The Wealthy Roma

Photo: Karla Gachet and Ivan Kashinsky

There are two million Roma (or “gypsies” as you may know them, though that term is considered derogatory by the Romani people) in Romania, most of whom live in poverty. But not all: some live like kings in mansions with fanciful balconies, pillars, turrets and towers and domes.

Tom O’Neill of National Geographic brings us to Buzescu, the home of the wealthy Roma, where despite the glamorous facades, age-old traditions still rule:

Front doors would open to gleaming expanses of marble, ceilings hung with chandeliers, and, like the main prop of a stage set, a grand Gone With the Wind staircase leading to bedrooms heaped with toys. Yet most rooms looked totally unlived in. In mansions with a dozen rooms or more, often the only occupants were grandparents and a few young children, and they mostly stayed in back rooms and ate in the kitchen. The parents and older sons were off doing business, usually returning for holidays, baptisms, and funerals. The mansions had been built largely as showrooms to be filled with pride and awe.

Another surprise was that behind the showy facades, time-encrusted customs remained in force. At Victor Filisan’s house, where he offered me the local drink of Jack Daniel’s and Red Bull, I asked to use the toilet. He showed me not to the Jacuzzi-equipped bathroom inside but to an outhouse at the back of the lot, the same one he and his wife use. For reasons of ritual purity, many Roma, especially older ones, do not cook and use the toilet under the same roof. In other houses, I saw teenage wives serving meals to teenage husbands. Arranged matches of children as young as 13 remain common among the town’s wealthy families.

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