My Life In Travel: Francesco da Mosto
'The first thing I do on arrival? Smoke a cigarette and drink an aperitivo'
Saturday 10 November 2007
First holiday memory?
Going to visit my grandparents in Palermo. We always went for the Christmas holidays; the journey was quite long so I missed school for an extra week, which I enjoyed. Passing through Naples was always an adventure in itself. In Sicily, it was a pleasure to find warm weather, and we ate fresh sea urchins on the beach at Mondello.
Africa: I went on my own to Kenya and Tanzania in the 1980s. I made friends with some Italian doctors who took me on their rounds. It was fascinating to meet people in the villages and see how they lived. Then I met a Maasai and we climbed Mount Kilimanjaro together. What an experience!
Favourite place in the British Isles?
My family and I often spend our summers in England or Scotland. We especially love North Devon and the wide sandy beach at Northam Burrows, beside Westward Ho!. The South West Coast Path passes near a tiny village called Welcombe, near the Cornish border, which is evocative of centuries gone by when the coast was the realm of pirates. I spent hours in Ronald Duncan's writing hut, waiting for a wreck. The English law that you can keep what you find is alluring.
What have you learnt from your travels?
As Victor Hugo wrote in Les Misérables: "To leave is like dying, but only to be reborn." Travelling is getting to know other people and other cultures, other ways of being and living, even entering into other people's lives. But it is important to do so with respect; the traveller is a guest, not the owner of the place he visits.
Ideal travelling companion?
When I'm travelling alone, whoever I meet along the way, even though it is sometimes nice to be in solitude and watch everything pass by, like in a film. But I also love going on holiday with my family, of course.
Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?
Not really any of them, but if forced to choose, I'd be an adrenalin junkie. I love diving, skiing, snowboarding, sailing – and one of these days I'd like to try kite-surfing.
Greatest travel luxury?
Not having to worry about time and taking life as it comes. In Africa, the buses come and go in their own time. For an African, as written by Karen Blixen in Out of Africa – there's nothing better than waiting for someone, since that time is a complete gift, almost out of one's own time. From the Africans, I learnt to think of time in a different way, but all too often I have to forget what I learnt.
Books and documents connected with whatever I'm currently working on. But also books, preferably not travel guides, that take me closer to the people of the place I'm visiting.
Where has seduced you?
I was overwhelmed by the desert in Namibia. I went there with my future wife, Jane. We were taken on a tiny plane to see the Himba tribe near the Skeleton Coast, in the north-east corner of the country, on the border with Angola. The sandy hills were covered with glistening semi-precious stones.
Better to travel or to arrive?
I'm always happy to return to Venice, but implicit in that statement is the necessity to leave Venice from time to time. Travelling is a strange sensation, like the character that Martin Sheen played in Apocalypse Now: when he was in the jungle he wanted to be home, but when he was at home, he couldn't wait to be in the jungle.
Worst travel experience?
When the children were tiny, we took them to Legoland near Windsor. On the way back, the scheduled bus never arrived and we thought we'd have to spend the night in the bus shelter or go back to Legoland.
There is no bad holiday, since I believe that, above all, a holiday is a state of mind. Maybe because of this, I anticipate holidays with an amount of pessimism – if all goes well, everything is gained, and if not, there's less disappointment.
It is a close call between a hostel in Tanzania and a hotel in central Milan, where I found that my assigned and pre-booked room was being used by someone else. I thought I was going to have to spend the night on the streets. I could have done it in Tanzania, but not in Milan.
I was lucky enough to be invited to L'Albereta hotel in Franciacorta, the sparkling wine-making region of Lombardy, in northern Italy. One of Italy's most interesting and fabulous chefs, Gualtiero Marchesi, is in charge of the restaurant, and there is a French spa in which the starry lights in the ceiling of the hammam slowly change colour.
Scuba-diving anywhere in the world. I was recently taken to see a shipwreck, which was enthralling. I love diving, it takes me to another world where words are almost nonexistent: sometimes our eyes are the only means of expression.
Best meal abroad?
While sailing in the Mediterranean last summer, I loved the octopus salad made in the Greek tavernas: the best was in the port of Naxos in the Cyclades. I also had a delicious kebab in Bursa, Turkey, where iskender kebabs were invented.
First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?
Smoke a cigarette, drink the local aperitivo, and think, but not too much – otherwise I'd get tired!
I would love to go on safari with my children in Africa, and see the wild animals together in the savannah.
I can't help myself from saying Venice.
To our island in the Venice lagoon, where I love working on things in the hut, like installing solar panels or mending furniture. Everything (except the solar-energy circuit) is salvaged.
'Francesco's Kitchen: An Intimate Guide to the Authentic Flavours of Venice', by Francesco da Mosto, is published by Ebury Press, £25
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