Wednesday, May 4, 2011

After they hung his picture outside my office, I had to face my obsession.

I have a thing for gypsies.

The hospital where I work features an ever-changing art show. From November through January, the display was of new works, with the intent of selling them to support the artists and raise funds. I was tortured with two especially mundane pieces just outside my door: one which looked as if the painter had used the wheels of a toy car to apply colors to a black background; the other a freeform clay disk, glazed in shades of blue, with a plastic grocery bag caulked to its center. And your point would be...?

So I was much relieved when they were taken down. And then delighted to have him take their place: a portrait of Josef Zawinul, surrounded by snippets from his album covers. I learned he was a classically-trained musician, born in Austria, a founding member of the jazz group Weather Report, a keyboardist.

I looked into his deep-set dark eyes, studied his black hair and shaggy moustache, gazed at his coffee-hued skin, the seriousness of his gaze, his colorful skullcap. This was no typical Viennese. I was certain: this man was Zigane, a Sinti. A gypsy.

Memories of melodies floated through my mind: Zigeunerweisen ("Gypsy Ways") by Pablo de Sarasate, the Spanish violinist. Then a song from my childhood, an aria from an obscure operetta by Emmerich Kalman. I hum He' Cigany ("Hey Gypsy!") and gently sway to the tune. Ahem. Time to return to work.

On the bulletin board over my desk, there is a ticket stub from a concert by one of my fav bands, Gogol Bordello. I think of the lead singer, Eugene Hutz, a too-skinny Ukranian of Roma descent with a wild wardrobe, mussed dark hair, an amazing 'stache. And what does his band play? Punk. Gypsy Punk. Start wearing purple. Bring on the floral embroidered blouses, the full skirts, and the red suede boots. Caravan is comin'.

I think back to my college crush, a lanky Italian--tall, dark, and handsome to my eyes--who had a fondness for growing facial hair. He claimed to be Sicilian. Hah! I'm positive he was Cigany. Gosh, my son even had a doctor during his cancer treatment with eyes so dark that his pupils blended into his irises...which fit with his full head of dark hair and his olive skin. A Gypsy, I was sure. (He was Lebanese...is that close?)

I open my desk drawer and there is a gourmet bittersweet chocolate bar waiting for me. I think about one of my favorite desserts, a Hungarian classic of chocolate cake layers filled with chocolate mousse and topped with a layer of chocolate icing. It's known as Rigo Jancsi, or more informally as "Gypsy John;" the mousse filling intended to represent the gypsy's complexion, the icing his dark hair.

The inspiration behind the cake is a bit of legend, a bit of history: in the 1870's, a young American woman, married to a Belgian prince, became infatuated with a gypsy violinist--Johnny Rigo--and being seduced by his romantic musicianship, abandoned her husband and children and ran off with him.

So as a wanna-be writer, what would be more fitting as a theme for my first novella?

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