When I was talking to my parents on the phone, describing a day we spent in a knife makers workshop a few weeks ago, my dad said, “You know your Great Uncle was a blacksmith and he used to fabricate things for us out of wrought iron over coal heat.” I was stunned for a moment. I always thought of myself as a good listener and I always spent whatever I time could with my family, young and old. I never missed holiday gatherings (until this year), or birthdays or graduations. How did I miss this story? How many other stories did I miss while running around productively with my planner tucked under my arm? I spent an entire day learning about a man in the mountains of Southern Italy and his trade, and somehow I didn’t know about how my Great Uncle spent his days before he retired and bounced me on his knee?
I have noticed a dramatic difference in the story telling we are exposed to when we are moving at a tourism pace versus living somewhere new. While traveling in Capri, Rome, Florence, and London, for a week or two at a time, I was told the “brochure” story. It was all I had time for and all I could digest in the time I was investing. You know the story. It is the Luau story, which is beautiful and educational, and superficial to some extent, in its packaging. It is truly all I ever wanted to take in during my seven precious vacation days. It is not that these stories were void of learning but they were far from complete. I loved the stories in more “touristy” areas because they came to me. I did not have to work that hard and they were colorfully practiced and animated and served with appetizers. When we moved recently to the Basilicata region of Italy, I was frustrated. What is the story here? I don’t get it?
Living in a home in Southern Italy, nowhere near a tourist destination, we spend our time shopping, chopping wood, walking, going to produce markets. As we attempt to mail things at the post office, the story of this place is slowly revealing itself. It is not in a brochure and since I speak limited Italian, I have to really listen, watch, taste and piece together the richness of where are currently living. The magical part is in going to the story, versus the story coming to me. The understanding is much deeper. The flavors are much more authentic because there is no menu touristico. The picture is more complete because we are a part of the story.
Perhaps when I was at home, I did not work hard enough to go get the story because I thought it would always be there, and that is never the case. People pass on and their stories go with them. It is never to late to listen differently … and to get the whole story.