Progress Report #31: The Spirit of Place

This weekend a friend told me about a book by Lawrence Durell called The Spirit of Place. The book is about Durrell’s belief that individual places have unique energies or spirits, and how he liked to write about a place while physically present within it. My friend was telling me about the book because I’d mentioned to him my plan for September. I’m going to a small town in Germany and a village or two on the island of Crete to work on some passages for my book Street Song. In 1969, right after graduating from high school, I took a train-and-hitchhiking trip through Europe, and I’m including some of my stories from that journey.

While it might seem extravagant, I’d accumulated a lot of miles flying around promoting Wild Parrots, and I figure I’d better use them up before the airlines dump these programs, which I suspect they’re going to have to do eventually. It seemed to me the best way to use them was in service to the book. I thought it might be useful to write these third-draft-quality sections in the towns that the stories actually take place in. It’s an experiment. I’m curious to see how much the place influences the writing. Besides, the amount of time this book is taking has been wearing on me, and it seemed like a good way to inject new life into the work.

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6 Responses to “Progress Report #31: The Spirit of Place”

  1. robB Says:

    I think you are right about air miles.

    Like you, I am into the I Ching. I have found that, like everyone, every place has a home hexagram–the one that comes up the most for them/it and generally operates through them/it. Have fun with that in Germany and Crete.

    Have a safe journey there and back.

  2. Margaret Says:

    Mark, I’m curious: have you had to reconstruct your European experiences from memory, or are you lucky enough to have source materials–say, a big fat journal which you filled at the time?

    • markbittner Says:

      No big fat journal. Mostly memories, a few notes to myself that I made along the way, and a lot of detective work—stamps in my passport, letters home that my mother saved, locating and talking to old traveling companions, a handful of photographs. I love doing that kind of research. I was able to precisely reconstruct the train ride I took from Dusseldorf, Germany, through Austria and Yugoslavia, and on down to Athens. I doubt I’ll use that particular piece of information, but it’s good having it as part of the mental skeleton from which I can hang the meat. Two or three years ago, I went to Hydra, Greece and bumped into a man that I’d been wanting to interview for years. I’d had no idea how to find him. He’s an Hydriot who moved to the United States long ago and happened to be visiting his old home when I was there. I had an important question for him that he was able to answer. I’ve had that sort of thing happen a lot.

  3. Margaret Says:

    Yes, all of those things would work. It’s as though you’re meticulously assembling a mosaic from all these materials. It sounds as though you’ve got the kind of memory that recalls things the elephant would have forgotten. And thank God, too, for mothers who save letters from their traveling progeny!

  4. vicki leon Says:

    Mark, I have the Durrell book but didn’t he pick up the spirit of place idea from the Roman genius loci? I myself have felt it very strongly in ancient sites, like Ostia and Siracusa Sicily and Delphi. more so in Side, southern Turkey (which was once a huge slave trading center). I still remember with gratitude your help with the parrots book I did (rather, redid) a few years back. If you want to see what I’m up to these days, check out my web and blog…cheers!

    • markbittner Says:

      Interesting. I’m currently working on Modern Greek myself. I’ve had long affairs with Russian and Italian, and I’ve flirted with Portuguese and German. Oh, and I took a quick look at that beautiful Mandarin girl, but decided she was going to be too much work given that there was little possibility of our ever having a serious relationship.

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