Thursday, March 22, 2007

Gypsy Rovers and Other Romantic Notions

When we were little our mother used to sing us a song that went like this:

The Gypsy Rover went over the hill,
And down through the valley so shady--
He whistled and he sang
Till the green woods rang,
And he won the heart of a lady.

My mother had a whole basket full of those songs, and somehow she knew all the words to them, verse upon verse. Somehow I know them all now, too. I can't help but wonder if it was these songs, as much as the books I read, that spoke to my little imagination. I always wondered about the Gypsy Rover: what did he look like? Did he win the lady with his whistling? His singing? His roving? I would lie in bed and think about him, picture him as a dashing, gentlemanly character who swept the lady (who was rich, by the way) off of her feet.

We all tend to romanticize the gypsy--look at the Manet painting above and you see how artists, writers, singers, all wanted to capture something that they felt the gypsy stood for: perhaps it was freedom.

My grandparents, who hearkened from gypsy country, would have told you a different story. I recall, also back when I was a tike, and both of my Hungarian grandparents had come out for some event in our church hall, that my grandfather looked at me, his blue eyes twinkling, and pointed at a woman who looked as if she had applied her make-up with a trowel.

"Tell you Grandma," he said in his beautiful accented English, "that lady looks like a gypsy."

My grandmother had heard him, though, and leaned across me to give him a fierce look. "You watch your mouth!" she said.

Grandpa just smiled. He lived to bait her; it was the nature of their relationship. But they both knew that gypsies, where they came from, didn't have good reputations.

Still, I think that there's nothing lovelier than the notion of a happy wanderer, and some of the most beautiful songs in the world are Gypsy Aires, played on a weeping violin.

What is it about the gypsy? Do we all dream, every once in a while, that we could leave our belongings behind, put a little pack on our backs, and walk off into some beautiful scenery? Or has that notion become less appealing in our modern world?

IMAGE: A fragment of the painting Les Gitanes, by Manet (Yahoo Images)