The clouds of an unprecedented existential crisis have hovered over the world these past six months. While active travel has been inconceivable to most, getting outdoors in one’s daily life has been a privilege.
Getting from one place to another is slowly picking up, and those who have travelled out of necessity or sheer desire have inspired one and all. We had the opportunity to chat up travel writer and journalist Carlo Pizzati, who until a little while ago was India-based and wrote about it extensively in his memoirs, Mappillai and Bending Over Backwards. Pizzati tells us what he, wife, writer Tishani Doshi, and his family, have been up to in the recent months.
Where are you located presently? Is it a secluded area?
After being in India and in Abu Dhabi, I have reached Italy, a country that faced the pandemic earlier than others and that closed itself in a drastic lockdown last spring. Over the summer, Italy has reopened to public life and to tourism, with the proper precautions. Yet I try to avoid crowds as much as possible. But I am not in a secluded place, since the city of Vicenza has a vibrant social life in its historic centre. While observing all the mandatory precautions, I visited friends and relatives in my native Switzerland, then in Venice, Ivrea, Siena, in Tuscany, and in Umbria.
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Il giorno del compleanno di Gian Menato, il 2 settembre, era brutto tempo. Così abbiamo aspettato che uscisse il sole, per inerpicarci lungo la ripida via Pelegatta, con qualche passaggio di III grado, per sbucare al rifugio Scalorbi, brindare al compleanno e riprendere la discesa lungo il sentiero chiamato "L'Omo e la Dona," per la caratteristica forma di due torri di roccia calcare che sovrastano il paesaggio. Il 2 settembre era anche il compleanno di un mio caro amico, il giornalista e grande esperto di Giappone Stefano Carrer, che lo scorso maggio non è mai più tornato dalla sua montagna, nella Val d'Intelvi. L'ho pensato. E ho fatto un brindisi anche a lui. Alla sua memoria è dedicato il mio prossimo libro sull'Asia, dove si parla un po' anche di alcune esplorazioni giapponesi fatte assieme.
I’ve been playing ping-pong with my son Teo and tennis with my wife Tishani—very COVID-19-safe sports. I've also been swimming in the sea (a couple of times), and gone on long walks in the city. But it has been particularly exhilarating to be able to trek freely in nature, among the forests and the rocks of the Little Dolomites mountains, north of Venice and South of Austria, where I grew up. Something taken for granted up until a few months ago, has become a great gift.
Read: When in Rome, Walk
Do you plan to travel to India soon, to your home in Paramankeni, Tamil Nadu? Would you travel to the north-eastern states any time soon?
Unfortunately, travel plans are no longer the sole prerogative of the traveller but depend on government restrictions and health measures. My plans to return to our house on the beach in Tamil Nadu, and to personally take care of our three adopted dogs, must wait a few more weeks. I would love to return to the northeast as well. I had memorable times in Guwahati and Shillong and would like to discover Nagaland.
However, I have been travelling there vicariously while working on my next non-fiction book, The Tiger and the Drone, a ten year-long journey across India and Asia exploring, through stories and analysis, India and Asia’s changing relationship with global warming, civil rights, technology and religion. It is to be released on September 24.
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The first post-lockdown journey. To the country where I was born. A stroll around the Black Lake and the White Lake. One side of the mountains flows to the Adriatic sea, the other to the Danube river. Perfectly equanimous, like the Swiss. And a ride at high altitude on a red train that's always punctual, like the Swiss. Felt like yodleeing ha ha hee hoo. And I did too! Then I put my mask back on. (danke to my dear long-time friend Silvia Seiler of the Albergo della Stazione of Campocologno, Switzerland) #switzerland ðÂÂÂÂÂÂ¨ðÂÂÂÂÂÂ #bernina #stmoritz #campocologno #postlockdown
Are you undertaking any activities in particular while you're social-distancing?
Well, I am working on the next book, a collection of short stories called A History of Objects which is planned to release next year. Otherwise, although I no longer hug or shake hands, and I keep out of the way of peoples' breath, I have met with some friends, but mostly outdoors, or, very rarely, in socially-distanced restaurants indoors.
I frequently wash my hands, disinfect them, wear gloves on some occasions, I wear my mask in public places indoors, and at times outdoors too. I am accustomed to isolation, having spent a long time away from cities, while at the beach house in Tamil Nadu, but the fact that everyone else has been encouraged to engage in distancing has had an even more productive effect on my work—I have been focusing even more, and better, on my writing.
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To appreciate the beauty of C you must understand the scale of her (getting her to pose beside her smaller sister P was quite the group effort)...... Maremma sheepdog crossed with a corsocane, she is the most gentle adorable creature I've met in a long time - unflappable, unless of course there's a cinghiale in the brush -- then she'd probably charge & have him for dinner ðÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂðÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂðÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ . . #otherpeoplespets #corsocane #maremmasheepdog #ilikebigdogsandicannotlie
As travel stands transformed, devoured by the wrath of the pandemic, what do you, as someone writing about travel and culture, have to say about the change?
I think the meaning of travel is a poignant topic considering the challenges travel is now facing. In a way, within the economic disaster and its dire consequences on people's life, there is perhaps a useful reflection to be made about the senselessness that a certain type of commodified tourism had reached. Was it restorative, instructional, relaxing? Or had it become a stressful obsession, something that existed to be represented rather than truly experienced? Did it allow for that useful break from the routine tourists thought they were seeking? Did it deliver discovery and understanding? Or was the fatigue it brought about due to overcrowding, lack of time, bureaucracy, jet lags etc., superior to the benefits? I think in the next months, and most likely years, we will have the chance to find profound answers to these questions, as mass travel faces a possible transformation.