Monday, May 21, 2007

Who am I?

I’ve been a wandering, a wondering and a dreaming this weekend. The dream was stepped on, crushed and ground away as the MEN stood around and spoke FACTS to me this afternoon, so I came home and uploaded my photos and wondered some more.

This weekend I tagged after my folks to visit family and then we went to Brittany to meet a woman who shares a passion with my mother. They are both into genealogy and through this they have discovered that way back when they share a common ancestor. As they both became animated by names and dates, ancestors, national archives and the rather bizarre Latter Day Saints database[1] I suppose it became clear that not everyone shared their enthusiasm. “Aren’t you interested?” I was asked as I was about to sneak out for a fag. Well it’s true that I’ve not really paid much attention to that which puts a sparkle in my Mum’s eye and it’s taken a stranger to reveal this to me.

I’ve always looked at my family at this bizarre bunch spread far and wide around the globe, some of whom I share a birthday with and others that I have never met at all. My immediate family was shaped by a culture that was so alien to me that I spent my childhood shouting loud and clear: THIS IS ME. But in the end who am I? On a microscopic level my journal continues to explore this question everyday. Then there is my family, my friends, my colleagues, my students. And then complete strangers; who am I to Monsieur J. Blogue the everyday Parisian on the streets?

It is a question I have posed since I left England. You see in England I was just another person who made up the multi ethnic melting pot that is London. In Mexico I was told by my hairdresser that if I kept my mouth shut I could pass for a Mexican. In Spain, the same thing, people spoke to me in Spanish first and then when the blinking became impossible to ignore they would finally venture to ask: “¿No entiendes?” The last time I visited my island of origin I was told that I couldn’t be from there because I was too pale!

It’s weird, everybody is from somewhere, but where am I from? South west London or a tiny little island that is a barely a dot on the map? And in the end up until the 1600’s the only inhabitants of that tiny little volcanic dot were Dodos; everybody there came from somewhere else. And somewhere else is kind of all mixed up in me: the British and French settlers, the African slaves, the Indian and Chinese indentured labour; they are all in there somewhere.

I’m not sure that I am interested in the dates and the lines joining me to her and him to them, but I do like the stories. What made John Edward leave England and travel all those miles on the East India trade route to that island? Who were his lovers? Give me the juicy details. Which of his children stayed and who left and where and why did they go? And an interesting question is what happened to the women? In all these lines, where did their stories lead when they lost the name that binds us all?

The picture is of the Moulin arrangement of Megaliths in St. Just where I was this weekend. I thought it was kind of appropriate. Also check out the lucky Liverpool Sweet William piccie in the side bar, I’m pulling out all the stops for Wednesday!

[1] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints apparently has the largest collection of Family Tree history in the WORLD. Why? Now that’s another really interesting story.


Anonymous said...

I was immersed in my family history for about eight years, digging through things, files, asking questions, making a family tree, writing letters (this was before it was all online).

I am still highly interested. I am sure many have said this before, but I found a great deal of comfort in knowing the people, the stories, the lineage that came before me, that "lead" to me. It helped me fill in some gaps in myself, it helped me see myself in a slightly different and more accurate way.

I haven't had your vast experiences, of course, but I am wondering if such culture movement can lead to grasping onto yourself, who you are, more immediate?

Verilion said...

You've posed the BIGGIE there GT and it's a really interesting question if I understand it correctly. I can only answer it through my experiences but I think the fact that I was obviously different to the culture into which I was born instantly threw up questions. I distinctly remember the day I was playing in the garden and it suddenly struck me that I wasn't white. I can still remember looking at my hand and then running up the stairs to ask my Mum about that. What I can't say for sure is whether every other first generation kid feels like that too. Is it just us or is it something that humans have always done? That's why I put that picture up in a way. When you think that hundreds of thousands of years ago humans erected these monuments as a way of understanding the world, isn't that what we all do in some way or another?

Marie said...

I sympathise V. My parents are Greek Cypriots and I was born in England. I have never felt that I belonged to the Cypriot community and never wanted to mix with some relatives because I hated their outdated views and values. Now I'm not saying they're all like that, but most of the ones I know happen to be.

I see myself as British and always will no matter where I'll end up in the world.

Having said that, because I love history and am of a curious mind, I would love to find out exactly where I come from. I do know that my great grandmother's family (on my father's side) came from Venice. And I have heard there is some French blood on my dad's side of the family too. As for my mum, she is very fair skinned and doesn't look Greek at all, so I would like to find out about her family's origins.

One day, when I have the energy and more time, I will try and find out.

Verilion said...

Well Marie, maybe we have started to answer GT's question. I also understand very much what you are saying. And in terms of time and energy; from what what was revealed this weekend it's really a passion for these two women and it has encouraged them to travel to places they never contemplated before.
And lastly it seems though that if your family were baptized that the website I linked to is a very good place to start.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure what I was asking.

I guess, I am interested in my history as a sense of who I am. I only have my life to base anything on and have had a very boring, traditional upbringing in one locations, etc. but I long for stories, photographs of ancestors, old cousins, etc. I have a better sense now of who I am.

I would think that someone like you -- who has moved around a bit, who has experienced more transition than I have -- would long for that kind of connection even more, to grasp onto something stable and concrete as a way of settling herself, of understanding herself.

I don't know really, though.

Verilion said...

I think that everyone is trying to understand who they are and where they fit into the world and family history is the obvious place to start. That doesn't necessarily mean that you will do your family tree or research, but I think to a certain extent we all look to the past to understand our present.
I'm not sure that the fact that I've moved around a great deal has made me more or less interested in who I am or trying to understand myself. To a certain extent I think the part of me that constantly poses questions and tries to understand the world in general is also why I have moved around so much. And sometimes I wonder if I'm restless because I come from a place where everyone travelled to in the first place; as if this is a kind of quest to find home.

Hope that answers your question a bit more. You've certainly got my old grey cells working there, this is a really stimulating discussion.

Minx said...

I traced part of my family back to 1498 but the really juicy stuff started in the 1860's when they all spread out around the world. I spent hours looking through records, American, Australian and South African. No one else in the family was very interested which is kind of weird because I was adopted!
I often wondered if it was a need to find somewhere to belong, or some tribe to belong to. I know a little about my birth mother (she is English, my father is Dutch) but that is all I want to know.
Do we ever find ourselves? I don't know but sometimes it is good fun looking.

Atyllah said...

In answer to your question, Who am I? The simple answer is "I Am" - "You Are". You, my dear Verilion, are a citizen of the world, like I am a citizen of the multiverse. We are variegated beings, like my beautiful Lyon Lion Novalion. Where we come from is inconsequential, what we are, how we are interconnected to everything and how we choose to live our lives, in this life, and any other, is what is important
And she smiled enigmatically... (and beadily).

By the way, that tiny dot that used to be home to all those dodos is one of my favourite places on Earth.

Jefferson Davis said...

Verilion, you've brought up an intriguing subject. I think that it's imperative to at least know a wee bit about our families history, for it helps us understand ourselves.

Thankfully, my family instilled in me the importance of knowing my families past - the good and bad. If asked, I always say that I'm 3/4 Irish and 1/4 Scot, but I've only been able to trace part of my Irish roots back to the Ardes Peninsula, County Down, Northern Ireland.

Part of my family has been in America since the 1600, so that part of the Irish is extremely hard to trace back to Ireland. But, it's been an adventure finding out about my ancestors and their stories.

My great - great grandfather came from Inverness-shire, Scotland. He was a character and a half. He had wives in Scotland and America. He was a player,and my hero. Of all of my ancestors that I know of, he's probably my favourite. :)

I'm just an American! :-)

Sam said...

Ah, the fish out of water syndrome?
I wandered all over the globe from birth till last year, and haven't met half of my family, scattered like dandylion seed throughout the world.
But it's nice to be part of a wandering tribe too.

suzanabrams said...

Look at who you are inside of yourself, Verilion. And that's who your are.
Countries who embrace you follow your spirit and are the decorative icing on the cake. They will sing the same songs as you as long as you know who you are inside of you when the music stops.

Verilion said...

Right and now I've neglected my poor old comment box too:
Minx just think somewhere out there, there might be a mix of Minxy family genes and Verilion family genes! It's true that no one else in my family (including me) is interested in what my mum's doing, but I am taking her a bit more seriously now.
Atyllah : I've heard talk that you like that tiny dot before and I bet you've been to it more times than me! I agree that how we choose to live our lives is what is important, but I do think location is important too. If I had been born on that tiny dot for instance, instead of SW19 I would have had a very different life.
Jefferson: It seems we storytellers seem to like the stories, doesn't it? I think every family has it's players!
Sam: Yeah you kind of mentioned it before didn't you. But is it because our family is so dispersed that we wander do you think?
And Suzan: That's a really beautiful image, even though I sing pretty badly I like the idea. I think I'm pretty good at knowing myself and recognising the changes in me too.


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