On Books, Humanitarianism and Fashion, with Francisca Mattéoli

Francisca Matteoli

Francisca in the Scottish Highlands

Books, stories and travel. Can it get any better than this? When the writer is Francisca Mattéoli, I think, yes, you can expect the very best of everything of the above. Francisca’s writing style has that capacity to leave you wishing for more. More of that beautiful weaving of personal or family experiences with the history and tales of a place that sets her work apart. Thankfully, Francisca writes a wonderful blog, too, where she documents her journeys, never short of inspiring stories. But a book is different, I will admit that, and I will always be of that opinion (especially when, I was happy to find out, the author thinks that the cover does matter). I have the privilege to occasionally exchange emails with Francisca, but when I found out she was going to publish a new book, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to do another interview with her. One other reason was that there were many other subjects I have been eager to approach for some time – like Francisca’s husband’s, dr. Bertrand Mattéoli’s, Chirurgie Plus phylanthropic association, founded to provide surgical and medical know-how to less developed countries. But the truth is, when you have someone as fascinating as Francisca Mattéoli at the other side of the conversation, you kind of wish for the discussion to take any number of directions, with the certainty that the experience will motivate you to learn more, do what you do better and open your eyes, arms and heart to the world.
Map Stories by Francisca Matteoli
You are about to release a new book. Can you tell me what it is about?
The title is Map Stories/ Histoires de cartes and it mixes history, personal experiences, stories of great adventurers and maps from all periods. The maps are magnificent. The idea came to me because my grandfather gave me a beautiful South American map when I was a child and it was my first encounter with travel, stories and fantasy. I spent hours imagining the adventures behind each detail, and in this new book, I wanted to pay tribute to this art, the world of travel, and also explain the origin of a place, tell the stories behind a river, a desert, or a road followed by the pioneers for exemple. It will be published in France in November and later in other countries and I love it.
You were recently mentioning on your blog the importance of beautiful books – “that awaken the desire to read, are a pleasure to hold, to offer, to look at – and to keep”. I was relieved to hear this from a writer, because I have always appreciated a book with a beautiful cover and design. Should we judge a book by its cover? Can this also be a way to compete with e-books and digital media?
Well, BIG question. Big questions! I love beautiful objects and beautiful books and if the cover is not appealing I find it less tempting when I am in a book store, it’s true. By chance, today, you see more and more beautiful books – and beautiful covers – because publishers know that a book must be appealing. Concerning «physical books» versus e-books, etc, I love both of them. Really. I love an elegant book, a «real» cover, a paper so creamy that you want to lick it! I love the texture and the feeling that you have when you open the first page, and I will always defend the real books and the incredible pleasure that goes with them, but I also use Kindle when I travel. So, for me, there is no competition. But again, I think that there is a pleasure that only real books can provide.

Why is it important that people continue to read paper books?
Because it represents much more than just a book. It teaches you what is beautiful, what is elegant, what is well crafted, the concept of artisan working. Because when I was a kid, I loved the feeling of paper books, of a library where you could disappear from the adults with a book. All kids need a place where they can disappear from time to time and dive into a world that is only theirs. For me, the pages of my books were a refuge and a wonderful escape.

In our first interview you were telling me that the most rewarding part of being a travel writer was the ability to change the false perceptions about a country and about people. Is it a writer’s, and especially a travel writer’s, job to build bridges between cultures?
Personally, I think so. I come from different cultures – my father is Chilean and my mother Scottish – and the idea of an exchange between cultures is normal for me. But I don’t know how the other writers or travel writers feel about that. Everyone is different and has different motivations.

Do you have a favourite book?
Nope. There are many books and writers that I love. Peter Fleming, Christopher Buckley, John Grisham, Jorge Amado, Francisco Coloane, Philip Roth, among others.
Francisca Matteoli

Francisca in Chile, in Atacama

What do you always carry in your travel bag?
My bathing suit. The gym bores me to death, but I can spend hours in the water, so I try to be in hotels with swimming pools where you can really swim or choose a destination where you can also swim.

Your husband, dr. Bertrand Mattéoli, is a plastic surgeon, a specialist in plastic, aesthetic and reconstructive surgery, having undertaken frequent humanitary missions early in his carreer, practising right at the center of the most violent conflicts and in the most poverty-striken countries of our time. An impressive humanitarian work. Dr Mattéoli has also founded the Chirurgie Plus Association, which offers trainings in the best hospitals in Paris to doctors from developing countries and then sends them home enriched with knowledge and expertise. You sometimes accompany him when he visits the hospitals in these countries. What is the most valuable lesson these experiences have taught you?
Well, I think that the most important thing I’ve learned is that rich countries don’t have all the answers, nobody holds the truth.

What is the biggest misconception about non-profit organizations? What has the biggest challenge been so far?
Vast subject. The most common misconception for me is to think that any help is a good help. Sometimes the aid is not suitable at all, unfortunately. Concerning the biggest challenge, I’ll say that it’s important to improve the perception of people concerning the countries in difficulty, not to judge, not think that our way of thinking and living is the best, and try to bring to a country what it really need.

Some of your sponsors are fashion brands. How else can fashion make a difference in our world?
The first thing that comes to my mind is providing employment – a lot of employment.

Francisca Matteoli

You are a woman of style. How does fashion fit into your journeys and into your travel stories?
Fashion is everywhere and is often part of a country. In Peru, the typical outfits are gorgeous. In Italy, people are often very elegant. In some countries, fashion is part of the lifestyle. I like to draw inspiration from colours, textures, fabrics, get ideas by looking at how people behave and dress. When I was at the Indian Fair in Santa Fe a few years ago, I saw the famous native american jewellery and so many beautiful typical clothing. I bought a gorgeous silver cuff that I always wear. I like pure and beautiful pieces that last a long time or a classic piece – like a white shirt – that I can make my own. I own clothes from my parents when they were 18 and 20 years old that I still wear regularly! I buy clothes and accessories while traveling, in South America or other countries where the design is independent and more personal, not influenced by labels or trademarks. I don’t take fashion seriously, but I like well crafted things that add character to my style. Also, I am inspired by the world around me and the lifestyle and fashion are part of our world, so they also inspire my writing. Those elements can make me want to write about a place or a country.

One thing you can’t start your day without:
A “café au lait and a tartine” at the café down my street (I am very French in that sense!).

A piece of advice or a life lesson you’d like to share with my readers:
I am not very good at advice, but let’s see. I’ll say, do things your way and do not think that others do better! Everyone has problems, everyone has failures, and everyone does what they can. Be passionate, finish things, and do your things the way you like to do, with people you appreciate and who appreciate you. Show your kids that you love what you do and that you are not lazy, they will understand and will respect you for that. And if you fail, you will have the satisfaction of saying that you have lived a unique and special life that belongs only to you and to no one else.

photos: courtesy of Francisca Mattéoli

This entry was posted in Interviews . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to On Books, Humanitarianism and Fashion, with Francisca Mattéoli