, Hannah Jane made corn bread and we pretended that it was from the crop we harvested for someone else and they were merciful in giving us a bag of corn.  Hannah Jane made it entirely herself, and for the first time ever, was allowed to crack eggs into the food.  I've been a tyrant about her cracking eggs, worried that shell would get into the food.  I usually crack them into a bowl and let her pour them in from that.  Lame.  I know.  I'm a bacteria fearing freak!  But she did it and I was there to snap her picture as some got on her hands and she freaked out a little over the sliminess.

We had so much fun with this one! So, thanks to Mr. Bee for loaning us the most comprehensive book on any culture I've ever had the pleasure of looking at!  We made the most of it!


  1. I am fascinated with Gypsy culture. What was the name of the book? Thanks!

  2. Leanna, it was called Gypsies of the World. You can find it on Amazon at It's such a great book!!!


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