East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Gypsy Wagons

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One half of it…was carpeted, and so partitioned off at the further end as to accommodate a sleeping-place, constructed after the fashion of a berth on board ship, which was shaded, like the windows, with fair white curtains… The other half served for a kitchen, and was fitted up with a stove whose small chimney passed through the roof. It also held a closet or larder, several chests, a great pitcher of water, and a few cooking-utensils and articles of crockery. These latter necessaries hung upon the walls, which in that portion of the establishment devoted to the lady of the caravan, were ornamented with such gayer and lighter decorations as a triangle and a couple of well-thumbed tambourines.
(Charles Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop)

The above is the description of a gypsy wagon, or vardo, to give it its proper name.

517d6Sn1dNL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_Yesterday I posted about adventure.
Today, as part of the first proper “book haul” in over one year, I received a copy of a book about wagons, gypsy or otherwise, and their use and maintenance on the road.
It’s called The Wagon Travel Handbook, by David Grant, and it’s published by the Long Riders’ Guild as part of their line of Equestrian Travel Classics.

I ordered the book because it provides the sort of information a writer might need, and because I have a long-standing fascination with gypsy wagons – that I have only seen in movies or book illustrations and once, about thirty years ago, live along a country road in Camargue.
My family traveled in a motor-home for the vacations, for about a decade, and I positively hated it: crowded, unpractical, stressful.
But I can blame more the company than the transportation: my father was fascinated by the idea of hitting the road, but his idea of a vacation was being alone, in a fine hotel, dining in good restaurants and not having his wife or kids around. So he sort of hated the motor-home he had insisted on buying, and made life on board impossible for everybody.


Bad experiences apart, reading the book by David Grant makes it perfectly clear that roaming the countryside in a gypsy wagon can be lots of fun but certainly is a lot of hard work.
And yet it’s fascinating.
Roald Dahl had one, I read, and he used it as a writing room.
And a quick search online reveals that not only there’s websites selling these wonderful contraptions, but also pages devoted to do-it-yourself wagon building.


And do not get me wrong – I’ll probably stick to trains and bicycles for the rest of my life, but the idea of dropping everything else and taking off in one of these wagons does have a certain appeal.
My brother, that’s younger and more flexible than me, has been dreaming of going on the road for a decade now, in a second hand motor-home or a van and really, being saddled with a mortgaged old house is a tragedy. We’d probably thrive on the road, moving from place to place, working online just as we do here among these hills.
It would be a breath of fresh air.
And yes, an adventure.
Who knows, maybe we might think about it for our retirement. Buy a camper, and get away from it all.

In the meantime, I’m reading this wonderful little book, and dreaming about slow going along country roads.

ADDENDUM: as I was at it, I created a pinboard on Pinterest with photos of gypsy wagons, and assorted links on the subject.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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