Hands folded over his prosperous belly, a straw fedora tight on his head like a crown, an old gent named Paraschiv sat back on a bench and surveyed his neighborhood realm. It was quite a sight for rural Romania. Up and down the main road and spilling into dirt side lanes reared improbable mansions. Facades undulated with balconies and pillars. Rooftops looked like party hats, all turrets and towers and domes. Sleek Beemers and Benzes patrolled the streets. Just then, a truck driver with a load of pigs ground down on his brakes to gawk. Paraschiv smiled. This was his hometown; this was Buzescu, showplace for that rarest of Europe’s demographics, the wealthy Roma.
Paraschiv doesn’t use the word “Roma,” the correct, respectful name for his ethnic group, meaning “men” in the Romani language. Instead he and most of his neighbors unselfconsciously refer to themselves as Tsigani, or Gypsies, the old, pejorative name they grew up with, a label still wielded by many non-Roma in his country, synonymous with beggar, thief, parasite, and other ugly words. In common use since the early 1600s, “Gypsy” derives from “Egyptian,” from the supposed origin of the Roma. Linguistic evidence indicates that the Roma came from India.
“I built one of the first mansions, in 1996,” Paraschiv said, nodding toward his villa-style home, a fanciful hulk encased in gray and white marble and cornered with balconies. The names of his children, Luigi and Petu, are stenciled atop a tin-sheeted tower. “My sons want to tear down the house and build a different shape; they say it’s out of fashion.” Paraschiv shrugged. “If my sons want to, then OK.”