I’m staring at this branch of berries growing on an ancient stone wall within the Monasterio de Santa María la Real de la Oliva in Ujué, Spain. It’s our last day of location scouting in the Navarra region of the country, and it’s been a long and cold eight hours on the road, with little to show for it. And La Oliva did not look at all promising when we arrived— a boring stone wall and an iron gate that remained closed to us, because the monk in charge of visitors was not around.
I was still missing three major locations for our film on St. Ignatius of Loyola: a courtroom for the Inquisition Tribunal, a romantic palace garden, and a stand-in for the Dome of the Ascension in Jerusalem. As the afternoon wore on, it was looking increasingly likely that we would either have to extend our scouting trip or return for a third (and once again expensive) location scout. My butt was already starting to feel the numbing pain of the additional 40 hours in the air that this would require.
As I was attempting to understand the rapid Spanish being spoken by our location coordinator to some Navarra official on the phone, I stopped to take a good look around me: Vast plains bursting with spectacular color – even in the rapidly encroaching Iberian winter – leading up to distant mountain ranges that were playing host to a score of furious lightning clouds.
Right at my feet, a minimalist tableau of fallen autumn leaves and large acorns freshly dropped, ready to settle in for their long winter nap.
I took a deep breath, and felt the brisk Navarra air fill my lungs and threaten to take my core temperature half a degree lower instantly. I shivered and, more than any other time during that whole trip, wanted to pack it all up and go home.
Just then, I heard the rusty gate swing open, and a friendly old Cistercian monk led us over the threshold into what would, in five months time, become our Courtroom, Garden, and Dome of the Ascension locations all in one handy spot.
And so I snap a photo of the mottled stone wall, to remind me of the Mandelbrot patchwork of ruby red branches struggling to break free of their roots. Not all branches end in a berry — but you have to get to the end to find out.