By MATTI ANTTILA/The New York Times
Photo: Lily Kesselman
Matti Anttila is president of a New York liquor company with a distillery in Brazil. He travels there often and has discovered there is a richness to the country that many tourists miss.
I’VE been flying since I was a child. I was only 8 years old when I had my first solo flight to Europe. I had to wear my passport around my neck, and I always got a lot of attention from the flight attendants. Many of them would put me in the business-class section, even though I belonged in economy.
I never really appreciated it then. Now I do. I’m a small-business owner, and flying is expensive. I try to stay loyal to one or two carriers so I can at least get upgraded out of coach. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.
Occasionally, some cool things happen to me during a flight.
A few years ago, I struck up a conversation with a guy sitting next to me. He talked about his skydiving habit and kept me entertained during the entire flight. When we landed, my connecting flight was delayed, and he offered to let me stay at his home. I declined because there was a later flight I could take.
We kept in touch, and later that week I got a call from him inviting me to a party. It was at the Playboy Mansion.
Of course, I went. I was single, and it was a blast.
I’m married now. But I suppose I would still go. You could make a lot of business contacts, and I have a very understanding wife. But it’s doubtful I would ever have the opportunity to go again, so just how understanding my wife would be is rather moot.
I usually don’t talk to my seat mates a lot during flights. It’s the one time I get to catch up on reading or do some work that I just can’t get to during the week.
One thing that I always have to explain is my company name. Cachaça is a Brazilian liquor, made from fermented sugar cane. It’s one of the most popular liquors in Brazil, but people outside of the country don’t know a lot about it. People always have a lot of questions about Brazil, especially since Rio de Janeiro won the 2016 Olympics bid.
Our distillery is in Brazil, and when I started the company, I was there practically all the time. Now, I try to go at least once a quarter.
What I tell people is that Brazil is a huge country. And every state within it has a different feel. That’s why you have to give yourself enough time to try to connect with the locals, who can help you discover the specific culture of each place.
The biggest mistake I see is people going to Rio de Janeiro without a specific plan and then never leaving the tourist area around Copacabana. Brazil is a whole lot more than that.
A lot of people have a very poor perception of Brazil. Most Americans go there for business or Carnival and rarely get to experience some of the lesser-known areas of the country.
When Brazil is in the news, it’s rarely for anything good. There are issues, like the shanty towns around the bigger, metropolitan areas. But I figure there are places in New York I wouldn’t go after dark. The same is true in Brazil. Therefore, I’ve never had one minute of feeling less than safe. And I think that things will only improve the closer we get to the Olympics.
Actually, the worst thing that ever happened to me regarding Brazil was that the airline lost my bags. I was in Rio, so it wasn’t tough to find clothes. And better yet: I just passed the time drinking some cachaça until my bags eventually found me.
Q. and A. With Matti Anttila
Q. How often do you fly?
A. Practically every week, both domestic and international.
Q. What’s your least favorite airport?
A. Heathrow. It’s massive and constantly congested, and they have very strict rules regarding carry-on luggage.
Q. Of all the places you’ve been, what’s the best?
A. Santa Barbara. It’s beautiful, and it’s my home.
Q. What’s your secret airport vice?
A. Buying paperback spy novels. They are a great release on long flights.
By Matti Anttila, as told to Joan Raymond. E-mail: email@example.com.