We were walking through the backstreets of the quiet town, bundled up and chatting amongst ourselves. We came upon a side street where we noticed a woman carrying firewood into a building from a huge stack outside. Behind her, a great big door was cracked open.
And beyond it, a giant white staircase, with color that extended up the walls and light which spilled in yellow and bright from an unseen window.
It stopped us in our tracks.
We were used to front doors in Italy being particular. Some buildings have enormous front doors with tiny cutout doors which are used every day, so short that you have to duck each time you walk through, some which hide a pitch black interior, others which hint at a lush and green private courtyard within.
But none which had a giant white staircase.
A man came round the corner of the car, and at this point we had been staring long enough to be impolite. I can’t remember exactly what they said, but before we knew it, we were inside the building with them, walking up the giant white staircase to who knew what above.
The staircase led to a room devoid of everything but a grand piano and a painting hanging over it.
We learned that they were man and wife; she an architect, he a painter. They graciously took us from room to room of their home, showing us how each had been designed by the wife, and painted by the husband.
I often stole glances at Michelle and Diana. Was this really happening?
As we were being led around, I felt as though we were visiting the house of a good friend, not strangers we accosted on the street just minutes before. Conversation went deep, quickly, as we learned about them, what they were doing there, and how this house came to be. We spoke of their children, of his motivation in painting, philosophy, and life.
We descended down into his studio, where dozens of his paintings hung on the walls and others were tucked into corners or scattered onto tabletops. Only a fraction of his life’s work, but surrounding us so completely I felt enveloped for a moment in his life and his mind.
Then, in that moment, tears streamed down my face, wetting my cheeks before I even knew myself I was crying.
I was so overcome with the moment, of going in search of nothing, and finding absolute beauty in these people, in their willingness to share, and in the actual beauty of what they shared, that my body knew better not to hold it in, but to rejoice in the feeling.
The pictures I took that day do no justice to what my mind remembers so vividly. But I often think back to that day as a clear example of the beauty and opportunity of life.
We have opportunities to view strangers as potential sources of inspiration, to share what’s beautiful in our lives with others without expectations, and to continually renew the curiosity within ourselves to look through open doors.
The artist was Alzek Misheff, a Bulgarian artist who lives in Italy, and whose work I hope to someday have in my own house but I will always remember the private gallery I was shown. Michelle and Diana both wrote about our experience at the time (almost 5 years ago) and through reading their accounts it’s wonderful to see how each of us took something different from the opportunity.
My own photos were pretty representative of the day: spontaneous (I only had my point & shoot, and not my DSLR with me), and shaky and out of focus, probably due to the emotions I was experiencing.
Michelle has a wonderful photo of the moment of encounter with Alzek and his wife (which I had forgotten existed):