Going home, genetically

going home genetically

More than twenty years ago, my then-boss Sharon took a trip to Africa. She took a balloon trip across the Serengeti, and did everything that moderately wealthy people do when they visit Kenya; I think she even stayed at Treetops.



As she showed me the pictures she took there, she said something that echoes in my head to this present day: “It was strange there. It felt familiar. They say our first ancestors came from Africa, and maybe we feel at home there.”



I’ve thought about that statement many times since.



My friend Bill, Irish by descent, spent his honeymoon in Ireland. He visited the Burren in the western part of the country – a strange stark landscape, with limestone moonscapes – which also happened to be the traditional ancestral country of his family. “It was eerie,” he told me. “It was like going home.”



And then there’s me.



Last October Partner and I went to France, and spent four or five days in Normandy. I loved it. It was perfectly wonderful: green fields, grey seashores, tiny fussy villages, narrow streets, ancient farmhouses, medieval ruins.



I felt at home there.



My DNA analysis from 23andme.com tells me that my mother’s DNA stems from Doggerland, a now-submerged country along the North Sea, contiguous with Normandy.



Well, what do you know about that?



My genes felt at home there.



When we were in Caen in October, I saw a little place across from our hotel window: Pizzeria la Neustrie.

Neustria? It rang a faint bell.

I looked it up. Neustria was an area in northern France, back in the late Dark Ages. It was, in fact, most of the northwest of France.

I like thinking of this, even though it’s the memory of a pretty barbaric time. I’ve read Gregory of Tours, and I know that modern France and Germany were a patchwork of principalities and kingdoms in those days, full of petty tyrants and evil queens and benevolent squires. If you didn’t like the area, or the local king or queen, you just put your things in a cart, and rode down the lane a few miles, and you were in someone else’s kingdom.

Of course, this assumes that you were able to leave your home. Most people weren’t. Most people were desperately poor, and unable to leave their homes, even if the local queen was drinking out of a human skull (as I seem to recall Gregory of Tours recounting).

But what’s all this? It’s fifteen hundred years later, and everything seemed quiet and charming when we were there, in Caen and Bayeux and Honfleur and Paris.

And, too, 23andme.com has identified that part of my ancestry comes from Doggerland, which is the land around the English Channel. Which is to say: Neustria.

I am a Neustrian (partly). And proud of it.

Bring me a drink in a human skull.

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