A few days ago, I received an email from an online Camino friend. He was writing to tell me that he had just seen me in a movie.
“Ah,” I thought. “So they made the movie.” And then, “They included my part.” And then, “What in the world have I done??”
Let’s set the scene. I was 17km away from Santiago on the Camino Frances, two summers ago. I’d been walking with my Irish friend, and it was a long, hot day that seemed to never end. We’d had to walk much further than anticipated because all the albergues were full, but finally we found an albergue/pension on a quiet street just off the main path of the Camino.
You know who also found the albergue? A Swiss film crew. It was their last night on the Camino- they’d already been to Santiago, they’d finished filming, they were about to fly home. But then they heard that there was a couple staying in the albergue, and they didn’t have the love story angle for their film, and before I knew it, I was in a green plastic chair in front of billowing laundry and being asked questions about my Camino relationship.
Now, before I get to what I really want to write about, I need to set a few things straight. I was never in a “Camino relationship”, not really. I didn’t have a love story to share, I wasn’t even sure how I had ended up in front of a camera, but then again, that just seemed to be the sort of thing that happened on the Camino. And I remember that on that night, I was overwhelmed, and I probably thought to myself, “Well, why not just tack this onto the list of things that the Camino has thrown at me?”
This happens on the Camino, it’s something I continue to marvel at: how so much life is crammed into each and every day of the walk, how time seems to alter and bend. You meet people and after a couple days it feels like you’ve known them for years. You walk through ever changing scenery and you sleep in a different bed every night and there is just constant motion, constant community, constant stimulation.
And when I sat down for the interview with the Swiss film crew, I was so saturated with Camino experiences that I simply couldn’t keep up. I was still trying to process things that had happened to me weeks before, so I suppose I just sat down on the green chair and thought to myself, “The Camino provides?” and then started answering questions.
I think I’ve only ever told one person, maybe two, about this interview. Because once it was over, it was sort of tacked onto the list of “things that happened on my Camino that I don’t really have time to think about, or understand”. I was so close to Santiago at this point that all I really wanted to do was walk. I couldn’t really think about anything else. (And in fact, the crew asked if I could find them in the morning before I left, so that they could get a few shots of me walking. But when the morning came, I slipped out of the albergue quietly, and headed off towards Santiago).
And that leads me back to my reaction, when I found out about this movie: “What in the world have I done??” It’s not nearly as dramatic as that, I can’t imagine there’s much more than 30 seconds or a minute from me, or from my Irish friend (who was sitting next to me during the interview). But I have to laugh a little, and wonder what, exactly, I was portraying in that film. And what, exactly, the filmmakers wanted from us, how they chose to shape and edit words and images so that they could tell the story they wanted to tell.
They wanted a love story, or at least a piece of one. And my story wasn’t a love story, but I suppose that my Irish friend might have answered differently. And, as you readers of the blog will know, I was caught in my own eternal Camino question: be alone, or stay with others? Ultimately I began that Camino alone and I ended alone, but all along the way, it was a struggle. And I was still struggling with it, right up until the very end.
I remember one question that the interviewer asked us, he said something like, “So, I have to ask it: what happens next with you guys?” And my answer was something like this, “I don’t know. Maybe we’ll get married, or maybe we’ll never see each other again.” As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I was wondering where they came from. I knew I would never marry my Irish friend, but the thing is… hadn’t part of me wondered? Hadn’t part of me wondered at every person I met, every good-looking European guy (and there were so many on that Camino!) who stayed close to my side, who wanted to walk with me, who offered me a hunk of cheese? Love wasn’t exactly part of that Camino journey for me, and yet, it was also in nearly every step I took. There was a point when I had wondered about my Irish friend: “The Camino provides!” they say, over and over, and suddenly there’s a beautiful 6 foot 4 inch man who wants to walk with me, who listens to the same music as I do, who recites poetry, who buys me gummy candy. Maybe I could marry him, I thought.
And maybe that’s what you see, when you watch this film. Maybe that’s what I portrayed, when I answered the questions. Maybe that’s what the filmmakers want you to see and believe.
But that’s only one small part of the story, and it’s a part that’s not entirely- or even remotely- the truth of my Camino. In the past few days, I’ve thought about this a lot, I suppose I’ve been thinking about this all fall and winter, as I’ve worked on my book. What story am I choosing to share? What version of the truth am I deciding to put down on the page?
Once I was having a discussion (or was it a fight? I could never tell the difference) with my ex-boyfriend. I’d just explained my point of view on something, the way I was feeling, how I’d reacted to something he’d done or said. And he exploded, crying out, “But that’s only how you see it! That’s not what happened!!”
What? It was what happened, it was my experience of what happened, which makes it a version of reality.
There are a lot of different versions of the way things happen, the way we choose to remember something, they narrative threads we pick out from our lives, how we arrange things so that we can tell our stories. I think of how, somewhere out there, I’m a very small part of a Camino film, and how it’s telling some sort of story of my experience. One that I might not even agree with. And I think about how, right at this moment, I’m in the thick of writing another version of that story, a larger, more fleshed-out version. But already I wonder, “Is that really what happened? Did I really feel all of those things, say those things? Was that my experience?”
It was a blast being interviewed for a film. It captured something, some small part of my story- one that was reality or imagined I’m not sure. And it’s also been a blast writing this book. It’s been difficult and mind-numbing and even excruciating, but a blast. I’m capturing something. And it is my wildest dream that one day, you might be able to read my story, however I choose to tell it.
Because it just wouldn’t be right to talk all about a Camino film and not share details with you, here is some information: http://santiagoelcamino.com/dvd.html