Pomegranates! I never even saw a pomegranate until I was fifty-something, browsing in an open-air market in Cairo. I picked one up, sniffed, and rolled it between my palms until the shopkeeper, who had no doubt seen this clueless behavior before said, "Can I help you, madam?"
"What is this?" I asked.
After a few quick squeezes to soften the skin, he pressed his fingers firmly into the leathery fruit and pulled it apart. Red popped out in all directions. Brilliant, shiny red - of poppies and rubies, cardinals and lipstick.
"Try," he said.
"What? The seeds?"
I could tell his patience was wearing thin; so I picked one, one lonely seed from a mound of hundreds.
That's all it took. The mostly sweet, slightly sour juice burst into my mouth as I crunched the kernel.
I bought that one, three more and came back each week for a fresh supply.
So you can imagine my excitement when I arrived in Montenegro to find pomegranate trees in almost every yard, scattered through open fields and along remote hiking trails. A neighbor kindly shared a handful of her tree's abundance, and I've spent the last hour removing seeds.
Pomegranates make me work for their goodness.
But the reward is worth the wait . . . that is, if I can successfully wait. The temptation is great to pop a few along the way. Just one seed here, a handful there.
Excuse me – sorry to eat in front of you. Come to Montenegro, and I'll share.
There's only one way to find out. I google World-Wide Labyrinth Locator and hold my breath. I optimistically tell myself that the chances are good. After all, as of October 10, the number of labyrinths listed on the Locator was 5455 in 85 different countries.
I scroll down past Mexico, and there it is – Montenegro. I quickly click to pinpoint the exact labyrinth locations and find. . .one. But at least there's one. Where? Hopefully, it's not up one of those precipitous one-lane mountain roads I've read about and vowed to avoid. No! As fate or geographical coincidence would have it, the one Montenegrin labyrinth is in Kotor – the next town over – an easy 20-minute drive from our apartment, in the Cathedral of St. Tryphon. I enlist the help of a new friend, Olga, and the search is on.
We weave our way through the pedestrian-only streets of Kotor's Old Town before the first busloads of tourists arrive. The two-towered cathedral is all ours, silent except for the caretaker setting up racks of souvenirs at the entrance. Strange that the interior of the building doesn't feel as old as the 1166 date inscribed on one of its towers. No ancient remnants of charcoaled columns and chipped facades; but airy brightness of smoothened edges and whitewashed stones.
We would later learn that much of the church was renovated following several earthquakes, the last in 1979. The labyrinth is one of the newest additions, created in 2001 when the cathedral's floor was rebuilt.
I spy the labyrinth immediately – or the center of it – feet away from the altar. Benches cover two sides, but I can make out its octagonal shape. Its gleaming marble stripes of gold and cream feel like a smile, a familiar welcome to this pilgrim seeking its path. A path
no wider than my own narrow foot.
Olga must think I'm crazy when I ask her to approach the caretaker with my request to move the benches so we can walk it.
But she does.
And, miraculously (well, we are in a church), he says "yes."
I half walk, half tiptoe toward the center, balancing myself in more ways than one. Olga, who has never encountered a labyrinth, walks inquisitively around the outer edge.
Just as I arrive in the center and inhale a breath of gratitude, the caretaker returns in a rush, announcing something urgent in Montenegrin. He reaches the benches and begins realigning them. Apparently, the arrival of a tour group is imminent, and our private moments with the labyrinth are over. Grateful for his cooperation, we help him, then gather our belongings and leave.
I turn around at the door and return the labyrinth's smile. I wish it could answer my lingering questions. Who decided to build you? Why? For what purpose? Do people ever walk your path or even know there's more of you hidden under benches?
Questions for another day. Today's joy is more than enough.