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Reminders Along the Way

by Christian Roden ’11

Dusty and footsore, my 17-year-old brother, Nathan, and I trudged into Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, one of the most beautiful villages in France, one day this past June. I wondered why I had taken us on a two-day detour from the Camino de Santiago to see the summer home of artist Pierre Daura (1896-1976), who had lived for many years in Rockbridge County. We’d be lucky to find anyone who knew who he was, let alone track down his house. Then a poster for a museum exhibition caught my attention: “Pierre Daura: A Catalan-American Artist in France.” I had been told my experiences at W&L would stay with me for the rest of my life. No one mentioned such a reminder would be waiting halfway around the world.

Seeing Daura’s work was the first of many college experiences that lapped into each other to bring me to the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James). As a high school senior on a visit to campus, I saw the 2007 exhibition of his paintings of the Virginia countryside. His depictions of the mountains caught my imagination; later, as I’d drive down Route 64, House Mountain would herald my imminent arrival in Lexington. I double-majored in art history and English, and under the superb tutelage of Pam Simpson transformed my strong interest in art into a powerful interest into its continually evolving cultural significance. I worked with this interaction firsthand through posts at the Lee House and the Reeves Center.

I could study my tangential interest, ocean liners, only through cultural memory, also an important component of W&L’s culture. That academic subject is uncommon, but Simpson’s research into concrete-block and butter sculptures gave me the courage to apply for a Fulbright grant to work with the Association French Lines, which studies liners in the cultural development and exchange of the 20th century. I received the grant and happily discovered that my French colleagues applied the same principles so important to cultural studies at W&L.

It is because of the Chamber Singers, however, that I found myself in a tiny village in the middle of rural France this summer. The director, Shane Lynch, continually pushed the group to greater excellence than any of us envisioned, and still fostered our joy in music. Inspired by his example, and by a song we sang during my bittersweet final year, I took on a new challenge: hiking the Camino de Santiago. It proved difficult, but I found plenty of encouragement, from my brother and other pilgrims, and from the breathtaking scenery and long history.

On Aug. 3, five weeks and several hundred miles after seeing the Daura exhibition, we arrived at the end, in Santiago, Spain, still dusty and footsore. As we wandered around the crowded city, giddy with accomplishment, I spotted a baseball cap sporting a familiar blue trident. Jess, a 2009 law graduate (I never did catch her last name), was just completing her own trek. That was one final lesson I learned. Your time at Washington and Lee will indeed always stay with you-and reminders will turn up along the way to cheer you on.