As said, Sicily is host to an immense heritage, natural and cultural, tangible and intangible. Thousands of years of human existence at the most geographically strategic crossroad in the Mediterranean, home to some of Europe’s most fertile soils and most fishful waters, have left traces which, though enfeebled under the pressures of modernity, still survive. When planning our itinerary (which we felt free to alter on the way) our mission was to expose the dazzling layered-ness bespeaking this historical track record of human interaction among different cultures and between men and nature .
This complexity cannot be captured by a mere gallery of images. Being Sicilian ourselves we set out to meddle with our fellow islanders, enter their homes, sleep in their courtyards, eat at their table. And how extraordinary to find that in many old villages of the interior the dialect spoken retains words derived from ancient greek, arabic, french, spanish or portuguese; in some of these towns people speak a gallo-italic language which dates back to when Roger I (1031-1101) encouraged migration from northern Italy to depopulated villages of inner Sicily.
We did not then, only set out to document the striking variety of landscapes and material relics of a past more or less distant, from paleolithic necropolises to olive trees over a thousand years old, but also the people who are the living testimony of this past. Many of them are still engaged in activities and traditions of craftsmanship springing from this millenary interaction of humans with nature. They should, in our view, be an inspiration and a powerful source of identity for our generation and those to come.
Particularly crucial apropos, is Norman Lewis’ claim from his sicilian travel notes: “the Sicilian is the legatee of a ancient and splendid civilization from which he has inherited human standards of an impressive kind”. In our view, it conveys the importance of recognising the relevance of what we inherited from the past as well as the urgency of building upon a value system which is conducive to sustainable human development. And this is all the more relevant in Sicily where economic backwardness, the pervasiveness of a mafia-like kind of nepotism and a constant human hemorrhage among its young generations are draining the island of much-needed potential for positive change.
OUR SUSTAINABILITY COMMITMENT
Against an backdrop of pessimism and resignation – unsurprising given the aforementioned circumstances, we were tasked with finding a way to inspire sicilians to look afresh at the beauty of their own surroundings, to recognise the untapped opportunities lying dormient as the island seems to be held hostage in social immobilism and set adrift toward environmental disruption. This is why we designed a Journey around two principles: minimising environmental impact and maximising positive social impact.
We chose to complete our journey in a carbon-neutral way, by bicycle and with solar panels to charge our electronic devices, carrying no disposable plastic, to denounce illegal waste dumping sites, to include in our photographs and interviews dozens of people who made sustainable practices and heritage protection the very essence of their associative or entrepreneurial endeavours. We did our best, in other words, to ‘connect the dots’ by including in our itinerary the most inspiring personalities and the most praiseworthy initiatives in the whole of Sicily.
Since the main vocation of the Sicilian economy always revolved around food production, we decided to partner with the Slow Food Foundation, which strives to protect biodiversity through the valorization of gastronomic traditions. We agreed to document all of their ‘Presidia‘ in Sicily in the course of our Journey. A Slow Food Presidium® is a gastronomic specialty made with raw materials whose source is a vegetable variety or animal species or a traditional processing method at risk of extinction; in fact, its market price rarely reflect its social and environmental benefits. For instance, all honey is sold on the market at the same price regardless of whether the species of bees is an endangered, indigenous ecotype.
Again, rather than shooting photographs of endangered animals and plants, we spoke to the people whose life is devoted to preserving their soil, their beans, their grains, their cattle, gathering testimonies of their human experience. Only thus, we thought, would our Journey gain traction and credibility. Whilst braving the torrid temperatures of an exceptionally hot year without former cycling experience, our initiative gathered momentum. We gave speeches, met with local administrations, and used social media to reach hundreds of thousands of people with our most popular posts. Our message was that a better, cleaner and more just world starts with each and every one of us, anywhere, at any point in history. We hope to have led by example, by conceiving and completing our Journey through Sicily.