The past year has seen many people across the world grapple with a very specific type of loss; the sadness of a trip not taken, the mourning of exploring new cultures, the yearning for experiences beyond the anomie of the supermarket. As that strong desire for, and impulse to, wander the world fell prey to the pandemic in a turbulent 2020, we seemed at one point to be surging toward an anticipatory dystopia. Who were we without travel? What do we have to look forward to when there is no international holiday booked for summer?

Over the course of the past 12 months, we’ve been commissioning artists, painters and illustrators from different cities all over the world to paint a picture of what they see out their windows – either real or imaginary. Most artists have been confined to these cities during the global lockdowns, and all have a close connection to the place they have illustrated. Each artist has a “GRAZIA At Home City Guide” perched on their window sill, insider guides to the cities you need to visit and recollections of moments past in these nooks of the world; how they drank in the palaces, how they wandered through the parks and how they ate and ate and ate. There’s recommendations too – local dishes, phrases and lessons – so you can start imagining your own itinerary from the comfort of your own home. Today, we’re headed to Messina in Italy.

Similarly to Giovanni Rizzo’s dreamlike illustration style, the harbour city of Messina is as if it was pulled straight from mythology. Situated in north-eastern Sicily, the old Mediterranean city is separated from the mainland which lends further fascination to the region.

Messina is best known for the Norman Messina Cathedral and Bell Tower with construction of the building dating as far back as the 12th century. Rizzo was born in the city and distinctly remembers the “lion roar” of the bell’s mechanisms churning, shortly followed by a chorus of Schubert’s “Ave Maria”.

“Sometimes it can be heard through the entire town thanks to the wind,” Rizzo says.

Marble fountains can be frequently found throughout the city decorated by revered mythical gods. Messina’s Fountain of Neptune is perhaps the most famous and depicts the famous sea god, overlooking the Ionian Sea. It is here where Rizzo also recalls another childhood memory and forms the inspiration for his painting; watching the swordfish boats pass by.

“When I was a child I used to see the old swordfish boats sailing through the Strait,” Rizzo says. “They were special boats with a very high mast where a sailor was standing to spot swordfishes.”

The local seafood is what makes up much of the cuisine in Messina, while braciolettine – breaded and roasted beef roll stuffed with cheese – is a dish that can’t be found anywhere else in Sicily. But if you ask Rizzo for his favourite dish, it is focaccia and ironically, a lockdown obsession for many people worldwide. The artist suggests an iteration of Messina’s local cheese – tuma – sliced fresh tomatoes, escarole and anchovies.

“All the bakeries make it and it’s inexpensive,” Rizzo says.

After a long day of walking in and around the city’s glistening waterfront, the smell of local jasmine flower wafting in the wind from the surrounding mountains, Rizzo says a fresh slice of focaccia is best served with Messina’s salt crystal beer.

Follow Giovanni Rizzo @giovanni.rizzo.illustrazioni

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