During my stay here in Anghiari, I am learning anew the significance of Martin Buber’s claim that ‘all real living is meeting’. On reflection, what makes life here meaningful for me here is the quality of the encounters I have. It’s what I often write about in these posts. When an encounter has the quality of a meeting, I come away from it feeling quite simply happy and alive.
These moments can happen anywhere – in the piazza, in the bar, in a restaurant, in a shop, in the street, in my house or someone else’s, in the country whilst on a walk, or during an interview. They can happen with friends, acquaintances or strangers. They can be sustained, or brief – ‘a shared smile’, as a friend here said. And they come unplanned. An interview, for example, is planned, but the experience of meeting during an interview isn’t, and can’t be.
I find what happens in interviews interesting. When they are done in Italian, as they mostly are, I don’t get everything that is being said. Despite this, I’ve found it possible to enter into a shared space where something is happening beyond a transfer of information. The content per se is not what matters. There is a connection that feels real, and through that connection I’m able to listen to the other person in a way that feels, well, more whole. This special sort of connection doesn’t always happen, and it comes and goes. But, when it does happen, it’s wonderful.
Likewise, with the experience of a ‘meeting of minds’, finding myself in an interesting conversation (in Italian, English or a mix), about, say, belonging, or ways of living, or language. When these are real meetings, they are not simply an exchange of ideas or a confirmation of beliefs. That life-giving experience of meeting happens when there is a creative element of (re)learning involved, a small epiphany coming from the shared conversation: ‘Ah, yes, so that is what ‘belonging’ means.’
While I do have these experiences in my Sydney life, I’m certainly having them more frequently here in Anghiari, and so I’m wondering what is particular about this place. What makes these moments of undefended openness possible here? On my part, being a learner in Italian makes a difference – it allows me to be un-self-consciously childlike and open. And, the way of life here makes a huge difference – not being in the rush of city life means that people take the time to be present with you. They pause, not looking to the next. And, they are a very generous, welcoming people.
These reflections have in turn led me to reflect on ethical issues involved in doing a blog. I’m very aware of the potential for appropriation on the part of tourists and researchers, and, given the trust involved in meetings, I now feel cautious about reporting conversations or posting photos without permission. (Interviews are different because they are read by interviewees before publication.)