Friday, March 09, 2007

Pilgrimage

I was cleaning my junk over the weekend and was naturally more inclined to sift through my dvd collection for something to watch instead of sweeping up dust. While I have a lot of new movies to go through from a recent raid at Makati Cinema Square, I chose to go with a favorite, Glory, starring Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington (his first Oscar winning role), Morgan Freeman, and Cary Elwes (with whom I had a major crush when he was young and cute, first with Princess Bride and up to Glory).

Before this movie came out in 1989/1990, I professed a dislike for any movies to do with war, especially the American Civil War. It was an era I didn't enjoy reading about, and thought it boring with battlegrounds with names like Gettysburg and Fort Sumter. I knew of friends who were into re-enactments, buying up artillery and dressing in full gear to go marching around on the weekends. It wasn't my cup of tea, and the historical period seemed dark, grimy and politically upsetting.

My best friend dragged me to watch Glory because she said the reviews were good and she knew I had a thing for Cary Elwes. So I agreed to watch it, but wasn't in the mood to appreciate it. I came out two hours later a changed woman. I loved the film, loved Denzel in the role (I still cry watching the scene where he is whipped, the score is perfectly timed with his tears), and had a newfound interest in reading about the war.

I bought the books by Shelby Foote, watched the Ken Burns Civil War miniseries, even considered buying a set of toy soldiers depicting the 54th regiment on the Smithsonian magazine catalogue. While I wasn't going to try to dress up in antebellum dresses and hoist my way to some re-enactment, I understood the passion better.

Back to the dvd, I watched Glory one more time, and remembered my 2004 trip to Boston where I found myself on a pilgrimage to Col. R. Shaw's stomping grounds. There is a cenotaph to the 54th regiment (the first official all-African American Union regiment funded by the state of Massachussetts) and to the colonel on the Boston commons. Between attending a conference in the city, I wanted to pay my respects. We were with a small group who was led by a Boston bred and raised tour leader working for one of the universities, and when we were asked if there was anything or anyplace he could show us, I had asked to be brought to the sculpture. Amazingly, for an expert in Boston city history and geography, he knew nothing about the story of Col. Shaw and the memorial!!! We finally found it on one of the corners of the park, and I shared what I knew of the story of the regiment. Everyone found it amusing that someone from Asia would know something so particular to the park and US history that so many Americans, including our host, knew nothing about. But I got to pay my respects at last and it was a heart warming moment. (Information about the memorial is found on the Celebrate Boston website.)

Later that afternoon, I was to go with the group to do a presentation at Mt. Ida College, a private tertiary institution in Newton, a few miles outside of Boston. The admissions officer there is a good friend, and she and I were chatting in the reception area; she had heard that I had an interesting morning with the group, and I told her about the search for the Shaw memorial. She smiled, and held her arms out and said "This was his house." I was, to put it mildly, floored. She explained that the college moved to the Shaw estate in 1939, and showed me the former main house where the family lived. She said that there have been "sightings" of a ghost believed to be Col. Shaw's widow. I spent the rest of the evening ecstatic at being on the grounds of someone whose life I had merely glimpsed through books and a movie.

As I watched the closing credits of the film, I pulled out the book about Col Shaw and the 54th from my stacks and spent the night reading by candlelight.

1 comment:

Katrina said...

What a wonderful story, Mila! Your life really seems to be enviably full of such rich and varied experiences.

"Glory" was on TV recently. I wasn't in the mood, so I didn't watch it again; but I caught Denzel's whipping scene. It still made me gasp. Excellent movie.

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