Sunday, 30 August 2015

Typical of Our Village

Typical of Our Village

One cannot say there is a typically English person, or Australian or Greek, as we all vary, but we do often vary from a norm. And it is the norm I’m writing about in this blog, the normal behaviour found in the two villages I live in.

I’m thinking about this now that I’m back in Australia again, and as I find myself checking out Lemnian behaviour against the behaviour of folk I meet in the Dandenong Ranges – specifically those in Emerald against those I’ve meet in Myrina.

Lemnians watching their local band

Folk from Emerald listening to an army band.

 What also prompts this speculation into village behaviours is that at the moment I’m reading Jan Morris’ Venice, a wonderfully descriptive book about that city and the people that have lived there.

Having done quite a lot of study in sociology (which included observing the behaviour of people in five different communities) I am fascinated by the way some studies, by sticking to statistics to find ‘norm’, miss asking some questions though I have to add that I can see why academic sociological studies, while often revealing the political pressures that maintain ‘norms’, often avoid delving into the history behind these norms. 

For example, from a description of another village not so far away from Emerald I read

Smalltown’s ethnic homogeneity is on of its most striking features. Less than 5 per cent of Smalltownites were born outside Australia (most of these are of British descent), whereas 25 percent of Victoria’s population were born in other countries.’
‘Given its Anglo-Celtic origins it is not surprising that over 90 percent of Smalltownites describe themselves as Christian and claim that they belong to a particular Christian denomination.’
Ken Dempsey

It’s not really fair to compare a book written for research purposes to a travel memoir but it does illustrate something missing (some perhaps sometimes questionable facts) that when I wrote about our experience in Greece I wanted to include. Subsequently when I wrote ‘It all Began with the Watermelon’ I wanted to include some psychology, some history as well as some sociology!

I included my own and my husband’s story, plus stories of the family that build the house, and even stories of long ago that I felt shaped the place we were living in. Thus it was such a pleasure to see this ‘wholeness of experience’ in Jan Morris’ Venice. 

Here is just a taste of Morris’ lovely descriptive writing from chapter two, The Venetian Way, where he describes the meeting of two women shopping. You already know they are in a Venetian street and you can almost visualise this event. And then in the same chapter he proposes some reasons for both this ‘hard-faced’ intent, and the seeming ‘commiseration’ of the meeting where both show a willingness to share ‘tender’ and ‘protracted’ exchanges of greetings.

Observe a pair of Venetian housewives meeting, and you will see reflected in all their gestures the pungent character of Venice. The approach each other hard-faced and intent, for they are doing their shopping, and carry in their baskets the morning’s modes purchases… But as they catch sight of each other, a sudden soft gleam of commiseration crosses their faces, as though they are about to barter sympathies over some irreparable loss, or share an unusually tender confidence. Their expression instantly relax, and they welcome each other with protracted exchange of greetings…’

Ways of Doing Things

Without her skill I’m now looking at my two villages, to discover more about the ‘Emerald’ and ‘Myrina’ way of doing things. I might even write a follow up book to that first one comparing the these two villages, that have many similarities, but whose differences highlight behaviours of the other. While it may seem that I’m generalising I like writing from my own experience and as one sociologist wrote,

Experience becomes a mode of testing and exploring the ways in which our experience conjoins or connects us with others rather than the ways they set ups apart.’
Michael Jackson

And if we watch and think about the way people move through their village we can learn a lot about that village. And as another writer put it

No one like to be thought of as ‘typical’, yet everything we do reveals something about human nature that is common to us all. The citizens of Southwood (his imaginary village) are unique individuals, of course, but they are also members of a community that is, in many ways like human communities everywhere.’ 
Hugh Mackay.

Folk from Lemnos and the Lemnian Way

I sometimes think I can tell a Lemnian by their face. I’m not good at facial recognition and because of this slight similarity I often nearly respond to someone I meet on the street and then realise it is not the person I thought it was.

Of course there are many new settlers on the island, later arrivals from nearby parts of Greece. Takis often says the blue-eyed men he sometimes encounters probably descend from the shepherds from north, from the mountains of Macedonia. And I know from experience many from other Northern Aegean islands marry Lemnians, but I think I can often pick out the true-born Lemnian.

 Lemnian Women

Coming home from church

Visiting with Family

Taking a Morning Walk

The women are short, with a short torso, and have soft rounded faces, with a pleasant aspect. 

Lemnian Men

At Work

At Play

The men are short and stocky with a good head of hair that turns white with age. They do not usually go completely bald, and if over 50 will be clean-haven. These men are often bow-legged and both sexes tend to walk with a sway, somewhat splay footed.

The men have a gentle and reserved manner, they are sociable and love to gather in tavernas and joke mildly about the foolish ways of mankind. The women too are sociable but less given to sitting together in groups unless it is a meeting of a club. 

Dressed for a National Celebration

Meetings on the Street

Men and Women will greet each other with a number of sympathetic enquiries when they meet in the street. These will be shorter in the summer, when there are many strangers around, and not include those asking about husbands, sons, daughters etc. and may then be only a slight wave and a couple of general questions, but always ending with a wish for a ‘Kalla’ day/ lunch/afternoon/ evening/ week/ month/year, which ever is appropriate.

But always there will be that complacency that comes from knowing they are Lemnian, and know just how a Lemnian should behave.

A Local Picnic

Folk Dance Concert

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