If we live truly, we shall see truly. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Not everyone wants to travel the world, but most people can identify at least one place in the world they’d like to visit before they die. Where is that place for you, and what will you do to make sure you get there?
(Author: Chris Guillebeau)
Sicily or bust
“The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” ~St. Augustine
I have never leaned toward popular fiction, but The Accidental Tourist is one of my favorites. The 1988 film adaptation (William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, Geena Davis) is an absolute hoot. Macon Leary writes guide books –in survival manual format– for business travelers who share his distaste for being away from the familiar comforts of home. Grieving his murdered son, lamenting his lifeless marriage; his unruly Welsh Corgi provides Macon a blessed, barking distraction. Geena Davis received a best supporting actress nomination for her role as Muriel, the irrepressibly sunny dog trainer who tries to spark Macon’s curiosity for travel and his capacity for joy.
The concept of not wanting to travel is completely foreign to me. As a child, I was excited by weekend day trips to Brooklyn or New Jersey to visit relatives. As a tween, I never missed tagging along if someone needed to be dropped off or picked up at JFK or La Guardia, usually sporting my green velvet hat, convinced I looked as sophisticated and grown up as Janis Ian on her ‘At Seventeen’ album cover. It was the late 1970’s and dressing smart was still the norm when boarding a plane, train or boat. I was rehearsing to be the world traveler I longed to be.
Once the travel bug bit, that itch wouldn’t quit. I was a gypsy from age 14 to 24. Annual trips to Texas to visit family; Italy with high school Italian class, including my first love and –consequently or coincidentally?– my oldest sister along as a chaperone; a Bahamas cruise with a classmate’s family; Bahamas redux with HS/college gal pals; Colorado and D.C. with college organizations; Bermuda with a childhood BFF and her parental units; a week-long double-date in Florida followed by a post-graduation European tour (14 countries in 29 days), both with a college BFF; 8 months living in London with BFF#1 on student work visas, 2 weeks in Turkey before heading back across the Pond; reunion of the Europe grad trip in NOLA; Denver – Shreveport – Chicago for trade shows representing an Italian importing company. Then, a fateful 2 weeks with family in the desert Southwest, followed by a temporary -or so I thought- relocation to Arizona the following year. My passport began gathering dust, while my wanderlust puzzled over being deserted.
The first time my Mom visited us in Arizona, she was awestruck by the scenery. A true nature lover, the Sonoran desert’s natural beauty captivated her. I recall her commenting how my Grandmother would have loved it here because it looked so much like Sicily. Mountains, churches, wide-open blue sky, diamond-bright stars at night, prickly pear cactus. Mom had never been to Sicily, but she had heard her mother’s descriptions, recalled from Grandma’s memories as a young girl, since she set sail for America around 1919, passed on in 1984, and not once in all that time did she return to her birthplace.
When my Mom was dying, I wistfully told her how sorry I was we had not gone to Italy with my sister and cousin the previous spring. We had talked about it fleetingly and hesitantly. What held us back? Lack of money, lack of time, perhaps her fear or guilt about leaving her sister behind at home. She brushed off my tearful regret with a smirk and a weak wave. “Don’t be silly. I didn’t even know those people.” With one foot in Heaven, she was already speaking of herself in the past tense. I was not lamenting the “old country” relatives she had not met, but rather the places she had not seen, the experiences she had not enjoyed, the life she had not lived.
Tears fell on the cover of Mom’s blank passport as I held it in my hands a few years later. I imagined her driving on back country roads in Italy. She loved to drive, having only first learned at age 35. After Dad passed, she fantasized about road trips with a travel companion, maybe even RV’ing. Tears sting my eyes now as I think of small towns she didn’t see, postcards she didn’t send, maps she didn’t wear out. Circumstances, obligations, fear and guilt: all possible, plausible reasons she was, mostly, an armchair tourist. Cheerfully, she vicariously enjoyed the trips others took, with the exception of my brother Michael’s year-plus government-sponsored tour of Vietnam. But oh, how she wished to travel to destinations of her own choosing, to lose herself -and find herself- in the delight of discovering an unknown place and falling in love with it.
There are many places I would like to visit, but Sicily is the place I must go, for a thousand and one reasons. For festivals, cannoli, caponata, and Mt. Etna. For the sea, the seafood, Greek temples, for a gelato in brioche with Lina de Luca, a lovely Neapolitan woman I have yet to meet in person. For the dialect, lemon groves, shepherds, and the incredible, edible art of martorana (marzipan). If I were told I had only a year to live, or perhaps just a month, Sicily would be the trip that must be taken. For myself, for Mom, and for at least 987 other reasons.