This journey began back in November
2004 in my country house when, one afternoon, I ended up watching
a television channel with two well-mannered gentlemen, from “I-don’t-remember-which”
American university, lounging in two faux leather armchairs set
against the customary book-lined walls. They were discussing the
discovery of Alaska by the Danish explorer Vitus Bering, who had
been commissioned by one of history’s most enlightened rulers,
the tsar Peter the Great.
I distractedly watched the show until it was over, impatiently
waiting for the Western – starring the legendary John Wayne
– that was scheduled to start after that seemingly innocuous
I thought that the whistling arrows and gallops across green prairies
and sunny deserts would make me forget all about Admiral Bering.
Much to my surprise, however, the next day I was still thinking
about him, whereas John Wayne had vanished in the inevitable cloud
of dust of things seen too many times.
Helped by silence and an ambience that encourages certain fantasies,
following Bering’s own suggestions I opened a map of the
world on my table, tracing the route followed by his expedition.
The days that followed were enough to transform that thin line,
which I had initially traced with a pencil, into a deep, coloured
furrow with branches, erasures, notes, dates and numbers.
Without any advance warning, my trip was born in that secluded
old farmhouse, hidden in the woods of Umbria. At the time, however,
I didn’t realize that I was just beginning an adventure,
which would ultimately lead me to plan a trip around the world
that I like to define as “particular”.
Bering – who came and went from my house at will by this
time – was joined by Marco Polo, Lewis and Clark, and Leif
Eriksson. One took me aside to suggest a different route, another
instead advised against the trip, and yet another, his beard still
encrusted with frost and salt, suggested safer routes and better
seasons. It took some time to get everyone to agree, but I finally
managed and a few nights later, exhausted and hoarse from all
the shouting, by the fireplace we all drank a toast to “the
trip to come”.
My natural curiosity was fuelled by my imagination and the insatiable
desire to travel the unknown meridians and parallels of the fascinating
history of the world, rather than trekking the seemingly adventurous
trails of “seven days and five nights in Tibet, all-inclusive”.
As far as I remember, that was the first time I saw John Wayne
turn his horse around and take off in a somewhat undignified getaway.
I hope he won’t hold it against me, as I have always been
a big fan of his, but that day I was glad he did.