Treasure Islands and Lessons They Teach

I often wonder how many opportunities we miss in our life, how many beautiful things we fail to notice every day, how many good people we pass by on our way forward. Does it ever occur to you that we may never find out how many chances we’ve been given? At times this understanding scares me. But it also makes me more attentive to the things that seem trifles at first. And I try to say ‘yes, let’s do it’ whenever I can instead of being sceptical, get up from my comfy couch and go, and try, and persist. Because it’s a real pity to have a treasure island map right under your nose and not notice it and then blame your life for being plain and boring. Don’t you think so?

I’m pretty sure each of us can come up with numerous examples of one’s or someone else’s being in the right place at the right time, or avoiding a disaster after not going somewhere, or meeting a person of one’s life by chance in the place you’d have never thought you would ever go to. Do you remember that Sliding Doors movie? Have it ever happened to you to find an answer when and where you least expect it? Or to be surprised  or even saved by something or someone you completely underestimated or never took into consideration?

Though being a convinced fatalist, I do believe that nothing happens, especially good and special things and experiences, to those who are not curious or eager to learn, to those who judge things and people without knowing them, to those guided by stereotypes and commonplaces, or those too lazy to care, or too distracted to notice. But if you try hard, insist on living every single moment, you will find not one but many maps that will lead you to the treasures of your life.

Navigating through life, I was blessed to run into numerous treasure islands. I’ll tell you about some of them. And even if they might seem minor to you, try to view each of these experiences as something that made me, in one way or another, a richer, a happier, maybe, a better person.

Some weeks ago we took a couple of our friends to Pisa. They had never been there before. The biggest part of such short visits start and finish in the Square of Miracles: to see the Leaning Tower is a must, of course. But we convinced our friends to have a walk along the charming streets of the city till the Arno embankment. They truly enjoyed the experience. On our way to the river my husband noticed a book store. We decided to enter and have a look. After some minutes of browsing through piles of some second-hand books, Massimo suddenly cried out: ‘Look what I’ve found!’ It was an old Italian edition of The Airport by Arthur Hailey dating back to March 1978. My father had that book once but after his death I didn’t manage to find it in out home library. We looked for it in numerous book stores in Rome, on the web, but as far as it hasn’t been republished recently, my whole effort was in vain. And then, all of a sudden, it is there, in Pisa, found by chance in a place where least expected. And it cost me only €0,50! Incredible!!! It’s then that I thought how important it is not to stop on surface: keep on walking beyond the Leaning Tower to explore the city, keep on digging among millions of books, go on with your search of something you really want to find till you succeed.

Last Saturday we were in Florence to see the Libero exhibition by Ai Weiwei. I first went to Florence almost 4 years ago: my husband took me there as a present to celebrate my 25th birthday. Those were my first months in Italy, I accepted to have meals only at restaurants. What a snob I used to be! Once my husband insisted we had a panino in a tiny place near the house where Dante was born and lived. I do not know how but he managed to convince me. How right he was! Since then, we keep on coming back there for a glass of red wine and a delicious sandwich every time we are in Florence. This Saturday after the visit to the exhibition we were very busy chewing our superb schiacciata (special type of Tuscany unsalted bread) with lardo (finely cut pig fat), pecorino toscano (amazing Tuscany cheese) and walnuts at the Da’ Vinattieri in Via Santa Margherita, 4r, which is the name and the address of the place, by the way. At a certain point a group of three passed by and stopped not far from us. They were a married couple of foreigners in visit to Florence and their guide. The Da’ Vinattieri was full of young Italians, some tourists, everyone was enjoying their simple but delicious lunch, sipping wine in the street, chatting. The couple seemed curious and attracted. The guide destroyed the atmosphere, saying with a certain note of disgust: ‘nothing special, just sandwiches’. Nothing special? Just sandwiches? Oh, no! These are very special sandwiches, on the contrary. But we decided not to intervene. It’s business: your guide will always take you to a restaurant of a friend of his or her, you’ll eat, maybe well, pay the bill, maybe not unreasonable, and your guide will keep on making his or her business with the friend in question. That’s how it usually works. What kind of business? Who cares. The thing is that you’ll never try the special sandwich. Not even once. And it’s a pity.

I was sorry for the couple and wished they would have a decent lunch, not worse than ours. But the whole situation reminded me: never judge by appearances. False maps might lead you into a trap or for sure far from the real treasure.

Six years ago an Italian guy made me birthday wishes via e.mail promising to write to me from time to  time so that I could have some practice before my final university exam in Italian. But he never did. So I started for Italy to meet him personally and say how mean it was of him not to have kept the promise he gave me. We met and two years later we got married. Now I know that if it had not been for my decisiveness I would never be as happy as I am now with Massimo. It was the lesson I gave to myself: if you desire something don’t be afraid to fight for it, struggle and make any necessary sacrifice. The happiness at the end of the road will be proportional to the hardships of the trip.

Many years ago, so many that I can hardly remember the exact number, I was waiting for my parents in the yard outside our block of flats in Brest, Belarus. We were about to go somewhere nice to have some fun. I noticed a little girl with nice blonde curls. She was younger than me and seemed very shy. I asked her name. We’ve been best friends since then, me and Kat. It is strange to image I could ignore her and never have her in my life, strange and scary.

It is difficult to tell a map leading to a hidden treasure from the tons of old yellowish papers. It is never easy to read such a map and find courage to follow it. It is tough to protect your plan from enemies and not allow sceptics to discourage you. At times it seems next to impossible to stay positive, concentrated, attentive and determined. Every trip you undertake in search of a treasure is a hard one. But the real treasure is always worth it. So, good luck.

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