The Roma build their palaces just like the rest of us, one cinder block at a time.
TIMOSORA, ROMANIA Like Saint Petersburg before she was operated on for her three-hundredth, the brie-colored streets and decaying facades have a dusty continuity. Against this backdrop, the Roma build their Disneyland.
Forced by the Communists to settle in the ’60s, they have embraced a style of permanent renovation. Their mansions, in primary colors, stick like fingers in the dead dictator’s eye. But this provokes nothing beyond tourists snapping photos and locals shaking their heads.
“How do you think they pay for them?” they ask me and then spit.
Gypsy mansions are confusing. Though they are decorated with wild variation, their structural similarities are apparent. The mansion plans are essentially standardized: All rooms branch off a central corridor, and none have direct access to any others; but there the standardization ends, and this is not so surprising. Mansions are primarily structures of one-upmanship; eternal construction sites of dubious habitable value (they are often abandoned, though this could be because the settlement policies went with the Communists) that rise as barometers of personal (male) status, they are intensely decorated sheds with few interior complications.
The chief is usually the fellow you’d expect him to be, the one with a solid-gold necktie, a round belly, and an enviable mustache. But there must be others: wise women and wrinkled bullies, drug dealers and car salesmen who’ve become rich, then powerful. Their mansions probably look the same, right down to the golden cutout of a Mercedes on the roof catching the dusk light.
Once you learn that the gypsies probably came from India, the buildings take on an Eastern cast. Towering hunks of concrete and bulky columns become minarets and colonnades; even the characteristic stamped-tin roofs cry out for South Asian sun.
Inside are floral prints and bright wallpaper, maybe plastic-covered couches. The music and the dresses I have to imagine.