The Scoop Interviews (no. 7): Mary D’Ambrosio, Journalist, Travel Website Owner

Mary D"Ambrosio

Interview by Nancy Todd

Worldly Mary D’Ambrosio is as diverse as her website.  As a journalist, she also teaches journalism as an adjunct professor at Columbia University in New York City.  Mary is director of a summer foreigner reporting program in Istanbul.  She values a strong sense of exploration and the diversity of people that we can often only experience by traveling. Her website,  Big World Magazine, can probe your curiosity and take you on trips while in your chair or kayaking down the Amazon.   

Describe your role and the purpose of your site.

Big World Magazine showcases “storytelling about places.” We try to offer readers a window into life and culture. Our stories – told in writing, photo essays and video – are about what makes places tick.

I’m the founding editor. I’m a longtime journalist and foreign correspondent who also teaches; the magazine grew out of a graduate travel writing class I was teaching at New York University. I realized that my students’ stories were about the texture of places, and wouldn’t fit in traditional glossy travel magazines, which focus mainly on trip recommendations.

This photo essay by a Spanish-Italian photographer who goes by the pseudonym “Escapista” is an example of what I mean. Here he’s chronicling the resurgence of street life in post-Franco Madrid

1. What is the most satisfying part of your work?

I love discovering talented new writers and visual journalists. We recently ran this wonderful piece about the Basque art of bertsolaritza, or poetry improvisation, by the young American writer Amanda Gonser, who lives in Donostia/San Sebastian.

San Sebastian

2. What has been your favorite travel experience in Spain?

I have a special love for Spain, which I’ve visited a half dozen times over the past 20 years, both on assignment and on vacation.It’s tough to choose a favorite experience: was it pintxos bar-hopping in San Sebastian during a raucous local festival, or eating olives and scallops in Sevilla from a paper cone, under a canopy by the Guadalquivir?

But I’d like to single out a moment that was telling, at least. One scorching August day Madrid, the city was nearly empty. At a wide avenue, without a car in sight, I casually crossed against the light. Halfway across, I turned around to see the other pedestrians still standing there, waiting for the light to change. For me that encapsulated a big difference between Spain and Latin America: in Spain there’s much greater fear of the law (in Latin America, one bolts across the street, dodging cars that have blown through the red lights).

Church next to The Prado Museum in Madrid.

3. Describe an important learning for you in your travels.

I first saw Spain, in the early 1990s, through the prism of someone who had lived in and reported from Latin America. I’d worked in Venezuela for about four years, and then, while based in New York, covered the region as a magazine writer for a decade. So my visits to Spain were like journeys to the mother ship. I got to see where the tasca came from, and, in the churches and paradores, where the conquistadores had deposited their wealth. I recall hearing a guide proclaim, in a bejeweled church in Sevilla: “And here you can see the gold from the Americas.” Reflexively I thought: “So here’s where it all ended up!” There’s still great resentment about this in Latin America today.

4. Where in Spain would you like to travel and haven’t been? Why?

One day I hope to visit Galicia. I was briefly married to a Venezuelan whose people came from la Coruña. Talking about early 20th century conditions there, they invoked the Irish potato famine. They’d escaped that poverty — yet they still longed for the land.

5. What is one thing you would not travel without?

I once owned a wonderful Panasonic walkman, an $80 device on which you could listen to music, record interviews and to tune into the radio. I had it for seven years. Today you need separate devices to do all of those things, and they seem to break every couple of months. My new favorite gadget is my Nikon p7000, a compact but powerful camera that also shoots great video. It’s a fabulous tool for a multimedia journalist.

6. How do you see the future of the Internet affecting your site?

It’s all to the good. As a digital publication, we’re ready to embrace what the Internet brings.

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