It is a genuine pleasure and honour for me to write this letter to you. And please, do not imagine that I am attempting to advise you on how you can fully become what you already are: a beaming, curious, and intelligent woman, in love with life and tourism research. But what I share might inspire you.
I have been a researcher for almost 20 years – at times fully in love with research, but at many others struggling with myself and asking if this love is true, if It is my first love, or if it is competing with, and limiting, other loves in my life. Along the journey, I have come to realize that I do love research when I allow myself to flourish (including having time for what or whoever is called me), to really settle into researching what I love and believe in, and to interact with people who share this love and their ”I don’t know”s (see below).
This blending reconciles my inner tension between who I was taught to be, who I am and what I (like to) do. These interactions are still ongoing, but maybe this is the best part of the journey.
Accept and be proud of your roots – either they are boundaries to cross or limits to get rid of.
I grew up in a small village in the mountains, in an area that now forms part of the Dolomites UNESCO WHS in Italy and affords wild, stunningly beautiful nature, a challenging environment, and industrious and value-based communities willing and able to work hard to better their lot. As war simmered in the nineteenth century, people emigrated to urban areas – first in Italy and then abroad (Europe in particular) – to produce and sell artisanal ice cream (Fairtlough, 2012). Their work brought wealth to the community, inculcating a productive tradition and an open attitude to the outside world (cultures, communities, languages) – tourists included. It has also, however, fragmented social capital and created path dependence. This place holds natural beauty and a strong sense of belonging and duty. It took time for me to explicitly recognize that It was – and still is – my first playground, where I learnt about determination, beauty, inspiration, and endless possibility.
Be one and be many, by loving, valuing and blending your different voices and seasons of life.
I was a good student in all subjects (except languages) but also talented in sports, creative and with a good eye. I sometimes fantasised that I was born to be a mountain guide, a dancer or an artist – and I still love hiking in remote places, dancing tango and experiencing art (when I say ”yes” to myself – see below). But my family is modest and Catholic and my father, in particular, wanted me to have a ”proper job” and do what he was not able/allowed to. I was pushed to improve myself and to be independent, to study what I didn’t love or feel interested in, and to do it well – even better than what I loved, if only because of the time and energy invested. On the plus side, I developed assets that I was not fully aware of having, or was scared or ashamed of experimenting with. And imagination – and wonderful friends and encounters (academic and not) and the ”yes” I, and others, gave to me – allowed me to seek and find the new in the old, in my daily life and in tourism research, from different sides, in different seasons of my journey.
Recognize and be grateful for your encounters.
I have had the good fortune to meet and learn from others – including both new acquaintances and old friends. These encounters have occurred randomly but not by chance – I meet these people when I am enjoying where I am, and doing what I am most interested in, curious about and attracted to. They stimulate my creative and reflective thinking when I need it the most and when I am looking for a relevant/meaningful answer to a question that is buzzing around in my head. Along the journey, I have realized that this happens when I am curious, empathetic and open to welcoming others and recognizing their uniqueness: this then opens up the space for true communication. Three very special encounters, among many: Frank Go, a mentor and a friend with whom I worked from my visit to Rotterdam (in 2010 until his death); Frank used to remind me of the Dutch saying “it’s no use pulling on a dead horse” to encourage me to detach and let go of people and situations – with gratitude and without regrets – if I sense that I (my time/abilities) am not properly valued. Francesca Sorrentino, storyteller: she helps me to imagine and sense constructs by taking different perspectives and using the languages of visual and performing arts. Rachel Murphy, an Irish proofreader, traveller and writer: she sculpts, files, lightens and colours and allows my words to take off and my ideas to connect with people. Thanks to these encounters, and future ones, I am – and will be – able to co-create much that I could not have painted alone.
Say ”yes” to yourself.
This should have come first but I am still working on it! Honour your dignity as a human being. Say yes to you and to what makes sense to you, whenever you need to. Take good care of yourself. Sleep as much as you need to. Detox your mind and body. Play a sport, dance. Put on your favourite clothes, wear your favourite colours, read that book, see that movie, listen to that music, and drink that glass of wine! Spend time alone, enjoy your friends, and take care of your beloved ones, your cat, your plants, your garden. Find/use your voice, listen, act, fight (against and for), protect. Ask for help and be grateful. What matters to you the most makes you a proud and radiant woman and a curious and creative researcher. Paola Monti, my high school teacher of history and philosophy, used to tell me that I was a Stoic (and she an Epicurean). Today I would reply that I was taught to be a Stoic, but I am slowly allowing my Epicurean side to realize itself.
Embrace your ”I don’t know”
Maria Wisława Anna Szymborska, from Poland, is my favourite female poet. In the speech she made when awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996, she admitted to finding it difficult to speak of poetry and the role of the poet and said that poets do not know how to explain inspiration. According to her, “whatever it is, it comes from an incessant ‘I don’t know’”.
Her poems (such as The joy of writing) seek answers to this “I don’t know” without attempting to reach a conclusion. The important thing is not so much to find an answer as to ask yourself what you do not know.
Enjoy your own journey
Maria Della Lucia
University of Trento, Italy
Devoted to the most inspiring women and men in my life.
Fairtlough, M.Z. (2012). Love, War and Ice Cream. Family Stories. iUniverse books.
Szymborska, W. (2009). The joy of writing. All poems 1945-2009. Adelphi.