When Elizabeth Hathaway moved from Los Angeles to Atlanta six years ago to become the Assistant U.S. Attorney and deputy chief of narcotics, she viewed the change as a great career opportunity and a chance to experience a different culture. Hathaway had never lived in the Southeast.
But she has traveled to 23 different countries on six continents. Along the way, she’s seen wild animals in Africa, been to the Oscars and walked the streets of Jericho.
"I always loved traveling and I like to experience different cultures," she said.
She recently discussed her yen to wander with the Daily Report.
Are you a California native?
No, I was brought up in upstate New York. After law school, I had a job offer from a firm in L.A. and realized I could live somewhere without a winter. I was there for 10 years.
Lots of people live in L.A. and never get to the Oscars. How did you manage it?
Our firm represented the Academy [of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences], which gave me the opportunity to apply to become a seat filler. The Academy wants the audience always to look full, so people fill the seats for stars. Believe it or not, you have to go to the venue and practice how to fill a seat. All the seat changes take place during the commercials, so you have to move really fast.
Tell us all the details. Did you get to meet stars, have a makeover and rent jewelry?
We were told that if you had to ask whether your outfit was dressy enough, it wasn’t, so I rented a silver gown. I got up really early in the morning and had my hair done, but I didn’t rent jewelry. I’m not sure jewelers do that for just anybody.
You wait in line until you are needed. I started out in a front row, center seat, but then Uma Thurman showed up right before the show, so I had to leave. Later I think I filled Val Kilmer’s seat. It’s exciting because you get to see up close all the actors you’ve seen on the big screen. I was directly in front of Sophia Loren, who is stunning, and Robin Williams was on the end of my row. I told him I was a big fan and he was very friendly.
How else did you participate in California culture?
Once I got to help decorate a Rose Bowl float with dinosaurs on it. Made of fresh flowers mostly, the floats are amazing when they’re finished, but painstaking to construct. I spent the day gluing coffee beans face down on part of the float. I also got to hang out at the home of Craig Ferguson, because I took a self-defense class with his ex-wife and she invited us over. I never seemed to be at restaurants when stars came, but I did love Rollerblading on the beach and going to Santa Monica.
Do you enjoy Atlanta, too?
Yes, we like the people here. Everyone is so friendly and we’ve been able to buy a house and land, which is something you can’t always afford to do in L.A.
What inspired you to be a world traveler?
I started traveling to Canada with my family when I was 4 or 5, but my exchange program to Japan when I was a sophomore in high school was a real inspiration. I lived with a family and got to experience the culture. When you go to a Kyoto temple with someone who is praying next to you, you get a better sense of what that place means to the people who live there.
If I hadn’t gone into law, I think I would have majored in anthropology.
What was your next cultural experience?
My high school had a program where they took kids to France or Spain in the summer, but they discontinued it before I could go. My parents said I could see Europe anytime. Why not do something different? I went to Israel the summer before my senior year, lived on a university campus and took a history class. We visited places that we had studied, like Jericho, and we climbed up to Masada. That really makes history come alive.
Did you ever get to Europe?
Yes, in college I studied in the British Isles; then I got a Europass and traveled to France, Italy, Austria and Belgium on my own. I didn’t spend a lot of time in any one place, and I didn’t take any overnight trains because I was alone.
Where else have you been?
After the bar, I treated myself to a trip to Australia and New Zealand. It got harder to travel after I started work, but with planning and saving you can do it. I went to Greece with my college roommates when we all turned 30. Recently, my husband and I did an REI tour of Inca cities in Peru, including seeing Machu Picchu.
What trip really stands out for you?
My husband and I went to Africa for two weeks for our honeymoon in 2006. I always wanted to see the animals that I had seen in the zoo in their natural habitats, but Africa can get tricky with politics and distances. A friend of mine designed our trip to South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
Were you able to see the animals?
Absolutely, we stayed in a lodge on a game preserve. When we were driving there in the jeep, the driver said, "Look behind you. There’s a giraffe following us." We were allowed to go off-roading as long as we didn’t get out and disturb the animals. It’s the opposite of a zoo. You’re in a confined space, and the animals roam about. We saw a leopard with her cub, and elephants at a watering hole.
How do you gain insight into a culture when you’re just visiting a place?
At one of the game parks we stayed with a local family who took us to a school to meet the most adorable children. They had a world map and wanted us to show them where we lived.
It was so far from them, and yet we all ended up singing "Old McDonald Had a Farm." When we got to the part about ducks, they wanted to know what those were. They had never seen them.
How do you plan your next trip? Do you blog or journal while traveling?
We go to places that attract us. My husband had always wanted to see Machu Picchu. We plan carefully and we seek out programs that give you more of a native experience. I don’t blog, but I take a lot of photos, especially faces of the people. I can always look back at the pictures and remember.
I’d still like to see the gorillas in Uganda, but I think Antarctica will be next, just because then I’ll have been on all seven continents. It will be a while, though, because I’m pregnant. That’s slowing us down a bit. [Since this interview, Hathaway has given birth to a baby girl.]