Interview with Lavinia Spalding, author of “Writing Away: A Creative Guide to Awakening the Journal-Writing Traveler”

by Caren on November 28, 2012

Lavinia Spalding

Each week, we post short interviews with interesting people about their thoughts and feelings on women and drinking. There is such a wide array of perspectives about this topic, and we are excited to gain insight into as many as possible and to share them with you. 

Lavinia Spalding is the author of Writing Away: A Creative Guide to Awakening the Journal-Writing Traveler, chosen one of the best travel books of 2009 by the L.A. Times, and With a Measure of Grace, the Story and Recipes of a Small Town Restaurant, and editor of the 2011, 2012, and 2013 editions of The Best Women’s Travel Writing. A regular contributor to Yoga Journal, her work has been featured in numerous print and online publications, including Sunset, Post Road, Inkwell, and The Best Travel Writing Volume 9. Lavinia currently lives in San Francisco and is a member of the Writers’ Grotto. She teaches workshops in travel writing and journaling.

Drinking Diaries: How old were you when you had your first drink and what was it? 

Lavinia Spalding: It was a mixture of beer and lemonade. I was ten years old and about to move from New Hampshire to Arizona with my family. My parents held an enormous yard sale and bought a keg. While they gave free beer to customers and friends, my older brother and I sold lemonade. At some point we decided to mix the two, and it was a hit. We called it “lemoneer” and only stopped serving it after our parents told us that without a liquor license we couldn’t sell it—we’d have to give it away. Completely uninterested in not turning a profit, we went back to selling straight lemonade. But to this day, I prefer my beer with a lemon in it.

How did/does your family treat drinking?

My parents were very social and always drank at dinner—the regular centerpiece of our table was a big jug of wine. I imagine they knew I started drinking on weekends when I was in my early teens, but I can’t remember ever getting caught or punished for drinking. They were fairly permissive and open about alcohol, but they also trusted me to make good decisions, and as a result I was honest with them and tried not to screw up too horrendously. 

How do you approach alcohol in your everyday life?Writing Away by Lavinia Spalding

I have a glass of white wine three or four nights a week. Sometimes I have two glasses. I drink more when I’m on vacation, but I always suffer for it—I’m a terrible lightweight these days.

Have you ever had a phase in your life when you drank more or less?

I’ve had my share of drink-more phases. I attended high school in a small town where, because there wasn’t a lot going on, everyone’s hobby was drinking. I went to a university known for being a party school, and I did my best to fit in. I lived for six years in South Korea, where drinking might as well be the national sport. I lived in Ft. Lauderdale, where life was a series of happy hours, and then in a tiny town in southern Utah, where again, there was little else to do at night. Finally I moved to San Francisco, land of fine wine and artisanal organic handcrafted cocktails. I’m still in San Francisco, but now that I’m in my forties I’ve wimped out: I can’t take the hangovers, and I’m glad I got it out of my system when I was young.

What’s your drink of choice?

It’s boring, but I like a light, dry white wine like Gruner Veltliner, Sancerre, Muscadet, or Pinot Grigio. Basically, water with benefits. Sometimes (forgive me) I mix it with sparkling water so I can pretend I’m hydrating. I also love a light, dry rosé. My favorite is Domaine de Terrebrune Bandol – it’s gorgeous. I’m allergic to red wine, sadly.

Can you tell us about the best time you ever had drinking?

I can tell you it was probably in my twenties or thirties, it likely occurred in a foreign country, and it definitely involved my best friend, Erin. Chances are we were dancing. There was the rooftop in Spain with a barrel of sangria and a bunch of strangers, everyone dancing the sevillana under the stars. Or the small island in Thailand where we danced barefoot on the sand beneath a full moon with hundreds of other travelers. Or the backpacker bar in Australia where we met Erin’s future husband. (That time we were dancing on tables.) I can also tell you I’m glad there was no YouTube or Facebook then.

What about the worst time?

There were some shockingly cruel hangovers, but the truth is they almost all resulted from really good times. 

Do you have a favorite book, song, or movie about drinking? 

I always loved the opening scene of Bridget Jones’ Diary, where she’s chugging red wine in her apartment, lip-syncing and playing air guitar to “All by Myself.”

What do you like most about drinking? 

Honestly, I think it’s the place it holds in my memory of a younger, more carefree self. I still laugh about all those high school keg and jungle-juice parties in the woods, at “the rocks,” “the cinders” and the “fourth cattle guard.” I laugh—and cringe—about the nights in college when we drove our underage selves across the border into Mexico just to drink tequila. I get nostalgic for countless soju-fueled nights spent singing my lungs out at noraebang (karaoke) in Korea. I remember doing far too many shots in a gigantic Hong Kong nightclub, pounding mojitos in Costa Rica, and trying desperately to drink enough 3.2 beer to catch a buzz in Utah. Now I nurse my white wine spritzer and call it good. I suspect my younger self might disapprove.

Why do, or don’t you, choose to drink?

I like how it adds punctuation to a day, whether it’s an exclamation mark: a social event or celebration, or a question mark: what will this turn into? or a period: that’s it, I’m off duty—the day’s work is done and I can stop. And since I seldom drink alone, it can also be the ampersand between us.

How has alcoholism affected your life?

There’s some alcoholism in my genes, and I’ve seen the havoc it can wreak, so while I enjoy drinking, I’ve also always been a little on guard. I suspect the killer hangovers would dissuade me from ever becoming an alcoholic, but I’m also aware of how slippery a slope it can be—so if I hit a period when I feel I’ve been overindulging, I make an effort to rein myself in for a while. 

If you could be any drink, what would it be? Why?

Lemoneer, obviously. If I couldn’t be lemoneer, I’d be tinto de verano: wine of summer. A concoction I discovered backpacking through Spain twenty years ago (the summer I learned to dance the sevillana), it’s a variation on the lemoneer theme: a mixture of red wine and lemon Fanta. I appreciate the combo—grownup sophisticated wine meets young cheap Fanta. I can’t drink it now because of my red wine allergy, but the memory of tinto de verano always takes me back to a time when there wasn’t much I couldn’t do.



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