20 Apr 2010
It has taken 7 months to come this close. To gain the confidence of Glesga’s Gitans you can’t go in shutters blazing - you’ve got to take the long view.
My insider was Zooro: an ebullient Roma Gypsy from Transylvania. He agreed to help unmask the reclusive world of Glasgow's Roma community.
The setting, an apartment above a beauty parlor on Glasgows Southside, was nothing out of the ordinary - no campfire in the living room, just the regular two-bar. As Zooro unraveled the gypsy counter-culture his son took cover from the midday sun and snored blissfully on the cream three-piece. He and his family travelled Europe selling The Big Issue before arriving in Glasgow. Now they want to settle down and give their three sons the opportunity of an education.
Zooro’s home is like any other flat found on the infamous ‘Vicky Road.’ This vibrant location is home to a significant concentration of Glasgow’s Asian and Eastern European population. Victoria Road is known colloquially by the dissonant natives as ‘Beirut’ and directions are clarified with ‘I’m no a racist BUT.’ The accustomed hospitality of the Celts has been replaced by resentment and suspicion in face of the Gypsy influx.
While Zooro explained Roma morals and ethics I couldn’t help but be distracted by the tops of his two-tones peeping from beneath the tablecloth. His ostentatious brogues were making a clear status statement.
touch - passport to the Roma...
Roma culture is shrouded in a wall of secrecy upheld by all sides. Romani (Roma language) is largely preserved by word of mouth and neglected by academia - the race is on to map its rapidly disappearing dialects. Words from Romani such as: dad, pal, chav, gadge, mush, kushtie and scran have become a familiar part of our everyday vocabulary. The migrant Roma are right to be guarded, their nomadic culture endures a daily diatribe of abuse and ingrained discrimination. The Gypsy diaspora battle to keep alive a rich culture that has been ostracised since its inception – it pays to keep schtum.
At the Big Issue Luciene was performing his remorseful Wisdom routine - Norman Wisdom is a legend in Romania. A supermarket manager at his Livingston pitch (a 40 mile round-trip) sensed that his customers couldn’t cope any longer with Luciene’s larger than life personality and requested he vacate the premises tout de suite. Luciene shrugged his shoulders and grinned - happy with his relocation just a half-hour ride away.
Luciene was another Roma making a shoe statement - his Athena moleskins are the Pininfarina of gypsy street-wear.
Our cultures differ fundamentally, we live in parallel but seldom cross the road. We attach moral sentiment to begging - the last resort. The gypsies subsist in our 'last resort,' behind the margins of our settled society. What are the alternatives for a transient population? No fixed abode is the address of the disenfranchised.
The Big Issue prevents them slipping from view. They're not looking for state benefits; they may not be here long enough to qualify. By selling The Big Issue they are trying to change perceptions. They're putting a hand out.