Travelling with Rufus Wainwright


Philly is in his bad books, Lisbon is
 in his heart and Africa is in his sights. On the eve of his trip to Australia, the American-Canadian singer/songwriter and composer explains why he’s more rustic than resort.

Where are you right now?

I’m in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on my way to glamorous Cleveland and then to exotic Belgium. I go to all the nooks and crannies of the world.

And where did you go on your last trip?

Spain was the last big one – that was incredible. I love Spain; I always partake in the gourmet extravaganzas that country has to offer. Every little town has a local type of cuisine that you have to enjoy.

When you walk into a hotel room, what’s the first thing you look for?

Like my Dad [Loudon Wainwright III]
and all other ageing troubadours, which 
I am becoming, it’s important to get a hotel room with windows that open. Especially in America. There’s a real plague of hotels with windows that don’t open. And I don’t like it when they smell too much like soap or cleaning fluid. I like anything that’s as boutique-y as possible: hardwood floors, local products; something unique that’s not found in the chain hotels. And a big comfy bathrobe is necessary. If I had my way, 
I would live in a bathrobe day in and day out, which I suppose is an option down the line when I really lose it.

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What do you like to find in the minibar?

For me, it’s mostly food these days – a good old Toblerone comes in handy. And I have a horrible addiction to Gummi Bears. Whether it’s old-fashioned crap ones or gourmet, artisanal Gummi Bears, I’m a sucker for them. So those need to be hidden from me.

Where is your home away from home?

In Europe, there are two cities I am obsessed with. One is Lisbon, Portugal;
 I think I must have lived a past life there because whenever I go, there’s a kind of peace that sets in and a beauteous outlook on the world, a gentle attitude. The other city I adore is Vienna. In fact, if I lived in Europe, I would probably move to Vienna. It really is the best of the old and the new and it’s close to the East as well.

Is there a place you could have given a miss?

I hate to say it but I’m not a huge fan of Philadelphia. I only say that because it has let me down several times so I feel like getting back at Philadelphia. Pennsylvania [voted] for Donald Trump. And I have to avoid that town at all costs because I’m addicted to Philly cheesesteak sandwiches, which are very dangerous on many levels.

Which destination do you keep returning to?

I have a German husband [Jörn Weisbrodt] who was brought up skiing in the Alps so skiing is where we really concentrate on letting go and having a vacation, which is rare. We often go to Aspen in Colorado to ski, which is so ’80s [laughs]. But we love it. Mainly because we have a very good friend who lives there and we don’t have to stay in the exorbitant hotels. The skiing is just fantastic.

What was your typical childhood holiday?

We didn’t have a lot of holidays as kids. My mother [Kate McGarrigle] and father, as musicians, were touring all the time so, if anything, just them being home was a nice treat. But we did go out on the road with them occasionally and they became holidays of sorts. The funnest ones were the folk festivals in England – Cambridge, the Isle of Wight. A good folk-rock festival for a toddler is pretty indelible [laughs].

Do you wander the streets or check maps?

I wander the streets. With all the crap going on in the news, it’s so important to turn o the TV, get out of the hotel room and just absorb the beauty of the world. I’m a liver – not as in something you eat.

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Resort or rustic?

Oh, I’m definitely more rustic. Although 
if forced to spend time in a resort, which sometimes I have to do because I’m playing a gig there, I don’t resist it terribly hard.

Which destination was a surprise to you?

Singapore. I find it, conceptually, really odious – it’s so hot and clean and man- made. But last time I went, I surrendered to the experience and decided to embrace this strange phenomenon. I had a really great time. It’s quite impressive how they’ve managed to create this other planet on our planet [laughs]. You can’t help but be impressed by Singapore.

What’s the greatest road trip you’ve done?

My favourite road trip is the drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco. I did a lot of driving in New Zealand. I’ve also driven around Spain and parts of South America, which were incredible. But nothing really beats that drive up Highway 1 along the coast of California. The natural beauty, of course, but also some of the sights: Hearst Castle [], the Madonna Inn [], Monterey and Big Sur, which are breathtaking. And ending up
in San Francisco is always a fun equation to complete.

Have you ever gone completely off the grid?

Not for long stretches of time but I’ve been to Alaska and that was definitely on the fringe of where one could do that easily. 
I felt the yearning to turn the corner and never turn back – to go into the wild. Especially with what’s going on right now in America, there is a sense of running away as a possible option. Alaska really has that feeling about it. The other place I’ve been to that’s amazing like that is a group of islands called Haida Gwaii, off the coast of British Columbia. It is one of the most beautiful places in the world and one of the hardest to get to.

What has been your most memorable dining experience?

My favourite restaurant is called Ristorante da Ivo [] in Venice. They do amazing food. They serve these little squid from the Venetian lagoon so they’re local. Just thinking about them right now makes me want to gondola the hell out of here.

Have you ever been fleeced?

I find Paris really bad with that stuff – I’ve been robbed a few times, pickpocketed and tricked here and there. But what’s interesting about it is that you never feel like you’re brutalised; it’s more like a game that the city plays with you.

If you could be anywhere else in the world right now, where would you be?

I’d love to go into the wilds of Africa – I’ve never done that. Some rural African situation would be very good for me right now.

Top Image: Matthew Welch

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