Struggling with curiosity

The streets of St. Jacques have their own soundtrack. Down the narrow alleyways, sounds of musicians practicing in their apartments or young girls playing the familiar sounds of American music – Lady Gaga to be exact – bounce from the walls, giving the neighborhood a distinct vibe.

The Gitans, gypsies, make up a majority of St. Jacques residents. It is the biggest congregation of Gitans in Europe, which dates back 500  years and is still growing, but barely progressing. While the buildings are falling apart, the households are closely knit together.

There is something mysterious about Gitan culture. The Gitans won’t open their homes to just anybody; there is no photographing or videotaping them, and you can’t walk their streets without being noticed. I learned this by asking a popular community member. He put his index finger to one side of his throat, slid it across to the other to signal the international sign for “if you do it, you’ll be in a great deal of trouble.” Yet the payous, or outsiders, are intrigued; whether the intrigue is with the intent to exploit is not a thought many will admit to having.

Being denied access into the region made me think of my own intentions. Did I want to pursue a story about the Gitan culture in Perpignan, France to build my own portfolio? To show that I am daring and brave? Most likely.

I can’t deny that my whole reason to be a part of a study-abroad journalism program was to get the best story that I could. But it wasn’t something my professors told me, it wasn’t what I had read in books, it was a feeling in the pit of my stomach that made me want to know more.