You know that kid in school who, when given an assignment, can’t help taking the prompt in a direction it wasn’t really supposed to go in the first place, and sometimes it means they write something truly great, but mostly it just looks like they just can’t stick to an assignment? Well, that kid was me. (Any former teachers of mine are probably shaking their heads. At least I realize this now, right?) As I sit to write this blog post, I struggle between what I think I should write, and what I want to write. And since I recently vowed to you, whoever you are out there, that I will be honest and write often, I am going to go with what I want. (Even though it was my own self-imposed assignment to begin with.) A couple months ago, a friend and former classmate of mine, Ian McClerin (who is directing a feature film of his own this summer) introduced me through Facebook to his neighbor, Alejandra Rodriguez. Alejandra, a Professor of Spanish and Sacred Theater at Duke University, grew up in Santiago de Compostela. She agreed to meet with me to share stories of her hometown, and so we met, on Saint Patrick’s Day, in a café in Durham, NC.
Looking back over the preproduction of Travel Light., I realize now that my conversation with Alejandra was one of the first times when this film felt real to me, one of the first times I felt like I was getting new textures of Spain that stacks of guide books and countless Google searches couldn’t provide. Alejandra showed me photos of her beloved hometown, small details such as the placements of statues in a cathedral providing the launch-point for epic tales. She said a million beautiful things that fed my imagination, but there was one thing that stood out, one thing that I’ve gone back to again and again as I’ve thought about my hopes for this film. And that’s what, three paragraphs of exposition in, I’m going to write about.
(Don’t worry, more of Alejandra’s stories and insights will be featured in the actual film.)
A person’s character is defined by the land they live on. That’s what Alejandra said when describing the people of Santiago de Compostela. It’s a belief held throughout Spain, she explained. Santiago de Compostela sits in the mountains, veiled in mist, rain feeding both its hills and the poetic, guarded, wittily sarcastic nature of its people. The Meseta of Spain, with its open land, houses an open people, who hold no secrets, who put everything out in the open. The land-to-people analogies can continue, of course, and it got me to thinking about how the land I’ve lived on has shaped my life.
I’ve lived the Carolinas most of my life, but it’s Winston-Salem, this small city I expected to not like very much when I first moved here, that somehow has my heart. Winston-Salem rests in what’s known as The Foothills, the gateway to the mountains. We’re The City of the Arts, a city trying to grow beyond its tobacco roots and build something new, something that will last.
What does my love of Winston-Salem, this town where I went to college and now live, say about me?
Do I love it because this land, this city, reflects where I am in my life right now? I’m so small, on the threshold of this mountain, stretching to become something more, to grow, to see what potential might have been there all along, if I’d only had eyes to see it.
This idea of being defined by land? It’s not that crazy, that foreign. Everyone who makes the pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago believes it, whether they realize it or not. This journey across land, this metaphor, this microcosm of the human experience, with all its challenges and beauty, is supposed to redefine people. Breaking free of the land you live in, the land that shapes you, and going somewhere different… you have to change. I can’t guess how I’ll be redefined by this journey, if I’ll be tougher or wiser or more open to whatever life brings. Not knowing what’s in store scares me. I know the land I live on now… the blackberry patch in my front yard, the creek that runs through Washington Park, the trails of Pilot Mountain… Thus, I know myself.
How will this summer in a foreign land reshape me? -Lindsay