About Joseph Rosendo
Joseph Rosendo has been a travel, food and wine journalist for 30 years. Since his first travel story in the Los Angeles Times in 1980, he has been published in countless publications worldwide. He is the author of an Insider’s Guide to Los Angeles and the Consulting Editor for DK Eyewitness Travel Guides’ Where To Go When and Where To Go When—The Americas.
In 1985 he created Travelscope, a nationally syndicated travel, food and wine radio show which aires on the Travelscope Radio Network and online at www.Travelscope.net.
Joseph Rosendo, host of the PBS series Travelscope, and his wife Julie, the show's producer, in Carcassonne, France.
TRAVEL HAS CHANGED MY WAY OF LOOKING AT LIFE
ET: In looking back over the years as a travel journalist, what kind of background might one need to make a success of this vocation?
JR: Without a doubt, I would say that above all else one needs a love of travel. I started my adult “professional career” (as in having a job in order to make a living) as an actor.
Along the way, as behooves all actors, I did other things. I was a newspaper delivery man, a Fuller Brush Man and a freelance writer. All of the talents I used in order to do those jobs have helped me. It’s obvious that being an actor would help one be a radio and televison host – and that’s true – but, being a salesman and a writer also helped. I took creative writing courses in college, but I never fancied myself a writer until I started doing it in order to pursue my dream of travel.
Yet, the one thing that motivated me most happened when I went to Europe as a 23-year-old as part of a USO tour of Germany. I was a graduate student at UCLA pursuing acting and was cast in “How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying.” I loved performing for the troops who at that time were heading to Vietnam, yet, as significant experience as that was, what really changed my life was being in Europe and understanding how different life could be. I was hooked and never turned back from my dream from that moment on. The desire to travel as a lifestyle choice, not just a vocation, became my obsession, and I did everything necessary to make that happen.
ET: What have you found to be essential traits in reporting what you "find" on your trips to Europe?
JR: Curiosity. Observation. An open mind and heart. An ability to be able to put into words what I am discovering and feeling. An ability to be able to synthesize all the information and all the experiences I am having and communicate that in a meaningful way to my readers and viewers.
ET: Please name a couple of your most favorite locations to visit in Europe, and tell us why you like them.
JR: France – Ever since I can remember, France has offered the best quality travel experience available. It’s not as reasonably priced as it used to be in the days before the Euro, but it is still a great value. I love the people and I love their lifestyle. They truly have their priorities straight and know how to get the best out of life.
Of course, they are surrounded by culture, beauty, history, great wine and food, and all the other best things that life has to offer. All that drivel about them being rude and obnoxious is bull. They may be curt sometimes in Paris, but then that’s the way it goes with people who live in big cities. I’m sure, if you are looking for it, there are examples of rude and obnoxious people in many places in the United States.
The French are a proud people and will not be treated as second-class citizens by anyone, and I think years ago English-speaking tourists traveled with a chip on their shoulder expecting the French to speak their language and cater to them. They didn’t and won’t. After all, it’s their country – we are their guests.
Switzerland – One of the most beautiful countries in the world. It is a tad expensive, but you get your Swiss Francs’ worth. I love the fact that in such a small country there is so much diversity. Four different national languages and each comes complete with their own culture, cuisine and celebrations.
And although many people just associate Switzerland with the Alps – and they are stunning – it has a varied landscape and has much to offer the traveler. Although the people can sometimes be a little exacting and more difficult to get to know than pleases my Cuban soul, there is always the invitation to get to know them better – you just have to try a little harder than in some other countries. It’s also a country made for lovers of nature, and they work very hard to preserve what they have.
ET: Out of all the people you've met in Europe, can you relate an instance where you ran across someone by accident, but they somehow made a big impact on you or your thinking about narrow-mindedness?
JR: I could relate thousands of such instances. In every country I have dozens of examples of how people have changed my thinking – in some instances, changed my life.
I like to say that when we travel we should return augmented by the experience, greater than we were when we left. I’ve have been blessed with the opportunity to be in situations where I could allow people to change me. All of the greatest travel experiences are the ones that happen by accident. That is why we do Travelscope the way we do. We do our best to put me in situations where wonderful, exciting, interesting, insightful things can happen to me.
If you are looking for one instance, I would relate the story of the couple I met in a pub in Belgium. I did not speak a word of Flemish, and they did not speak English – well, a little bit. The gentleman’s wife had learned a little English from watching American movies. My girlfriend spoke a little French. Yet, we did not need to understand each other’s language because we understood each other on a human level. We spent the evening drinking, eating and laughing and closed the pub, and the they invited us to their house. “Joey, trink (German for “drink”), he said, and we went to their house for a nightcap that dissolved into early morning. They shared a bottle of cognac that they had gotten for their wedding 10 years before and even though the gentleman had to get up at 4 am to drive to Germany to work, they stayed up with us. At one point he looked at his watch and I could tell that in Flemish his wife was telling him that he would be sorry in the morning. I turned to my girlfriend and in English said with a shrug, “You only live once.” At that point, he grabbed my arm and in English or I think it was English, perhaps it was Flemish, he said, “You’re right.” I learned from that experience that if you are a gift to people, they will gift you in ways you can’t begin to imagine.
ET: What in your opinion are some very important things a traveler often forgets before heading off to Europe?
JR: That they are not in the United States anymore. That the cultures they visit are ancient and have survived eons of trials and tribulations to develop their culture, way of life and sensibilities. They have much to teach us. In their country they are the center of the universe and live their lives without giving a thought to what we in the United States may think. The traveler needs to be aware of the history, the time and events that have transpired here. There are examples everywhere.
All you have to do is look at one of many cathedrals in Europe and contemplate the fact that some of them took 700 years to build. Contemplate the fact that the people who laid the first bricks knew they would never see the completed cathedral. Yet, just working on it was enough for them. In their mind’s eye and in their heart, they knew what it would be someday.
That idea of doing something for posterity instead of instant gradification is something that is hard for us as Americans to understand and appreciate. Yet, if we can understand it and incorporate that sense of longevity and legacy living into our life, we gain enormously from it.
ET: If you had to choose a European region for good food, which region would you pick and why?
JR: This is an easy one, Southern Europe. France, Spain, Italy, Greece…need I say more. If you are looking to eat fabulously well, head to the Mediterranean countries. Theirs is the cuisine of the gods. You’ve no doubt heard the expression before: These are places where people rather than eat to live, live to eat.
ET: Which European country has the friendliest people and why?
JR: I love them all, and there are wonderful people everywhere. The friendliest to me (perhaps because I speak Spanish better than any other language) is Spain. Yet, that statement probably says more about me than the Spanish. Of course, this is why it is important to try and speak the language of the country you are visiting.
We are so pleased that one of the underwriters of Travelscope during our sixth season is Rosetta Stone. What a perfect match! Speaking the language of the country opens the country and its people up to you. That is why the traveler should always know the basics – Good Morning! Thank You! Please! – all the human greetings and interactions.
Your pronunciation and correct choice of tense or word does not matter, what matters is that you make the effort to communicate in their language. It’s their country, we’re the guests, remember. It’s still amazing to me how much people open up, assist you and share their life with you, if you try. By trying to speak their language, you are showing that you are interested in them and care about them and their culture. Want to get the French to smile? Say, Bonjour!
ET: How much planning does it take to write and produce one of your television shows?
Much, much more than you could ever imagine. My wife and producer Julie spends hundreds of hours working on the logistics of each trip. It’s extraordinary how much time she spends.
She deals with governments, permits, local regulations and laws, the crew, airline schedules, shoot schedules….it goes on and on. In addition to being the host, director and writer of Travelscope, I work with the editors to shape each show. They are extraordinarily talented people, and we would not have an award-winning series without them. Yet, they all know that no matter how talented we are, it all takes time. Thomas Edison said, “Genius is one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration.”
I prepare myself by learning about the destination with a concentration on the culture. I love to study the history of the country…it says a lot about who you are dealing with today. You need to know the background of people and what they have gone through to understand who they are and why they do what they do.
We just returned from Rwanda, a country that suffered the tragedy of genocide in 1994. From April 6 until July 4, 1994 more than a million Rwanda were slaughtered – that’s more than 10% of the population in 100 days. We had to know about that history before we went in order to really understand the amazing strides that the people have made since then. It is mind-boggling how far they have come. They have tons to teach the rest of the world. I feel blessed that Travelscope was there, and we will have the opportunity to bring that story to our viewers.
ET: What countries in Europe are you hoping to visit next that you have not so far seen?
JR: I am looking forward to visiting more of the new republics of Eastern Europe, in particular, Croatia. There’s a very good chance we will be going there as part of our Season Six shooting schedule.
ET: Sort of related to question 9, can you tell us a bit about what topics your future European travels will be centered around?
As always, the thrust of our show is cultural travel. We eat, we drink, we like to let people know about the landmarks, but we also know that all of the best travel experiences are people experiences. They are the ones that you remember and share with your family and loved ones when you come home. They are the ones that change your life.
My goal as a travel journalist has always been to introduce people to people. We will continue to do that, and we strive to do it better and better all the time. We know people travel for many different reasons and depending on the destination, we try to touch on the many ways travelers can enjoy the country.
I participate in a seminar for travel writers twice a year at the University of California at Los Angeles, and I love to share with these prospective travel writers this quote from Daniel J. Boorstin: “The traveler is active; he goes strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience. The tourist is passive; he expects interesting things to happen to him. He goes "sightseeing." Although tourists may enjoy Travelscope, it is a show for travelers - and they love it!