Since I’ve moved to Italy, Lawrence Durrell has become more of a friend to me than just an author whose books I love. I’ve managed to collect most of his books in one form or another and each time I read his work, I prepare myself to be taken somewhere beautiful and interesting. His words are evocative of an important connection that we seem to be mostly unaware of. The inseparable connection between us and the landscape and the ways we inhabit and shape the landscape both consciously and subconsciously and the way that it inhabits and shapes us. We are intertwined.
And so are Lawrence and I. I find in him an echo of myself which is strange to say since he is long dead and yet not dead. On more than one instance I’ve noticed that we speak the same language. He, of course, speaks it better than I do because he has more experience in its use but nevertheless, there are moments when I hear and read myself in him.
I’ve just recently started reading his work seriously and this echoing is interesting to me. Could we be tapping into the same genius of place? I try not to think of it too much and just continue following my path, accepting Durrell as one of my mentors. Like the torch of Hekate, our experience should form a light for others on the path and he is my light in a genre of writing that seems very dim.
Mount Olive, Clea and Justine now play randomly in my iPhone as I walk to and from work. In the midst of all that I am doing, I don’t have much time to read for pleasure so I carve out time in between things. This is my one escape from the pressures of reality. His use of language transports me to another place where I am inspired.
According to Durrell, we as characters are a function of the landscape and the culture that we develop is a product of the spirit of a place. For example, a particular landscape will give you a particular kind of wine or cheese which is cultivated according to the techniques necessary to make its production possible. This, along with the storytelling and traditions it inspires gets blended into the culture that we connect with a particular group of people. Therefore culture is created in tandem with the landscape – the spirit of place – and not just a product of human will.
Just as one particular vineyard will always give you a special wine with discernible characteristics so a Spain, an Italy, a Greece will always give you the same type of culture—will express itself through the human being just as it does through its wildflowers. Lawrence Durrell – Spirit of Place
This is the task of the writer of place – to isolate those parts of the people which is expressed by their landscape. We travel to come to grips with the “Greekness” or the “Spanishness” or in my case, the “Italian-ness” of Italy. An important point that Durrell mentions is that we can’t say, after hundreds of years of wars and resettlement, that there is a pure race of one kind or another. We are the result of countless invasions. It’s the landscape that inspires and continues a sense of identity what we mistakenly attribute to a group of people alone.
So how do we as travellers and explorers cultivate our awareness of this relationship and tap into its essence? The secret lies in identification. We stop the rush of questions and relax our minds, creating a space where the inner self can identify directly with what it senses, becoming apart of the exchange. You have only to tune in, without reverence, idly — but with real inward attention to be able to start building your own relationship to place.
People travel to find their own correspondences. They discover happiness where they feel aligned to and enriched by the soil that that culture represents. In relation to this, I agree with Durrell in saying that unhappiness is caused by people not attending to what the land is saying and not conforming to the hidden magnetic fields which the landscape is trying to communicate to the personality.
All my life I have searched for knowledge and not happiness. But just the other day, after a very long time, I began to feel a sense of natural personal happiness. I suspect that is because I have found a sense of alignment here that resonates with me. This Southern Italian landscape suits me.