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III Premio de Periodismo Ciudad de Cáceres Fundación Mercedes Calles y Carlos Ballestero

“Travel, set out and head for pastures new.
Life tastes richer when you've road-worn feet.
No water that stagnates is fit to drink
for only that which flows is truly sweet.” - imam Al-Shafi
and travel I have...20 years ago I set out from a frozen, snowy place somewhere near the top of the world. I happened to be born in the last city of any real size in, what some people have called, the New World. A place where the fabled Alaskan highway starts and the true great north opens up and skids across the tundra and ice all the way to the North Pole. It then took me 2 decades of wandering to come across those words written 12 centuries ago by Imam Al-Shafi writing in a desert of sand instead of snow, but the moment I read them, I realized that at least for me, they were as true as the laws of gravity that cause sweet water to flow.
...And so I started my acceptance speech in the 15th century place just up the hill from my Almohad refuge here in Caceres. The foundation that I walk by everyday was the scene of the ceremony, bigwigs a plenty and it even looked like I was wearing one. One of the national newspapers even picked up the news item in our usually overlooked forest of dehesas.
Many thanks to those at the foundation, I can truly say it was a pleasure

Entire Speech (Spanish below it)

“Travel, set out and head for pastures new.
Life tastes richer when you've road-worn feet.
No water that stagnates is fit to drink
for only that which flows is truly sweet.” - Imam Al-Shafi

and travel I have...20 years ago I set out from a frozen, snowy place somewhere near the top of the world. I happened to be born in the last city of any real size in, what some people have called, the New World. A place where the fabled Alaskan highway starts and the true great north opens up and skids across the tundra and ice all the way to the North Pole. It then took me 2 decades of wandering to come across those words written 12 centuries ago by Imam Al-Shafi writing in a desert of sand instead of snow, but the moment I read them I realized that, at least for me, they were as true as the laws of gravity that cause sweet water to flow.

Some 240 months later, standing here in a 15th century palace on a continent that some have called the 'Old Worlde', I look back at the course my travelling river has taken me and I realize that all the twists, turns and drops that I have come against make up the very substance that has shaped and moulded me as a person. Every one of those bends in my river, whether I chose to accept it at the time or not, has been a learning opportunity. As one of my favourite authors, Lawrence Durrell, once said, “Travel is the outward expression of an inward journey,” and indeed it seems that the further away I've gone from that remote city on the Canadian prairie, the deeper I have delved into myself.

Perhaps it’s because from every gully, gorge or plain that I've met, I've come to realize that each different point has offered me a new perspective on what I was seeing around me. At times it was the physical aspect of my surroundings that gave rise to sudden epiphanies...the first being while I was swimming off of the Florida Keys in late December under a blazing sun. Amidst the curious barracuda that I was snorkelling with I came to the very Canadian realization that in most places in the world 6 to 7 months of the year did not have to be lived with painful reality of 30 below temperatures and the constant threat of frozen ears. Since that day I became what I call a climactic refugee.

More often than not though, these perceptual satroris have come to me while meeting and interacting with the people of the places I found myself surrounded by, the locals like Angel and Carmina in my article. It might have been a homeless person in Poland, a taxi driver in Yemen or aspiring footballers in Zimbabwe; it’s the people who have turned my travel into something more than the physical equivalent of flipping through a magazine, it’s them who have shown me completely different views of things that I had until then thought static.

We are all products of our environment and the landscapes that surround us. The way we see and experience the world, depends greatly on where we are standing at any given moment on the globe. Staring south across the Caspian sea, out over Alfred Nobel's polluting oil derrick legacy in Baku, Azerbaijan and realizing that the black and white portrait the news media paints of the Iran of the mullahs is as caricatured as the portrait some hold of the Spaniard as a flamenco dancing bullfighter or even more unfortunately, closer to home here in Spain, the view that some hold of Extremadura being an underdeveloped desert. I will never invite people into my home the same way after experiencing the true meaning of hospitality sitting with Bedouins and a Cacereña flanking the border of Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and I now refuse to simply swallow the facile narrative beginning with the letter ‘T’ that we are always told of these people. Each curve has changed me deeply.

And while I can say that travel has led me to learning, it's also led me to writing, which in turn has led me to be standing in front of you today.

At first I scribbled in notebooks, hoping to make these new sensations I was feeling last just a little bit longer before they disappeared in the abyss of my faulty memory. For the first years of my travels, I never even carried a camera, hoping to force myself to catch the emotions, feelings and ideas on paper and thus make them live awhile longer. Notebooks became laptops and eventually I found myself publishing in newspapers around the world, but there was something about writing that always made me feel a little self-conscious. It's a different art than the other one I practice, music. When I play music in front of a live audience, the reaction is immediate. I instantly know whether the thing we are creating is worthwhile or not. But staring at the screen of a computer, the only reaction you get is the blinking self-doubt of the cursor.

I think that now, looking out at the world from my current Almohad refuge perspective here in the Old Town of Caceres, just across from the millennial wall that I sincerely hope my newborn daughter Nur will still be able to enjoy when she's my age, that this prize and the people of Caceres have taught me a new lesson. And it's a lesson that I would like to reflect back to Caceres and the people that have welcomed me into their community. Sometime teachers aren't the best students but this is one lesson I'm sure we can all take on.

This prize has taught me to really believe in what I do and more importantly, what I write, even if that blinking cursor gives me nothing more than doubt. It's shown me that chances have to be taken, even if your neighbour, who hasn't changed their curtains in 43 years tells you the risk is too great. The perspective I have and write about of this city may be different from some of those who were born here, but I know and love many Cacereños, who like me, see it slightly differently. We have made proactive choices to stay and make our lives here when we could choose to live anywhere else in the world, and we do so for a reason. We have seen other perspectives and are able to see things like the Torre de la Hierba in an orange light at sunset and see a different future, one where this beautiful city has come into its own and taken its rightful place on the world's stage; part of a world in which this prize would no longer be necessary.

Thank You

En Castellano

Viaja, encamínate hacia nuevos pastos.
La vida sabe más sabrosa cuando se prueba con pie fatigado.
Ningún agua estancada es buena para beber
porque solo el río que fluye es en verdad manjar deseado.  Iman Al Shafi

Y viajé… Partí hace 20 años de un frío y nevado lugar próximo a la cima del mundo. Fui a nacer en la última ciudad que puede considerarse como tal, en lo que algunos han denominado el Nuevo Mundo. Un lugar donde comienza la legendaria autopista de Alaska y el verdadero norte se abre camino y se desliza por la tundra y el hielo hasta el Polo. Después de un par de décadas deambulando encontré esas palabras escritas en el siglo XII por el Imán Al-Shafi, en un desierto de arena en vez de nieve, pero en el momento en el que las leí, me di cuenta de que, al menos para mí, eran tan ciertas como  la ley de la gravedad que hace fluir esa agua deseada.

240 meses después, en un palacio del siglo XV de un continente que algunos han denominado el Viejo Mundo, echo la mirada atrás hacia el curso del viaje que me ha traído aquí y me doy cuenta de que cada vuelta, meandro y escollo que he encontrado en mi camino constituyen la esencia que ha moldeado y dado forma a mi persona. Cada una de estas curvas del transcurso de mi río, lo aceptase o no en su momento, han sido una oportunidad de aprender. Como dijo en una ocasión uno de mis autores favoritos, Lawrence Durrell, “Viajar es la expresión exterior de un viaje interior” y, de hecho, parece que cuanto más me he alejado de esa ciudad remota en las praderas canadienses, más he profundizado en mi ser.

Quizás en cada uno de los barrancos, gargantas y llanos con los que me he encontrado, me he dado cuenta de que cada momento diferente me ha ofrecido una nueva perspectiva distinta de la que tenía. A veces ha sido el aspecto físico de lo que me rodeaba lo que me ha llevado a una epifanía… la primera vez nadando en los cayos de Florida a finales de diciembre bajo un sol resplandeciente. Mientras buceaba rodeado de barracudas curiosas, llegué a una conclusión muy canadiense, de que en la mayoría de los sitios del mundo no tienen por qué vivirse 6 ó 7 meses al año en la dolorosa realidad de 30º bajo cero y el constante peligro de que se te puedan congelar las orejas. Desde entonces me convertí en lo que yo denomino un refugiado climático.

Más a menudo de lo que parece, esta revelación ha surgido ante mí al conocer y relacionarme con la gente que me rodeaba en cada lugar, como Ángel y Carmina, quienes aparecen en el artículo. Han podido ser un vagabundo en Polonia, un taxista en Yemen o aspirantes a futbolistas en Zimbabwe los que han convertido mis viajes en algo más que la simple ojeada a una revista y me han mostrado puntos de vista diferentes de cosas que hasta entonces consideraba estáticas.

Todos somos fruto del ambiente y los paisajes que nos rodean. La manera en la que vemos y experimentamos el mundo, depende enormemente del lugar donde nos encontremos en ese preciso momento. Mirando fijamente hacia el sur del mar Caspio, sobre el legado de contaminación de petróleo de Alfred Nobel en Baku (Azerbaiján) te das cuenta de que el retrato en blanco y negro que las noticias nos presentan del Irán de los mullahs es tan caricaturesco como la visión que algunos presentan de los españoles como bailaores de flamenco, toreros o, incluso más desafortunadamente, cerca de nuestro hogar aquí en España, la visión de Extremadura como un desierto subdesarrollado. Nunca invitaré a alguien a mi casa de la misma manera después de experimentar lo que realmente significa hospitalidad sentado con beduinos junto a una cacereña flanqueando la frontera entre Arabia Saudí y Yemen, y ahora rechazo caer en la simplista visión que etiqueta a estas personas con una palabra que empieza con “t”. Cada curva me ha marcado profundamente.

Y al igual que puedo decir que viajando he aprendido, viajar también me ha impulsado a escribir, lo cual ha hecho posible que esté aquí hoy delante de ustedes.

Al principio garabateé en mis cuadernos, tratando de que esas nuevas sensaciones que sentía durasen algo más, antes de desaparecer en el abismo de mi imperfecta memoria. En los primeros años de mis viajes, no llevé conmigo ni siquiera una cámara de fotos, intentando esforzarme en captar las emociones, sentimientos e ideas en papel y que así pudieran vivir algo más. De cuadernos pasé a ordenadores portátiles y de ahí vi cómo empezaban a publicar mis artículos alrededor del mundo, pero hay algo al escribir que siempre me ha hecho sentir inseguridad. Es un arte diferente a otros que practico como pueda ser la música. Cuando toco en directo delante del público, la reacción es inmediata. Sé al instante si lo que estamos creando merece la pena o no. Pero al mirar fijamente la pantalla del ordenador, la única reacción que obtengo es el parpadeo dubitativo del cursor.

Creo ahora, mirando el mundo desde la perspectiva de mi refugio almohade aquí en la parte antigua de Cáceres, justo enfrente de la muralla milenaria, que sinceramente espero que mi hija recién nacida Nur pueda seguir contemplando cuando ella llegue a mi edad, que este premio y las gentes de Cáceres me han enseñado una nueva lección que me gustaría devolver a Cáceres y a quienes  me han acogido en su comunidad. A veces los profesores no somos los mejores estudiantes pero esta es una lección que seguro todos podemos aplicar.

Este premio me ha enseñado a creer en lo que hago y, lo que es más importante, en lo que escribo, incluso si el cursor del ordenador no me muestra más que dudas. Me ha enseñado a arriesgarme, aunque el vecino, que no ha cambiado las cortinas en 43 años, te diga que el riesgo es inmenso. La perspectiva que tengo y desde la que escribo de esta ciudad puede ser diferente de la de algunos que han nacido aquí, pero conozco y amo a muchos cacereños que, como yo, la ven con una mirada distinta. Hemos decidido quedarnos en esta ciudad de una manera premeditada y hacer nuestra vida aquí cuando podríamos haber escogido vivir en cualquier  otra parte del mundo, y lo hemos hecho por una razón. Hemos visto otras perspectivas y podemos contemplar la Torre de la Hierba con una luz anaranjada en la puesta del sol y ver un futuro diferente, aquel en que esta hermosa ciudad crea en sí misma y ocupe el puesto que se merece en el mundo; entonces a lo mejor este premio ya no será necesario.



Anonymous said…
I enjoyed reading your article about Caceres published in the T.O. Star.
Canadiense living in Toledo
Troy said…
The version that appeared in the Star was more heavily edited than the one that was published in London, but that said, the one in London isn't available online, only a portion.

A Canadian in Toledo sounds just about as lost as one here in Caceres. Glad you liked the piece.

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