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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Nomadness....My Faery Caravans and a Pilgrimage to Sainte Sarah

Gypsy Dreams Blog Party
From earliest childhood I dreamed of living a life of freedom in a home on wheels. My parents were confirmed travelers and the love of the open road became an intrinsic part of me almost before I could walk...

It was only natural that the traditional Romany vardo became the symbol of my longing, fueled in part by my grandmother's stories of stumbling across hidden Gypsy encampments in her own childhood. I often drew myself standing in front of my longed for caravan, accompanied by a pair of goats and a grazing draft mare with shaggy fetlocks...

A few years ago I began to make and sell miniature fairytale versions of my dream house in natural materials from field and forest---these photographs are a few examples. (You can learn more at
But my real life adventure was just beginning...

For more than fifteen years I carried a small black and white photocopy amongst my belongings as I moved from one part of the US to another. It was the image of a dark faced saint within a low, barrel vaulted crypt filled with glimmering tapers. She was beautiful and powerful, romantic and mystical, more the stuff of dreams than reality.
So was I surprised then---in May, 2007--- to find myself experiencing in person the magic of the festival of Sainte Sarah, patron saint of the Rom people? Yes and no. Perhaps I had set my intention years before, when I first made that photocopy---and out of longing and focus it became inevitable.

           I have experienced the phenomena twice now and it hasn't lost any of its fascination for me...

On her feast day of May 24, after receiving throngs of visitors who kiss her feet and face, petition her for miracles and leave tokens of gratitude for answered requests, Sarah leaves the low ceilinged crypt of the Romanesque church in Saintes Maries de la Mer to travel the brief distance to the sea. Accompanying her are the horseback mounted Camargue guardians and a stream of visitors from around the globe. Small Gypsy girls in the ruffled polka dot dresses of Flamenco dancers play in the gentle surf as the adults jostle and try to anticipate Sarah's exact path into the water, straining to be as near her as possible. She will be carried out to the horses' chest height in the sea, through a narrow pathway that opens through the human crush and then as quickly closes. My daughter and I stand in warm, ankle deep water among the crowd. I feel surprisingly safe (despite being packed in like the proverbial sardines), at peace, and part of something larger than myself. The beach and stone breakwaters are lined with spectators and the cries go up as the figure of Sarah, held high, advances among a sea of outstretched arms. Then it is just as quickly over---she is paraded back to the crypt while around the ancient church a long night of music and dance commences.

Sadly for those of us with a romantic bent, the traditional caravans of the Rom have been all but replaced by the uniform white of Ford transit vans. A few of the craftspeople bring traditional style wagons to the festival, although a bit more of the magic is lost each year.

 But sometimes even the dog gets to have his day---in a handmade caravan dog house.

                                And the organ grinder's cart yields a moment of baroque pleasure...

As for me, my life has come to be one often spent on the road--no lovely caravan yet, just a white camping car traversing France since May, 2009. This blog is a document of not only my art but also a small part of the overwhelmingly beautiful scenery and historic sites I've enjoyed in the country I now call home. It is also a reminder to be careful what you wish for... it just might come true.


  1. Oh my gosh Diana, this is just beautiful both in word and photo. I had no idea that Gypsy was more than a word to you. You are the second person who has entered my life throught the internet that is Gypsy and I am thrilled to know both of you, as my Great Grandmother was as well. She was from Spain and now it makes me wonder. I wish I had more information on her.
    Thanks for sharing your beautiful art, your travel and life photos and your words that prick my heart.
    XOXO Oma Linda

  2. Dear Linda--Thank you for your always kind and supportive words. I actually have no Rom blood that I know of--although my grandmother did insinuate that the Gypsies she met beckoned her to come along, so who knows what might have been. Your own heritage is certainly interesting!
    Being part of this blog party reminds me that while we can enjoy our romantic notions of Gypsy dreams, the real day to day life of these people holds much suffering due to prejudice and poverty. I hope we can all become more aware and do our part to help promote change.

  3. Your creations are beautiful and your pictures, too. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Wow, wow, wow! I love what you've done and the history behind it. Those minis are lovely and feel alive. I think your camper is your wagon, things just change to fit the times.

    What a beautiful post. I am now following your blog, and can't wait to read about the rest of your journey!

  5. Great story. Would love to join the caravan with you and see more. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Thank your for sharing your photos they are brilliant and your caravans are adorable. The pilgrimage sounds very moving.

    frith and wishes
    J x

  7. Many thanks for all the kind comments! Diana

  8. Your fairy Vardo are enchanting. Great post - enjoyed taking the pilgrimage with you. Thanks for sharing.


  9. What a truly wonderful post! I loved hearing about your picture and how it brought you to the festival. That is a powerful sense of knowing you have about yourself.

    You have such an interesting blog, I have really enjoyed my visit.

  10. Wow, your miniature Vardo is simply stunning. Little Gypsy fairies reside in it no doubt! What a beautiful and transformational journey you are going through! Even if you are in a camper, know you are truly a Gypsy! Thank you for sharing your magical dream!

  11. Well I have to say that I love your little creations...they are beautiful! I am really loving all of the posts that I am reading that are sharing real Romani history. We all have our romantic images of Gypsies....but there is a lot more to it than that....and it's nice to learn more about the Romani culture. Thank you so much for participating!

  12. fantastic post! i have loved visiting here!

    hugs and love,

  13. What an amazing experience! Thank you for sharing it with us. And those little wagons are just adorable!

  14. Beautiful..such a super amazing post! Thankyou for sharing such magic and beauty and inspiration..gorgoeus photos and imagery!

  15. Hello, I was sent here by other party goers of the Gypsy party. I visited Saintes Maries de la Mer earlier this year and attended the Rom festival of Sante Sarah - a life time dream of mine come true. I blogged about this on the gypsy party at! I loved your post and I am a fan of your work on Etsy and have been for a while!!

  16. A big thank you to all the visitors who stopped by my cyber campfire and much appreciation for your very kind words and enthusiasm!

  17. Diana, you are now the second person to post of this festival! I now want to is on my bucket list! thanks for the awesome post and photos. :) I am now a follower and also decided I must look into one of your little wagons!
    be well and be blessed,

  18. I love the fairy gypsy wagon, so beautiful !!
    Great pictures of the pilgrimage !!
    Have a magical day.

  19. What amazing photos -- thanks for sharing them! :)

    Sweet Gypsy Dreams,

  20. Oh how lucky you were to be able to attend this festival! Beautiful pictures. May all your gypsy dreams come true!

  21. Thank you everyone--so nice to meet and share with you all!

  22. So wonderful that you have been able to attend this Festival twice already! And thank you for sharing your knowledge of it and of the beautiful Vardo photos you took while there and which you make in miniature. I too am a Hopeless Romantic about one day owning my own version of a Vardo and decorating it in Bohemian splendor as my Mobile Studio. I grew up traveling extensively too, rarely staying in one placed for more than 18 months at a time... and though settled now in my Senior Season of Life, I do miss the open road and it often calls to me. May all of your Gypsy Dreams become your Realities... it sounds as though you are living your Dream out daily and that is so refreshing that you are not only Dreaming but Doing!

    Blessings from the Arizona Desert... Dawn... The Bohemian

  23. Your tiny vardoes are just perfect. Thank you so much for this glimpse into your life.

  24. Diana - Just love your post! Just love it!


    Lula Pomme

  25. Diana, what a wonderful post, I hadn't realised that you are travelling and living you on the road as it were, how wonderful I admire you for that. I wish I was brave enough. The travelling lifestyle is one that has always been in my heart ever since my Grandad would tell me tales & play wild gypsy music to me when i was small. The festival sounds a wonderful even to have been blessed to see and oh those vardos, its so lovely to see that in some places still traditions keep on x