|Caption in the New York Times:|
"A Roma man's prominent gold jewelry"
To reach a surprising place, follow Route 6 south of Bucharest as it unwinds across the Romanian countryside, past fields of wildflowers and flocks of sheep. Turn west before the Danube River and head toward a grid of neatly laid streets, set down among farms.
This is Buzescu, where a small, prosperous group of Roma live among mansions and Mercedeses.
Like most visitors to Europe, Karla Gachet and Ivan Kashinsky had never heard of Buzescu or met any wealthy Roma. They thought most Roma — often pejoratively called Gypsies — were poor and lived in slums on the fringes of big European cities. On a trip to Europe from their home in Ecuador in 2010, they learned about the Roma of Buzescu and set out to see the town.
“We wanted to break the image of Gypsies in the street, begging where the cars stop, stealing whatever they can and living in total poverty,” said Mr. Kashinsky, who lived with his wife, Ms. Gachet, in Buzescu for six weeks to document daily life in the thriving community. “Here, the Roma were not the maids of Romanians, but the Romanians were the maids of the Roma. It was an amazing switch.”
So, how did they get rich? The same way a lot of people got rich after the fall of the Berlin Wall:
... The palatial homes belong to the Kalderash, a once-itinerant group of Roma who made their fortune trading metal across Eastern Europe after the collapse of Communism.
“When Communism fell,” a Roma man told the photographers, “you had to be dumb not to make money.”
So the Kalderash, whose name means “coppersmith” in Romani, went to work, traveling across Eastern Europe, dismantling abandoned factories and selling the scrap metal for handsome profits.
Up to a point, Lord Coppersmith. Not all those factories were abandoned, and even if they were, the value of the scrap metal belonged to the nation, not to looters.
That's also how Marc Rich, who was pardoned by Bill Clinton in January 2001, made a bundle: "dismantling [not necessarily] abandoned factories and selling the scrap metal for handome profits." So, maybe Yuri Slezkine's opening conceit about Roma being Mercurians too had some basis in reality?
The Kalderash Gypsies, however, appear to be a little more hands-on than metal-trader Marc Rich was -- one of the photographs is of the funeral of a local man who "was electrocuted while stripping copper from power lines in Spain."
... Today, the lavish mansions lining the streets of Buzescu, an otherwise modest farm town, are a testament to the wealth of a people deeply impoverished elsewhere in Europe and widely condemned as beggars and thieves.
The Roma have faced oppression and violence since their ancestors came to Europe from India centuries ago. During the Holocaust, the Nazis exterminated Romani people by the hundreds of thousands. In 2010, France’s president at the time, Nicolas Sarkozy, deported thousands of Roma and bulldozed their encampments. His successor, François Hollande, has continued the expulsions. Roma communities face discrimination in Romania too, as evidenced by recent forced evictions across the country.
Given their painful history, many families in Buzescu are wary of new arrivals like Ms. Gachet and Mr. Kashinsky. Even after one family offered the couple a place to stay, many of the wealthiest residents refused to let them inside their houses.
“A lot of people were scared of us,” Ms. Gachet said. “They thought we were thieves.”
But the couple persisted, slowly gaining trust and access. Luckily, they shared a language with the residents of Buzescu. Like Ms. Gachet, who is from Quito, Ecuador, and Mr. Kashinsky, who is from Los Angeles, many Roma speak Spanish — they have been traveling back and forth to Spain for work since Romania joined the European Union in 2007.
Spanish Gypsies, by the way, seem on average to be less Bad News than other Gypsies.
As the doors of Buzescu swung open, Ms. Gachet and Mr. Kashinsky said, they revealed fantastic abundance — winding staircases that led to vast rooms with marble floors and heavy chandeliers — but also great emptiness.
“They build these giant houses,” Mr. Kashinsky said. “But they don’t really use them.”
Many parents and teenagers still have to leave Buzescu to find work or conduct business elsewhere in Europe, leaving only elders and young children to live in the outsize homes. Even when families do reunite for holidays or funerals, they tend to congregate in small rooms toward the back of their houses, using outdoor kitchens and bathrooms rather than those inside.
...“Being Roma, they can’t just go out there to the world and get a job anywhere,” Ms. Gachet said. “The lady we lived with said: ‘Karla, my kids are not going to be lawyers and doctors. You need to understand that. We need to give them tools to survive in our world, and that’s money.’ They don’t get the opportunities that everybody else gets. They’re so discriminated against in their own country.”
And here is John Updike in The New Yorker reviewing a book on Gypsies:
Though her six years of living in Roussillon may have left her with “the same attraction to their intractable difference,” readers of her account, if this reviewer is an example, will be cured of any faint desire they may ever have entertained to live like a Gypsy.
Evidently it’s a miserable life, for the shiftless, jobless, largely illiterate men, and twice as bad for the homebound women, generally married in their teens to other teens, who will bully, betray, tyrannize, and most likely beat them. As for their children, they stay up so late watching television and hanging out on the street that they are usually too sleepy to go to school; Gypsies must be the only significant ethnic group in France that actively discourages literacy and encourages truancy. Compared with them, the embattled immigrants from the Muslim world are models of aspiration to bourgeois order and enlightenment.
One of Eberstadt’s more hallucinante chapters describes a conference on education held at Collège Jean Moulin, a junior high school for preponderantly Gypsy students. “The occasion is pretty merry,” she writes. “People who work with Gypsies tend to laugh a lot. It’s a laughter of hysterical exasperation, because if you didn’t laugh, you’d hang yourself or quit.