“Blessed are the weird people. -poets, misfits, writers, Mystics, painters & troubadours – for they teach us to see the world through different eyes.” ~Jacob NordbyMonday September 5, 2016
Thick smoke curled around the dark room as the angry sounds of Motörhead blared on the speakers. I had found myself in a dark, smokey, stagnant man cave of sorts. Guitars, keyboards, speakers and a drum set were strewn about the room. There was one tiny window to the outside where I could see the olive trees flail in the wind and rain. My tummy was grumbling as the smell of whatever he was creating slowly cooked in the oven of the main house.
“It was leg of lamb,” he said, “or cow, doesn’t matter, it’s delicious. Or it might be, might have put too much salt on the potatoes” I didn’t care. I was ready to go savage on it. Since I came to Europe my vegetarian ways have become lax and I have enjoyed the local meats. Some of them better than others. Some of them made my taste buds dance with joy. Like in Napoli, where my CouchsurfEr bought us a giant turkey leg (I think?) and we both bit into the juicy, tender meat and laughed as the warm liquid dropped off our mouths and hands. Everything illuminated in the glow of the dim streetlights. It was too good to care about being dainty, not that I was ever a dainty person to begin with.
I was in Zadar, Croatia… Well technically Bibinje, Croatia, a little village outside the city. I had come here because he was the only CouchsurfEr in Croatia I could get ahold of. He was the king of Croatia’s Couchsurfing community. His profile had pictures from when he was a keyboardist in his band, traveling around Europe for months touring with different metal bands. And lots of pictures of his cooking, octopus, squid, lamb… I figured it would be my only opportunity to actually couchsurf in Croatia and I was starting to get a little anxious about money.
He was an interesting fella. By far one of the more interesting I’d met on this trip. He kept up with everything in Syria and would watch videos of the low down over there. He knew everything about it. He had a crass sense of humor, blunt, strange. But I was able to keep up with it and banter back occasionally. When I first met him, he convinced me that he was Muslim. One of the ones that disobeyed and still drank and smoked and fucked… Okkkkkayyy I remembered thinking. Trying to figure out if he was messing with me or if he actually was and would get offended if I called him out on it. He was so serious about it when he told me. There were olive trees and lemon trees and kiwi trees and pomegranate trees and vines with grapes all in his backyard. Along with a garden that had tomatoes and potatoes. He swigged Red Label from the bottle and told stories of life on the road and at his current job as a sound technician. He told me of growing up with nothing to do all day because he was stuck inside due to bombs going off outside. So he watched Cartoon Network and learned English. He offered to bring me to an area where there were leftover land mines.
“You could walk through it and try your luck. If you REALLY like adventure and stories to take home, that would be the ultimate adventure.” He said, winking.
I love people. The strange. The weird. The wild. The wonderful.
Earlier that day, I had taken a BlaBlaCar with a cute couple in their late 20’s. The guy was from Romania and the girl was from Austria. They were fellow adventurers, like me. They slept in their car. They camped. They had a 3 day weekend and wanted to see the coastline of Croatia.
I told them of my time in Italy and how I had to see the Colosseum. He told me of the true story if the Thracian, Spartacus. How Thracians were actually Romanians. I had heard the story before. I knew my Gladiator tales. Oh how I love those tales of times long ago. But I still listened with fascination as he told me of the battles and betrayals and ending with the bodies being crucified on the road up the coast all the way from Sicily to Rome. And my heart aches to go back to Italy.
I told them I was headed to Romania and the guy filled my ears with tales of his country.
Of the gypsies. Fleeing from their home countries. Being met with resistance and aggression in Germany and France most other countries in Europe. But the Romanians welcomed them. Gave them refuge. And they never left.
He said they actually made pretty good living. They would bum cigarettes from people. Collect enough to put the hodpodge in an empty pack and sell it. They had ways of making money discretely. When they had babies, they would sometimes chop off their own child’s arms or legs and stick them on the street to get Pity coins. A boy with all his legs and arms In tact would certainly get less money and attention than one that was missing some limbs. Some made upwards of 10,000 euros a year. They lived in villages (if you could call them that) just outside the city. The kind you had to jump off the train in between stops to find. There was no electricity. No sanitation. No running water. No medicine. Their bodies built up immunity to diseases and sickness by living in the filth for generations.
Some worked outside of Romania. In the big cities. There, with all the rich people, that would make all the euros and then come back and build beautiful palace-like houses, but end up all sleeping in one room or outside, because that’s the life they were used to.
We stopped partway to Zadar to chop open a watermelon they had in their backseat. It was hot, arid, dusty outside but with lots of trees that barely reached over my head.
And bits of limestone erupting from the earth below. I took a slice of the bright red watermelon. It was dripping with juice. It was perfect.
The girl went in to buy some water. I turned to the guy, “I want to find these people. I want to live with the gypsies for a week. I want to see how they live. I want to learn What makes them smile.”
He gave a small smile and looked into the distance, “You should. They would welcome you.” He turned back to me, squinting his eyes in the sun, “They might ask you for money.”
“Whatever you have… So be careful what you bring and what you tell them you have.”
I thought about that for a minute. Sure, yeah I could understand that. He mentioned earlier they are good at being manipulative. Getting what they want. That is their living.
“Do you think it’s safe?”
He looked at me, to the sky, then back at me and shrugged his shoulders. The pause and casual shrug without eye contact gave me a strange feeling. But I was still genuinely intrigued. Staying at a Romanian Gypsy camp for a week… That would be interesting… New perspective on life. I had no idea about the real gypsy life. People would always refer to me as a gypsy when I told them about how I my move all over the country every 3-5 months. I knew very little about real gypsies. My mind wandered to the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Sure, the Disney movie but also the big book I had read when I was younger. Gypsies. How dirty were they? How much filth did they actually live in? Were they simple people? Did they lead their lifestyles in such a way to suck whatever they could from other people? Were they kindhearted? Did they actually chop the limbs off their babies to make more money?
I needed to know. I decided I would look into it when I got some internet… How feasible it was to enter this world. Obviously, I would leave my backpack at a hostel and just bring a backpack and maybe things I was trying to get rid of.
Once the car dropped me in Zadar, I wandered to the sea organ. It was hot outside and the sea waves gushing in and out of the channels below the steps connecting to the pipes created a hauntingly beautiful tune as I laid down my backpack and jumped in the beautiful, clear emerald water. I took turns, laying and dreaming up Romania and jumping in when it got too hot. I was going to miss the sea. The palm trees. But that’s ok. Other adventures awaited in the East.