Fathom Questionnaire

Meet the Journalist: Mark Ellwood

by Mark Ellwood

Rooftop at the W in St. Petersburg. Photo: Meg Nolan.

Hometown: London

Occupation: Journalist

Favorite destinations: Forte dei Marmi in Italy, for the nostalgia, as it's where I spent chunks of my childhood. And anything in India, from the flashy, Miami-esque Bombay to lush louchness in Kerala.

Dying to visit: Brazil. It's the only one of the BRIC block I haven't yet seen firsthand.

Bizarre travel rituals: I've trained myself to sleep anywhere with two simple triggers: a plush eye mask and an episode of Radio 4's "From Our Own Correspondent" on my iPod. I love Kate Adie, and I love the show, but it's become my aural Ambien.

In-flight relaxation regime: Booze. I don't understand people who refuse a cocktail on a long flight. It's such an indulgence. As is the fact that no one can email, text, or call me. I dread wifi-enabled planes.

Always in carry-on: too many books. I'm terrified of running out of things to read on long journeys and of e-book readers losing power at the denouement. So I always overpack paperbacks.

Concierge or DIY? DIY. I want to understand how a trip works firsthand.

See it all or take it easy? See it all. I'm genuinely hopped up to see and do everything and anything when I travel. If I ever have to plan a honeymoon, I suspect I'll be rather OCD.

Drive or be driven? Be driven, every single time. I wish I could afford a driver in California, not just China.

Travel hero: Joyce Avriette. She is the longest-serving cabin crew on American Airlines. When I interviewed her, she told me how she and her roommate, another everyday girl from suburban Chicago, had taken a round-the-world trip in 1959 when there was some strange airline deal allowing staffers (stewardesses) to fly anywhere gratis. She went to Hong Kong, the Taj Mahal, Cairo, Tokyo – everywhere. I loved her quiet curiosity, chutzpah, and sense of adventure. She was mold-breaking.

Weirdest thing seen on travels: Probably the two 16-year-olds who broke into my room in a five-start hotel in Sydney and whom I interrupted as they rifled through my underwear. I wasn't hugely convinced that they were "just looking at what a room was like, mate." I still can't believe that of all the far-flung security-challenged places I've been, it was Sydney where I was (almost) robbed.

Best hotel amenity: At Las Alcobas in Mexico City, I still remember being offered on my first day a slew of handmade soaps to choose from that were neither twee nor girly. I loved the rough-hewn, old-school shapes and fragrances.

I dream about my meal at La Pergola at Cavalieri in Rome about six years ago. Yes, it's Michelin-starred blah blah so it should have been delicious. But it surpassed that uptight, cloche-prone grandeur typical of that kind of restaurant. It was upscale, but homey, and the food unfussily spectacular. I still hallucinate about the carbonara pasta parcels, with their almost-cooked egg that exploded in my mouth. And the mint plants wheeled tableside to be snipped fresh and pummeled into mint tea with a burst of hot water.

Everywhere I go, I check out the supermarkets. It's a simple snapshot of the similarities and differences between cultures. And looking for the local, usually red-canned rip-off of Coca-Cola is always amusing.

When I arrive in a new place, I learn the lay of the land by taking a walk round the block, to literally see where I am. Nothing anchors me more than hitting the sidewalk for the first time and seeing the lay of the land.

I always bring home something from the supermarket: pickles, sauces, cookies. I live in NYC. Edibles, comestibles, whatever you call them. Bringing "stuff" home is just something else to gather dust on the shelf, or find space to store under the bed.

If I never return to Rhode Island it'll be too soon because in four days, I was catcalled by three sets of teenagers, chased down the street for 45 minutes by a man in a pickup truck waving a two-by-four who thought I might have taken his picture, and chastised by a woman I mistook for a local good Samaritan. After I pulled into a car park, lost for the umpteenth time, she wandered over, smiled sweetly, and asked "do you need directions?" I was relieved to finally see someone smile at me and nodded enthusiastically. "Well, you should drive more slowly, there are day cares around here," she snapped and turned heel without missing a beat. Welcome to Rhode Island, indeed.

I travel for the passport stamps. And the sheer thrill.


Twitter: @markjellwood
Facebook: Mark Ellwood
TV: Local Currency (Plum)
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