Jacopo Ottaviani: So, tomorrow you’re off to Afghanistan, and in two weeks I’m going to Odessa. Three months ago I was sweating in the forests of Borneo and you were travelling around Xinjiang, in China. Why do we do it?
Stefano Liberti: In my mind there are two reasons, open to different interpretations: the desire to escape our humdrum everyday existence; and then the desire to escape from ourselves. Sometimes we want to expose ourselves to new things, to the excitement of losing ourselves in difference, or perhaps escape from setting down roots. Or turn our backs on them, because we all have them. It’s part of the culture we were born in and we live in.
Desire, escape, losing yourself, difference. It’s enough just to say these words to make a shiver run down the spines of us travellers, isn’t it?
That’s just it. Now I’m a bit older – I’m 43 – and I’m starting to do a bit of a reality check, it’s different. But when you’re 20 it’s something else: you do certain types of travel, and later you do others. It depends on your age, to start with.
You grow, together with your travels.
That’s true for me too now I’m nearing my thirties. Exactly ten years have gone by since my first real journey: interrailing in Scandinavia, the so-called ‘Zone B’, straight after leaving school. One month travelling with my cousin Luca. I still get a lump in my throat when I remember those places. Book by Jack Kerouac in my bag, notebook, camera. Out of thirty nights, we spent just ten in youth hostels: the others we slept on the floor, on the train, on the Viking Line deck that links Stockholm and Helsinki, on benches or at strangers’ houses.
Interrailing’s got a place I my heart too. I hadn’t even turned 18 when I left to go around Europe by train. Then I went back to Rome and decided to go off again straight away. So I changed the date on the ticket, because back then they used to be written by hand. I ended up in France, in the Loire valley, then in Berlin and finally in Amsterdam to visit a couple of friends. Then the inspector saw my ticket had been changed and shut me in a cell for a few hours, but above all he took the pass off me. All I could do was try to get a lift to Italy.
I found a lorry driver from Salerno who took me on board and I spent three days with him. He was of a completely different social extraction to me, and I still remember when he asked me: “What d’ya reckon to gettin’ off at Antwerp and stayin’ there for a few days t’ go whorin’?
” And I answered, well, in three days I’ve got to go back to school…