HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS
It is amazing how little some people travel. By that, I am not of course referring to folk who haven’t yet hitchhiked with a battered rucksack and £200 in their pocket, from say Bermondsey or Berwick-on-Tweed, to Ladakh or the Sinkiang Desert… but to those striking individuals who have rarely if ever left their one horse town. There are more of these folk than you think, and they are not all in their late 90s. Chrisoula aged 47 who owns the Glaros and is originally from the Mani, has been living in Kythnos 20 years, but has barely left the port in all that time. The nearest village Dryopida some 5 kilometres away, is where the only island household goods and hardware shop can be found, and where the excellent Health Centre is located, but it is 14 years since Chrisoula was in Dryopida. She has been to Loutra the principal resort in the north, only once, 7 years ago. Mention a few out of the way but idyllic Kythnos bays, especially the hallucinatory sandy ones down south like Simousi and Skhilo, and not only has she never been, she has never even heard of them. Objectively this is very strange, given that Kythnos is very small, has a population of less than 2000, and is so narrow that both sides of the rugged and lonely coast can be euphorically viewed in many places. You would think Chrisoula might have idly gazed at a map of the island in the last 20 years, as the complimentary tourist versions are plastered everywhere you go, and surely a name like say Gaidharomandra (Donkey Fold) would stick in anybody’s mind. A name like that definitely hasn’t stuck in Chrisoula’s mind, though.
Looking for a possible explanation, in enlightening structural terms, we can point out she has no known partner, no children, no car, no motorbike to allow of any spontaneous bashing off for a spin, does not know how to use a computer, works all the hours that God sends, and in her free time virtually bolts herself inside her house, where she does the same thing every day of her life: viz. sits on her single bed, and watches 1950s black and white Greek comedies, while hungrily eating lots of chocolates. You never ever see Chrisoula walking through the port, unless it is to buy something from the supermarket that the Glaros has run out of. Though very attractive and vivacious, she is not interested in men or marriage or any other variants, and far prefers the subtly different challenges of vintage comedy DVDs, and, if she really treats herself, Drambuie chocolate liqueurs. She once told me her idea of unfettered bliss, would be to spend 2 weeks all alone in a nice hotel in somewhere comfy, crass and touristy, like Kos or Mykonos, meals and everything else brought in as room service, never leaving her sea view balcony, but just sitting and sunning herself all day, and doing absolutely nothing.
My father was not a great traveller, and he spent his first 15 years from 1915-1930, in the unusual and impoverished Irish Cumbrian community of Cleator Moor, some 4 miles from the port of Whitehaven. The little town was built on the profitable extraction of iron ore, which reached its height in the late 19th century and had been waning ever since, and the community likewise sinking into desuetude by the late 1920s. Whole villages from Mayo and Sligo had come here to work the mines in the 1860s, and when my Dad was around 10 in 1925, he was helping deliver his farmer Dad’s potatoes to some very old ladies from the remotest Mayo hamlets. These ladies were in their 90s in 1925, meaning born around the unearthly year of 1835. Not one of them had ever made the perilous 4 mile bus journey down to Cumbrian metropolis Whitehaven, and they crossed themselves in anguish as they contemplated it, in front of the 10 year-old son of the Protestant farmer. Several of them definitely did believe in the world of fairies, and assured the young boy that the little people were as real as he was, and that they personally had conversed with these unworldly creatures on numerous occasions, even in somewhere as far from Ireland as Cumbrian Cleator Moor.
Credulous old peasant women and their talk with the little people of Mayo and of Irish Cumbria? It gets more entertaining if less credible, when the people in question are bright and cultured, and yet sublimely ignorant of certain basic things. I have already mentioned some weeks back, the friend of mine aged 34, a distinguished painter graduate of one the finest of UK art colleges. He was the one who, when my girlfriend of 1977 accidentally broke wind in his presence, expressed absolute amazement rather than merriment or distaste at what he had heard. Despite being from a large family and having 6 sisters, he claimed he had never once heard a woman fart, and moreover, and by reasonable inference, believed that none of the sex ever did, and that applied worldwide and throughout all of human history. Ditto as I wrote around the same time, the far too sheltered woman, a friend of my late mother-in-law, who had taken a package holiday to Tunisia, but had no idea that in so doing she had been to Africa, and was deeply resentful when someone told her that she had. She sincerely believed Tunisia was somewhere between Spain and Portugal, though admittedly she was wholly unaware that the latter pair shared frontier borders with each other.
Just as baffling, I was once teaching a fiction course in Cambridge, attended by a lively woman who wrote freelance science and health articles for several Sunday broadsheet magazines. I was 45 at the time, and she was somewhere around 40. One night in the college bar the conversation, heaven knows why, got round to exotic fruits and vegetables, and this highly intelligent science correspondent remarkably confessed she had never even heard of, much less seen, anything called a pomegranate. We actually had to describe to her what it looked like, as this being 1996, there was no handy laptop there to knock up a picture in 2 seconds flat. She had been brought up in North London and its umpteen upmarket grocers, and therefore had no excuse, whereas I who was raised in remotest pit village West Cumbria, had been battering away with a safety pin at pomegranates and their elusive seeds, all too easily purchased in season in the antique village Coop, way back in 1957.
All this is inconsequential joke stuff of course. In the last event it hardly matters if you have never heard of pommies, not unless you fall in love with an Iranian, and then realise that their cuisine is inextricably infused with pomegranates. They are there not just as a breathtaking seraphic jewel-like garnishes, when the hypnotising seeds are delicately sprinkled…but pomegranate sauce is a standby for succulently flavouring fried pumpkins, courgettes and aubergines and the like. Likewise if you are a man who thinks that no woman stoops so low as to fart, that might also be a species of comfort to you, if not to the woman herself. Farts might well be comical and uproarious things, but amazingly they serve a definite benign not to say essential physiological function, and she who never farts will definitely not be a well woman.
No, the serious ignorance is that which is arguably deliberate and lucidly willed, and yet denied. To that extent you might say it is perfectly functional and structural too, as it serves a definite collective and cathartic and profoundly social purpose. On a domestic but cruel and catastrophic level, you might get a married woman whose 3 daughters have been sexually abused by their father over a period of 15 years, and she claims she knew nothing at all about it, for the whole decade and a half, even if all 3 daughters were permanently sickening for something, and scared witless of being left alone with their Dad. The functional explanation is that she was terrified of the shame of being the culpable custodian of a House of Incest, more than she was terrified of the damage done to her 3 daughters. Ultimately, perhaps one of the permanently traumatised daughters will choose to believe her, and the other two will angrily repudiate her for life.
On a similar theme, all of those who lived near Oswiecem = Auschwitz, claimed they had no idea what was going on, this despite the unending stench of the countless burning corpses. The German train drivers who took the trains there, claimed they had no idea what they were driving in the cattle trucks. Nearly all Germans at the end of WW2 claimed they had no idea what was happening to the Jews and the Gypsies and the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Communists and the Homosexuals, and presumably if they had, they would have kicked up a very courageous, indeed suicidal fuss. There is not a single regime in the world, however crazed and perverse, that will admit it tortures, as enjoined from the top down, and regularly the goon on the shop-floor who does the torture, gets put away, while the tenured gangsters in the government get away scot-free. In this connection, in 2001, the late Christopher Hitchens, famously wanted to have Henry Kissinger arraigned as a war criminal, for what he did by way of defoliation and genocidal carpet bombing in Vietnam, and other parts of Indo-China, as well as orchestrated coup changes and assassinations variously in East Timor, Chile and Bangladesh. Specifically Hitchens accused Kissinger of flagrantly breaking international law ‘by engaging in conspiracy to murder, kidnap and torture’. He also brusquely but accurately described him as ‘a stupendous liar with a remarkable memory’.
It was never going to happen, alas. The solipsism remains, and kept him more tightly protected than a bullet-proof vest. He was a nice, avuncular, curly-haired American powerhouse politician in a smart suit, and he was at the heart of the government, so he could not possibly be a genocidal criminal. Meanwhile his identikit avatars, most of them males, curly-haired and avuncular and beautifully turned out too, are still floating around doing his inimitable and spectacular dirty work, and it is only because he is now aged 91 he has given up the rather demanding task himself.