Have Suit­case, Will Travel

Hello Mr. Magazine - - HAVE SUITCASE, WILL TRAVEL - In­ter­view by Lisa Marie Corso Pho­tog­ra­phy by Luisa Brim­ble

David Prior is a travel writer. Not the new age kind you see on TV hang­ing in Ibiza by the kid­neyshaped pool hold­ing a daiquiri with a paper um­brella perched in it, but the kind that rolls up his sleeves and gets his hands dirty. And he loves food – eat­ing it, meet­ing the peo­ple who make it, and then doc­u­ment­ing it. Born and bred in the sun­shine state of Queens­land in North­ern Aus­tralia, David headed south to Syd­ney af­ter high school where he sank his teeth into the world of in­te­ri­ors and food styling, be­com­ing, as he puts it, “a jazzy lit­tle courier, hang­ing around the cool peo­ple and try­ing not to get in the way.” Soon, he left Aus­tralia for Europe. It was around about this time that his love of food and travel first in­ter­sected. “I had never trav­eled be­fore I moved to Europe so it was there that I un­der­stood that food and cul­ture were re­ally the same thing and so to re­ally write with author­ity around food you have to ex­pe­ri­ence many, many au­then­tic re­al­i­ties,” David says.

For the past decade, David has lived a some­what no­madic ex­is­tence to bring his sto­ries about food and travel to life. His mo­dus operandi is “have suit­case, will travel” and he means it. He left Syd­ney at age 23 af­ter re­ceiv­ing a schol­ar­ship to the Univer­sity of Gas­tro­nomic Science in Bra, Italy where he was men­tored by Carlo Petrini, founder of both the univer­sity and the Slow Food move­ment. Carlo later in­tro­duced David to iconic chef Alice Waters, which prompted David to move to the world’s other sun­shine state, Cal­i­for­nia, where he worked as Direc­tor of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Wa­ter’s Chez Panisse restau­rant and her non­profit ini­tia­tive, the Ed­i­ble School­yard Project. Through­out this time, he’s con­tin­ued to pro­duce food, travel, and de­sign sto­ries for Vogue Liv­ing, WSJ, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, British Vogue, L’Uomo Vogue, Mon­o­cle, Bon Appetit, Now­ness, and Lucky Peach – and racked up a lot of Fre­quent Flyer points in the process. Last year, David re­lo­cated to New York City, but has tal­lied a to­tal of only two months there, as his pur­suit of new sto­ries con­tin­ues to send him all over the world.

David’s seem­ingly Ro­man­tic ex­is­tence is not

with­out sac­ri­fices, how­ever. He ad­mits it has been dif­fi­cult to meet peo­ple due to his here to­day, gone to­mor­row itin­er­ary. What David calls work most peo­ple would call va­ca­tion, and he’s the first to ad­mit that he can’t carry on be­hav­ing like he’s on a “Mykonos gay­ca­tion all year round.” His un­con­ven­tional pro­fes­sional life has led to some un­con­ven­tional ro­man­tic ar­range­ments as well. He’s had cross-con­ti­nen­tal flings that most of us only fan­ta­size about, and ap­pre­ci­ates bet­ter than most the con­ve­nience of dat­ing apps. For now, how­ever, David is con­tent to live with his most trusted com­pan­ion a lit­tle while longer – his suit­case. To what ex­tent do you live by your motto: Have suit­case, will travel? As I write this I am on a plane jug­gling a tray ta­ble and my lap­top. I have been liv­ing out of that sin­gle suit­case for si x months. Some­times pub­li­ca­tions send me on an as­sign­ment, other times it is on a whim of mine or an in­stinct that some­thing great is hap­pen­ing in a par­tic­u­lar place. A few years ago no one would send me to São Paulo, for ex­am­ple, which seems ab­surd now be­cause of the many food, nightlife, and de­sign sto­ries that have been writ­ten about that in­cred­i­ble city in the past two years or so. It was great to go there and feel as if you were writ­ing about some­thing new and unique. That is hard in a place like Paris or Rome, be­cause pub­li­ca­tions in Lon­don, New York, and Syd­ney con­stantly com­mis­sion sto­ries there…Some­times you’ve just got to go and take a risk but I like a bal­ance of com­mis­sion (se­cu­rity) and ad­ven­ture. In terms of the ac­tual line “have suit­case, will travel,” a friend came up with it and it res­onated with me be­cause it was pretty good hu­mored. It be­gan as tongue-incheek, the same as my In­sta­gram, @pri­or­forhire, but now that I get more and more work and my sched­ule gets cra­zier there has be­come a real

truth to both. What hap­pens af­ter you land on the tar­mac of a new city? Well, that is my fa­vorite mo­ment of all. I’ll never for­get when I fir st left Aus­tralia to move to Italy. I stepped out of the train in Mi­lano Cen­trale – that great build­ing and it was Men’s Fash­ion We e k and all these chic, gi­raffe -like crea­tures were hav­ing e spresso at t he sta­tion’s bar. It was so ex­otic to me and to­tally thrilling.

There i sn’t re­ally a science or method to it – but I think it’s about in­stinct and taste. I am not one to plan a trip un­less I am cov­er­ing a spe­cific per­son, place, or phe­nom­e­non. I go, I walk around, I chat to peo­ple and have a drink with them. And I al­ways visit the mar­ket, par­tic­u­larly if I am writ­ing about food… it gives you many pieces to solv­ing the puz­zle. I like the NY­TIMES 36 Hours con­cept in the Travel sec­tion, but I re­ally feel like to even be­gin to get a read on a place it is more like 72 Hours. I feel my most “awake” in those first days. Ev­ery­thing is

new, you are feel­ing and see­ing the dif­fer­ences, there is a sense of wonder and some adren­a­line go­ing. I usu­ally find my subjects in those days. I’m nat­u­rally very cu­ri­ous, quite so­cial, but also very ob­ser­vant, so if I see some­thing that cap­tures my at­ten­tion I want to know more and I go for it. Maybe I do tend to take too many risks but that’s part of the ad­ven­ture. What I’m al­ways look­ing for is au­then­tic­ity, some­thing that is truly rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the place. You know when you see it.

You’re more a sto­ry­teller than a tra­di­tional writer, con­cerned with the cul­tural tra­di­tions, fa­mil­ial her­itages, and so­ci­etal in­flu­ences sur­round­ing food be­yond the plate. Why is com­mu­ni­cat­ing the nar­ra­tive of food so im­por­tant to you?

It feels very pre­ten­tious, but I do think of my­self as a sto­ry­teller. I guess it’s be­cause I think of other writ­ers be­ing so much more ac­com­plished and “writerly,” I don’t feel like I’ve earned my stripes in a pub­lish­ing house or a news­pa­per and I cer­tainly didn’t train as a jour­nal­ist! I ac­tu­ally started writ­ing so I could af­ford to travel when I was liv­ing in Europe and could keep up with my friends. I fell in love with be­ing on the road, so in or­der to keep go­ing I made it my work. I guess be­cause I am so in­volved in the im­agery of the sto­ries and try to use a few medi­ums to com­mu­ni­cate the mes­sage, be­ing a ‘writer’ al­ways felt a lit­tle lim­ited, too. Why food? I think that cul­ture is most eas­ily ex­pressed through food. You don’t have to speak the lan­guage or have a great un­der­stand­ing of a place’s art or his­tory to en­gage with it. At its best it is very demo­cratic and tells you so much about a place and its peo­ple. For me, it’s al­ways been the way to find the keys to un­lock the door into the real soul and spirit of a place.

Af­ter you stud­ied at the Univer­sity of Gas­tro­nomic Science in Italy, you landed a job at Chez Panisse with ac­claimed chef, restau­ra­teur, and food ac­tivist Alice Waters. What was one great les­son you took away from that pe­riod of your life?

I’d al­ways been into what Alice was do­ing, even as a kid in Bris­bane, Aus­tralia in­ter­ested in cooking. Her style of food, her pol­i­tics, and the way she en­gages with the world out­side her restau­rant al­ways ap­pealed to me. I took away a great many lessons from that ex­pe­ri­ence, but more than learn­ing about food it­self or even the process of build­ing a so­cial move­ment, what I learnt from Alice is not just that any­thing is pos­si­ble but that ev­ery­thing is pos­si­ble. She is in­cred­i­bly de­ter­mined and op­ti­mistic and those qual­i­ties have and will con­tinue to change the way the world eats.

What has been one of your fa­vorite dis­cov­er­ies from your trav­els so far?

I don’t re­ally have a fa­vorite. There is too much good shit out there to find and I find some­thing I love ev­ery­where I go. And I mean ev­ery­where. When I think of high­lights my mind starts run­ning but I guess it’s the more ex­otic places that stick out – parts of the Mid­dle East, the Ama­zon, Africa. Iquitos in the Ama­zon is a pretty wild place. Re­ally iso­lated in the mid­dle of the jun­gle. The mar­ket there was in­tense. Witch doc­tors, monkeys, whole tur­tle car­casses, strange fruit, and ob­vi­ously a huge drug trade go­ing through it.

And one of the most dev­as­tat­ing?

I am ex­tremely sen­ti­men­tal about my time in Syria. I went just be­fore the war and I found it to be un­be­liev­ably mag­i­cal. It was like the Rome of the Mid­dle East, but with zero tourists and a mys­tery about it. Get­ting lost in the souk and shoot­ing Da­m­as­cus with Pablo Zamora was one of the great­est, most mind-ex­pand­ing jobs I have ever had. No one wanted to com­mis­sion me to go but we went, and once the im­ages rolled in and the story was done, ev­ery­one wanted the story. It was never printed, of course, but I feel lucky to have seen it. I have no idea what it is like now. Thou­sands of years of his­tory and dozens of wars never de­stroyed the city, but I fear this one has. I hope that I can use my story and those im­ages to be some kind of wit­ness to what was lost at some point.

While the no­madic lifestyle of a travel writer has it’s as­sumed benefits (ahem, fre­quent flyer points), how does this im­pact your dat­ing life when you’re con­stantly out of town?

Per­haps you should ask the peo­ple that have tried dat­ing me! It is re­ally fun to meet new peo­ple all the time. I do love it, but when peo­ple say about

be­ing a travel writer “oh it’s a dream job” I do some­times think “Well yeah, it is but for­get about hav­ing a re­la­tion­ship.” It makes it re­ally hard. You fall in love, you leave. Cy­cle on re­peat.

How have you dealt with the dilemma of liv­ing your dream at the ex­pense of po­ten­tially putting love on hold?

It has just been a re­al­ity for me and to be hon­est I prob­a­bly haven’t wanted a re­la­tion­ship un­til re­cently. But there aren’t many guys who have the pa­tience for it or the nerve to re­ally trust me. I am hope­ful, though, be­cause there are now more and more peo­ple in my sit­u­a­tion. Not be­cause they are travel writ­ers (we are a very en­dan­gered species), but be­cause they travel of­ten for work and it’s never been sim­pler or more pos­si­ble to be mo­bile. Let’s say I am hope­ful…

On the flip side, you get to travel the world and meet new peo­ple daily. What’s it like to make a con­nec­tion while trav­el­ling and then leave it be­hind?

Well, that can be re­ally hard. When you meet peo­ple while you are trav­el­ing, they know its tem­po­rary and para­dox­i­cally they can pull walls down quickly that they would oth­er­wise take a long while to bring down if you were dat­ing in the same city. Things can get in­tense quickly. Also, my work is other peo­ple’s hol­i­days so I can’t re­ally be­have like I am go­ing on a Mykonos gay­ca­tion all year round. That gets old, and quickly. But that be­ing said, I’ve met and con­tinue to meet re­ally amaz­ing peo­ple and there have been times when I’ve been a touch heart­bro­ken in the cab to the air­port…

Pros vs Cons of on­line dat­ing?

I some­times think that apps or so­cial me­dia gen­er­ally can be a lit­tle “my best ver­sion of my­self by me.” We’re all guilty of it, but I think it’s good to be aware when you are en­gi­neer­ing ex­pe­ri­ences for your In­sta­gram or Face­book and not ac­tu­ally par­tic­i­pat­ing in the mo­ment. On­line dat­ing can be great when you are trav­el­ing, but you need a bal­ance, too. You can’t be re­ly­ing on it to meet peo­ple in a new place…I’ve seen a lot of peo­ple sit in their ho­tel rooms all day on their phone, or­ga­niz­ing the party for the night and never see­ing any­thing of the ac­tual place they are vis­it­ing. That’s not for me. Like any­thing, I think you need a bal­ance.

So when you do even­tu­ally set­tle down and find Mr. Right, what do you imag­ine it will look like?

The set­tle down dream sce­nario I usu­ally pic­ture when I am re­ally over trav­el­ing, tired of be­ing un­able to cook my own meals, not go­ing to my own gym or see­ing my mates, is of hav­ing a farm near a surf break (and an in­ter­na­tional air­port!). In that case, a Mr. Right could be a farmer, surfer, or combo of the two. I’m jok­ing (kind of), but to be hon­est I ac­tu­ally think that maybe meet­ing “the one” is quite like the ex­pe­ri­ence of travel writ­ing. You go there with an idea in your mind of what it will be and then the re­al­ity is so dif­fer­ent and so much bet­ter than you could have ever dreamt. Like I have to be in my work when it comes to find­ing the other piece of my puz­zle I’m go­ing to try to be awake and open to ev­ery pos­si­bil­ity and ad­ven­ture. Lisa Marie Corso is a Mel­bourne-based writer and ed­i­tor cur­rently work­ing as Ed­i­to­rial Co­or­di­na­tor at

TheDe­signFiles. Ev­ery day she thanks her par­ents for nam­ing her af­ter Elvis’ spawn and not an avant-garde fruit, en­dan­gered specie, or air­craft. You can fol­low her on In­sta­gram @lisamariecorso.

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