What the road says about longing and why we should listen.

What the road says about longing and why we should listen.

Steve
Steve

While in Sicily we developed this habit of taking short videos from the passenger seat of the roads we were traveling. We had no intention behind it, other than perhaps we believed that this journey and our time alone together, on these particular roads, would lead us to somewhere special. A place. An idea. A reckoning of sorts to the questions of place, purpose and longing we’d each carried with us from America: Where? How? When? If?

Sicily has a long history of colonization by outsiders who had arrived on its shores,—much like the two of us had, only with violence and conquering on their minds—with the fantasies of belonging that cause one to act with bold audacity. We each arrived, whatever the reason, with our own unique sets of knowledge, life histories and experiences on hand to inform and direct us. Cuisine. Language. Art and religion. Architecture.

Take just the roads, for instance. When the Romans came, they maintained those left by the Greeks, but when they were displaced by the Germans, four hundred years later, who had no sense of how to care for them, they returned to just being foot paths.

“Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Necropolis of Pantalica

With such upheaval, it could be our efforts to make a visual record of the roads was merely an effort to document and understand just how different they were to one another, influenced as such by so many different cultures. For centuries, in fact, most of the roads and byways throughout the island, especially inland, were simply foot paths hammered again and again into the dirt by peaceful humans walking alongside their mules or donkeys or horses, often in response to, or in spite of, another marauding army and their unquenchable thirst for war.

Like their roads, early Sicilians themselves are a reflection of this history of invasion. They lived on an island, there was nowhere to run. So they did what they had to by closing off their true selves, depriving the enemy the heart of the people, and opened instead to the interests of the invader in order just to survive. Sometimes that meant having a road that would accommodate a cart and other times it meant being content with just having a passable dirt path.

Consider this: You’re traveling along an unfamiliar road. You have some idea where it’s headed, but generally-speaking you’re not sure what’s waiting around the next bend, which to your surprise you discover is a barricade. There’s no apparent reason for the barricade and no recommended detour. Do you sit there and rage with all your angry self at the absurdity of the situation—at least they could've provided an arrow, at the very minimum, to identify a secondary option for reaching your destination. No. There are many roads now in Sicily. Rarely does only one lead to only one place.

So you don’t just sit there fuming at the shitty state of affairs. You accept the situation, as the Sicilians did generations ago, and relinquish any sense of control in your immediate future, and you cling to, instead, what you know to be true and ask yourself the question: Where is it I’m wanting to get to?

And then you head in that general direction. If it lies to the East, you take the path headed East. If it’s North, you go North. If you’re not sure, or if there is no obvious path, you take whichever one your gut is telling you to take. The important thing is that you don’t sit there, but keep moving. Even if it is backward, because when you know where you’re going, even to those places locked deep in your heart, you'll find any number of ways to arrive there.

When I look back over the video of the roads we travelled, I find not just a pleasant memory of our visit, but with every twist and turn, every rise and fall, every majestic vista, I see the story of life unfolding. My life. Franca’s life. The lives of our children. It’s not always straight, nor easily understood, and often it’s quite chaotic, but it is truly a fantastic story.

Note: If you’d like to watch a live performance by the artist, Antonello Venditti, click here; and if you’d like to see an English translation of the lyrics, visit here.