Literature has its responsibility in fooling our imaginary. Odysseus sailed the dangers of the known seas to sit once again on the throne of Ithaca. And I remember this song we were singing around the fire, in the night, at the scouts’ camp, “Viaggio di un poeta“: it tells the story of a young man leaving his village, and a girl who loved him — to seek fortune in the world. (Yes, it is a gender-biased song, but that’s Italy — after all.) The song goes with our hero finding out that the actual journey is the way back home. She was waiting for him on the doorstep.
And they lived happily ever after.
Homerus, and the authors of the Italian song (don’t laugh, the group’s name was Dik Dik), were probably talking about tourists, not travelers. The distance between the two categories being incommensurable. Would have Odysseus not been a tourist, once back at Ithaca he would have possibly filed for divorce, resigned his position as Head of State, and sailed again for unknown seas.
The most stupid question
The most stupid question I am usually asked at parties is WHEN I plan to go “back to Italy” (not for holidays, but for good). — It is my “elephant in the hat” check-point. As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was probing his interlocutors with his drawings, I cut down people based on whether I am asked this question, in the first ten minutes of our conversation. — Just to say: it is very different to ask “would you ever go back to Italy”, compared to assuming this for granted and just wondering “when”.
The blond Petit Prince, you will tell me, also travels back to his planet, and his rose — at the end of the story. Yes, he does, and this is why the narration is not about travel, but love, friendship and belonging.
The land he left
However, it is not just about the path, the physical travel, the running distance. Frodo and his squire, Samwise Gamgee, walk the same distance to the lands of Mordor, and they both head “back” to the sweet hills of the County. Sam will find his Rose waiting for him, like the young man of the Italian song. However, Frodo will soon discover that he is out of place, there. The young Baggins does not belong anymore to the land he left long time before.
Traveling “back” home
In less than a week, Bella and I will be traveling “back” to Italy. We will visit an old, dear auntie still living in the same house where my great-grandfather grew up, in a small village on the Northern lake region. A place where I spent most of my childhood’s summers. Then we will travel to Tuscany, to visit the town where the family of my grandmother lived for centuries. Finally, we will head “back” to Trst, the city where I was born and where most of my composite heritage belongs.
Am I traveling “back home”? Are these the places where I belong? Or will I feel like Najla Said, during her travel “back” to Palestine, the land of her parents?