I hired a guy with a dinghy to ferry me out and was met by a young woman who gave me a tour. In the sacristy hung a piece of embroidery — a 25-year-long labor of love made by a local parishioner 200 years ago. It was as exquisite as possible, lovingly made with the finest materials available: silk and the woman's own hair. I could trace her laborious progress through the line of cherubs that ornamented the border. As the years went by, the hair of the angels (like the hair of their devout artist) turned from dark brown to white. Humble and anonymous as she was, she had faith that her work was worthwhile and would be appreciated — as it is, two centuries later, by a steady parade of travelers from distant lands.
I've been at my work for over 25 years now. I also have a faith that it (my work, if not my hair) will be appreciated. That's perhaps less humble than the woman was, but her work reassured me that we live on through our deeds. Her devotion to her creation (as well as her creator) is an inspiration to do both good and lasting work. While traveling, I'm often struck by how people give meaning to life by producing and contributing.
I didn't take a photograph of the embroidery. For some reason, I didn't even take notes. At the moment, I didn't realize I was experiencing the highlight of my day. The impression of the woman's tenderly created embroidery needed — like a good red wine — time to breathe. That was a lesson for me. I was already mentally on to the next thing. When the power of the impression opened up, it was rich and full-bodied...but I was long gone. If travel is going to have the impact on you that it should, you have to climb into those little dinghies and reach for those experiences — the best ones won't come to you. And you have to let them breathe.
Back in town, I had a bela kava ("white coffee," as a latte is called here) and watched kids coming home from school. Two older girls walked by happily spinning the same kind of batons my sisters spun when I was a tyke. And then a sweet younger girl walked by all alone — lost in thought, carrying a tattered violin case.
Even in a country without its own currency, in a land where humble is everything's middle name, parents can find an old violin and manage to give their little girls grace and culture. Letting that impression breathe, it made me happier than I imagined it would.
Traveling in war-torn former Yugoslavia, I see how little triumphs can be big ones. I see hardscrabble nations with big aspirations. And I see the value of history in understanding our travels, and the value of travel in understanding our history.
About This Entry
You are reading "Let the Experience Breathe", an entry posted on 17 July 2009 by Rick Steves.