I always wanted to be a gypsy for Halloween. Scarves, jewelry, long skirts. I had never seen an actual gypsy. It was only when I went to Rome that I encountered one, a woman prostrate on the sidewalk.
I was walking around the Vatican, from St. Peter’s square to the museum entrance. There was some kind of mix up about the time of my tour. My tour guide was the only person I knew in the entire continent of Europe, and to tell the truth, I didn’t really know her. She was a friend of a friend of a friend. I thought I had missed my tour with the only person I knew, and I walked past the gypsy lying on the sidewalk like she was a part of the ground. It was one of the most publicly inappropriate poses I could imagine, belly and face against the concrete. A pile of fabric over a skinny body. That was how things were in Rome, I had been told. Gypsies. This is normal. I mean, I had seen homeless people napping on sidewalks and park benches, sure, but their posture suggested mere discomfort, not some kind of otherworldly humility.
I thought I had spent time in gypsy mode. I have not. This summer is real gypsy mode for me. Yes, I have been away from home for weeks at a time, shut up my house and not missed my house or my cats or my paintings or books or trees. But a gypsy is someone with no home at all.
So many places I’ve been, I thought right away, I am at home. My hotel room in Rome was in the attic, with a thick beam at just the right height to knock me unconscious if I tried to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. My window had shutters, and I opened them at night to see pigeons flying over the city. I felt right at home.
Almost everything I own is in neatly color-coded cardboard boxes in a 10-by-10-foot storage unit, G14. I feel more naked than free. I moved my self and my fish into my old bedroom at my dad’s. The last time I lived there, I was seventeen. Although my dad has lived in this house for over twenty-five years, and there are tons of flowers and bird feeders, and my stepmom fusses over me having enough to eat and being warm enough, and my dad and I get to frown at Pete Campbell’s disgustingness and disapprove of repetitive storylines right after the current “Mad Men” ends, it is not my home.
I always thought of the word “homeless” as describing a practical problem, but today, when I was reading the prayers at church, as we were praying for the homeless, it struck me as an emotional one. Anyone can find a place to sleep, even a safe place with physical comfort and loving people, but a home? That is different. Yes, the last time I moved, I was heartbroken and discombobulated. Moving is one of those experiences that jars you. And yes, I only moved yesterday.
I got a slice of pizza and wine and a cappuccino at a café, and I walked around some street stalls of shoes before heading back to the Vatican Museum. It turned out that the only person I sort of knew in Europe was wearing a purple blouse and gathering up her tour group. My Spanish teacher friend had a son who knew someone at the Roman embassy, and these were embassy people. I was thrilled to talk to someone who knew who I was.
Note: I am aware that the word “gypsy” and the people who are described that way may prefer to be called Romani, and that their history is complicated and that their relations with others have been troubled to say the least. But I’m only dealing with my own, very positive view of that word, people I envisioned as mystical, beautiful, and wild, and people who didn’t keep a permanent geographic home.