Gipsy Kings - Because We Are Gypsies

by Francois Mattei


From the Beach to the Olympia

It turns out that José finds Chico too mischievous or too enterprising, and decides to use his authority to put the latter in his place. The older man senses in Chico an ambition that he never had himself, and he defends his territory. Especially since Chico begins to be seriously interested in his daughter Martha. It also happens that the father scolds Nicolas severely because the latter is not conserving his voice, and sings anywhere and under all conditions.

Meanwhile, the Baroness, who joins her gypsy friends in Saint-Tropez, is considered crazy by her relatives. "I had invited my "Indians" to come watch the fireworks on the Fourteenth of July from the balcony of my apartment, which overlooks the port of Saint-Tropez. It was impossible to restrain the animal cries, and the jokes that ricocheted from my terrace that night, accompanying the bursts of the fireworks. The next morning, a very rich person, of the upper middle class, my neighbor, ran into me in the street, and said, with a pained air, "Jacqueline, it’s extraordinary. I didn’t know that you had such deeply tanned children. Oh, but they’re attractive and seem so charming."

So goes the adventurous life of Los Reyes, sprinkled with childish happiness and insane laughter. Canut, the specialist in matters of organized delirium, maintains a good-humored atmosphere around his premeditated insanity. A great amateur of attacks with cheeses, he takes a malicious pleasure in hiding in boots, in glove compartments of cars, in suitcases and in bags, the smelliest and gooiest cheeses he can find. The Baroness, sticking her hand in a box of stationery, pulls out a rotting munster which she throws away with a scream ... into a convertible car that happens to be passing. A pianist in a café, playing with one hand, and looking, in the box at his feet, for the next sheet of music, suddenly freezes, because his astonished fingers have just buried themselves in a rotten camembert. He doesn’t dare to withdraw his gooey hand in front of his cherished public, in the first row of which Canut, imperturbable, comments to Chico that "this guy seems to have a problem." Finally, the pianist gets up, his hand still buried in the box, which he holds with the other hand, and disappears into the wings. The diabolical, untamable Canut has another mania as well: painting. He has an obsession: to repaint everything. Leave him with a car, you’ll find it green if it was red, with the steering wheel, the dashboard, the wheels and the tires all detached from the chassis. With a sofa upholstered in white silk, he uses some colored felt-tip pens to decorate it to his fancy: horses, bulls, scenes from the Camargue -- not forgetting the signature, thus creating an original, unique piece.

Jacqueline de Goldschmidt-Rothschild has never forgotten (neither has the artist) a visit to one of her painter friends, accompanied by her gypsy guard. They chat pleasantly in the studio, surrounded by the canvases on which the artist was working. Canut is happy. He is in his element, asks a thousand questions on the brushes and the tubes of color, which he eyes enviously. At the artist’s invitation, everyone follows him to his living room to have a drink. Everyone except Canut, though nobody notices. When the painter returns to his studio, having said good-bye to his visitors, he bumps into his most enthusiastic admirer, who is leaving. "You know, the portrait of the important man whom you were in the process of painting, well, I finished it for you." The painter’s scream could be heard in the garden, where the others were waiting for Canut and wondering where he could have disappeared. A scream of fear, the scream of a man falling into the abyss: "Canuuuut!"

They all return to the studio. The artist is frozen in front of his canvas -- a commissioned work -- with a desperate, uncomprehending expression. In a corner, Canut appears to grasp that his contribution is not appreciated as he thought it would be. His expression conveys an immense surprise and a certain bitterness: you try to help someone, but people are never satisfied. And why not: those mustaches I put under the nose are attractive. And that cigarette, doesn’t it look real? He goes up to the painter, taps him on the shoulder, and, to console him for his incomprehensible anguish, says: "Hey! I bet that your client is even less handsome than I’ve made him." The demented laughter of the painter, which now bursts out, would have won him admission to a psychiatric asylum if that laughter hadn’t been drowned out by that of the gypsies and the Baroness.

Dressed in bellbottoms and tight-fitting tops, they become part of the scene at Saint-Tropez. They go to the port at cocktail time, to the beaches at lunch and dinner times. What they earn covers their expenses, including gas and the necessary frequent replacements of their junky cars.

In September, 1977, they are on the beach, their feet in the sand, trying to extend the season as long as possible in anticipation of the long winter that will follow. Of course, there’s always the possibility of going to the ski resorts in Switzerland, as they’ve been doing for the past two or three years in order to augment their annual income, and for no other reason.

At exactly that moment, the skies brighten to offer them what they believe is a magical route. Enrico Macias, then at the height of his career, hears them play several times on Moréa beach and invites them to accompany him to the Olympia, where he’s going at the end of September. An idol since 1962 of the Algerian immigrants, Enrico is incontestably a big star in France. And, at that time, the Olympia is the most prestigious concert hall in Paris. The Reyes will appear at the end of the program, like an extra dessert. No matter! As of September 27th, they will be on the most important stage in Paris. To go directly from the beach to the Olympia, what a shortcut! "What a rarity!" says Nicolas.

They rehearse four pieces with Enrico before he leaves for Paris. Poulette, Nicolas, Canut and Chico spend their little savings on new boots, black pants, white shirts with large pointed collars and sleeveless black boleros embroidered with gold. They can’t go farther than that, since they’ll be receiving only one thousand francs a day for all four of them during these three weeks. Nevertheless, they decide to celebrate with the baroness. Poulette offers his talents as a cook and locks himself in Jacotte’s kitchen, forbidding anyone to disturb him. The others wait, playing their guitars or watching TV. Jacotte and Canut set the table, and they light candles. Through the door of the kitchen, they hear Poulotte singing and manipulating the cooking tools. Everyone is dying of hunger. Jacotte suggests they sit down at the table. She begins eating crackers as an appetizer. Nicolas and Canut begin tapping the silverware on the glasses to signal their impatience. Finally, the chef appears in the doorway. He puts a steaming pot on the table. "I’ve prepared for you a mutton stew so good that the sheep should have paid me for the honor of being in it." Always gallant with women, he serves Jacotte first and advises her to let it cool a bit so as not to burn her tongue. Then he serves his group, and finally fills his own plate. "It took me a little while," he explains, "because I couldn’t find the flour." -- "Of course not," says Jacotte, "I never have any in the house. If you’d asked me, I’d have told you that."

The first spoonful is on the tongues of Nicolas and Jacotte when Poulotte, who is still blowing on his plate, murmurs: "But you did have flour; I found it under the sink." Jacotte chokes, spits everything out onto her plate, and tells Nicolas to do the same. She rushes to the kitchen, screams, and returns with a square box in her hand which she places on the table. "Oh yes, there’s your flour," says Poulotte triumphantly. -- "Poulotte, it’s rat poison. It’s written on the box." Once again, it would have been necessary to read and Poulotte doesn’t know how. Jacotte realizes that she doesn’t have time to teach him right then. There are more urgent things to take care of. "Has anyone swallowed any?" -- "A little bit, I think," says Nicolas. -- "I just tasted it," adds Canut. -- "And how do you feel? I myself feel very ill."

Chico and Canut each take the baroness by an elbow and lead her to the bathroom. "Baroness, we’re going to show you what to do. Just copy us. Stick two fingers into your mouth." She does it immediately, and then gives her place in front of the sink to the next in line. Then, sitting in an armchair, she telephones the local pharmacy. "Yes, good evening, It’s Jacqueline de Goldschmidt. You know my gypsy friends? Well, they just prepared a sauce for a stew and I don’t feel very well. ... What? Yes, a mutton stew. ... The sauce? With rat poison. Yes, rat poison."

In their old Renault 16 going at one hundred kilometers towards Paris, the three Reyes and Chico are still laughing about it. They are arriving in the Isčre region when they hear what seems to be a loud explosion. The car skids violently forward, hits the median divider, and then stops completely. Safe and sound, they try to figure out what has happened. Some other drivers stop near them, saying they thought they’d be dead, what with that terrible noise. ... They look in back of them: one hundred meters away, on the highway, the motor of the Renault 16, which they’d lost while driving, sits there, mocking them. They’ve abandoned so many cars to the junkyard, and this car seems to have wanted to send them there.

They get on a train, appearing somewhat disreputable. In Paris, they don’t have the wherewithal for a hotel. So they knock on the door of a friend, greet him, and say they’ll have a cup of coffee. After this, they put down their suitcases and stay a month. They get around Paris by subway. Every evening, they are a great success at the Olympia. As soon as they appear, people get up, dance, and clap their hands. Sardou invites them to his marriage. All around them pour congratulations and promises. The newspapers write about them. Chico realizes that here, on the stage, is where they really belong. And then, everyone forgets about them. Like a black hole. No offers. As if none of this had really existed, as if they’d dreamed it.

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