Children of the Streets: Reminiscences of Jan Yoors

“I wanted to meet these Gypsies. I was able to control my growing curiosity for a whole day, but on the following evening I decided to wait no longer. Our poor Teta by that time had grown quite alarmed and started now to tell me truly terrifying things about these vagabonds’ kidnapping of children. Teta was a kind and faithful nurse, but here she showed herself a bad pedagogue and a still worse psychologist. More than ever now I was decided to go in search of the Gypsies. I was no more a small child that could be frightened by such nursery tales.

I asked the advice of my mother and that same evening I left the house by myself, my cheeks glowing with joy, in search of the famous encampment. It was not far, and from a distance I could see the red glow of the big camp fire throwing its light on the huge yellow caravans perched on their high wheels. Sometimes the flames would sheet high up and give the old caravans most fantastic shapes worthy of Haroun al-Raschid’s fabulous nights.

I perceived oriental princesses draped in riches and colour. They were covered with jewels precious and rare. I closed my eyes, my heart beating at the discovery of so much beauty. Suddenly a hoarse, plaintive cry went up from somewhere and disturbed my dream. It was repeated, to stop abruptly, and then went up again prolonged and magnified. A woman who was crouching near the camp fire, and had cleared her voice in this strange manner, started to sing. And then I heard for the first time a Lament, the Lament of the Nomadic Rom. The mirage of the Orient had vanished, and into the depth of my soul I absorbed the lament for the nomadic existence of the Rom in all its reality. I ran away. I had learned enough for that night”.

Yoors, Jan. 1945. ” Reminiscences of the Lovara “. Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society. Volume XXIV. 8-17.