I thought about the inadequacy of those words as I said them to Wendy Whiteley, the grand dame of the Sydney art scene. Wendy helped curate our AFAR Experiences event in Sydney this past May. (You can read more about Wendy and our three other curators in “The Songlines of Sydney”) She welcomed us into the former studio of her late husband, the artist Brett Whiteley, and then brought us back to the fantasy garden she has conjured from a landfill in front of her home on Lavender Bay. She shared how her work in the garden helped her deal with her daughter’s death. She introduced us to her dearest friends and told us tales of her incredible creative life. She truly opened herself to us, a group of people she didn’t know, and made a real and lasting impact on us.
So, after I had thanked Wendy, it gave me pause when she responded, “Thank all of you.”
At AFAR, we usually focus on what a visitor gains from experiential travel. But the spirit of Sydneysiders such as Wendy got me thinking about the satisfaction felt by a host.
Another of our curators, Dare Jennings, the founder of the motorcycle brand Deus ex Machina, said, “When I’m in Sydney, I get in the pattern of doing the same things, going to the same places, and seeing the same people. Visitors give me a different view of my own town.” Our AFAR Experiences events have been great opportunities to observe this visitor-host dynamic. For the last three years, we’ve brought together interesting hosts from Cairo, Johannesburg, and Sydney and guests from around the world. We always assumed that the guests would have a great time. And indeed they have. “I never expected to be so touched,” said Robert Grunnah, who came with us to Australia from Austin, Texas. But we also learned just how much our hosts appreciate the opportunity. I was so grateful to all of these locals for sharing with us their time, insights, skills, love of their city, and gusto for life. Yet, here were Wendy and Dare and many others thanking us.
All of this gratitude has served as a reminder that we needn’t turn off our curiosity as we walk the familiar streets of our hometowns. Just as every trip can open our eyes to something new, every guest we host can help us see our home in a new light. And so I’d like to offer another deep, but still inadequate, thanks to all of our Sydney friends, and wish all of you good travels—and good hosting.
This appeared in the August/September 2013 issue.
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