The following quotes belong to some of Italy’s best contemporary authors. I selected them from my personal library, leafing through books that I have fond memories of and that I wish had never ended.
The Italian people are great travellers. Think of Marco Polo, who in 1200 AD left Venice to explore Asia and provided Europeans with their first detailed descriptions of the Far East. Or of history-maker Christopher Columbus, who challenged the geographical knowledge of his time.
Author Dante Alighieri travelled instead through hell, purgatory and paradise, even if it was only in his creative mind. Leonardo Da Vinci designed the first flying machine in history and, much more recently, astronaut Samanta Cristoforetti became the first woman to hold the record for the longest spaceflight.
Crossing borders and exploring new worlds in search of a better life was also in the spirit of the millions of Italians who long ago emigrated abroad, taking months long journeys on ocean liners. They settled in large communities in countries all across the globe, creating areas like Little Italy in New York as well as the vast Italian communities in Australia and in South America.
So, let’s take a look at what these travellers have to say!
Quote #1: From Un indovino mi disse by Tiziano Terzani
“Tornare a Singapore era per me come andare a ritrovare il primo amore. Era stato a Singapore, nel 1965, che avevo per la prima volta sentito l'odore dei tropici, goduto del caldo e dei colori; fu lì che mi ero reso conto di come l'essere lontano mi faceva sentire a casa.”
This quote is taken from one of the most popular books by Tiziano Terzani, a tireless traveller, journalist and writer who dedicated his works to East Asia. In this passage, he talks about Singapore; its colours, its warm weather, the pleasant smell in the air. A melancholic thought ends the passage, in which Terzani reflects on how being far away paradoxically makes him feel at home.
Quote #2: From Italiani con valigia by Beppe Severgnini
“Più mi allontanavo dall'Italia, in sostanza, più me la trovavo vicina. Più fuggivo, più gli italiani mi inseguivano. Implacabili, inimitabili, inossidabili: italiani ossessionati dallo shopping o dalla ricerca di un orologio; italiani che non sapevano bene dove fossero, ma lo spiegavano comunque alla famiglia; italiani che cercavano la nebbia di Londra scomparsa da trent'anni almeno; italiani che nell'Europa dell'Est dalle nove alle undici di sera cercavano di telefonare alla moglie, e dalle undici in avanti tentavano di sedurre la centralinista. Italiani sereni e onnipresenti: dovunque andavo, c'era sempre un commerciante di Brescia che mi aspettava.”
Here, Beppe Severgnini takes an ironic look at the many Italian travellers he met while working as a foreign correspondent abroad. Unmistakable and implacable, these tourists were obsessed with shopping, with old-fashioned clichés and with foreign women. But above all, they were everywhere; he hasn’t been anywhere in the world without running into some Italian tourists.
Quote #3: From Le città invisibili by Italo Calvino
“Puoi riprendere il volo quando vuoi”, mi dissero, “ma arriverai a un'altra Trude, uguale punto per punto, il mondo è ricoperto da un'unica Trude che non comincia e non finisce, cambia solo il nome dell'aeroporto”.
This passage is taken from Calvino’s masterpiece The Invisible Cities. Travel itself is the undisputed protagonist of this book, which collects the descriptions of a fictional Marco Polo returning after years spent travelling through small, far away kingdoms.
These are the invisible cities that he caught sight of and visited while crossing the desert. Each of the cities has a metaphorical characteristic: in Zoe, for example, every street looks the same and travellers get easily lost, the city of Pirra sits on a cloud of fire and in the centre of Fedora, there is a building where all lost possibilities are stored away.
Trude, the city described in this passage, is the “infinite city.” Beyond its borders, travellers find an identical city. This goes on and on until they realize that the whole world is just one big Trude with no beginning and no end.
Quote #4: From L'isola del giorno prima by Umberto Eco
“Il primo pianeta che avevano toccato era stata la candida luna, in una notte illuminata dal mezzogiorno della terra. E la terra era lì, sulla linea dell'orizzonte, una enorme incombente sconfinata polenta di maiz, che ancora cuoceva in cielo e quasi gli cascava addosso gorgogliando di febbricosa e febbricante febbrosità febbrifera, febbricitando febbriciante in bolle boglienti nel loro bollimento, bollicanti di un bollicchio bollicamentoso, ploppete ploppete plop.”
Scholar Umberto Eco is also a talented writer. His novel The Name of the Rose, for example, has been translated into more than forty languages and in 1986, a movie based on the novel and starring Sean Connery was released.
The Island of the Day Before, from which this passage is taken, was a successful novel as well. It tells the story of Roberto de la Grive, a castaway who takes shelter on a solitary ship inhabited by a mysterious Father. The two begin a mission together, looking for a sophisticated instrument that can calculate longitude on the mainland.
By doing so, they come across unknown islands, animals and populations. In the passage above, the Earth (as seen from the Moon) is described as a ball of hot corn mush by one of the many people that they encounter. The last two lines see the imagination and creativity of the author running free as he creates neologisms to give the sensation of the red hot, boiling planet Earth.
Quote #5: From Viaggi e altri viaggi by Antonio Tabucchi
“Forse mancano i viaggi più straordinari. Che non ho mai fatto, che non potrò mai fare. Restano non scritti, o chiusi in un segreto alfabeto sotto le palpebre, la sera. Poi arriva il sonno, e si salpa."
Prolific writer Antonio Tabucchi decided to describe his own wonderful travels in this book. In this passage he explains, nostalgically and a with little bit of regret, that his most extraordinary travels are missing from the tale; these are the travels that he did not experience, the travels that he merely dreamt of.
Quote #6: From Maestrale, Ossi di seppia by Eugenio Montale
“Sotto l'azzurro fitto del cielo qualche uccello di mare se ne va; né sosta mai: perché tutte le immagini portano scritto: “più in là”!”
This is a verse taken from the poem Maestrale (Northwest Wind), dedicated to sea life and vegetation. It describes flying all around, never stopping, always looking for a better spot.
Quote #7: From Canne al vento by Grazia Deledda
“Tutto era mutato; il mondo si allargava come la valle dopo l'uragano quando la nebbia sale su e scompare: il Castello sul cielo azzurro, le rovine su cui l'erba tremava piena di perle, la pianura laggiù con le macchie rugginose dei giuncheti, tutto aveva una dolcezza di ricordi infantili, di cose perdute da lungo tempo, da lungo tempo piante e desiderate e poi dimenticate e poi finalmente ritrovate quando non si ricordano e non si rimpiangono più.”
This novel is set at the beginning of the 20th century in Sardinia, the beautiful island where the Nobel Prize winning author Grazia Deledda comes from. It tells the story of a family who struggles to survive alongside industrial progress in a small, old-fashioned and traditional community.
In this passage, one of the characters comes home after a period spent on the mainland. He finds that nothing is the same as before, not even the landscape. The only things that have not changed are his memories.
Quote #8: From La luna e i falò by Cesare Pavese
“Questo paese, dove sono nato, ho creduto per molto tempo che fosse tutto il mondo. Adesso che il mondo l'ho visto davvero e so che è fatto di tanti piccoli paesi, non so se da ragazzo mi sbagliavo poi di molto.”
The protagonist of this novel returns to Italy after emigrating to the United States. After much travelling and after having seen a lot of the world, he realizes that he needs to go back to where he truly belongs: his country and his town.
He also says this: “Everyone needs to have a place where he belongs, even if it’s only for the sake of leaving.”
Quote #9: From La boutique del mistero by Dino Buzzati
“Ancora non siamo giunti all’estrema frontiera. Mi tormenta il dubbio che questo confine non esista.”
This book is a collection of 31 “stories of everyday magic,” and this quote is taken from the first, The Seven Messengers. Set in a fictional kingdom, the protagonist of this short story is a king who attempts to reach the border of his realm, but is never able to do so. In this quote, the king wonders whether borders really exist, or whether they are just an invention created by humans.
Quote #10: From Yucatan by Andrea De Carlo
“C’è una specie di vecchissimo cowboy messicano seduto di fronte a me, appoggiato a un bastone. È vestito in questo modo quasi caricaturale, non si capisce se per impressionare qualcuno in Messico o perché è il suo stile normale. Mi concentro a guardarlo per un po', e a un certo punto mi sembra così innaturalmente arretrato rispetto al piano su cui si muovono tutti gli altri che devo smettere, girare la testa dall'altra parte.”
This is the story of a trip to the United States and Mexico, taken by a director and his assistant who want to meet the author of the book that their new film is based upon. The trip soon turns into a mystery story that sees the two characters following baffling messages through the two countries.
In this passage, the protagonist is looking at a funny figure that is dressed like a cowboy. He admits that he would like to look away, but that the contrast between the man and the landscape is inexplicably fascinating.
Like the character, I am sure that we have all been struck by images that don’t seem to belong to our world during a an unforgettable trip, even if we have not taken a picture of them with our cameras.
I hope that these quotes will make you want to get up from your chair, look out of the window and think about the destination of your next trip. Pick a place where you will hear new sounds and new words, where you will taste new flavours and look in new directions.
The truth is that wherever you go, you will learn something new about yourself. When you come back, you will better understand your limits, but also your talents. You will know how it feels to be far from your safety net, having to learn everything from scratch.
And no matter whether you are surfing couches or staying in fancy hotels, whether you are travelling with a small backpack or carrying high-tech equipment, you will come back home with brand new eyes, feeling like a stranger in your own home. That's what travelling is all about: being able to see, even the world you know, from a different perspective.
Have you booked your ticket yet?
Buona Lettura e... Buon Viaggio.