On our last day in Moldova, we decide to take a drive to Soroca, the official Gypsy city of Moldova where they attempt to self-govern themselves with their own leaders away from the government.
Christi our translator informs me that every gypsy I would like to photograph has no problem with it, but we must first get permission from "the King of the Gypsies." I'm trying to think of what a Gypsy King might look like or if they are even telling the truth that such a man exists... I picture an old man with a large beard hoarding away the largest pile of junk in his metal-roofed palace.
We are pointed the direction many times and eventually find the King's house, which is clearly the biggest house in the area and is made of bright red brick. Although the size is stunning, it still keeps some loose gypsy style with a bunch of broken cars and junk scattered on the front lawn. One has a bullet whole in the front windshield...
Some younger kids playing on the street warn us not to go near the palace. They insist there are huge dogs that will rip your face off if you get too close. I see the dogs they are talking about- rot whilers! They are huge and we don't go near them, but instead wait while a servant goes inside the palace to ask permission for us.
Will peaks his head over the gate-
"I think I just saw a guy with a huge white beard"
It's true. A huge Gypsy man with a beard like moses with a belly like Santa Claus walks forward to the gates wearing a tweed suit jacket. He doesn't seem so menacing anymore now that I can see him and my imagination isn't filling in the holes of what a Gypsy Baron of Moldova might be like. I shake his hand and I bargain between him and my translator and inform him of my travel across Moldova and Romania. I want to photograph all kinds of people and the Gypsies fascinate me because of their history and way of life. I steer the conversation away from what I originally was after to ask permission to photograph the people of his city, instead I want to photograph him!
After some classical bargaining and convincing, he agrees and we are led into his house. He walks ahead of us as me and Will get the lighting shit ready. I want to move fast and light so we bring the backpack with the power pack in it and two lights only, a 1600 watt and 800 watt. We don't really know what to expect and are not sure if we'll get jumped, robbed, or attacked and killed by angry gypsy's hiding in the bushes, or even worse- gypsy cursed! It's all pretty light hearted though and I'm really excited for the chance that is unfolding.
As time progresses and we get to know the Gypsy King, we relax. He turns out to be a totally cool guy and shows his extremely in-character junky treasures like a bunch of ceramic sculptures, swords from all around the world (out of no where he pretends to stab our translator, I almost shit my pants) and a collection of musical instruments. He can play them all. He screams "JOOSSSEEPPPHHHHH!!!!!"at the top of his lungs into his piano to show the nice harmonic echo it gives off. My name Joey is not very understood or pronounced in foreign places so I always introduce myself as Joseph or Yusuf. He bangs out tunes on the piano, rocks out on the accordian and sings deep from the belly.
After the lunch his servants prepared outside was ready, we all sat around a table to drink chai tea and eat bread the Baron had cooked himself. But of course none of this before a traditional shot of Cognac. Throughout the meal he keeps trying to get me to drink more and more- "Ey! the russian way... drink tea and cognac at same time and you not get too drunk. Don't worry!!!" I get very drunk and the pictures become blurry. We talked over lunch about his job and the different struggles he comes across in broken French and translated Romanian until we are innterupted by a pair of street cats fighting on his lawn. He looks over at the animals with disgust and says "eyy, one minute" and dissapears into his home quicky.
A few minutes later he comes out on his porch holding a huge rifle, aims without hesitation, and shoots the cat. He explodes with laughter and Will and I can't help but laugh in nervous confusion and the absolute ridiculousness of the whole situation. We start taking turns shooting stuff with his pellet gun and he sets up some bottle targets around the house.
Later he shows his his 9 mm handgun and some hand tricks, but explains he never really uses guns and doesn't like them. I'm not so convinced. It is sunset now and time to hit the road for the 4 hour drive back to Chisinau, He brings out his accordian and plays it on the driveway while I take some photos. I got my favourite picture at the very end. The King's home is undergoing some serious renovations and there are many rusted old metallic walls left over beside the broken cars. I get him to pose with his accordian against the wall, he tries to act bored but I know he is enjoying himself and loving every minute of getting photographed and so much attention. After we say our goodbyes and he wishes us back any time. The whole time his wife is screaming from inside the house "BRING THAT GUN BACK HERE! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" He don't listen- He's the gypsy king. That means he can do whatever the hell he wants
Man, I was perusing your site early this past summer & freakin loved your story about this guy. This has to be one of my favorite images on the site, there just something about (I mean besides my love of a good squeeze box...)