Gypsies, those worldly nomads scorned by most other populaces, have legends as colorful as some of the clothes they wear.  The one I heard has to do with a gypsy blacksmith who was commissioned by a Roman soldier to fashion twelve nails.  When the blacksmith found out these nails were to be used for Christ's crucifixion, he let one of his sons  take three of the nails.  He then told the Roman soldier he only had time to forge nine nails, and convinced him to make do with just those.

Legend has it the boy ran under Christ's cross, and Christ smiled down at him for lessening his suffering, and told the boy whatever the gypsies stole in the future would not be considered a sin.

I guess this story was the original "license to steal," and the real home of the whopper. 

A few years ago, we were on a tour to Italy, visiting Venice, Florence, and Rome.  We were warned profusely to beware of all of the gypsy tricks.  For example, a mother would throw her baby at you,  her sons would rifle your pockets while your hands were occupied, then she would snatch the baby back and accuse you of kidnapping, before disappearing into the crowd.

We witnessed a similar stunt while in Venice.  As the boat was leaving the dock, one of our tour mates  was bumped from behind by a man who then leaped back onto the dock, said "scuzzy," and waved the man's wallet next to his smirky smile.  The fellow tourist was extra hard on himself; being from New York, he said, he should have known better.

However, the gypsies don't always win.  In Florence, the beautiful city of my maternal origins, we witnessed from the balcony of the Uffizzi Museum a little old lady with a cane being pursued by two ten or eleven year old urchins from behind.  It was painful to watch this poor old woman walk, seemingly all of her joints infested with arthritis.  

I was about to shout down to the square where this was about to happen, when the old lady, who must have had eyes in the back of her head, swung her cane around at just the right moment, sending one of the boys sprawling onto the pavement.  The second boy fled, and the first boy followed once he hobbled to his feet.  The old lady continued on like nothing happened.

The guy who lost his wallet also saw this.  I thought he was going to cry, watching a poor, crippled old lady show him how its done.

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