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Jean Véronis went to see Beatrice Uria-Monzon in Carmen a few days ago, and connects the experience to recent political events in France:

How ironic in these times of French Roma-phobia: the world's most-performed French work tells a gypsy story. Just like the Mérimée short novel from which it originates, the opera reflects the Romantic fascination with Roma […] Following perhaps in the footsteps of Cervantes (Little Gypsy), Bizet, Mérimée, Hugo, Borrow, Liszt and many others were charmed by this people living on the fringes of society, freedom incarnate – free to be on the move, free from work, free from fitting into society; all elements found in Carmen.

If you haven't been following the situation that Jean refers to, you could start here or here or here.

Jean points out that the Enlightenment had a less, well, Romantic view of Romani than Mérimée did, citing the entry in the Encyclopédie:

Jean's translation: EGYPTIANS, or rather BOHEMIANS, feminine, masculine, plural noun forms (Modern History). Types of disguised vagabonds, who, despite their bearing these names, nevertheless come not from Egypt, nor from Bohemia; who disguise themselves with coarse garments, dirty their faces and bodies, & make a certain jargon among themselves; who roam here & there, & exploit people by giving the pretext of telling fortunes & healing maladies, by making dupes of them, stealing & pillaging in the countryside.

(For real information about the Romani, the Wikipedia article is much longer and much more accurate. Unfortunately Ian Hancock's Romani Archive and Documentation Center at UT Austin seems to be down.)

Jean surveys some of the etymological history involved. One thing that he doesn't cover, which I've occasionally wondered about but never investigated, is the reason that one of the major French cigarette brands is Gitanes, "Gypsies". I guess the feminine form is due to gender agreement with the word cigarette, but the pack does traditionally show a silhouette of a stereotypical gypsy woman playing a tambourine.

I'd forgotten how much I like the old-fashioned narrative framing conventions exemplified by Mérimée's Carmen:

J’avais toujours soupçonné les géographes de ne savoir ce qu’ils disent lorsqu’ils placent le champ de bataille de Munda dans le pays des Bastuli-Poeni, près de la moderne Monda, à quelque deux lieues au nord de Marbella.  D’après mes propres conjectures sur le texte de l’anonyme, auteur du Bellum Hispaniense, et quelques renseignements recueillis dans l’excellente bibliothèque du duc d’Ossuna, je pensais qu’il fallait chercher aux environs de Montilla le lieu mémorable où, pour la dernière fois, César joua quitte ou double contre les champions de la république. Me trouvant en Andalousie au commencement de l’automne de 1830, je fis une assez longue excursion pour éclaircir les doutes qui me restaient encore. Un mémoire que je publierai prochainement ne laissera plus, je l’espère, aucune incertitude dans l’esprit de tous les archéologues de bonne foi. En attendant que ma dissertation résolve enfin le problème géographique qui tient toute l’Europe savante en suspens, je veux vous raconter une petite histoire ; elle ne préjuge rien sur l’intéressante question de l’emplacement de Munda. [text at]

I had always suspected the geographical authorities did not know what they were talking about when they located the battlefield of Munda in the county of the Bastuli-Poeni, close to the modern Monda, some two leagues north of Marbella.

According to my own surmise, founded on the text of the anonymous author of the Bellum Hispaniense, and on certain information culled from the excellent library owned by the Duke of Ossuna, I believed the site of the memorable struggle in which Caesar played double or quits, once and for all, with the champions of the Republic, should be sought in the neighbourhood of Montilla.

Happening to be in Andalusia during the autumn of 1830, I made a somewhat lengthy excursion, with the object of clearing up certain doubts which still oppressed me. A paper which I shall shortly publish will, I trust, remove any hesitation that may still exist in the minds of all honest archaeologists. But before that dissertation of mine finally settles the geographical problem on the solution of which the whole of learned Europe hangs, I desire to relate a little tale. It will do no prejudice to the interesting question of the correct locality of Munda. [English translation by Mary Lloyd]

There's a French audiobook version here.

As for Beatrice Uria-Monzon's performance in Bizet's operatic version, here's her entrance (Scene 5 of act 1)  from YouTube (though in a different production from the one that Jean saw):


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    October 14, 2010 @ 6:54 am

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  2. Marie Aupourrain said,

    October 14, 2010 @ 7:43 am

    Another irony :
    Shanghai – 14 to 21st june 2010 – Exposition Universelle – Pavillon France – Romanes circus was represented as cultural part of France

    September 2010 – Romanes circus ; french authorities forbid work to gypsies workers

    more to see here

  3. Xmun said,

    October 14, 2010 @ 8:13 am

    There's an astonishing error in Jean's translation of the Encyclopédie entry. He misreads a long "s" as "f". It should be:

    "EGYPTIANS, or rather BOHEMIANS, s. m. plur. [substantive masculine plural] . . ."

    I not long ago read Mérimée's story in Arthur Symonds' English translation and in the original French (the latter printed out from a Stanford University web site). Bizet's librettists added some extra characters.

  4. marie-lucie said,

    October 14, 2010 @ 8:24 am

    The name of the brand of cigarettes called "Gitanes" referred originally to the colour of the tobacco used in them. It was exotic, not derogatory. The other popular brand is "Gauloises" (Gauls), which are stronger (and the name is simply patriotic). Both are feminine because of the gender of the word "cigarette", hence they condition the female image associated with the "Gitanes". (The image for the Gauloises is a winged helmet). A single cigarette is "une Gitane" or "une Gauloise". The masculine (or generic) equivalents of the feminine words are "Gitan(s)" and "Gaulois".

    There are several words used in French for designating the Roma. "Gitan(e)s" is only one of them, often associated with those living in Spain or the Mediterranean countries. "Bohémien(ne)s" or "Romanichels" are older and considered derogatory (especially the second one).

    From Wikipedia:
    Gitanes, ("gypsy women"), is a brand of French cigarettes, sold in many varieties of strengths and packages. It is currently owned by Imperial Tobacco following their acquisition of Altadis in January 2008, having been owned by SEITA before that. Originally rolled with darker or brun (brown) tobacco, in contrast to 'blondes'. In honour of the name, the cover sports a silhouette of a Spanish gypsy woman playing the tambourine. The boxes have always featured the colours black, blue and white.

    There is a distinction between the "blonde" style of current Gitanes, and the classic style of Gitanes Brunes, both of which are sold in Europe and South America, most commonly in Argentina and Chile. The classic Gitanes Brunes tobacco achieved its characteristic and distinctive "bite" by using a fire-flued method of curing the tobacco, and a "rice" type of rolling paper which differs from most cigarettes. The result was a cigarette that was both strong in flavor and had a distinctive aroma.

  5. Jongseong Park said,

    October 14, 2010 @ 8:53 am

    It should be pointed out these recent French expulsions target foreign (mostly Balkan) Romani people staying in France without work or residency permits, not the French Romani community who have been well established in the country for generations and have inspired works like Carmen. Foreigners in the country without permit, including Romani people, have always been subject to administrative removal (reconduite à la frontière).

    While I don't deny that there could very well be racist or xenophobic motives at work in the recent crackdowns on camps of foreign Romani people, I would be careful not to automatically attribute everything to Roma-phobia.

  6. Marie Aupourrain said,

    October 14, 2010 @ 9:51 am

    Rom/Dom – “ Their presence, indisputable since every one knows they are here, is no subject to discourse, about them nobody can tell anything “ Patrick Williams
    ]…] Etymologically, the ethnonym Rom is closely connected with the name Ḍom. Today, numerous Indian jatis (castes), spread all around northern India, are labelled Ḍom. The ancestors of the Ḍom belonged to the pre-Aryan population of India, which they inhabited before the Aryans invaded India in 1500 BC.

    [(myl) I gather that it has become quite controversial whether the Roma are connected with the Indian castes of itinerant musicians and metalworkers to which the term "Dom" refers. See e.g. Yaron Matras, "The role of language in mystifying and de-mystifying Gysy identity" for some history and discussion.

    Be that as it may, I believe it's clear that the Romani dialects of Europe are Indo-Aryan languages, whose ancestral speakers left India roughly a thousand years ago. See Yaron Matras, "Romani", in Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, Oxford.]

    In all Rom, Tsiganes, Gitans, Sinte…etc communities, there is one vision of humanity divided between "we" and "Them, the Others". The Rom is the nomad, the one who challenges the law and whom way of living contest social norm and is therefore prone to prejudice and stereotype. Around 7 700 000 Roms live in Europe and the organisation Romani Unia has one voice at UN.

  7. George said,

    October 14, 2010 @ 10:07 am

    The Arabic word for Gypsy is 'ghajari' (sing.), 'ghajar' (pl.). It is related the verb 'ghajar' meaning to scold, curse, swear. These are not positive associations whether the name was derived from the verb or vice versa.

  8. Coby Lubliner said,

    October 14, 2010 @ 10:24 am

    The most common French word for Gypsies is Tziganes (as in Ravel's famous piece for violin), cognate with the corresponding words in Central and East European languages (Zigeuner, Cigani etc.), even Mediterranean ones like Italian (Zingari) or Greek (Tsingani). Gitans is specific to Iberian ones, including to those of Spanish origin who are a big part of the local color of the Camargue (where the Gipsy Kings are from).

    Bohémiens was commonly used in the 19th century (e.g. by Liszt in the title of his book about Gypsies and Hungarian music, as well as in Carmen), until the tertiary meaning popularized by Murger (Scènes de la vie de bohème) took over. (The primary meaning is, of course, Bohemians, i.e. Czechs.)

    Gitan comes from the Spanish gitano, which in turn comes from egiptano, a designation that the Roma gave themselves in claiming to come from Egypt and being ignorant of the standard Spanish egipcio (a word that even illiterate Spaniards would have known from hearing it in church).

  9. Jonathan Badger said,

    October 14, 2010 @ 10:52 am

    But _Carmen_ isn't *about* France — It's set in Spain. As far as I can tell, even the xenophobic elements in France have no problem with Roma living in Spain, so there isn't much irony there. Yes, the opera is *in* French, but what of it? La Bohème , which is set in Paris, is in Italian, and The Magic Flute, set in Masonic pseudo-Egypt, is in German.

  10. Kaviani said,

    October 14, 2010 @ 11:31 am

    The setting of Carmen has nothing to do with its popularity in France, nor does it reassign Georges Bizet's nationality.

    Also, the Hebrew word for 'gypsy' is tso'ani, which is based on the root for 'ramble' or 'wander'. Not a great association, but I understand there are cognates for this in non-Semitic languages which makes me question the authenticity of the source language.

  11. Coby Lubliner said,

    October 14, 2010 @ 12:06 pm

    The relationship of the Hebrew צועני to the (very rare) root צע"נ meaning 'wander' is only one factor in the coinage of the word, the others being (1) its similarity to the Central and East European ethnonyms and (2) the connection with the Gypsies' putative origin in Egypt through the Biblical toponym צֹעַן, supposed to be the Egyptian city of Tanis.

  12. Coby Lubliner said,

    October 14, 2010 @ 1:18 pm

    I meant to add that צֹעַן (Tso'an) is Zoan in English versions of the Bible.

  13. marie-lucie said,

    October 14, 2010 @ 1:46 pm

    Jongseong Park: the French Romani community who have been well established in the country for generations and have inspired works like Carmen.

    Carmen has nothing to do with "the French Romani community". The original short story is by Prosper Mérimée who set several of his works in the then exotic settings of Spain and Corsica where he travelled extensively, and some of the stories are probably based on personal experiences (the preamble about the learned pursuits of the narrator reflects Mérimée's own activities as a very erudite antiquarian). The main protagonists in the original Carmen are both exotic from the point of view of most French people, as well as marginal within Spain: a gypsy woman and a Basque soldier.

    The libretto for the opera is based loosely on the story – it had to be fleshed out with more characters (excluding that of the narrator) and more lively action in order to be suitable for the stage at the time.

    Coby Lubliner: The most common French word for Gypsies is Tziganes (as in Ravel's famous piece for violin),

    I forgot to include tzigane, which is associated with the gypsy musicians coming from Central Europe (there is a song Joue pour moi, tzigane "Play [the violin] for me, …"), rather than with Roma in general.

    Quoting Jean Veronis about Carmen in the story:

    the French term gitane, the first that comes to the Gallic mind and which translates into the English gypsy … [in the feminine form]. Nobody would refer to Carmen, a Spanish gypsy, as une tzigane.

  14. Polymathic said,

    October 14, 2010 @ 2:28 pm

    The Romani Project at Manchester is still up:

  15. marie-lucie said,

    October 14, 2010 @ 2:29 pm

    clarification: the citation from Jean Veronis is (bold added):

    the French term gitane, the first that comes to the Gallic mind and which translates into the English gypsy …

  16. Coby Lubliner said,

    October 14, 2010 @ 2:41 pm

    @Marie-Lucie: My Petit Larousse defines GITAN as Membre d'un des groupes tsiganes dispersés en Espagne, en Afrique du Nord et dans le sud de la France.

    Another curious fact about the gitans of southern France: those living in Roussillon are practically the only ones there who still speak Catalan.

  17. marie-lucie said,

    October 14, 2010 @ 4:42 pm

    Coby, it is possible that the various designations of the Roma in French vary according to regions. You can see that Jean Véronis and I (who are not from the same region or the same generation) both find gitan(e) more general.

    My Petit Robert (1968 edition, so perhaps dated as to usage) has more about tsigane than about gitan, but that does not mean that tsigane is "most common" in modern colloquial French. If it was, I would not have forgotten to mention it among other words for the same people.

    From the article on "Roms":

    En français, on peut désigner les Roms par d'autres mots, comme ceux de Gitans, de Tsiganes (ou Tziganes), de Manouches, de Romanichels, de Bohémiens, de Sintis.

    Notice that the very first word is "Gitans". "Manouches" is another common word for the French Roms, apparently used among themselves. I am not familiar with "Sintis" in French.

  18. Jerry Friedman said,

    October 14, 2010 @ 6:09 pm

    As well as adding characters (mostly female) to the opera, Halévy and Meilhac took out Carmen's husband, the one-eyed García. Was that because the story, shocking enough, would have been even more shocking if José's relationship had been with a married woman?

    @MYL: I too like the frame of "Carmen". And speaking of shock, one of the biggest surprises of my reading life was the fourth part. I was expecting the story to continue.

    Is there a name for the literary device of pretending the narrator is oneself? Not just first-person: Mérimée really did publish an article about the site of the battle of Munda.

    Exits humming: La la la la-a-a-a-aaaa. La la la la-a-a-a-aaaa…

  19. Xmun said,

    October 14, 2010 @ 8:31 pm

    Jerry Friedman: Is there a name for the literary device of pretending the narrator is oneself?

    I don't know, but M. R. James is another writer who used the same device. He gave his ghost stories a scholarly narrator, himself.

    (I hope my memory is sound: it's years since I read them.)

  20. Xmun said,

    October 14, 2010 @ 9:28 pm

    Perhaps "pseudo-autobiography"?

  21. marie-lucie said,

    October 14, 2010 @ 10:35 pm

    Non-linguistic detail: I thought the white dress worn by Carmen (and other women) in this production was out of character and anachronistic, but under "Carmen (novella)" in Wikipedia is a picture of a painting by Mérimée showing how he visualized Carmen and Don José at home, and Carmen is dressed all in white, while Don José is out of uniform. Neither of them looks very convincing as the heroes in a story of passion and crime.

  22. Coby Lubliner said,

    October 14, 2010 @ 10:45 pm

    Jerry Friedman: Is there a name for the literary device of pretending the narrator is oneself?

    I don't know, but I happen to be reading Orhan Pamuk's Snow, and he uses the device there. I believe that Somerset Maugham used it in some of his novels.

    In Mérimée's Carmen, the narrator (Mérimée) hears the story from a famous bandit whom the local people respectfully call Don José. He is, of course, the Basque soldier who got involved with the Gypsy Carmen, killed her out of jealousy, and turned to banditry after escaping from prison. He would never have been called Don José (as he is in the opera) while he was a lowly corporal.

    Marie-Lucie: I believe that at least some of the Gypsies in Alsace call themselves Sinti, as many of them do in Germany. In fact, the official German designation for Gypsies is Roma und Sinti.

  23. Nijma said,

    October 14, 2010 @ 10:48 pm

    Arabic word for Gypsy

    The only word I've ever heard Arabs use for Gypsies is "romani". In the soaps they tend to be fortune tellers.

  24. marie-lucie said,

    October 14, 2010 @ 11:21 pm

    (a number of authors) "were charmed by this people living on the fringes of society, freedom incarnate – free to be on the move, free from work, free from fitting into society; all elements found in Carmen."

    There are other, non-romantic elements to balance the picture of those charming free spirits. Those people exercising their freedom at the expense of that of others end up in jail and die violent deaths. Carmen considers herself free, not only to choose her lovers but to steal the narrator's watch and to try to convince her lover to kill him (probably in order to rob him further). Earlier, she had felt free to knife a fellow worker (she did work sometimes after all), later she is a member of a smuggling gang along with violent criminals, and she dies at the hands of the lover she has destroyed psychologically before rejecting him altogether. A powerful character, a femme fatale (in a literal sense), but not exactly a charmer in the present sense of the term.

  25. D.O. said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 2:52 am

    But, marie-lucie, come on, this is what Romanticism is all about.

  26. Jongseong Park said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 4:24 am

    Marie-Lucie: Carmen has nothing to do with "the French Romani community".

    Thanks for the correction. That'll learn me to comment on a work I know nothing about.

  27. maidhc said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 4:38 am

    I was interested to learn that the great French gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt spoke French as a second language. His first language was Romany. BBC 7 currently has a show up on how he managed to survive in Paris during the German occupation, although the Germans were sending gypsies to the camps. Will be available for a couple more days.

    Before the war he got in trouble with the authorities while on tour with the Quintette du Hot Club de France in Germany for insulting Hitler, but he managed to extricate himself.

    The great documentary Latcho Drom traces the migrations of the gypsies from India to France and Spain, featuring some fantastic music.

    Bizet may have been inspired by gypsy music, but the inspiration is at a certain distance.

  28. marie-lucie said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 8:36 am

    D.O. But, marie-lucie, come on, this is what Romanticism is all about.

    To me, Mérimée is not a Romantic, in spite of his love of the ancient and exotic.

  29. Terry Collmann said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 11:43 am

    Maidhc: the great French gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt

    Belgian. Apparently Flemings regard him as the 66th greatest Belgian of all time, which is, in reality, 65 places too low.

  30. Xmun said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 3:17 pm

    A small correction to my earlier comment. The translation of Mérimée's Carmen that I read was written by Lady Mary Loyd (though her name doesn't appear on the title page of my edition). Arthur Symons merely wrote the "critical introduction".

  31. dirk alan said,

    October 16, 2010 @ 12:42 am

    carmen veranda.

  32. Jerry Friedman said,

    October 16, 2010 @ 12:33 pm

    @Xmun and Coby Lubliner: Thanks. Maybe "pseudo-autobiographical frame", though lots of fiction is presented as the narrator's autobiography. Anyway, another example is K-PAX.

    @Coby: In the novella, José says, "Si je prends le don, c'est que j'en ai le droit," so it's not totally unreasonable for him to be called "don José while he's a corporal.

    @marie-lucie: Is Mérimée's watercolor (which I uploaded the scan of to Wikipedia, by the way) the scene in the English officer's apartment where Carmen is "parée comme une madone"?

  33. marie-lucie said,

    October 16, 2010 @ 4:18 pm

    JF, I see that perhaps I misunderstood the male character in the picture, thinking he was Don José, but you are right, he must be the English officer, and Carmen does not look at him but both look towards the spectator, meaning that they might be looking at Don José disguised as an orange seller. But Carmen does not quite look "parée comme une madone" there, and the man's outfit does not look very officerish, although it looks vaguely sailorish.

  34. Xmun said,

    October 16, 2010 @ 9:43 pm

    Surely it is indeed an illustration of this passage? Don José:

    "je pris ma natte d'oranges et je courus chez Carmen. Sa jalousie était entrouverte, et je vis son grand oeil noir qui me guettait. Le domestique poudré m'introduisit aussitôt; Carmen lui donna une commission, et dès que nous fûmes seuls, elle partit d'un de ses éclats de rire de crocodile, et se jeta à mon cou. Je ne l'avais jamais vue si belle. Parée comme une madone, parfumée… des meubles de soie, des rideaux brodés… ah!… et moi fait comme un voleur, que j'étais."

    Aren't they both looking to see that the "domestique poudré" has left the room?

  35. SimonMH said,

    October 16, 2010 @ 9:53 pm

    A satirical piece of doggerel on this sad affair:

  36. marie-lucie said,

    October 16, 2010 @ 10:34 pm

    If the man in the picture is indeed Don José, he is not "fait comme un voleur" or an orange-seller, but well-dressed. Carmen would not put her arms around his neck if the servant was still in the room (since it is the officer's apartment), but in fact she has sent the servant on an errand. This occurs on Don José's second visit. But on the first visit to the apartment where she is staying with the English officer, the officer is in the room, to Don José's anger and frustration.

  37. Jerry Friedman said,

    October 17, 2010 @ 1:30 am

    I took it to be exactly the passage Xmun suggested. The servant has gone out, and José's expression is the result of trying to stay angry, even though he'd just abandoned all his courage in that regard. Or maybe it's just his general degradation. Anyway, Mérimée was definitely a better writer than painter.

    But I too wondered about the clothes, which as you say don't seem quite right. Maybe it's the rue Candilejo, though in that one José had the oranges in his handkerchief. Maybe it's a generic scene.

  38. marie-lucie said,

    October 17, 2010 @ 9:57 am

    One of my students (very early in the course) analyzed "together" was a compound: "to-get-her".

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