In one of the final scenes of the brilliant documentary Latcho Drom the gypsy chanteuse known as “La Caita” sings “The Blackbird” before a city:
Why does your wicked mouth spit on me?
What harm is it to you that my skin is dark and my hair gypsy hair black?
From Isabelle the Catholic, from Hitler to Franco
We have been the victims of their wars
Some evenings I find myself envying
the respect that you give to your dog.
History of Home Loss
What is a gypsy? Not just a homeless person, because it’s assumed that homelessness is temporary and afflicts individuals, not whole societies. Gypsies are those belonging to communities who at some point in their origins lost their homes and have been forced to continue moving on, developing a specialized way of life that turns around continuous travel. The crowds of refugees from recent and current conflicts now face the possibility of the same fate as they wait in camps and shelters for their fates to turn them toward some kind of permanent home.
Interminably Hounded Out
A bunch of questions arise, perhaps the most obvious being, Why couldn’t the gypsies find a place to settle? The very existence of gypsies on this planet is testament to the essential bigotry of human nature. In their beginnings most gypsy groups were cast out of their homelands by enemies who pursued them for long distances. Eventually they would arrive in lands where their appearance and way of life seemed so strange to the locals that they were quickly hounded out.
What haters often forget about gypsies in general is how incredibly artistic they are, large portions of their time being devoted to music, dance, and artisanal crafts. They’re often guardians of ancient knowledge, oral traditions, musical styles, and occult practices. They’re brilliantly skillful at horse breeding, a talent that makes them appear even more of an anachronism. Far from commending them to the peoples among whom they wander, their genius renders them more suspect than ever.
There are parallels to be drawn with the creative class in today’s digital world. You find these sorts of gypsies in cities like the semi-abandoned Detroit, where artists have taken up residence in empty factories and warehouses, organizing into communes and collaborating on projects. You can find them at cafés in Thailand, where the low cost of living lures digital nomads with the possibility of a financial, if lean, independence. You’ll find digital gypsies on sites like Fiverr, where all manner of creative services can be purchased from them for less that what they’re worth.
Scratch that last remark; “worth” is of course a relative concept, dependent on prevailing conditions, and it’s pretty clear that creative services have become increasingly devalued. It’s pretty rare to find true artists who can claim positions as social media influencers — that honour still belongs to the Kens and Barbies.
This makes it harder and harder for the creative class to put down roots anywhere, to belong, not just geographically, but in cyberspace, where artists find their work increasingly shoved aside and ignored and where they’re obliged to postpone meaningful work in favour of drone labour. The Web has become the new territory from the midst of which the artist gypsy is being driven.
A Call to Occupy
Might you be a gypsy of the digital age? If so, this is a call to you to occupy the Internet in such a way that you and your ilk get a fair deal. Patronize other gypsies as often as you can, seeking every opportunity to consume and use what they have to offer. Seek to enrich your mind, not to distract your world-weariness with mindless entertainment and useless or spurious information.
The Quran often employs the expression “neither of the east nor of the west” to signify something or someone of a divine nature. Similarly Jesus alluded to his divine nature when he said, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58 NIV).
There’s something sacred in placelessness, something that speaks of the divine spark at the heart of the creative urge. Let’s honour it.