open door, open door to the world, The Tin Collector's Tales, 80 tins, trip around the world, Chile, Chiloé Islands, Coquimbo, food, Coni Belmar, Swan Dive, Valeria Serrano, Winds of Andalucía, First Mate's Log, cookies, tin collections, Italy, Spain, France, Rome, Paris, Seville, Venice

Open Door to the World

Many years ago as we were seeing a missionary friend off on a bus trip, another friend turned to me on the terminal platform. “Is there anything more typical of missionary life than traveling?” she remarked. How on-the-nose she was, because Jesus’ “go ye” gives us an open door, a travel ticket to the world.

And even though today’s youth travel a good deal more than my generation did, another young friend of ours described his first journey by plane—with a group of MKs, teenage missionary kids. At their boarding gate, he listened, astounded, to their lively exchange of anecdotes and comments about a dozen-plus airlines and airports around the world. Those kids could’ve written their own travel guide—their parents’ open door had handed them the world.

“I have opened a door for you that no man can close.” –Jesus, Rev. 3:8

Oh, the stories my tins could tell of their world travels…in a score of languages, too. Last week I challenged myself to find 80 tins among my collection that allude to countries and cultures around the world. The jury’s still out, since I’m not finished unpacking yet. For today, we’re continuing south through our open door to Europe.

Stop in GREECE

Tin 21 forms part of the International Door trio which I mentioned last week when we visited India. This one’s decorated with a pale blue-and-white tile mosaic. Its round lid shows a cerulean sky, over a lavender wooden door set in a whitewashed stone wall. Maybe it’s marble, like the Parthenon.

I’ve wanted to see the Acropolis of Athens ever since my freshman Ancient History class with the redoubtable Miss Hamilton. Or perhaps the itch first began when I read the Apostle Paul’s Mars Hill address on “The Altar to the Unknown God” (Acts 17). Wow, talk about an open door for the gospel.

“The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we will live.” –Flora Whittemore

Door to ITALY

Moving on across the Ionian Sea and up the Adriatic, we arrive in the most iconic of Italy’s many intriguing cities. “Welcome to Venice” reads tin number 22, part of a series of European Tour biscuits (cookies) that one of our local supermarkets, Jumbo, offered a couple of years ago. I didn’t manage to pick them all up, but this one, in playful cartoon spirit, shows a gondolier in beribboned hat and striped shirt squiring a pair of lovers around the canals. St. Mark’s Square with its domed basilica, ducal palace, and winged lion lurk in the background.

We continue in Venice for number 23, another small round tin and also part of a cookie series but oh-so-different. Framed in bright metallic blue, this set features gorgeous reproduction paintings on the lids. The Venetian number highlights another gondolier on the Grand Canal at twilight. It reminds me of Cornelia Funke’s wonderful children’s tale, The Thief Lord, which I devoured with my girls. Or Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti mysteries.

Next up in the series comes number 24, a quintessential Italian ristorante, a sidewalk café surrounded by open-air markets and flowering window boxes. I think of the taste and tang of sizzling food and the romantic movie Letters to Juliet, set in Verona. (Plus half a dozen others, perhaps! An Affair to Remember?)

“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

The third in the painting series, number 25, looks out to an azure sea from a marble balcony. A stone urn sprouting poppies sits next to a patinaed garden table. I only have to close my eyes to smell the salt, feel the breeze, and imagine the vineyards and olive groves behind the open door.

When in Rome…

We take a train south to the capital. Number 26 rates as another of my “sock sins”—a purchase made solely for the tin and not for the product ?. Its black-ringed window-like lid caps a vista of Rome that sweeps over Capitoline Hill and the Forum. Think Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday.

Or my daughters caught in a July heat wave. Unlike Hepburn, they never wore such glamorous clothes nor rode around on a scooter, but they did buy frozen bottles of water from street vendors. One of the girls finally got so desperate, she walked into a shop and begged—in a mélange of English and Spanish—to borrow a pair of scissors. When she proceeded to carve her jeans into cut-offs then and there, the Italian guy asked for her phone number.

Next up is number 27, a chocolate brown canister which once held—you guessed it, premium Italian milk chocolate—and showcases a gold silhouette on front. Sophia Loren? And number 28, an octagonal metallic-magenta box of Ghirardelli dark chocolate drops.

I don’t know about Italy, but in Chile when summer temperatures soar, we go for pop and ice cream, not chocolate. Except for those irrational Christmas treats, but who can resist la dolce vita, after all?

As we head up the west side of the boot, we encounter tin number 29, the final installment of the small, round International Doors. It’s one of the plainest tins I own, nothing flamboyant. A brown-and-cream door set into the terracotta façade of a church.

But it holds scope for the imagination. Over the entrance is written “Di porta in porta.” The door in the door.

What might lie beyond that closed door?

Creative ideas run wild and captivate. But sincerely, what if we took advantage of even the smallest open door presented to us? Dear Lord, we could change the world.

“Open the door… It may lead you someplace you never expected…” –Anonymous

We pass fascinating Florence of While You Were Sleeping fame and the stunning seascapes of Cinque Terre, where we definitely must pause in one of the coastal villages of the Italian Riviera for iced coffee and some of Matilde Vicenzi’s lemon cookies. They come in tin number 30, a large canister featuring Mediterranean scenery and a chalkboard on the lid. (I wrote about this one in a post last year.)

When we reach Milan or Turin, close to the Alps, we’ll take bedtime tea with number 31, a golden tin of Soli d’Italia biscotti. Real biscotti, as I learned from missionary Debbie Peck’s wonderful cookbook, isn’t too sweet and isn’t as challenging to master as you might think. I make mine chockful of almonds and orange peel and call the recipe Coni’s biscotti.

Why Coni’s? Chilean teacher Coni Belmar and some of her students dip homemade biscotti in chocolate for unexpected guests in my book Swan Dive. Later, in a story I’ve tentatively called Alpine Aurora, she searches for her family’s lost legacy among the Valdesi Christians of the Italian mountain valleys. A cryptic inscription inside a Turin church tips her off: Lux lucet in tenebris. A light shines in the darkness…through the blessed open door of the gospel.

Sail to SPAIN

We’re going to skip right over the French Riviera (or Blue Coast) for now and move quickly on to the Spanish Riviera (the White and Sun Coasts), or we’ll never make it around the world in 80 tins. Here’s Barcelona, Valencia, Picasso’s Málaga, and Alicante, the port city where we meet number 32, a little square spice tin of pimentón dulce, a type of ground sweet pepper (paprika) which hails from Spain.

Of course, I bought it in Chile and used it in my Chilean kitchen. Almost all Chilean dishes begin from scratch with a sofrito base, a sautéed blend of herbs and spices usually including pimentón or ají de color, as it’s sometimes called. Although the indigenous peoples handed down many of the ingredients in our criollo cooking, we inherited a lot from the Spaniards, as well.

Some parts of Spain, Andalucía in particular, resemble the central valley of Chile, or even the Elqui Valley near where we live in Coquimbo. At any rate, enough so that I can identify with the dust and dryness and never-dying winds. The searing summers and bone-chilling winters. And the cuisine that features fish and seafood and countless varieties of olives and citrus.

As we pass into southern Spain, we’ll discover such Andalusian gems as the amazing Moorish Alhambra Palace of Granada, the Royal Alcázar in Seville, and the historic Atlantic port of Cádiz. And tin 33, a metallic green number that might resemble an oil can with its spout, except for the rose-bedecked gypsy maid decorating it. She is advertising oil, though—La Española olive oil.

While maravilla oil (sunflower or canola) remains most common in Chilean gastronomy, more and more people use olive oil for special dishes. Though we make our own perfectly good product, the imported brands from Spain or Israel head the popularity list.

It’s a Spanish Classic

…so I’m not really sure why the golden-green liquid ever went out of style here in Chile, unless because it costs like gold! But in fact, even on the Iberian Peninsula, the olive oil-or-butter debate forms a sort of invisible culinary border between the Arab descendants of the south and the Basques, Catalans, and their French neighbors to the north.  

“Old ways won’t open new doors.” –Anonymous

Everything here conjures a feel of ancient history—art, architecture, culture, and even the traditional divisions. Like separatist groups in southern Chile (which I fictionalize in my First Mate’s Log series), northern Spain today festers with ethnic factions demanding recognition, representation, special rights, and even independence.

Like—God bless us—nearly everywhere, this place cries for a wide-open door to positive change. As the character Valeria Serrano senses during her internship in Seville (Winds of Andalucía), the Spanish nation has only begun to heal from the atrocities of their Civil War almost a hundred years ago. You’d think they’d have long ago recovered from the Franco regime, but…no. It’s hard to breathe fresh air unless you open up. It’s hard to wash the dirt away without the living water.

“The life you have led doesn’t need to be the only life you have.” – Anna Quindlen

And genuine change, for all of us, has to happen on the inside before the outside. An open heart along with an open door.

Cross to FRANCE

I’ve digressed enough. Let’s backtrack and see the sights in la belle France. Bonjour de France, number 34, is a backless tin that once held a small round of brie cheese, purchased in Santiago. It waves a French tricolor on the front and stems back to our years of anniversary dinners at a rustic French restaurant in Cajón de Maipu, a beautiful river valley just outside the metropolis. Perched on the canyon hillside, La Petite France was decorated with scores of antique cheese boxes.

Even here in Coquimbo, known more for its seafood empanadas and fish sandwiches, we’ve adopted their sampler tablas (wooden boards) laden with a variety of cheeses and sliced meats, nuts and olives, crackers and sliced baguettes. The Coquimbo area’s specialty is pungent white goat cheese. In general, Chileans favor soft cheeses as well as Gouda, mantecoso, or chanco. It’s all fromage!

Moving north through the French countryside, tin number 35, a Chilean dollar store find, invites us to stop at Chateau La Croix for Grand Vin de Bordeaux Saint-Emilion. You could call this a wine-and-cheese party ?, although the hinged grass-green-and-honey box would barely hold a shot glass, let alone a bottle of anything. But I love the pictured white stone castle with its twin pepper-pot turrets. Some research taught me that many French chateaux and vineyards go by the name La Croix, so who knows where or if the real place exists? The Loire Valley, maybe?

Paris, Please

Number 36, another “sox box” of shopping weakness, displays a scene of the Pont Neuf over the River Seine. I may have Eiffel Tower collectibles galore, but this cityscape’s unique. It reminds me of the river boat cruise two of my daughters took from there to the Palace of Versailles, at the time one of them was interning in Germany. Impossible—simply out of the question, on a short visit—to see everything in Paris. But they’ll remember this highlight for the rest of their lives.

“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” –Susan Sontag

An Irish “lad” who visited Chile brought me number 37 from the French chocolat emporium, La Fete, at our local mall. That silver jewel box of a tin flourished a bouquet of the most exquisite candy confections I’ve ever inhaled ?.

And number 38, Les Cookies de La Mere Poulard, also came as a special gift from a missionary friend whose family works in Rouen. The lime-green crackle-finish tin came with yummy little chocolate-chip cookies. Store-bought to be sure, but evocative of France’s fabled patisseries.

Where do the Poulards live? I had no idea, but my investigation informs me that Chef La Mere Poulard created a restaurant and inn on Mont Saint-Michel, a UNESCO heritage site known for the world’s highest tides. Higher than the Bay of Fundy? I wonder.

Apparently, a host of famous guests, including novelist Ernest Hemingway and designer Yves Saint Laurent, have autographed the café walls. Hmmm, back in our Chiloé days, diners used to scribble fan notes on the paper napkins at El Sacho. More my style, I guess. And certainly more of an open door at that restaurant where we raised our kids on steamed mussels and fried eggs ?.


We zigzag back to the Alps. If number 39, a tiny bronze tin of Swiss-strength clothing dye from our supermarket, didn’t say Mont Blanc beside its flag, I’d have mistaken it for the Red Cross in the Andes. Oh, well. I learned here that Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in the Alps and that parts of it lie in Italy and France, as well as in Switzerland.


Our final stop today may be last, but it’s definitely not least. Number 40 represents an uncounted number of tins of Danish butter cookies. In my tin collection alone, you’ll see fairy tales, veggie plots, flower gardens, Copenhagen streets, and clocks from around the world. And that’s only a sampling of those you might find at any grocery store in the nation.

If I actually liked the cookies, I’d at least have an excuse for buying them. But they taste like cardboard to me, so mostly I donate the cookies and spin the tins (into stories and lessons, that is). Keep an open mind, they say, to new experiences and new foods. In this case, I’d rather keep my heart door open to the world.

My trip around the world in 80 tins is less about circling the globe than it is about making circles, Pastor Mark Batterson’s powerful metaphor for prayer. Though I may never do it all, seeing the world—really seeing—opens our eyes. And praying for our lost and broken world offers an open door to travel anywhere…and everywhere.

“I don’t know how the doors will open… but I know the Hand that opens doors.” –Anonymous Christian


  1. I feel like I’m going ‘round the world with you. What a lovely series of blog posts. And I love the way you describe and slip in a clever turn-of-the-phrase. Looking forward to the next tin adventure!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *