Friday, June 24, 2011

Vacation debrief, part 1

It was barely a year ago that I renewed my passport and packed a bag, headed for 3 weeks in Vietnam. I make no secret of my love of the far east. That last sentence sounded better in my head, since it implies that one might want to keep such an affection private. Mom, dad, I'm coming out of the black lacquer wardrobe: I love East Asia. (See, isn't that silly?) I have felt more at home there than in my own bed, so perhaps I was asian in a former life. Unfortunately, I don't really believe in past lives, so that probably isn't it, but that doesn't mean that something about the orient doesn't resonate with me. Vietnam always intrigued me, and the travel shows made it look really quaint and hospitable. (Ha!) When Tattoo-girl came along, who is of Vietnamese descent, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to check it out. Except that she wasn't interested. I wore her down though, and the trip last year was a little bit about exploring and experiencing her roots.

My own ancestry is far less exotic, in my opinion. I think I'm like most people in that I associate my ancestral identity with that of my father and his father and his father, and so on. Family research has shown that my oldest known patrilineal ancestor came to Louisiana from Europe around 1720, making me an eigth-generation American. Wait, do you count from the first guy or the first guy to be born here? Does it matter that the guy born in Europe died in America but before it was the United States? Well, however you count it, my 6th-Great Grandfather was the guy on the boat and since he didn't come to Lousiana from Canada that makes me creole, not cajun. I had heard my grandmother say this once and it didn't register with me at the time because I had always associated creole with Caribbean creole, which implies African descent. I just thought I knew more about authentic Lousiana cuisine than anyone who dumped a whole tin of cayenne pepper into a pot and called it cajun food. It's not as important anymore, but once upon a time it was a big deal and being creole was much more preferable than cajun. Creole, as applied in Lousiana, is a word derived from Spanish meaning 'colonist' (not just French, but Spanish and even German) and was therefore used by people who considered themselves more "pure European" than those who intermarried with Native Americans or Africans. America prides itself on that phrase about all men being equal, but the vast majority of us are descended from societies that clung (some of which still cling) to class distinctions and old habits die hard. As proof, every few years, one political party or another trots out the class warfare card and more often than not we play right into it. Three of my ancestors fought in the American Revolution under the Spanish flag of Galvez and yes, a few of them owned a slave or two and fought on the wrong side of the Civil War. But this is also not an entry about slavery or guilt. I don't condone it, I merely understand it in context and we can discuss it later if you'd like.

So where did that first old coonass come from, anyway? Records indicate that he came from Flanders, once an independent region but now mostly coastal Belgium (including Brussels) with a little bit of northeastern France and southwestern Holland. Unfortunately, Flanders is about the same size as Maryland, so one can't just show up and expect to find his ancestral village and distant cousins. To my knowledge, my family has never claimed to descend from royalty, so it was just some anonymous patch of dirt (probably owned by someone else) that Great^6 Granddad walked away from. Nevertheless, I decided that I wanted to go see it and that I wanted to drag Tattoo-girl there too.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Where I was

It's the Eiffel Tower, dummy!