Just back from an hour and a quarter with the travel boys – Ben Hills, Lloyd Spencer Davis and Joe Bennett. I had high expectations of this session, having always wanted to BE a travel writer (in between being forensic pathologist, food critic and French diplomat), and it was most enjoyable.
Christopher Moore was a great chair, and even almost managed to keep (one of) the panellists under control. He asked lots of meaty questions, and I’m not sure there’s room here to do justice to even a couple, but I’ll try to summarize.
The first question was about why each of them had chosen to write travel books.
Joe: Poverty. And an inability to produce a novel.
It seems the secret to living a long and enjoyable life could be to follow the lifestyles of some very staunch Sardinians – eat a modest diet with organic locally grown veg and the occasional blowout on boiled mutton and roast pork, drink a couple of glasses daily of the Sardinian red wine Cannonau (15 to 16% proof and unfiltered) and spend your life scaling the barren hills looking after sheep and goats. Perhaps it might be a good idea to stay away from some Sardinian cheeses – the illegal casu marzu “rotten cheese” – read Ben Hills book to find out about that – I couldn’t bring myself to write what he described to us in his session.
Ben Hill’s very entertaining talk today – centered around his latest book The Island of the Ancientsshowed us what a remarkable group of Sardinian centenarians can tell us about living long and well. (The book has some wonderful photographs ). There are probably many factors in their extreme long life including diet, exercise (plenty of hard work from a very early age), genetic factors and a society where old people are a valued part of their extended family and community. A Sardinian doctor said “When an old person dies it is as if a library has burned down”
Sardinia emerged from the talk as a beautiful place to visit – from the oligarchs playground of the Costa Smeralda to the ancient hinterland. The island is a fascinating mix of ancient cultures with many languages other than Italian spoken including an ancient form of Catalan from Spain.
Ben Hills’ book looks to be a great read and certainly provoked some interested questioning at the end of the session. Another of his books, a very controversial biography of Japanese Princess Masako was also mentioned in questioning and he described how it was initially banned in Japan. I was also fascinated to read of his book on the asbestos mining controversy in Australia. Called Blue Murder it describes the battle for justice by victims of CSR’s Wittenoom asbestos mine in Western Australia.
A final hat tip from Ben – the 1970’s film Padre Padrone gives a good idea of the harsh lives his centenarians would have lived in their childhood and youth. Alice in Videoland have it for hire.
He was an entertaining talker and his other festival session with Joe Bennett and Lloyd Spencer Davis Guilt-free travel could be worth a punt.