On a recent all-for-pleasure trip to Portugal, I visited a small village in the northern part of the country, nestled amid the mountainous port-wine growing region. And, of course, I visited a vineyard—and a port wine-making company, arriving just in time to see trucks unloading their grapes into a vast vat where they were first measured for quality and then sent on to begin the production process. I stood in the cavernous rooms with ceiling-high stainless steel barrels learning about how different varieties of port are made, and I came away awed by the fact that here, all grapes are gathered by hand and the entire process is much less mechanized than I had expected. I also visited a small bakery where Manuela was making “four cornered” loaves of bread. She is one of only 12 people who have the skill to make this particular loaf, and she cranks out 1000 loaves every single day, working from morning until 10 p.m. We were allowed to watch her but needed to stay out of the way of her fast-moving hands and elbows, which never stopped moving. (I was so fascinated that I accidentally leaned into the table and came away covered in flour!)
But my favorite event of this particular day was seeing a video made by middle-school students in the village, who conceived of the project and then designed and produced it, using only a couple of smart phones. The video opens with students coming out of a building, which we later learn is a sort of town hall, one by one, walking toward the camera. Then the camera shows us various street scenes, including three formidable women chatting on a street bench and kids playing in a school yard. Slowly, a WELCOME sign appears in the hands of one of the students, who walks toward us beckoning. For the remainder of the video, the students use these signs (all in English) to engage viewers in their town: after WELCOME, we see LOOK, LISTEN, EXPLORE, PLAN, STAY, ENJOY, LEARN, SMILE, and, finally, SPEND! In four minutes, these young students give visitors a sense of their town and its inhabitants, using only a few simple words painted on rectangular signs held by the students as they walked about the city. Traditional Portuguese music played softly in the background. I especially loved the cleverness of building up to SPEND, which is certainly what they want tourists to do. As such a tourist, I felt welcomed by this friendly, seemingly gregarious crowd of kids—and indeed, I did spend, and to my delight the goods they had for sale were all made by local artisans.
I’ve talked a lot about how writing can and does make things happen in the world. And here, on vacation in a country I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting before, I found proof of this insight: my guess is that this very inexpensive video does its job well, introducing visitors and engaging them in this small village. Once again, I see how much writing does in the world today and how much students, everywhere, are writing—and making things happen as a result.