Here in the village we have several extremely steep hills, including one that leads up to the grocery store and another down to P’s aunt’s house. Unavoidable, really. When it rains, I mean really downpours as it tends to do throughout the winter, the hills become like oil slicks. In fact, they literally become oil slicks each fall when those at the top wash out their containers for the new olive oil and throw the discarded water down the hill. Fun times!
I learned quickly that certain shoes are to be worn when it’s raining and others aren’t, depending not on their water-resistance but on their soles. Traction is key. And then I was let in on a little secret of village life by P:
Cammina dove cammina l’acqua: Walk where the water walks.
So simple and yet so profound. Like so much of what I’ve found here in Calabria.
On each hill, a stream of water flows down one side preventing that area from forming slippery green moss — yes, just like rolling stones! Ergo walking where the water walks allows you to gain the most traction.
It makes sense once you think about it, of course, but that’s a funny thing about moving into a new culture, language, and way of life: you find yourself having to think about a lot of things you’d never even considered before. I didn’t realize just how much cultural knowledge we absorb simply by living somewhere until I moved here and discovered how little I knew. Calabria absolutely has its own rhythm, and getting in touch with it has required me to leave a lot of what I thought I knew across the pond and to learn some basics all over again.
For example, in America one might easily learn the correct way to order and pay for a coffee at Starbucks or the technique of getting in and out of a warehouse-type store in 15 minutes flat. These bits of knowledge are totally useless to me now.
On the other hand, over here, the ability to identify different kinds of winds can mean the difference between clean sheets at the end of the day and laundry spotted with ash from Mount Etna or sand from Africa. Knowing when and how to prune olive trees can mean the difference between enjoying your own olive oil year-round and having to hang your head in shame and buy it from the neighbors.
Most people who were raised here just seem to *know* about the wind and pruning olive trees; indeed, these bits of knowledge are so ingrained they don’t even seem like things “to know” to them. And yes, this can make a newcomer feel quite stupid sometimes.
Learning the basics as an adult is a uniquely humbling experience.
I’m someone who has a natural aversion to being told what to do, so moving here has forced me to learn to trust tried and true ways when the situation calls for it. If you know anything about me, you probably know I love the idea of taking the road less traveled and making a path, but moving here has also reinforced in me an equally important concept:
Don’t reinvent the wheel.
While forging our own paths in life is admirable and even desirable, we must also remember there is always something we can learn from someone else who has been in a similar situation and who has learned certain lessons so we don’t have to — someone who is willing to share that knowledge without an expectation of anything in return. Sometimes it’s as basic as the best time to go buy bread in the morning or the best way to clean a copper pot, but the instruction can go much, much deeper if we allow it.
For those of us who pride ourselves on being independent, though, this can be an extremely difficult lesson to learn. I’m still not entirely comfortable asking for help, but I’m getting better at recognizing when I need it before I get a to a breaking point — yet another gift I have given myself by moving here, where I was forced to accept that sometimes there was simply no alternative to asking for help.
To be sure, separating out the useful, vital, wheel-inventing advice from our own ways can be tough, and it’s a uniquely individual process. Sometimes we just have to slide down that hill on our bums and learn lessons for ourselves. And that’s OK too, so long as we’re consciously doing it for our own reasons and not simply being stubborn in the face of perfectly prudent advice and experience.
But we should always pay close attention so we don’t miss those times when we should not only ask for but also accept advice, walk where the water walks, literally go with the flow, and let others show us the way. There’s just no reason to make life harder than it already is by ignoring help out of pride, stubbornness, or sheer stupidity. Choosing to not reinvent the wheel also leaves us with more emotional and physical room to explore and devote time to what is truly important to us — and to live more simply and with purpose.