Tuesday, September 30, 2008
The Art of Hospitality
From Paris to Zurich, I declared that I would absolutely throw out my itinirary. Literally. I cancelled all of my hostels that I'd spent hours reserving before I left the States and said, as it is my motto, fuck it.
As I sat under the "big clock" at the train station in Zurich waiting for Barbara my "host" I had no idea what I was doing....I was in a strange country, that's coffee costed eight dollars for a small cup and there wasn't a "Heidi" look alike or anyone from a Ricola commercial anywhere in sight. When she rode up on her bicycle and recognized me only from a picture I knew staying with the locals was a much better choice than staying alone in a hotel.
The next two days were full of several white wine spritzers (this is the Swiss drink of choice for the ladies) and her roommates were kind enough to cook me fondue, since I was a fan of the "cliches" and upon departure to Milan, they left me a few Swiss chocolate bars (and a map, sicne my sense of direction is for shit), since it was "the best in the world." Which, it is.
The whole experience was such an eye opener.....when Europeans say they want to help, when they open their doors to strangers or when they offer to cook dinner, they genuinely want to. American's say, "come visit" or "absolutely, no problem I'd love to have you over" then when people follow through they're mostly waiting for them to leave so they can get back to their normal routine and not be "put out" having to "entertain."
After leaving Switzerland reluctantly, I hopped on a long (but beautiful) train ride to Italy....where I am now sitting in the garden of a Villa in Tuscany, writing this.
The pictures on the internet looked amazing, but I knew pictures can be deceiving. Not only was I not deceived but my expectations were beyond exceeded. More to come on the shenanigans of Tuscany later on.......
The first day the family of the villa offered to drive me into town, then when it was too difficult to get a taxi (since the town I'm in is so small I'm not sure that it even has a name) they drove through the winding hills in the pitch black to pick me up.
The only other people staying in the villa are a couple on a honeymoon! from Australia and noticing that I'm stranded without food (I didn't think to get a car?) they offered to cook barbecue and share their bottles of red wine, which we enjoyed (after a wine/olive oil tasting) over four hours and talked of life, yoga, travel, spirituality and hospitality.
Traveling has taught me this most definitely; people, are good. We get so caught up in our day to day lives so often that we forget to acknowledge that we're moving about amongst other people just like us, searching for a connection. We walk past each other without making eye contact and turn our heads so often even when we notice that someone else, may just need an extra hand. Rather than putting ourselves "out" we instead, act as if everyone else around us can figure it out on their own, when sometimes if we just offered a little hospitality we both may be better off.
I've had incredible conversations with complete strangers on this trip, people from different countries and of different ethnicities or religions and because we both stopped to engage, to recognize that we are living on this Earth together, no matter how different we may be, we've found even through our differences, we are very much the same.
Everyone can use a little help sometimes....if someone looks lost with a map, stop and ask where they need to go. Individuals are all striving to be happy, to feel like they're living full lives that are of substance. We all want to be healthy, we want our families to be happy; we all get stuck, or confused. We get lost....sometimes literally and sometimes figuratively, but knowing that there people around you going through the same thing, no matter what country you're in is indeed, very comforting and reminds you that we ALL could be a little bit more hospitable....eventually, it may be you that needs a helping hand or a friendly face.