A slow Grand Tour to rediscover our roots and the human values which define us

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IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE QUESTION

Born in Messina, Tommaso left Sicily before even becoming of age (read his bio here). For over a decade he travelled the world for his studies and work. For him, traveling is not just the experience of different places and different people, but it becomes an opportunity to find some sense of community and belonging wherever he goes. Whether at the rugby club in Oxford or in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, he does his utmost best to learn the language, the accent, the ways of the locals and make them his own. Rarely can people tell where he’s from. It was this chameleonic skill that always marked the way Tommaso went about living, anywhere he went.

One day, during a visit to his father’s home town, Cesarò, perched on the Nebrodi Mountains in Sicily, he enters the café in the town’s central square. The owner, a 90ish year old woman, is staring at him insistently from behind the bar. “Who do you belong to?” she inquires, in the local dialect. Her curiosity is satisfied merely at hearing Tommaso’s family name. She cannot imagine that her question has cut across him, exposing him to how little, after all his travels, he really knows about his family, his origins, his native land. What she cannot possibly divine, is that her question made Tommaso’s most intimate preoccupations about the meaning of being in the world collide.

Why does this land exert this attraction on him while most young people are forced to leave in search of a better future? How can one really make a difference in the world and what values are needed in the face of today’s challenges? Which of these values unite us as humanity and is a sense of local community still possible in the face of an ever more global, hectic, ‘liquid’ reality? If Sicily is, in the infamous words of Goethe, the key to everything, what keys can Tommaso’s roots offer in order to live, today, a meaningful existence?

If Sicily is, in the words of Goethe, the key to everything, what keys can our roots offer in order to live a meaningful existence?

LOOKING FOR HOME

The search for an answer to these questions and for the meaningful aspects of human life in its multifarious forms was always the backdrop to Tommaso’s studies and travels. After befriending Marco Crupi, playing with their ideas and the initials of their names, the duo created MeaningfulTravels.net, to share their passion for travelling in its meaningful aspects and the belief that traveling meaningfully is somehow a metaphor of living (read about our philosophy here). Is it surprising that the most attractive destination remained their own native island? According to Marco, though traveling is a crucial learning process in so many ways, it is absurd to be ignorant of your own place of origin.

“Many of our fellow Sicilians suffer from xenophilia, deliberately ignoring the beauty which surrounds them. Mass culture often makes certain places look beautiful and desirable, altering our perception of reality to the effect that our surroundings lose all their appeal. This is why I hope my photos will attract not only foreigners and Italians generally but also, and more importantly, Sicilians: it is especially for them that we conceived this project.”

LEST WE FORGET WHERE WE COME FROM

Telling of Sicily to the best of our abilities implies penetrating some of its complexities. Leonardo Sciascia famously wrote that there is not one but many Sicilies, a system of islands within the island: a pirandellian claim which gains veridicality before the immense diversity among its inhabitants. There are stories, places, people making up a material and immaterial heritage which escapes the average tourist’s eye as much as the indigenous’, which might never be documented as it should. This is a journey after the unseen, the least heeded, the lest-it-be-forgotten. ‘You can travel to Sicily and not see it at all’ wrote Matteo Collura in a 1984 collection of sicilian itineraries. Dominique Fernandez thought Sicily was behind the heroines of opera composer Vincenzo Bellini, ‘the Swan of Catania’:

“You can travel to Sicily and yet not see it at all […] Her treasure is invisible to the eyes of the lovers who court her merely for her looks.”

“whether her name be Norma, betrayed and abandoned in the most atrocious way, or Beatrice `{`…`}` or Amina `{`…`}` or Elvira `{`…`}` or Imogene, whose folly alone makes her existential circumstances bearable, she is always a victim, a tragic shadow with a dark destiny. Men use and abuse her, they deceive and abandon her. In herself she hides the secret of her nobleness and her purity; her treasure is invisible to the eyes of the lovers who court her merely for her looks, not unlike the tourists who visit Sicily for her beaches and monuments`{`…`}`”