I have mixed feelings about loving the work of Lawrence Durrell. His history with women is compromising and some of the topics he touches on are questionable and yet I’m fascinated by the way he structured the Alexandrian Quartet. His style of writing draws me into the language and not just the story. I reread it again and again and each time I find something new to love.
The stories he weaves around the city of Alexandria 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. In some ways, 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. In more than one instance I’ve noticed that we speak the same language and share the same vision of the world.
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
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 then 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.
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 makes 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 that we mistakenly attribute to a group of people alone.
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.Lawrence Durrell – Spirit of Place
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.