We are all travelers on the journey to know

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By John

In the certainty that my readers they won’t confuse active and regenerative memory with retroactive and retrotopic nostalgia, I think I can remember some New Year’s Eve customs from my childhood. In 1958, upon my father’s return from Toronto (I was eight years old), I moved with my mother and grandmother from my mother’s house “Cutura” to my father’s house “Papa”. Next to our house lived Posterara Grande (Caterina), a Great Mother, and her four daughters (Caterina, Custodia, Nella, Maria), who (except Maria) had not married. They were all great narrators of stories and legends, bearers of trees of songs and fairy tales: girls and boys flocked to their court, outside or inside the house, curious and eager to learn.
On New Year’s Eve I had to get up early, go to their house first, knock, say it was me and then wish them happy birthday. I was a vicarious figure of the Baby Jesus and I carried out this task with happiness and a sense of duty and when the women heard my voice they opened, I made good wishes, they hugged me joyfully as if they had escaped a danger and had ensured a new year of happiness. well-being and serenity. At midnight you had to be careful not to listen to the fall of a stone on the roof: it was the wandering dead who were nostalgic for life who threw it away and sadly announced a loss that would strike the house within the year. We carefully avoided leaving the “amprati cloths”, the clothes hung to dry, on the balcony or in the windows. They could attract restless souls. They were myths, rites, gestures, words of good wishes understandable within the complex rituals of a time of passage and renewal.

For a certain period I too thought that they were silent and vain memories of an archaic, backward, superstitious world. Then came the University, the travels, the escapes, the consumption, the parties and that great little ancient world disappeared, it quickly fell into oblivion under the blows of panettone and champagne, of serial greetings even to people you’ve never seen, of unbridled consumption, of the most senseless waste. The question that came back to me, almost like an obsession, in my passage from infancy to childhood, from youth to maturity, from the country to the capitals of the world, was always the same: “What am I doing here?”.

It reflected my restlessness, the sense of disorientation that gripped me wherever I went, the precariousness of those who (like Joseph Roth’s Franz Tunda in «Endless Escape»), at the end of his travels, always felt «superfluous». “What am I doing here?” it was the explicit or subterranean question of anthropologists and ethnographers who reached a temporal and spatial “elsewhere” and it was with a splendid and melancholic traveler and writer, Bruce Chatwin, that that question became almost a fixed thought, a consolatory response, to my feeling everywhere out of place, always foreign and in exile, disoriented, even in the country, often in the country.
But now, the question has become that of Gregor Samsa from Kafka’s «Metamorphosis», namely «Where am I?». Bruno Latour, French philosopher and sociologist who recently passed away, recalled how, especially after Covid and with the devastating climate changes, all of us, like Gregor, have undergone a “metamorphosis”, an awakening, after the nightmare, from which we cannot it’s easy to go back. We are all uncomfortable, “somewhere else, in another time, someone else, a member of another population.” We are all forced to ask ourselves “Where are we?”, “In which direction to go?”, if it is not possible to go back and ahead there is the unknown and the precipice. We are uncertain whether to stay, leave, return (but, please, do not trivialize and do not reduce these “verbs” which describe our impossibility of finding peace and a new contentment to slogans and rhetoric).
I go back to my childhood memories, where, even in hunger (to be avoided), words were uttered – pity, tenderness, pain – and where fragile figures were welcomed: children, animals, the sick, the poor, the deceased. At the beginning of modernity and scientific thought, Descartes recommended always going straight, not being hesitant in the woods and always taking a road. Now, says Bruno Latour, «you must disperse as much as possible, fan out, to explore all the survival skills, to conspire, as much as possible. With the active forces that made the places where you landed habitable.”
Now, urges Umberto Ghisalberti, we need the traveler who looks at the future without promise, who takes a journey that has no destination, and therefore takes his steps, not to arrive, but to get to know what he encounters along the way: other travellers, others wandering, others remaining, new landscapes, indistinct, distant, abysmal things, lands not yet discovered.
«Walk, walk», said the popular Gospel, in which Christ walked around the world aimlessly, but to meet others and to affirm the “truth” and the unpredictability of the journey. Because (Ghisalberti always says) the traveler does not “deny the possibility of wandering the Earth that belongs to no one”. Or it belongs to those who know how to respect it, take care of it, protect it.