What is a place? The people in it, some might answer. One’s family. Home. The unatainable, ultima Thule. The memories, the upbringing, one’s father(or mother)land. An aspiration born from certain circumstances. A location where life has put (or thrown) us for any reason.
I imagine many people don’t give much thought to this. They are where they are. Too many don’t have a choice to be somewhere else. Maybe they don’t even know that other places exist.
I have always wanted to travel and see these places, which, for various reasons, mean an incredible lot to me. I’ve been to some of them (very few, in fact); among these, there are four, which are extremely important to me.
One of them is in Italy – Rome. Ave Roma, regina mundi. Long live Rome, the queen of the world. And she was queen of her time, undisputed. To be there, to walk there, even on its modern streets, meant to me an unbelievable feat. But when I turned a corner and I suddenly had in front of me the Forum Romanum, I couldn’t reign my emotions anymore and had to cry. I was there, finally there. The grandeur of the dead Roman Empire, was still all there, in those beloved ruins, crushing me with the weight of all the centuries gone, and also uplifting me. I thought of all the lives lived among those stones, of all the history written in them, and felt small, and felt richly inspired by them. What will be left of us, I thought, in another two thousand years?
The other one is a remnant of a great Central American empire, Chichén Itzá, city of the Mayans, in the Yucatán Peninsula. I spent two weeks in Cancún, some years ago, and took the opportunity to visit the archaeological sites in the area. One is Tulúm, the other one Cobá, and the third Chichén Itzá.
Tulúm is interesting, but not spectacular, except for its location, with the turquoise waters of the Atlantic breaking on its rocky shore.
Cobá is unnerving, with its very old, very tall pyramid, its steps all worn out, and other smaller pyramids, half covered in the luxuriant jungle, which in the end swallows everything.
Chichén Itzá is perfect. A jewel, perfectly preserved. Recently, I was reading about an American consul to Mexico, Edward H. Thompson, who, in 1885, purchased for seventy-five dollars one hundred square miles of jungle, which included the ruins of Chichén Itzá. He made the ruins his home, and organised for the Peabody Museum of Harvard University dives to retrieve the sacred offerings from the well (el cenote). I'm in his admiration.
When climbing on the main pyramid, I was having these strange flashes, imagining blood from the human sacrifices, flowing down the huge steps of stone. Probably it was more my imagination, fuelled by the exaggerations of the Spanish chroniclers of the Conquista, than the reality.
The other two places are very modern, and their history is (relatively) very young. Manhattan and California. Fifth Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway. Don’t ask me why, I can’t pinpoint it, I can’t explain it, I just feel it. I belong there, on those streets at the bottom of the canyons of skyscrapers, which strangely don’t narrow the sky for me, under those orange trees, or among certain prints in cement, on a certain sidewalk… Given the chance, I would move to any one of them, at any time.
In these hurried times, tourists are too hurried. Wouldn’t you prefer to just sit, take it all in, photograph it only with the camera of your mind, go home without any pictures to show to your friends, but with your mind full of what you’ve seen?
Still, there is so much to see, so much to travel. Money, time, courage. I need a combination of these three.
This is my wish list, in no particular order:
Egypt – the pyramids,
Peru - Macchu Picchu,