Romany Gipsy wanderings in Romania

It’s summer 2012, and I’m camping alongside an isolated Romany Gypsy village.  As part of a road trip via Russia-Istanbul I find myself in an obscure part of Transylvania, way off-the-beaten-track. I am intruiged by my neighbours.  I’ve always been fascinated by Romany Gypsy culture.  Why?  Possibly because gypsies belong nowhere…  and yet everywhere.  Or is it because despite having no official homeland, and living outside the fringes of society, they manage to retain their distinct culture?   Despite some trepidation (will I be welcomed, or shunned as an outsider?)  I take a few deep breaths and walk down the long, dusty, derelict path…

For me, the Gypsies’ enigmatic history and traditions are shrouded in colourful, legendary folklore, that feed my love of mystery.  Yet I’m all too aware their ‘romantic’ image may be far removed from reality – another reason why I feel nervous as I wander into the village alone.

Waving me over for a chat

I needn’t have worried about being welcomed. Fascinated by the presence of a stranger (we are miles away from any town, and tourists certainly don’t venture into these parts) the isolated Romany villagers wave me over immediately.  Bonding over emphatic gesturing, huge smiles, and the odd word based on Slavic-Italian, we soon feel like old chums (well, almost).  And as they notice my camera, they urge me to take photos of them – I’ve been dreaming of capturing their lives on film, and to be asked, feels a huge privilege.  What amazing colours and faces.  Photos are incredibly rare here, since nobody owns a camera – and so I’ve promised to send copies to my new friends.


Relishing the opportunity to show off their elaborate clothes, they proudly pose and pout for me from every angle – amused that I’m entertained by this.  I feel in awe, and honoured, to have a rare glimpse into this secluded, private society.


Invited in for coffee

“Kaffe! Kaffe!”  ‘Mala’, a woman my age with a glint in her eye, beckons me inside for coffee to meet the whole family.  My heart rate quickens, but I realise this is a precious opportunity.

From the Indian-inspired spiral columns, to the wonderfully kitsch plastic lemon trees in the corner of the room – every aspect of the home seems an attempt to display their status.   I love the plastic pink heart on the ceiling!

Me_in_clothes_web_julyMala brings me a cup of syrupy black coffee so bitter it makes my eyes water.  Then she ushers in her son, daughter, mother and husband, and asks me to take some valuable portraits.  Delighted with the chance, I snap away. Mala suddenly disappears, then re-emerges from her bedroom, with armfuls of vivid clothes, insisting I try them on.Shall I…?  What the hell!  I’m game for a laugh.  It’s not everyday you get invited in for coffee in an obscure Gypsy village, in deepest darkest Romania, and told to put on their clothes!   Stranger things happen right (?)

The family gather for a once-in-a-lifetime portrait. I love the heart on the ceiling!


Romany Gypsy origins

On a previous trip to Rajasthan, India, I was startled by the similarities between the local Rajasthani women, and Romany Gypsies I’d seen in Europe.  The elaborate, flowered skirts, glittering jewellery, jingling bangles, and plastic flowers seemed almost identical.


Rajasthani women, taken in India 2002

Linguistic evidence suggests they did indeed originate from the Rajasthani people in the 11th Century, with the Romany language being a type of Indian ‘hybrid’.

Why they left in the first place however, seems to remain a mystery.


Transylvania, Romania 2012

Now, sitting in Mala’s house, taking photos of her family, their inheritance seems clear to me in their faces, clothing and architecture – despite their ancestors having left India so many centuries ago.As with the ‘caste system’ in India, Romany Gypsies have a very strict social hierarchy. Before being welcomed by my new friends,  I’d driven through another gypsy village which was in stark contrast to this Tinkers’ one.

There, naked children ran barefoot through the streets and people lived in dilapidated shacks resembling shanty towns.
(see image below)


Gypsy village, central Romania 2012

Pot-bellied men sat on the steps gambling and drinking, and to me, there seemed a dark, threatening atmosphere. This time – I was not getting out of the car.

But apart from the little boy above, on the left, giving me *the finger*, I was welcomed with genuine delight, hospitality and warmth. What a thrilling, yet humbling experience, in bridging socially imposed barriers, and in cross-cultural kinship.  I wonder where my next coffee invitation will lead me to…

Celtic Art Retreat, Ireland

Painting, the local Oracle, and dowsing in ancient Stone Circles

Anam Cara is the old Celtic name for ‘soul friend’. I was reading a book by the Irish poet John O’Donohue: ‘Anam Cara: Ancient Wisdom from the Celtic World’, when I came across a creative retreat by the same name. Run by a writer from Utah, it’s a peaceful, inspiring place for writers and artists to come and work.

Anam Cara lies on the west coast of Ireland, overlooking the Atlantic ocean and rolling hills. This is the view from my bedroom window:

View from my bedroom window. Collage

My workspace is based in the conservatory, since it rains everyday (but hey – that just adds to the romantic, misty feel of Ireland)  overlooking the hills and sea, and gardens.  The other inhabitants at Anam Cara are the ducks, chickens, and Jack, the Jack Russell Terrier.



My workspace in the conservatory














Thankfully, Ireland’s traditions of folklore, music, and story-telling are still strong.
I was so inspired by the singing, musical, story-telling community, that I plan to re-create this when I get home.  Tales around the fire, food and good friends…

Life’s too short to be without music, laughter and silliness!

A trip to the local Oracle

The Beara Peninsula is also rich in ancient Celtic myth, legend, and suspicions. And so no experience here would be complete without a visit to the local Oracle. She lives in a little white cottage just outside the village, and has the largest collection of seashells known to man. Chickens roam freely by her door, as, apparently, does an old lady who lived down the lane (who died 60 years ago!)

According to the alignment of the semi-precious stones I randomly picked out from her basket, and the Oracle’s use of legendary metaphor, my next 6 months are destined to be good…   😉


Ancient Wisdom and Mysteries

Celtic Cross

I experienced a wonderfully bizarre, final day of ‘unexplained mysteries’ – thanks to Geoff Ward, author of ‘Spirals: the Pattern of Existence’ and expert on ancient civilisations and the alternative universe. And also lovely Herma Koornwinder who I stayed with at Anam Cara.  Geoff and Herma are working on a series of books and TV documentaries on the hidden meanings of ancient sites and sacred geometry.


The rods swing open as Herma enters the circle

The rods swing back, pointing towards the circle

In 3,000 – 2,500 BC, people built sites of worship in areas where they intuitively felt a special energy in the earth. Science has since proved that these sites indeed do emit a certain energy, which we, in our overly-developed, industrialised society no longer feel.

Herma placed some copper rods (which pick up this energy) into my hands, and I watched them open as I entered the circle, spin as I went into the centre of it, and close once i left… I had no idea what i was doing, and just watched in bafflement.  What a wonderfully random Friday morning – and an inspiring week!


Anam Cara Writers’ & Artists’ retreat website


For Equilibrium, a Blessing

(by John O’Donohue, the lovely Irish poet & philosopher)

Like the joy of the sea coming home to shore,
May the relief of laughter rinse through your soul.

As the wind loves to call things to dance,
May your gravity by lightened by grace.

Like the dignity of moonlight restoring the earth,
May your thoughts incline with reverence and respect.

As water takes whatever shape it is in,
So free may you be about who you become.

As silence smiles on the other side of what’s said,
May your sense of irony bring perspective.

As time remains free of all that it frames,
May your mind stay clear of all it names.

May your prayer of listening deepen enough
to hear in the depths the laughter of god.”

Wyspianski Xmas Angels

Inspired by some angel wings by the famous Polish Art Nouveau artist ‘Wyspianski’, I painted some angels for Christmas cards last year. These are the first cards I’ve ever made, and so was overjoyed that I managed to sell 650 of them!

Wyspianski, who I plan to write more about soon, is one of Poland’s most famous artists, and was well known throughout Europe in the late 1890’s. During this time there was an artistic trend inspired by folk-art, and this can be clearly seen on the walls of the Dominican church, built in 1260, and designed by Wyspianski in 1897. These folk-art designs were considered controversial for church interiors at the time.

Wyspianski also wrote one the nation’s most famous plays: ‘Wesele’ (The Wedding) which was based in Bronowice, Krakow – where our family home is. He knew my great-grandparents since they were close neighbours, and it’s a delight to see old family photos featuring some of the real-life characters eg. Tetmayer.  Read more about him:  Stanisław Wyspiański

Chemical reactions

Paint which interacts with various chemical substances, is fun to experiment with.
I love to watch what happens – it’s the natural, organic effect I find interesting; like a picture creating itself, of its own accord.

Washing-up liquid + watercolour

Salt + watercolour

Sprinkling salt onto watercolour creates a mineral-like, organic ‘rock’ effect which I love.  Salt absorbs water, and so you’re left with lovely crystalised patterns.



Ink and Bleach

Here I painted the paper with black ink, dipped a twig into bleach, then painted it onto the ink.  The bleach basically eats into the ink, leaving an interesting ‘X-ray’ effect. Here are some orchids I experimented with (2004):

Orchids 2004



Snowflakes painted with a twig dipped in bleach, 2009

Art Party – creative collaboration

Friends, cake, and sharing creativity


I love bringing friends together to inspire and learn from eachother, dabble, bounce ideas around, and generally have some arty fun.

There’s nothing like sharing a creative community experience…


Here we learnt some new techniques using wax and salt with watercolour. I was lucky to have my art teacher friend with us to share new ideas.

I confess however, that we actually spent more time eating cake than creating works of art 😉

More experimentation next time!


arty party



Oscar the paper-shredding cat

Oscar helping me with my collage  
Oscar loves helping me out with shredding papers.

And rolling around in them, on them, and generally distributing paper and pencils around the house. He’s more like a dog than a cat.

And of course, if there’s a tiny scrap of paper lying in the middle of the floor, guess where he has to go and sit…

© Copyright Diana Walles Art