On the road with travel writer Carlo Taglia – Bringing the best of Italy to the world
By Kai Teo
“I travel to enrich myself, I write to inspire others,” Carlo Taglia, somewhere in his van on our way to Vaerøy, Norway.
To meet a human being like Carlo is like a jolt to your life force, a sudden burst of inspiration, and an intense reunion with adventure. Well, at least that was what happened when I first met him.
I was searching for a ride to hitch on from one festival in Sweden, to another in the North of Norway (that’s fucking north, above the arctic circle, by the way), Vaerøy. Everyone either had no space in their cars, or were going off in a completely different direction. And outside one of the stalls in the festival marketplace, an Italian friend of mine, Roberto, pointed him out to me.
“That’s Carlo, he’s a friend of mine, he has a van and he’s travelling up to Midnight Sun Festival.”
And there he was, standing there, eating a bunch of hazelnuts he had specially brought over from Torino (found that out later, along with many Torino’s organic products). A down-to-earth, jovial looking dude, wearing a colourful but not flashy open vest, revealing tattoos filled with travel stories, and a character whose thirst for life can never be quenched.
“I can definitely trust this guy. He’s got tattoos.”
And true enough, after a short conversation, he had also established that I wasn’t gonna rob him, bore him, or burn his van. A firm, sincere handshake later, I was on my way to Norway.
“You want some organic hazelnuts from my region, Torino?” That was one of the first questions he asked me as we departed in his camper. And a question that got thrown in our faces at least several times everyday. I mean, when someone advertises his nuts like that, I would put it in my mouth. But right when I bit into them, my trust for this man was shaken.
The explosion of Nutella flavoured hazelnuts in my oral cavity was like no other nuts I have eaten before in my life. I was hooked. And you know how the drug dealers always tell you, “The first time is free.” This man is gonna start selling me these hazelnuts! And before we even get to the festival, because I’ve run out of money to buy the nuts, he will kick me out of the car in the dark forests of Sweden to be eaten up by killer squirrels.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. I’ve got to kick this habit even before it forms. But, before I could reach for another handful of those hazelnuts, we stopped for the evening and in about 30 seconds, Carlo had already set up his foldable table, laid the tablecloth and starting preparing pasta from, you guessed it, his region, Torino.
It was a simple meal for five people (we were three in Carlo’s van, including Julia, a gorgeous Swedish raver I kidnapped using the lure of a free festival ticket, and in another van were Fred and Marina, a beautiful couple whom Carlo are friends with). Pasta and some sauce thingy that I couldn’t pronounce. I was born and raised in Singapore, we eat only noodles and rice there, so Italians, please forgive me for my inadequacy in pasta vocabulary.
But that simple dinner was cooked with so much pride and passion, that it was the best meal we’ve had in days. Another fucking trap, the next meal he cooks he’s gonna charge us four Euros a plate.
And then came the red wine. Could you guess where it’s from? Yep. His region. One sip of the warm, velvety blood of grapes and I knew it was too late.
“Ok, look. I know what you’re trying to do. But I’ve 100 Euros, and I will use 80 Euros to buy 1 kg of Torino’s hazelnuts, 1 kg of Torino’s pasta, 1 litre of that special sauce from Torino, and 2 bottles of Torino red wine. The last 20 Euros is for me to buy beers during the festival. I still hope to be able to get there though.”
He laughed off my once-in-a-lifetime deal and assured me that he would give me a discount. And as a Singaporean, every time I hear that there’s a discount, I would automatically feel that I’ve genuinely saved money even if I bought something useless just because the price was 50% off. So all was good and we continued the journey together.
On the long stretches of winding roads snaking their way across the evergreen pine forests of Sweden, Carlos recounted stories from Thailand, India, China, many other regions and cities, and of course, Torino.
In hearing his adventures (details of which I would not go into in here, because they’re in his book, which is one of the bestsellers in Italy), I found that Carlo is a person who refuses to submit to the mundaneness of modern living, an eternal traveller who would not rest his soul until he has seen every corner of the world, and an inspiration to the millions that wished they didn’t need to work in a stupid office cubicle from 8 to 5 every weekday, with 20 days of paid vacation per year, health insurance included.
Along the road, every little thing fascinates him, except big cities. Because to him, modern city living has given rise to the exponential growth of consumerism, greed, and is generally an insult to the human nomad and spirit.
In some ways, I agree to him readily. But on the other hand, I find myself constantly attracted to cities because in that stressful, emotionless, rule governed environment, the most extravagant outbursts of human energy occur. Independent music and art studios start popping up in industrial areas, illegal raves begin to drum their pounding bass from the rooftops of used car garages, and powerful movements to bring human civilisation forward are given birth to everyday.
“Oh, look! Reindeers! Ciao bella!” Carlo exclaimed.
He screeched the van to a halt and captured the moment with his camera. Through the lens, his eyes were filled with an unbridled zest for life, and an unquenchable thirst to see new things. Every picture that he took was like his future reminder to himself never to lose this insatiable curiosity.
After countless reindeer encounters, “snowmobile crossing” signs, some magnificent snowcapped mountains, multiple stops at the state-owned alcohol supermarket “Systembolaget”, and a five-hour ferry ride later, we arrived at the Midnight Sun Festival 2016.
A few days of 24/7 contact and compact living have brought the entire crew together like a family. There was completely open sharing of food, wine and feelings, and an unshakeable trust that was built on us managing not to kill one another.
As the festival drew on, amidst shit weather and Thor powered winds, I couldn’t help but feel that Carlo’s quest for exploration, where he has embarked on alone, is also a journey that has come to a point where he is silently searching for a companion whom he can share the next adventure with.
So Julia and I went on a festival-wide hunt for a good fit for our Italian traveller, Carlo Taglia, 31, 1.80 m tall, athletic body type, hobbies include cooking, writing and listening to great music.
And nope, we weren’t very successful. There were too many dreadlocked hippies who only wanted partners with dreadlocks, or too many people who were into conspiracy theories. “Nope, not his type. Let’s buy him a beer instead.”
But maybe he has already found who he’s been looking for.
In the next episode of “Stuck in a van with Carlo Taglia – The man who would one day become the biggest hazelnut tycoon in the world”, he was going the same way as us and he offered us a ride to Malmö, with no conditions, and no force-feeding us his nuts.
It was a 100% discount. Fuck yea. Payment terms were: friendship, laughter, trust, and a general refusal to suffocate him in his sleep. Best deal ever.
It took us a few days before Carlo’s van finally pulled over at my doorstep. Mama mia, what a great two weeks. As we exchanged heartfelt words of appreciation, and gave each other our best wishes, tears started welling up in my eyes. Tears that were shed not for the encounter that had ended, but a beginning of a lifelong friendship that yet has many adventures waiting (I know it’s a little cheesy).
<This is not an advertisement> By the way, you can help Carlo fund his travels by buying his travel book “Vagamondo – around the world without flying”. And by owning the paperback, you’re also helping him rekindle the fiery passion for travelling that millions of us have since turned away from, in exchange for the cold, lonely glare of the computer monitor. You can also follow him on his adventures here on his facebook page.
(And Carlo, remember when we talked about the 10% commission? I’ve sent you an invoice. Please reply as soon as possible. Thank you.)