Travelling with a purpose is the new travel movement. Here, we take you on a trip to Italy where travellers and tour companies are working to preserve cultural treasures for the future.
Her feet move with precision. Her black ankle boots, four-inch heels, laced up like a corset, hint at punk, but do not impede her progress – pumping the pedals like an organist at mass. Her almond-shaped eyes flash intensely. Her blood-red lips give way to a smile even more intense. Her cropped hair severe, yet reveals a honed bone structure. But it’s her hands and fingers that contradict this hard-core vision. They fly, gently yet exactly, over, under, in and about, what appears to be hundreds of threads, multi-hued, strung tight across ancient looms that her mother, and her mother, and her mother before her, used to weave their textile magic.
We’re in Perugia, in the presence of Marta, inside the Church of San Francesco delle Donne, in the Umbrian region of Italy. The church is Marta’s workshop, the Laboratorio Giuditta Brozzetti. The antique wooden loom that she is working has a time-honoured, well-loved patina, worn in the places where her great-grandmother, the founder Giuditta Brozzetti, layed her own deft hands on it. No doubt, Marta can still feel her warmth and energy through the wood. It appears to fuel her, fire her passion as she pushes and pulls and slides the wood slats and pulleys and pedals.
The author with Céline Cousteau, in Italy, while on tour with Trafalgar
When the United Nations Travel World Organization (UNWTO) deemed 2017 the international year of sustainable tourism for development, I thought, “OK, more carbon footprint? Aren’t we all well aware of how important preserving the Earth’s environment for future generations is?” But, then, I thought, wait. What exactly is the definition of sustainable travel?
I could recite all the reasons travel is good – for all of us. I reported it myself in the pages of this magazine earlier this year: The collective effort to sustain natural heritage and cultural values as a way to better understanding and acceptance of – and ultimately, celebrate – our diversity. Many of you might think, “I’m Canadian, I already think this way.” So how do we spread the love? I had to go deeper; travel with like-minded people who are at the forefront of the initiative. I’m with TreadRight Foundation‘s sustainability ambassador is Céline Cousteau, granddaughter of the ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, and filmmaker, humanitarian and explorer in her own right; and she’s working with the foundation and its parent company, The Travel Corporation, to extend its philanthropic touch, through guided holidays such as the one we are on, created by one of TTC’s brands, Trafalgar. To the environment, and the artist. So this is where Marta comes in.
A sampling of Marta’s handiwork, at Laboratorio Giuditta Brozzetti, Perugia, Umbria
Similar to Cousteau’s grandfather, I think, introducing us to these incredible species under the water, this mystery, this mysterious place, in a way, uncovering these artisanal mysteries as well. Like Marta. She is completely unique, a rare species of woman, I suggest. “And in artisanry, yes, it is mostly women,” says Cousteau. “I didn’t set out for it [being mostly women] as important. But, the fact that many artisans around the world, regardless of tribe or culture, or geographical location are women isn’t a surprise.”
Empowering women, says Cousteau, through non-profit projects and global movements, is about economic wellbeing of the entire family and travel is a way of doing that. “It has a tremendous economic potential and we need to harness that potential for supporting people. Going back to the mission of trade in terms of making sure that the places and people that we visit stay vibrant. Maybe because I don’t seek women-specific things, it happens naturally anyway and being a female traveller, I want to support women. I think it’s important.
Ah, a female traveller. I veer the conversation a bit here: what about the positive rise of the female solo traveller, at every age?
An Italy that goes beyond pizza and pasta, piazzas and pontiffs. A much more personal way of seeing the country, with deeper meaning, with a depth of visiting just one place, but that connects us to everything. “It gives people the sense of seeing something that is behind the scenes,” she adds. “Tangible.” In this way of guided travel, you’re not standing around with 3,000 other people at tourist sites, because, as Cousteau puts it, you can do that on your own. But how can we do even more?
“I would love for more of the travellers to get involved in things like what Marta does,” she says, “but be able to actually take the initiative to perhaps spend more time, maybe learn how to weave… to just bring more people to more purpose, to more meaning in their travels, not just seeing the buildings from the outside and saying oh, well, that’s awesome but actually getting their hands dirty.”
Like Marta’s hands. Cultural heritage, artisans, the living history of those people that are actually a piece of living history. Marta is a piece, surrounded with those inanimate objects that she animates. The precision and focus is remarkable to witness, just how alive she is while doing it. Her passion is contagious. And people crave passion. And passion, Cousteau believes, is what her work with TreadRight is infusing into it.
“That it’s called sustainable is one label,” she adds. “But meaning, that’s something that I feel as human beings we’re always seeking and sustainability has meaning. So, if we need to go beyond this green label, we need to infuse it with those new definitions: it’s interconnecting humans to other cultures and to other human beings and interconnecting humans to nature.”