"Free like the air, free like the wind; free like the stars in the sky." Those are lines from a flamenco song about Gypsy life on the road. It's a stirring anthem. It moves me as much now as it did more than twenty years ago, when I first heard it. My heart was torn then by leaving Spain, my life there, the Gypsies who complicated and enriched it.
What can I say about the nearly five years I lived and worked among them, los gitanos espanoles? The few people I've told about those years press me to write them, share them. Would I? Could I?
I don't see how. Every time I begin, I drown in the tide of memory. From the rustle of a dance dress to the eyes - dark, haunted, evasive and yet guileless - that haunt my dreams, I simply don't have the words. The right words. The sufficient ones.
Are there any sufficent words? In English, never. English is a language of bright planes and unerringly straight lines. In Romany, maybe. Gypsy life is a spiral, a coil, a black tendril unspooling from someplace so distant in time and obscure in geography it can't be found on any map. Only in cante flamenco and then, not always, one brushes against a history so vast and painful that all the world shrugs it away.
"It's gitanerias," the world says dismissively and truthfully at once, "Gypsy stuff."
Initially, for me, an American dancer in Spain, it was all about flamenco. I was there to study it, learn it, master the canon, as it were. In my defense I will say it wasn't all that long before I realized what a fool I was. Not to study flamenco; millions do it every year. But to imagine - as most of those millions do - that it was a thing that could be studied apart from the Gypsies who brought it into being.
When I awoke wiser, one morning, I was at a crossroads. A place where magic of the highest and riskiest kind happens. I could proceed one way, and stay in the well-lit observation lane. I could travel the other, and go native: darkly, authentically.
I will never, not for a single breath, regret taking the dark lane. It changed my life more than any other single experience has done. Even though now, when I try to describe it, write it, explain it ... Now I am left with blood and iron, with sorrow and exhaltation, with sweat and laughter and song and passion and tears. With traces in my blood, my bones, the parts of me that traveled, for some length of time, on the Romany Road.