Fathom Questionnaire: Julia Reed
by Julia Reed
Hometown: I grew up in Greenville, Mississippi. I lived in New York for 20 years and I now live in New Orleans.
Occupation: Journalist, author, creative director of Taigan.com.
Favorite destinations: Oh gosh, there are so many! London, Rome, Madrid, the west coast of Ireland; Kenya and Tanzania for safaris. Domestically, I adore Chicago, L.A. is such fun, San Fran so delicious.
Dying to visit: I've been to Boston a lot, but always for quick work in-and-outs. I'd love to spend some real time there and then head out to the Cape and up to Maine and to Vermont (where my friends Rogan and Abby Lechthaler have a restaurant called The Downtown Grocery I'm dying to try). Further afield, there's Chile (Pablo Neruda is one of my favorite poets and he writes about the landscape so beautifully), India, Vietnam, Laos.
Bizarre travel rituals: I don't have any — I just grab a pile of books, headphones, jump on the plane, and go.
In-flight relaxation regime: I am already at my most relaxed on a plane. I love the feeling of being in suspended time, I love that you cannot use your cell phone, and I love that at 20,000 feet and higher, you can — at last — hear the sound of your own voice, so I get a lot of writing done.
Always in carry-on: At least three or four books (and usually at least one about the place I'm going, whether it's a novel, a book of essays, a guide), a small bronze Trish McEvoy bag that holds eye cream, lipstick, lip Medex, concealer, and a small toothbrush with some paste. Then I have a foundation/powder compact by Shisheido, a large cashmere pullover and/or cashmere wrap (I'm always cold and airline blankets are getting pretty awful), iPad, Hermes leather notebook (with all my to-do lists), two of three Moleskin notebooks that have to do with whatever I'm working on, a handful of Sharpies.
Concierge or DIY? It depends. Great concierges can really spoil you. The best concierge in the world is Sandro Marcal at The Soho Hotel in London. He is a miracle worker. He can get you into impossible-to-get-into restaurants. He can track down something you've lost or left behind. (He once found a diamond bracelet of mine I was convinced was gone forever, and when I left a hat behind in my room — that I had made to wear to a country house wedding — he sent a motorcycle messenger to catch up with me so I'd have it on time.)
See it all or take it easy? Again, it depends. I'm usually pretty glad when I get up and at it and take in at least a couple of museums or galleries. I was just in Chicago and spent some really happy hours in the Art Institute. But there is also nothing better than a long, lovely lunch while traveling, and after all, that is another way of "seeing it all." In Chicago, I especially love Blackbird for a long Friday lunch. And on Saturday, when shopping, you can't beat RL.
Drive or be driven? One of the sexiest trips of my life was a long weekend in Hong Kong and it began brilliantly when I was ferried from the airport to the late, lamented Regent hotel in an amazingly gorgeous Bentley. But if I'm in Ireland or somewhere in the French or English countryside, say, then I want my own car so I can poke around backroads and set my own pace. There's too much removed with a driver most of the time. And I love to walk as much as possible in cities.
Travel hero: These days, no one writes about food and travel together as well as Calvin Trillin. I also love A. J. Leibling on Paris — as well as his travels in Louisiana with Earl Long. Re-reading Hemingway's Moveable Feast or Death in the Afternoon always inspires me to head to France and Spain, and for that matter, so do his novels. I also love his short stories and non-fiction from Africa, one of my favorite places in the world. Hemingway was the kind of intrepid, curious traveler that I so admire. There were so many of them from his generation — novelists like Somerset Maugham who also wrote wonderful travel journals that you can still find.
Weirdest thing seen on travels: Oh Lord, I've seen some awful things (bombed out buildings and piles of rubble in Kabul), scary things (scorpions in my hotel room in Kabul), fantastic things (a mother with baby giraffes munching on tree leaves just outside of a tent in Lewa Downs, Kenya), beautiful things (acres of pink flamingos in Tanzania), but you're stumping me with weird. I think at this point, nothing seems weird, just interesting.
Best hotel amenity: I'm a soap and bath junkie so really lavish soaps and bath gels. We are not talking here about the Holiday Inn soap sliver in a wax paper packet. More like the fabulous Miller Harris soaps, gels, and shampoo at The Soho Hotel in London (and when you are in a suite, the stuff gets even bigger!). The Carlyle Hotel in New York has the biggest, best-smelling bars of soap ever. I bring them back and use them in my nightgown drawer as sachets.
I dream about my meal in Guadeloupe, on the side of a cliff behind a little store where my hungry companion and I stopped in hopes of a bag of chips and a Coke. Lo and behold, the proprietor showed us to a rickety little table on the back terrace, and a kid ran down to the water and speared a snapper and ran back up with it, and the proprietor stuffed some herbs in its mouth and grilled it on the spot. He served it with sautéed local breadfruit, wild mushrooms, and dry white wine. Utter heaven, and now I couldn't find that place again if you held a gun to my head. Easier to find, but no less dreamy, is the unbelievable array of shellfish prepared a la plancha at Madrid's La Trainera.
Everywhere I go, I check out the pharmacies. There are soaps I've never seen or miracle remedies for everything from headaches to wrinkles to hayfever. European pharmacies are treasure troves.
When I arrive in a new place, I learn the lay of the land by pouring over a map and hitting the streets on foot.
I always bring home shells and birds' nests and feathers and all sorts of weird stuff like that. In Africa, I HAD to pick up an amazing weaver bird's nest that I found on the ground. It was illegal for me to pick it up (it was on government land) and it was certainly illegal for me to bring it into the U.S. My mother, who was traveling with me, got as far away from me as humanly possible as we went through customs. I brought a whole suitcase of shells and coral back from Cuba years ago, and I found some beautiful shells in Barbados. I always smuggle Serrano ham from Spain — it is the best ham in the world, but our wacky agriculture department won't approve of their methods, so the Serrano sold here is not the same.
If I never return to Moscow it'll be too soon because it has no romance, unlike St. Petersburg, which has tons.
I travel for the romance (of the place, the people, the whole thing).