When Elliott Mazzola lived in Switzerland, his daily commute was quite the trek.
He quickly brings up a video on his phone, which shows him walking down a small hill to the edge of a cliff. Then, he jumps off.
“I think that was a pretty unique moment in my life,” he says, laughing.
That summer, Mazzola lived in the Swiss Alps, where he stayed in a cabin in the mountains and worked at a bar in the valley below. Each morning, he would walk the five or so minutes to the edge of the cliff and base jump down. At the end of the day, he’d take a cable car back up the mountain and hike to his cabin.
Though Mazzola calls it a standout memory, his life over the past several years has not been short on adventure.
The 32-year-old, who grew up in Keene and graduated from Keene High School in 2004, estimates he’s visited close to 50 countries to date — though he hasn’t taken the time to sit down and count — and when asked where he’d like to travel next, his answer is simple: “Everywhere I haven’t been yet.”
There are a few specific destinations on the list, of course. Iceland, New Zealand and Alaska easily come to mind. Or, as Mazzola says, “all the wild places.”
“I’d like to go to Antarctica. And Mars,” he says. “And the moon.”
Though he’s come to lead a rather nomadic lifestyle, it wasn’t necessarily planned out in advance.
After graduating with a degree in philosophy from Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., Mazzola floated around for a while, spending some time on the West Coast. He eventually decided to spend a ski season in France, his mother’s native country.
“It was kind of my backup plan — my plan B after graduation, if ever I didn’t know what I was doing or what I wanted to do,” he says.
So he bought a one-way ticket. And since then, he’s been back to Keene for only a few weeks at a time each year.
He’s lived off and on in Chamonix, a skiing destination in the French Alps, where he’s worked odd jobs and honed his photography skills capturing mountain scenery and extreme sports. When he’s not there, he’s traveling or spending stints living and working in other countries.
Now, he’s back in the Monadnock Region for one of his annual visits — and while he’s here, he’s offering a glimpse into his recent adventures. This weekend marks the opening of “Art and the Fugue,” an exhibition of photographs from Mazzola’s time living in France that will be displayed at the United Church of Christ on Central Square through the end of the month.
In conjunction with the exhibition’s opening Friday night, Mazzola also gave an organ recital in the church’s sanctuary, showing off another hobby he’s picked up over the years.
He recalls sitting in the church with his family when he was younger watching the organist play, just thinking about what a powerful instrument it is — the “most powerful,” he says. He began taking lessons at the church, and after high school, he even spent a year building the instruments for a company in Northampton, Mass.
Mazzola’s longtime friend Pam Sheasley, who lives in Gilsum, says it’s not uncommon for him to pick up a new hobby and grasp it quickly. And according to Mazzola, whatever interest he’s currently developing probably has a lot to do with whatever country he happens to be in — from base jumping in Switzerland to trail running in France.
“He’s always just sort of picked an interest seemingly out of the blue, but then gotten really good at it, and he sort of masters everything that he tries,” says Sheasley, who has known Mazzola since they were both 8th-graders at Keene Middle School. “I kind of joke that he’s sort of like Ferris Bueller in that he knows everyone, he has a lot of connections, and everyone just genuinely really likes him.”
Though he’s in Keene for now, he doesn’t plan to be here for long. Soon, he’ll be off on a road trip across Canada, which, for now, doesn’t have a set itinerary.
“He’s just really free,” Sheasley says. “I think he just kind of lives the kind of life that we all secretly wish that we could live, but he just has the guts to do it.”
Most recently, Mazzola spent six months traveling through Asia by rail with a friend. Before setting out, their only plan was to never take a flight during their stay.
Due to visa and border issues, they didn’t quite achieve that goal — they took two flights over the whole trip — but they did see a lot from the windows of trains. They traversed the whole of the Trans-Siberian railway, from Moscow to Vladivostok, and then crossed into China — where they were escorted off the Great Wall by a group of soldiers after setting up a makeshift campsite in a crumbling guard tower.
The rest of the journey took Mazzola to Vietnam, Nepal and Mount Everest Base Camp, the Holi Festival of Colors in India, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.
Having the freedom to pick up and go whenever the fancy strikes means his lifestyle is not always what you might call glamorous — but from the way Mazzola talks about his travels, it seems that’s the way he likes it.
Even his more permanent home in Chamonix, a run-down cabin that he and a friend renovated themselves, seems to fit that lifestyle. And from Siberia to Switzerland to — perhaps one day — Mars, Mazzola says there’s a reason he enjoys the world’s wilder destinations: the freedom from distraction.
“Especially now, I feel like everyone is all about their device and has their face in a screen. When you don’t have electricity and stuff — we did other things when we lived in the cabin. We were often, you know, just lit by candlelight. So sometimes we would just make stupid skits, or read, or paint, or draw,” he says.
“I think I just like the simple life.”