“When The Road Bends You Cannot Walk Straight”. (A Roma proverb)
It’s been an interesting journey following this rabbit hole that began from reading Philip Auerswald article from the “Nautilus online” magazine about civilization being built on code. I’ve done a number of speeches on this topic at toastmasters that has just led me further down the rabbit hole. One of these speeches looks at whether cultures are influenced by civilizations being built on code; and so further down the rabbit hole I burrow!
Since my last blog entry where I drifted around the concept of who really is a true blooded native, the wind has now blown me over to my own “known” heritage. In the past I have stirred the waters with Ancestry.ca and managed to unravel some of my mother’s heritage. But, I have not got anywhere with my dad’s side leaving me very frustrated as what I do know about the Polo family I find intriguing.
As far back as I know my dad’s blood line is Italian and Austrian. One thing that’s interesting here is the part of Italy we come from; it’s a place called Trieste which lies on the top eastern corner of Italy.
Trieste borders on Slovenia and Austria. But through history Trieste has been claimed by both Austria and Yugoslavia at different times. Today she belongs to Italy; but when talking about true blooded natives, where does that leave the Polo family! Are we really Austrian, Yugoslavian or Italian. Or if you look further back in history, Trieste at one point was her own free city, so what does that make us, true blooded Triestians!
At the end of the day, does it really matter? Humanity has been migrating around Mother Earth since the beginning of human conception, and I find this fascinating.
I definitely come from a tribe of wanders who have the roaming itch. I’m told that our blood line is directly connected to Marco Polo’s uncle, the one whom Marco traveled to China with.
I was so lucky having my Grannie live with us while growing up in Uganda. She shared many stories with us, mainly related to my grandpa and the Italian heritage. I don’t know if it was too painful for her to reminisce about her own family in Austria. She was disowned by her family for marrying a man who was now an Italian from Trieste. It must have been an intense time as Italy re-claimed Trieste from Austria in 1918. My guess is its around this time my grandparents were married. I suppose in Austrian eyes it was a form of betrayal marrying someone from a land stolen from them! In my eyes it’s a little extreme, and very sad as we know very little about her family, and they know nothing of ours.
My grandpa’s story is exciting though. He came from a very large catholic family of 21 or 22 kids; fancy not even knowing exactly how many siblings you have!! My imagination has really worked overtime trying to visualize living in a family this size (there is only my sister and me)! Just imagining how a woman would have enough time in her fertile life to produce so many kids, its just plain exhausting to me!!
Apparently the story goes that at some point in my great-grandparents life they packed up life in Trieste and boarded a ship for America along with their brood of kids at that time. They settled in the US somewhere, and lived for some time there. I don’t have any more details on that, except that at some point the great-grandparents, for whatever reason packed up again and sailed back to Trieste taking with them some of their brood. Colombo Polo, my grandpa was born on the ship heading back home, so in actuality he’s stateless! He was one of the middle children born around 1891 in what I can only imagine as Polo chaos.
Maybe it was the chaos lifestyle, maybe it was with a sense of adventure in his heart, but whatever his reason he ran away from home at a young age and lived with the gypsies. My grannie tells me he was 9, and my dad tells me he was 13, regardless, his life as a gypsy revolved around playing the concertina at weddings, funerals and other venues in order to survive. Somewhere along this road he met, who in later years was known as President Tito of Yugoslavia; they were just kids at the time and became lifelong friends.
In the early 1900’s he met and married my grannie; he was also part of the socialist movement and involved in the anti-fascist uprising against the fascist ruler, Mussolini in Italy in the early ’20’s. This led to him fleeing Italy as Mussolini’s thugs were after him, finding refuge in Yugoslavia, and this is where my dad was born in 1923 in what today is known as Slovenia.
Again Mussolini’s thugs tracked my grandpa down, and once again my grandpa had to run along with another socialist anti-fascist supporter. They jumped aboard a ship and ended up in Kenya where my grandpa decided to settle.
This is how my family arrived in Africa, somewhere in the mid 1920’s. A man from Italy, raised by gypsies and influenced by his personal codes and cultures, who now had to incorporate new coding systems governed by East Africa, which in-turn further influenced the Polo culture.
As a little girl listening to Grannie tell us tales of life with Grandpa in Kenya and Uganda I tried to picture what that life was like. Grandpa was an artist, a sculpture who worked in marble, and a musician that loved playing, singing and socializing. While working on a project he was a recluse staying in his studio at times for months without any human interaction. But once the project was complete the home filled with friends, music and singing lasting for days at a time until he was inspired again by his art; this was life’s rhythm for my dad.
Talk about stretching my imagination trying to visualize their life-style, and it wasn’t until I watched a documentary called “Gypsy Caravan” that I got it. Everything then just fell into place. I was left with a giddy sensation of realizing my connection to the Roma people and their cultural ways, and how their culture has filtered down through history influencing my culture.
I now understand why my dad spent much of his free time around people. He really enjoyed socializing, whether it was the cricket club or rugby club or randomly inviting friends back to the house for our traditional Sunday curry dinner after a day at the yacht club. I get it now, his culture was full of music, singing, socializing; it was his rhythm, it’s how he came alive. The life of the gypsy is all about camaraderie, being together making music, singing, dancing and storytelling; it’s what they do.
From watching that documentary I also learnt how common it was for girls at that time to marry as soon as they could produce children. So I’m guessing this is what happened to my great-grandma, that’s how she was she must have been very young to be able to produce so many children. All I can say is what a brave lady; it would have been a thrill to have known her.
I also understand now why I have always felt a connection to the gypsies, it could be because of the stories my Granny told us. But I believe it’s something deeper, it’s in the DNA, I have been influenced by gypsy culture. I feel really proud to be part of the Roma culture. The gypsies go way back, 10,000 + years ago when they first started migrating out of Rajasthan in India to entertain and survive. Now a days unfortunately they have a bad rap for being thieves and dirty, but watching this documentary “Gypsy Caravan” I’ve been introduced to some amazing talent; music, dance and singing that is mesmerizing. I’ve also learnt that the Roma are warm, loving and very funny.
If you feel the pull to share your family’s journey here, I would love to hear it. Email me your story and I”ll post it. It’s fun sharing stories of where we have come from and where we are today. It’s storytelling at its best. We are all immigrants who have been governed by code, which in-turn influences our cultures, and enriches human survival. NAMASTA.