The Bimgo clan of Gypsies is perhaps the most notorious of allthe clans, according to Peter Maas. For one thing, they operate inNew York and Chicago - gangster towns. But they differ from the Mafiain that they pare primarily con artists and thieves - not murderers(unless cornered) and their women are never prostitutes.
SinceGypsies have begun traveling in cars instead of horses and coveredwagon caravans, they've become even more invisible. There are Gypsiesnow on all of the continents of the Earth with many tribes - theKalderasha, the Lowara, Tshurana, Muchwaya, among others. Mostanciently, they were musicians, fortune tellers, coppersmiths - butnever farmers. Now they are all of the above as well as con artistsextraordinaire.
"The success of any good con hinges on takingthe victim where he wants to go," quotes the author from a policereporter. "These women are very, very good. You can even go inthere knowing it's a setup, and they'll have you unstrung in minutes.Sometimes when they're operating like that, I think they believe itthemselves."
Popular wisdom says they came from India sincetheir Romany language has Sanskrit roots, but they all count in Greek(probably beginning from the time when Alexander the Great brought atroupe of Gypsey musicians, actors, fortune tellers, and metelsmithsto Macedonia). They have intermarried and absorbed cultural practicesfrom every country they have traveled through, but the Roma remaindistinct and independent - and obstinately illiterate. They refuse tosend their children to "Gadje" schools (a Sanskrit wordmeaning warrior - or 'non-gypsey'). If pressure by the local populaceto put their children in school becomes too great - they move on. Butthey didn't move fast enough during the holocaust because almost asmany Gypsies as Jews went to the gas chambers.
This book chroniclesthe true story of King Tene and Queen Mary Bimbo - the King and queenof the Gypsies in New York, where they rented store fronts and thewomen practiced the Boojo - an elaborate con game designed to separatewealthy Gadje from their money. In an interview with an old Gypseymatriarch, Aunt Hazel, Maas recorded her statement that, "Allright, she said with a massive shrug, "it's true that we stealwith the hands, but you Gadje - you Americans - YOU steal with thepencils." Her voice rose. "And how many Gypsies you seegoing to jail for 20, 50 years for murderings and rapings andmuggings?"
King Tene Bimbo and Queeen Mary had a son, CarranzaTene, an alcoholic, who was disliked by other Gypsies and wasparticularly brutal with his own family. He forced his daughters tomarry while he pocketed the large bride prices (women are veryvaluable to Gypsey cultures as they are ususally the primarybreadwinners - especially now in modern society). Carranza's son,Steve Tene, freed one of his sisters from a hateful marriage, therebyincurring the wrath of his father. But then the old Granfather died -King Tene - and bypassed Carranza, his eldest son, and on hisdeathbed, gave the gold ring and medallion of Gypsey Kingship to hisgrandson, Steve Tene, who is the subject of this book
Carranza putan uncharacteristically Gypsey contract on his son's head - attemptingto kill him many times - but the Gypsies honored the old man's lastwishes and gave Steve Tene his grandfather's gold medallion and ring.(There is a picture in the book of the handsome Steve - he looks likeOmar Sherif) wearing the ring and holding the medallion with a bemusedexpression on his face. He didn't WANT to be King of the Gypsies.His only pronoucements as King have been to encourage Gypsieseverywhere to become educated and get into the legitmate professions.They are a very intelligent people. Steve has his champions and hisdetractors. All this stuff is still going on and last I've heard,Steve Tene is still alive and still King.
I can't imagine why thisbook is out of print. The author is also the author of *Serpico*. Anexcellent movie was made by the same title and is still available onamazon.com. It stars such notables as Susan Sarandon, Eric Roberts, ayoung Brooke Shields, and even Shelly Winters. The film takes someliberties (has Steve throwing the ring and medallion into hisgrandfather's grave. Didn't happen). But for the most part, themovie follows the book, which is a true story, and yet many are underthe impression that the movie is wholly fiction. It's not.
Foranyone who has become as fascinated as I have with this most ancientculture (and I believe their origins are much more ancient than India)this is a must-read. These are real interviews with real people and anumber of interesting photographs of real Gypsies are included - notsome scholarly tome to be moldering away on the shelves of theunread.
Peter Maas put all the the investigatory power and insightthat went into *Serpico* into this book, and I think it should see asecond printing...