As I passed I looked down and saw her head, appearing at the blanket’s edge, so close to the feet of those crossing the bridge over the Seine that I wondered how she could remain there, unaffected by the footsteps of the careless….an occasional drunk passing through from Rue de la Huchette, coming too close, without a glance down in passing. I walked, and the picture that I wanted to make came suddenly into my mind, and I stopped short. I hesitated before approaching the family because I was sure they’d say no, because many Romanian/Bulgarian Gypsy families detest being photographed. I went back anyway, and they were a young family–father, mother and two young children. This girl, about five, and her brother, two or three. They spoke Bulgarian, and the father spoke a bit of French. I learned that they don’t have housing. To be perfectly honest, it’s hard to know if this was true, because the children were relatively clean….but it’s my observation that, in general, mothers take very good physical care of their children and even though they sleep outdoors it’s not always obvious when you see them. As a general observation, they are sometimes not well supervised as they approach adolescence and this is cause for alarm because of the criminal activity they can become involved in.
My feelings are very mixed. I’ve seen so many bands of young boys, ranging in age from 9 to 14, roaming the streets of Paris looking to steal money from people at ATM’s that it’s hard to remember that they’re just kids. I’ve seen grown men desperately pursuing eleven year old boys streaking down the Rue Rivoli with a wallet in hand, trying in vain to keep up. Groups of young women in heavily touristed areas, with fake petitions to sign, sometimes fleecing the unwary, touristic innocence lost in a moment of naïveté. But in the end, I have tremendous sympathy for them. They suffer greatly from racism and have for many, many years, and were exterminated along with the Jewish population of Europe during WWII. It’s an ancient sort of racism, and nobody I have spoken to seems to get the tragedy of the WWII connection and its lasting effects.