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Interview with Angus Lindsay

Lindsay, Angus
Davis, Boyd
Date of Interview: 
Relationships with people and places
Angus Lindsay talks about growing up all over the world and searching for his family histories.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Boyd Davis interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a project at UNC Charlotte.
Interview Audio: 
BD (Boyd Davis): This is Angus Lindsay and this is March 1998. You have been dashing all over the place. You're looking at some connections between family and community history. You're looking at your own family history. It's required you to go literally all over the world. What are you doing and why are you doing it?
AL (Angus Lindsay): Well, it's a question I often ask myself [laugh] because it seems so insane in some ways. Um [pause] I suppose I'm really looking at where I come from because people often ask me that question and it's a difficult question for me to answer. My own personal history has been that I was born in London, of Scots parents and that's a bit of a mess and then I was brought up in Greece as a young child and so I grew up basically like a little Greek boy though I spoke English with my parents. Then from about eight to 18, I lived in England and then I went back to Scotland and having lived in England as a teenager I grew up with an English accent so when I went back to Scotland, even though I'd been brought up to think of myself as Scots, in fact when I got up there I didn't sound at all like Scots and people thought that there was something wrong and let me know that I certainly didn't appear to be a Scot so, so though I had been brought up not to think of myself as English so I got rather confused. And since then I've lived in various parts of the world, mainly in Japan. So when people say where do you come from, it's a very difficult question to answer. And I started getting interested in where people in my background came from. That was one of the things that started me in, interested in family history. Also, all the way through my childhood, my mother particularly because my father died when I was quite young, but my mother and her sisters used to tell the same family stories again and again and again and there was a pleasure I took in hearing that same story told the same way with the same details, uh, and so I knew about my great-uncles and my great-grandmother and people like that. Not all, not everything but these little stories, these little snippets of information and I got interested in, who exactly was this person? Because I didn't know how they related to other people and I didn't know how these little snippets related to the rest of their lives. I didn't know where they were born, etcetera unless that was part of the story. So I started getting interested in the detective work and I started off in a, as most people do in this business, in a very amateurish way I looked up documents and I found the documents and I thought that was it and I didn't bother to wrote down all the details and as you get more involved in this you end up getting perhaps a little bit more obsessive about now how sure am I about this detail. In the beginning I was just so pleased, I was so happy at finding the documents that, uh, I really didn't know what to do with them. Uh, as I've got a little more experienced, I get better at wringing out more information from the documents because, uh, the implications of things you start seeing a little bit later. One of the things about genealogy is that one basically trains oneself and, uh, this is, for me, one of the pleasures because you are not performing for a teacher. You are performing for yourself and if you cheat, if you make a mistake, the only person really damaged by it is you. You're not performing for someone else so that's, that's one of the little pleasures that I got from it. I got interested because of this and my own history in not only time, because genealogy is working backwards and forwards through time, uh, you work backwards to find two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, 16, 32, 64, 128 so each generation back, you have to do twice as much work to find, uh, the ancestors and of course as you go back in time the research gets more and more difficult so you move backwards in time to build up what's called the pedigree, which sounds very, very, uh, sophisticated but we all have pedigrees. Uh, that's not just the queens and kings who have pedigrees, every single one of us has got a pedigree working backwards but once you've got the pedigree, you also work forwards because each of those people had of course your ancestor, so they had that one child and that ancestor had other brothers and sisters so you work forward trying to build them up. I don't worry so much about the brothers and sisters. I don't worry quite so much about getting all the details because you've got to draw the line somewhere but if that information is coming, I find it interesting and it also tells you about the particular great-grandparent or great-great-grandparent. If you look at their lives, you start seeing well, they had so many children and this many children died in birth and sometimes you can't prove that but you can see the gaps and that, uh, gives one the sense of the family, too because the births and deaths are very powerful points in anyone's life. And, for example, one of my ancestors, only about 130 years ago in France, he and she, they had two children and the both children died in 1870 and they lived in the east of France in Alsace and in the same year in Alsace, the Germans invaded. So they lost two children and then suddenly they were in a German-speaking country and all the documents at that point there changed from French, which I can read, so I'm lucky, into German which I can't read so easily and I got this terrible sense of depression as I got there and I saw that in the same year, they lost two children, the Germans invaded, he lost his job. Uh, I could see that because he actually was the person who wrote the documents in the town hall so I was used to seeing his signature on the documents and suddenly he disappears and in fact, he disappears from that area of France and I haven't been able to find where he moved yet. And so that's another little thing. So the births, the deaths, the invasions cause people to move and that's why I have to travel around to, to find them. So, time is very important and because they move around, space is also important. Sometimes I can do the research, uh, easily from actually my room, but family history centers, there's one in Tokyo where I spend a lot of my life, have spent a lot of my life, and there I can look at the documents, the, uh, microfilms which can be sent over from Salt Lake City. On the other hand, I also travel to where people lived and where people were buried and where people were married. I like to go to find where the farmhouses were in Scotland, for example. Last year, uh, my brother and I went up to the north of Scotland to find where my great-great grandfather and great-great grandmother lived up in Aberdeenshire and we found the tombs and the tombs were a little bit scruffy. They hadn't been looked at for a very long time so we cleaned the grass away from around them. And this is something which it is nice to do. It was nearly Easter time and actually it was the time when the comet was up in the sky so the, we tend to think in dates, particularly if you're doing genealogy you think 1870, 1880, 1890, but it's, it's nice to think of, um, time using other methods and in fact it was Easter, around Easter last year, that my brother and I were up there and it was at Easter at the time of the comet. So there are other ways of thinking of time. So I get adventure from it. I get a sense of satisfaction of being able to find a particular ancestor and begin to plump up the life, so it's not just a series of dates and places. It's also as I said, things like the births of their children, how they might have been feeling, how the crops were that year, what was going on in their lives. And that also one can find from local newspapers if you know that your grandmother was born, in my particular case, my grandmother was born in 18, uh, 77. I haven't the details right here but then I would go to the newspaper for that day or around there and find out what the weather was like, what was going on at that time at that place. And sometimes one can be helped like in the south of Scotland where my grandfather came from, uh, some people have done some research and they've worked through all the local newspaper from about 1770. Of course some of those newspapers only lasted for 20 years or 30 years. Not all newspapers went forever. But these three people have cataloged and indexed those newspapers so that you can look up reference to any particular person or to any particular thing like the local schools so you can find out the history of the school because these people did have lives. They were born, they were brought up, they had friends and if you look at the census records for a particular town, you can see who else was living in the road and you can see OK, well, there were some other children living in the same road about this same age, he probably would have known them. Some of them would have been his friends and being childhood, some of them, of course, would have been his enemies and later they might have become friends and one starts to build up this picture. Some of it, of course, is accurate and some of it is inaccurate. It brings in the imagination. It brings in the historical imagination with a set of facts, what might have happened. And, as I said earlier, no one could come along and say you're right here, you're wrong there, like a teacher they can say the evidence can be looked at this way, so one gets into the interpretation of evidence, the weighing of evidence, that's one of the things I enjoy. I've also been working with some other people in my family literally using, [cough] excuse me, like this, a tape recorder, to get people to tape their accounts and I over a few years, and before my mother died, I'd built up quite a large series of tapes of her life getting her to talk about, uh, well she was born in 1909 so it was a very different childhood she had [cough] excuse me, so I got her to talk about education when she was a child, got her to talk about travel. What was travel like within the town, within Edinburgh, the days of trams? Getting her to talk about food. What was food like at that time? Getting her to talk about what holidays. What were holidays like for her, for her friends? What, what went on? What were the holidays? What did people do at Christmas? How did Christmas change during her, uh, her life? Getting her to talk, as I said, education. She had really a quite crazy education in some ways when one listens to it nowadays. She went to a school run by two women and all the children were in the same classroom. Never mind about age and not really any idea about syllabus. They taught what they wanted to teach that day, so getting all that stuff on tape is interesting and I've been working now beyond a video project, getting family, different people in the family, by video, to talk about something. Sometimes they talk about their own lives, uh, sometimes they talk about a thing. I've got some of them to talk about a photograph of their great-grandmother or a piece of furniture or a letter that they've inherited or a ring or mementoes from the family, and often those people who know a lot about them. So I'm getting that on to tape and I'm also getting them to talk about places. What they remember and I know it sounds crazy but my cousins and I talk about our grandmother's kitchen, what they remember about that. What furniture she had in there, what would go on in the kitchen, because I think the kitchen is a vital part of family life. Uh, it's the place where the real things go on. And as well, there are more dramatic things like, um, disease, children dying, what they died of, that's really quite, quite emotional even now when one goes through and one sees a lot of children dying and then the second children being given the name of the child that had already died because that was an important family name and they wanted to keep it within the family and cemeteries will often show that. In India, for example, it's not connected directly with my family but if one goes to a cemetery in India, one of the ones where the British were buried, you'll find rows and rows and rows of children who died during the 19th century, um, form the various diseases that were, particularly cholera, of course, the wives as well and the husbands. The husbands are sometimes buried there. They may have been buried elsewhere but one sees row after row of children from the same family who've died, as I said particularly of cholera. So you've got disease, what causes disease, diseases tended to wipe people out at a particular time. Then individual cases like madness. Certainly in my case, I discovered one of my great-uncles, not that far back at all, had been in an asylum, and had died there in fact in the late 19th century and I had never heard of this person. And in fact, I think the family had put a lot of energy into suppressing that. Uh, I was quite surprised when I came across it because it's only basically two generations back. And illegitimacy and that's absolutely standard in all families just because it's human nature to reproduce and it doesn't always happen under conditions [telephone rings]. I think I'll stop there a second. OK, there I was. So, yes uh, it, it doesn't always happen, uh, under the conditions where the people have got married. All families have got, uh, a lot of cases of that and if you don't find cases of that, it suggests that the other evidence has been covered up, actually. And I think that's one of the other interesting things about that is that we have the main stories that people tell and that's where I started telling this little story about families explaining the children like human repetition of the same story again and again. But there are also those unspoken stories that are running on. Those stories that the family has decided not to talk about and we all have our own personal stories that we don't talk about. Sometimes we talk about them to our closest friends, sometimes we may talk about them to someone we trust. Someone, a teacher, might be someone within the church, it might be a counselor. We all also have the stories that we don't tell for whatever reason, or we don't tell at that time. Sometimes later those stories will develop and will come up naturally. Sometimes they will be extracted and that's a very, very unpleasant process because that story has not yet come to fruition. It's like opening the bud on the tree. But we have those unspoken personal stories, we have those unspoken family stories in the same way a community has it's unspoken stories and the nation has it's unspoken stories. And we often feel that sense that we're intruding if we ask a question to someone about their own nation or their own group and we feel a sense of embarrassment that we may be, uh, treading on something that is not wanting to be opened at that time there. Now, I'm not suggesting that suppression of stories is a good thing, I'm just suggesting that there's a need for sensitivity in dealing with opening those stories there and I think that's what basically someone who works in this business professionally, which may be a teacher, may be a minister, may be a counselor as I've said, one of those people their would normally would have had to explore their own stories enough in order to know what it's like when the opening of a story is not handled delicately and I think until one has explored one's stories and known the pain and has a knowledge of the fear involved in telling those stories I think one has to be very careful, indeed about attacking other people's stories or opening other people's stories unless that person is wanting to bring it forward. And when that story is brought forward, it has to be dealt with in a delicate fashion. That doesn't mean not dealing with the issue that means dealing with issue to be best of one's ability with sensitivity to the other person's feelings. And I certainly think that that's important when one is interviewing people. One has to be very aware that something which for us appears to be no big deal, for a grandmother or a great grandmother or someone from a generation that grew up with different values in society or the expression of different values in society, one needs to tread with a fair amount of delicacy. Um, so the untold stories, the told stories, the parallel stories, the stories one doesn't know, all of those things there, one can start to develop by working on family history whether it's through the documentary stuff, which as I said, that's the one area of detective work or it's the oral stuff but each family, each community, each individual does have a story there waiting to be told and to be one story one week and then the same story the next week bits will start getting opened up with the telling of the story and there are different techniques that can be used to look at that in the classroom. I myself use Exploration Family. And I use Exploration of self. I ask students to write down, uh, for example I, to think about their own lives are mainly late teens, early twenties, but to think about their own life and to think about the five senses of smelling, hearing, touching, uh, seeing, uh, I can't remember what the fifth one is. Taste. And, um, then on a sheet of paper to divide up, well, five sheets of paper. It doesn't really matter. Divide it up into, uh, well, let's say one takes a sheet of paper for the time zero to five, then divide that sheet of paper with horizontal lines into touch, smell, taste, the five senses. Then the next sheet of paper to work from the age of six to 10, then the next sheet of paper from 11 to 15, and the last sheet of paper from 16 to 20, and for each of those to write down memories they have within that period there and they don't have to be chronological, that doesn't matter, but to write down the memories they have of touch, of smell, of taste. Can be things like, uh, feeling the sand at the beach, or the sight of the airplane or the smell of my grandmother's cooking or the taste of soda pop at the circus or something like that. These small little details can then start building up into an unpacking of the memory so that the person themselves can start getting back in touch with their own physical feelings and I find, even with physical feelings, is important. It's a start. But even with these, I have had students start crying in class and I am talking about, I think it was, uh, uh, it was a man. 18, 19 year old Japanese student and he suddenly started crying as he touched into a very powerful memory which he hadn't touched into for a long time. Now, he was just, he wasn't bawling, but he was I knew the kind of sniffing that was going on was not just a cold or something like that because it started up. But he was suddenly processing powerful emotional stuff and one had to be careful with that. One has to be careful with how one unpacks his information and I think one has to have a classroom which feels safe to the students, which feels secure but the energy that's going on as each one of those students works with their own material means that they're not actually paying that much attention to other people in there because the first time often that they've been asked to express stuff, they are the experts on it, they are the ones who know the information. It's not the teacher who is saying now this would have happened, that would have happened and the classroom gets a different energy from it. That can then lead into the telling of stories into tapes or the writing of events and then what ones does with it is of course, one can deal with it is the raw emotion, the unpacked experience or it can sometimes people turn it into a poem. They, they take some of the rough edges off of it and they, they turn it into something different and quite a few books in that area have dealt with that and Lawrence, sorry Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals turns his childhood into an idyllic experience in Greece. It's a beautiful, beautiful book. People will dwell on the pain. They will open it up. Some people will turn it into humor. So I think it gets students to think about what can be done with that raw material, with that powerful raw material that they have within them. Uh, one can also get students to paint the information. That is sometimes the homework I've used is to get them to do a drawing or a painting and connected with that as well, uh, one can bring in photographs. Photographs are a powerful way to get students to talk. I've found that they can explain by thinking about the people that are in the stories that are in the photographs and explaining them to other people in their group. You start seeing, um, some, some, some interesting material is in there for students to exploit. But for me, the most important point about this material is, it is our own stuff. Stuff that other people haven't explored. Like if you're one of the royal family, then it's been gone over again and again and again. But for 99.9 percent of the rest of us, no one has ever really taken all that much interest in our stories or our families' stories and now suddenly we're beginning to get to a stage where people are getting in them and people are getting in touch with other people. I use my computer and I put my name up on the computer on various notice boards saying that I'm interested in this family and researching them and often I get no replies but just yesterday I got a reply from someone in Long Beach, California, uh, who is related to me and in fact, we discovered we're 11th cousins once removed. Uh, both our families came from Switzerland originally and I'd recently been investing that stuff. I got into that material in Salt Lake City which was the easiest place for me to research it in the Family History Center there. And so once I found some of that stuff I put my name up on one of these notice boards and said I'm doing research in this family, he replied and we exchanged a bit of information and yesterday I got this very long reply from him explaining how we were 11th cousins once removed because he knew much more about the family than I did. Now, I need to check that information. He sent it to me, I will work through it and verify it, but the fact that he sent it to me gives me something to check. If you don't have any information, it's extremely difficult to find it, but if someone's given you some information, then one says thank you very much and goes off and checks it and finds out other stuff and lets them know. And so I find at this time very interesting because I think that the computers are allowing the uploading information as well as the downloading of information means that one is no longer working by oneself and one is finding other people who can help one and the reason they're helping one is that because they're interested in the same thing so there's a common interest going on. So, there briefly is my reflection of some of my stuff that's been driving me so that is a little bit of the information from me.
BD: What about trainspotting?
AL: Well, I think there's more to this than just the trainspotting side of it. And by the trainspotting side of it, I refer to particularly British habit which is one that young boys do, which is they stand on drafty station platforms and they write down the numbers of trains that go through. And I never actually saw the pleasure of this but a lot of people in Britain, that's what they do. They stand there wearing anoraks and cold November days when sleeting and they write down the numbers of the engines that pass by and they collect the engines. And for me, that's one aspect of genealogy which is collecting these people. But I think one needs to move from that, not needs to, one can do whatever one likes, for some people that's exactly what they want to do and that's fine, but in my case, I want to try to move beyond that though that has it pleasures into and understanding more of the background of the family of the connections of the [pause] psychic in a way, movement of the people within that place which may be the village, may be the farm, whatever, and that's what I find difficult to understand. I also find it interesting to understand because you've got to put yourself into a different historical thinking. How people thought in say, the 1920s, is say different from how people think now, which is different from how people thought in the 1870s, uh, and I'd like to get a better way of being able to put myself into those historical frameworks, uh, that's, that's another area of this that I, I hope to be moving towards. I admire people who are able to do that, who are able to get the texture of a period. And it's extraordinary, even my own lifetime when I think back to the 1950s or the 1960s when I think of the kind of materials that we used to wear, the crimpling that people had. Uh, 45 records, those, uh, vinyl stuff, the way that hairstyles were, the way that glasses were, the way that shoes looked, all of this stuff, this fashion stuff that we, we all went through. We were all aware of but how quickly we forget it and yet how important it was at that time then. How it, and you know, as a, as a teenager, one had to be very, very aware of that unless one was a geek on the outside of society, but people were aware of it. One might choose not to choose not to do it, but one noticed things. And even within my own life how, when I think back to that, how much I've forgotten. Now how can one possibly do that historically? How can one get back? And I think that's the, the historical imagination. That's one of the things that interests me, uh, because these are one's own people who've been through this. We're talking about who one has this strange relationship with because they are related to one and yet the other time is another place. Uh, if, if we were transported back 40 years or a 100 years we would find it extraordinary to be back in that time then. We wouldn't understand so much that went on. Now, sorry perhaps I should say more than 40 years because I think within one's own lifetime one would be able to revive it, to go back, to understand and make sense of the smells, the sounds, the tastes, the different styles of music, um, how people spoke, uh, accent, dialect, because accents shifts historically. Um, within the twentieth century it's quite interesting in Britain to listen to how, uh, news announcers speak, how their accents have shifted, how regional accents are brought in, how regional accents are excluded, if one listens-. [Break in recording]
BD: -Similar place in the mouth where you can put words from another time or another place in next to yours and see if they match. I think that place is time, not the other way around. Are you finding that to be the case? [Pause]
AL: I need to think about that one a bit more, um, to test it out in different ways. For me, place is [pause] saturated with emotions as time. And often with place, there are some places I know what the emotions are or, not that I know them, but I can, on one level, account for what they are. But they are other places that I go to that I also feel aware of, to use the Greek expression, uh oh, Latin expression, of the genius lotacy, the, the spirit of the place, the guardian of the place. And I'm not sure what's going on, but I know that it's powerful stuff there and that's an area I've, I've moved around the globe, I've moved sideways and in each place, of course, it has it's own history, it has it's own times, uh, and one seems to turn into [pause] an energy there which sometimes the energy of time, but sometimes it's something more and yeah [pause] I don't know. It's difficult for me to think about that. I, I will think about it. The fact that I find it difficult to focus on suggests that it's got some important energy in there.
BD: I'm thinking that to understand a different time, for me, I have to be able to have an avocation or re-avocation of the place and to enter in that way a series of places superimposed, layered or sometimes smooshed or blended, even slipping in and out of each other and I have a far more powerful sense of time through place than I do place through time.
AL: Certainly for me just, just, uh, drawing a timeline doesn't make much sense unless it has got, and I, I, I'm concrete. I have to be, I have to be concrete. I depend on thinking. That's why I was talking about earlier about the senses. That's how I get into it and place, for me, has more concrete things than, than just time does. Yeah.
BD: We had talked earlier, a little bit, about the sensitivity and the power that go hand in hand with the re-avocation of family. And you've mentioned at least one person in the family that's disappeared. What if they all disappeared? Would we make them up? Do we make up our own family?
AL: Yes. I think, I think we, we, we could do and we, we would do. And in fact, we do make them up I guess. What we're talking about now in 1998 is going to be our vision of their time. It is not their vision of that time which would be completely and totally different and they probably if they were, if we were to meet one of them today and we were to describe what we thought of as their lives, without saying who the person was, they probably wouldn't know who we were talking about or what we were talking about, so yes, and I think it is something that is as changing as our own reconstruction of our ourselves is.
BD: Do that sentence in little pieces, very slowly. As changing as our own reconstruction of ourselves.
AL: We ourselves, as we meet different people, we tell different stories, we try to show different sides of our character, we try to show different sides of ourselves. So we will dress a certain way for this occasion and we will speak a certain way for that occasion. So we are showing facets. We are showing sides of ourselves. And [pause] I think that's just the nature of human beings. We also, as I said earlier, we tell different stories about ourselves. The kind of stories we tell a group of guys over a beer will be different from the stories we might tell a lady's needlework convention, which is different from the stories that we might tell at a conference we're talking at, or a church meeting or whatever. So the stories we tell which are ourselves, which often are our driving energies, uh, and that's how we present ourselves, as, as our past, I think those things there change and the stories we tell change. We forget stories and then suddenly remember them or a brother or a sister or an uncle says do you remember this? And I know my brother occasionally jogs my memory and says, "Hey, Angus, um, how about that? That was happening at the same time and you told me a story about it." And I'd forgotten that that was one of my stories. So the way that we present ourselves, I think, changes all the time, from day to day but if you look at a decade, rather than just the, the small thing, small time, small scale changes, then you see a much bigger change is going on. And if we can take those snips across time as if one, they're like sort of slides, um, for a microscope. You take it here, you take it there and you take it there and even those we can see much more of the changes of how we present ourselves. So that's probably what I mean but and I think our own family history will, will change the same way as we get more information, as we get more understanding, as we get more sympathy or perhaps less sympathy of that situation. Don't you think so?
BD: That makes sense. You keep using the verb see. Can you hear them? Can you hear a multiplicity of voices coming out of your mouth? Or is it your voice? [Pause] Are you a pipe that the wind blows through?
AL: I think [pause] one is both, uh, and I think one needs to be aware of both sides of that. That sometimes one needs to be aware of the voices speaking when one is not in control of them. At other times it's perhaps more appropriate to be more in control of them than others but I think one needs to have both sides of that. I think the second side, uh, when the voices are speaking through one, to someone like myself, and my background and my whole upbringing, uh, it's more frightening, it's more threatening, it's more [long pause] it dislocates. It doesn't mean it's a bid thing but it's, uh, it's an area I feel attracted to and I would be interested in working more on that but I do not know how to do it and I do not know how to do it in a way that's acceptable. And it's part of me. It's, I don't know what it is. Whether it's part of my Swiss ancestry or whatever, that wants to be accepted, that it's important not to be looked on as nuts. Even though I am like, like most of us and-.
BD: You mentioned your brother. Do you ever find yourself startled by saying that sounds like he would have said it? [Long pause]
AL: Not that much. Uh, I'm aware, very well aware of my brother, and very well aware of the things he says because he says some extremely wise things. He's a very sharp person. So sometimes I will take what he said to me and reuse it, uh, and sometimes I attribute it and sometimes I don't attribute it, um, but I've never been really aware of [pause] as it were, channeling his stuff. Uh.
BD: Hmm. You sound like him on the telephone.
AL: Oh, people think we sound similar, yes.
BD: Um-hmm.
AL: Yes. They find it difficult to, to know which one of us is, is speaking. And of course, we think it's perfectly clear. People think we look alike, too but ( ).
BD: This moves into some of the things I remember talking with Henry about and listening to him. He was talking about when he learned a new language. In this case, he was learning English and he was learning to, when he spoke English, think in English sorts of ways that he used his English voice and not his other voice. And I think I'm talking, I think I'm talking on a very concrete level with these questions but it seems to be a very strong issue if he spoke and thought in English voice, did it mute his other voices?
AL: Hmm.
BD: Did he find them again?
AL: Hmm.
BD: You mentioned growing up speaking Greek.
AL: Hmm.
BD: Do you still speak Greek?
AL: No. Not at all apart from about three or four words.
BD: How do you know you spoke Greek? [Pause]
AL: Well, of course I was told and that's basically it. Uh. [Pause]
BD: Where you were living, you would have to have had.
AL: I would have had to, sure.
BD: // They didn't speak English. //
AL: // Because they didn't speak English. // I was very much a rural child. We out in little villages. We're not talking about a metropolitan area like Tokyo. We're talking about, uh, very, very, very, extremely and basically a primitive culture and it was a culture that was closer to the twelfth century than it is to the twentieth century in a lot of ways. No roads. Sorry, there were of course, roads there have always been roads, but they were at the level of paths rather than car roads. There was no electricity, there was no running water, there was certainly no gas. We used charcoal, uh, to cook on. And in the city, while we were there, in Veronica, which is the second biggest city in Greece at that time there, the way we used to keep things cold was every day the ice man and he used to ice. So, uh, you can imagine what it was like out in the villages.
BD: And this is in the 1950s?
AL: In the 1950s. Yeah, um-hmm. The people used to, doctors were very, very rare. People didn't go to them that much. They couldn't afford to go to the doctor. Doctors were kind of higher beings. In fact, the wife of the British Consul General in Greece, uh, when she was having, who was a woman of a fair amount of clout as you can imagine, when she was having her baby, uh, one of her babies, uh, the doctor was drunk and, uh, so her husband had to get a ladder and climb through the window and there was another doctor who the nurses refused to wake up because he was asleep. So doctors were not on the level with [laugh] most of us. And so people used the old folk remedies which were herbs and there were also women in the villages who knew all about them. And one of them in particular was in fact known as the village witch and she sat down on the beach wearing her Turkish trousers but she was an old woman who had been born in Turkey even though she was Greek because the Greeks were thrown out of Turkey in 1922 and she used to sit on the beach, she used to wear Turkish trousers and smoke cigarettes with the men. She was not a nice woman. She had a wall eye and she used to mend the nets, sew the nets and she was the one who do the spells. Everyone in the village knew who she was. And I was terrified of her as a child, of course. And properly I did cross her consciousness because I was a ( ) child in a country, she would have known who I was. We never had anything to do with each other but as a child I grew up frightened of this very, very real witch which is what she was. She was the woman who did the spells. She did the love spells, she would deal with things like abortions that needed to be dealt with, she did the stuff in the village, and everyone was terrified of her. She was the shaman at the edge of society.
BD: When we look for family and we recreate family, that makes us for a moment, the director of the play while we also get to be a character. Where's the power of the story?
AL: Well, our story is another play, isn't it? It's um, it's um, it's a play with a cast of millions which one can't always do in a play because it costs too much and it's too difficult to organize whereas in story or a narrative you can bring in people and one can bring in things and one can do stuff which is almost impossible to do in a play or even a film. Films pale in significance compared to the part of the story.
BD: Was it cold when you saw the witch?
AL: No. It could be, could be very hot summer's days. She was just on the beach. She sat there and she had her little house at the edge of the village as well.
BD: Did she have a goat?
AL: Sure she had a goat. Everyone had goats. Goats were the, uh, the standard things, uh, that everyone had. She probably would have had, she may have had a donkey, too. I'm not sure about that. Not everyone could afford a donkey. No, she probably didn't have a donkey. She would have had a goat.
BD: Did you have a goat?
AL: I had a donkey, uh, called Mary. I don't think we had a goat. I'm rather frightened of goats, in fact and their satanic eyes, their madness. I had lots of other animals. I had several [pause] ( ). That's the Greek word for monkey, [taugh] tortoise, several tortoises, um, I had, we had four dogs, we had God knows how many cats that weren't really domestic. They were feral. And, but, yes I loved animals. I have had animals and people would bring me animals. You know the local farmers would bring me animals and, in the same way they sued to bring huge baskets of grapes and we're not talking about little eighteenth century Marie Antoinette baskets, we're talking about baskets the size of dishwashers and we they would just meet them as they just happened and I, we grew up eating grapes and happy to eat fruit. Had fresh fruit and vegetables all the time. And of course, bread. I still remember the smell of bread being cooked in the tower. In our vacation periods we lived in this thirteenth century tower on the borders of Mount Athos with no electricity, no running water, no road to it. The way we got there, even though it was on the mainland, was there was a white rock and you would stop near the white rock and put a blanket over the white rock and the fishing ship, fishing boat would see you and come over and collect you and take you onto this town here. And we lived in this tower and that was the tower in the village where the with lived and, um I remember walking through the, into the flagstone courtyard of this tower where there would always be like this, uh, sour smell of bread being cooked and there was always bread being cooked on charcoal of course, being cooked there every day. That was one of the things. And in that sense we were quite lucky because we had our own kitchen in the tower. Most of the people who lived there didn't have a kitchen and the village itself had a central bread oven which is of course where everyone went and talked and gossiped.
BD: And told stories.
AL: And told stories. And later on, uh, when Greece tried to get a little more modern up there in the north and they brought in standpipes for each house which was considered a way to try and improve things to make things better. The women were absolutely furious and the reason was because the women used to go down to the well and that was where they talked, told stories, and gossiped.