Layne Mosler: driving hungry

Layne Mosler: driving hungry

  • Posted by liliansantini
  • On April 2, 2018
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I met Layne in 2009, when she had just moved to New York to pursue a dream: talk to cab drivers from all over the world and ask for a ride to their favorite restaurant, where they eat when they are missing home.

It was the second phase of her project, Taxi Gourmet, which started in Buenos Aires.

Getting to know Layne and being part of some of her taxi adventures have been one of the highlights of my life – she taught me so much about empathy and the beauty of chance encounters. Together we explored New York and fostered a friendship that goes beyond borders. I’m so grateful to have you in my life, Layne!

Tell us a little bit about your story. Have you always been a foodie?

My mom can vouch for the fact that I’ve always loved to eat: before I learned to feed myself, I used to cry if she waited too long between bites of food. Mom is also a great cook and always made a point of making meals special. Food has always had happy connotations for me.

What made you start Taxi Gourmet?

I had been taking lots of taxis in Buenos Aires, and having fascinating conversations with the cabbies in the process. They would tell me fascinating stories about their city and about how they ended up in the drivers’ seat. Since I’m always looking for a good (and cheap!) meal, I figured they must also know where to find delicious things to eat.

You were in the backseat of hundreds of cabs in Latin America, New York and Berlin. What were those interactions like?

Every taxi ride was different. But I always tried to find some way to connect with the driver, whether it was through food or through the fact that in New York I began driving a cab myself.

In the same profession across 3 continents, what were the differences and similarities that surprised you the most?

The one thing all cab drivers have in common is their love of freedom. Just about every single cabbie tells me they’ve chosen the job because they want to be their own boss. That said, every single driver has a different path to the drivers’ seat. Very few people dream of driving a taxi when they grow up!

In Buenos Aires, at least when I lived there from 2005-2009, most of the cabbies were from the city or from Argentina, so they had a very special connection to and knowledge of the place. In New York, I got into cabs with drivers from the Mauritania, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Cuba, Egypt, Afghanistan – just to name a few countries. In Berlin, cabbies are an mix of native Berliners and people from places like Turkey, the former Soviet republics, and Sudan.

 

“By opening up to people, and letting people surprise me, I became much more intimate with the cities where I was living and traveling – I learned to see how multi-dimensional each place, each person, each meal could be.”

 

I learned with you that “tasting” a different country is exciting, but the people who lead you to the food is what really put the experience in context. As a journalist and anthropologist, what were your takeaways from the Taxi Gourmet project?    

Precisely – I love food, but I love the stories around food even more. The Taxi Gourmet project led me to so many people and to so many dishes I never would have found on my own. By opening up to people, and letting people surprise me, I became much more intimate with the cities where I was living and traveling – I learned to see how multi-dimensional each place, each person, each meal could be.

After meeting your husband Rumen, who is also a writer and cab driver, you moved to Berlin. You didn’t speak any German back then. Do you have any funny stories about getting “lost in translation”?  

The very first time I got into a taxi from the Berlin airport I started asking the driver about his favorite place to eat. [His English was minimal and my German was nonexistent.] It so happens that the word ‘restaurant’ sounds a bit like ‘Schwester’ – which means ‘sister in German. So the cabby thought I was asking him about his favorite sister, which he found more than a little strange.

You trusted strangers from unknown cultures to guide you and introduce you to their world, and in the process wrote your memoir, Driving Hungry. What’s next? Which projects are you working on?  

I’m working on a screenplay and a chronicle of my (mis)adventures in Bulgaria, where my husband Rumen comes from, and where we’ve been traveling every summer since 2011. I speak Bulgarian like a Neanderthal, so I’m also hoping to improve my Bulgarian language skills.

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Thank you for the interview, Layne! We look forward to seeing the screenplay 🙂

Layne Mosler has written for New York magazine, The Guardian/Observer, NPR Berlin and the Travel Channel’s worldhum.com, among other venues. You can find her memoir, Driving Hungry, here.

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