Frustrated wanderlust

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By Caitlin Kelly

Two items I can always find are my passport and green card (proof of my legal residence in the U.S.)

I look at both wistfully now and wonder when, where and if I’ll get to use them again.

It’s a 5.5 hour drive from our home in suburban New York to the Canadian border, the one we usually cross across the St. Lawrence and the Thousand Islands, sometimes timing it for lunch in Kingston, Ontario at Chez Piggy, a terrific restaurant.

Now I can’t even go to Canada, since they keep postponing opening the border until — the latest — the end of July. It’s really frustrating! Especially since New York, amazingly, has managed to beat back COVID-19 from the nadir (700 deaths a day in New York City) to a handful. We’re safe, dammit!

 

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My last road trip, to Middleburg, Virginia, March 4-6

 

It’s a real privilege to have the time, health and extra income to travel at all, I know. We don’t have the costs of raising/educating children, or carry student debt, so it’s always been my greatest pleasure. I usually get back to Canada, my homeland, several times a year, and, ideally, to Europe every year or two. I admit, I neglect the rest of the world!

 

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Istria, Croatia, July 2017

 

I’ve so far been to 41 countries and there are so many I’m still eager to see: Iceland, Finland, Morocco, Japan, St. Kitts and Nevis, Guadeloupe, Patagonia, the South Pacific, Namibia and South Africa,

I want to go back, (and have many times) to France, England, Ireland — and see more of Italy, Croatia, Canada (Cape Breton, Newfoundland.)

Within the U.S., I’m eager to do a driving trip the length of California (where we have friends in Los Angeles, San Francisco and a few other places), would really like to visit some national parks like Bryce, Zion (Utah), Big Bend (Texas) and Joshua Tree (California).

I love road trips, and have driven Montreal to Charleston, South Carolina; across Canada with my father when I was 15; around Mexico and Ireland with my father; around the Camargue on my first honeymoon (and had everything stolen from our rental car!)

 

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The Dolac Market, Zagreb, July 2017

 

I had really hoped to spend the month of September in England, renting a cottage in Cornwall, seeing pals in London, maybe scooting up to Edinburgh and Glasgow. Not possible now, thanks to their 14 days’ quarantine.

 

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New Mexico, June 2019

 

Now looking at any other places…not in the U.S. I’m worn out by the relentless racism, violence, political malfeasance and the millions of Americans who refuse to wear a mask or socially distance, endlessly spreading and re-spreading this disease.

In the meantime, glad to have a working vehicle, I may just start venturing out a lot more within New York State — maybe camping for a few days, renting a kayak on the Hudson or Long Island Sound.

Fun doesn’t have to require a long drive or flight, I know.

And yet — overtourism also remains a serious problem for the environment and for so many people and places, as this Guardian article discusses:

 

Tourism is an unusual industry in that the assets it monetises – a view, a reef, a cathedral – do not belong to it. The world’s dominant cruise companies – Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian – pay little towards the upkeep of the public goods they live off. By incorporating themselves in overseas tax havens with benign environmental and labour laws – respectively Panama, Liberia and Bermuda – cruising’s big three, which account for three-quarters of the industry, get to enjoy low taxes and avoid much irksome regulation, while polluting the air and sea, eroding coastlines and pouring tens of millions of people into picturesque ports of call that often cannot cope with them.

What goes for cruises goes for most of the travel industry. For decades, a small number of environmentally minded reformists in the sector have tried to develop sustainable tourism that creates enduring employment while minimising the damage it does. But most hotel groups, tour operators and national tourism authorities – whatever their stated commitment to sustainable tourism – continue to prioritise the economies of scale that inevitably lead to more tourists paying less money and heaping more pressure on those same assets. Before the pandemic, industry experts were forecasting that international arrivals would rise by between 3% and 4% in 2020. Chinese travellers, the largest and fastest-growing cohort in world tourism, were expected to make 160m trips abroad, a 27% increase on the 2015 figure.

The virus has given us a picture, at once frightening and beautiful, of a world without tourism….

From the petrol and particulates that spew from jetskis to pesticides drenching the putting green, the holidaymaker’s every innocent pleasure seems like another blow to the poor old planet. Then there is the food left in the fridge and the chemicals used to launder the sheets after each single-night occupancy in one of Airbnb’s 7 million rental properties, and the carcinogenic fuel that is burned by cruise ships. And then there are the carbon emissions. “Tourism is significantly more carbon-intensive than other potential areas of economic development,” reported a recent study in the journal Nature Climate Change. Between 2009 and 2013, the industry’s global carbon footprint grew to about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the majority generated by air travel. “The rapid increase in tourism demand,” the study went on, “is effectively outstripping the decarbonisation of tourism-related technology”.

Destructive though it is, the virus has offered us the opportunity to imagine a different world – one in which we start decarbonising, and staying local. The absence of tourism has forced us to consider ways in which the industry can diversify, indigenise and reduce its dependency on the all-singing, all-dancing carbon disaster that is global aviation.

Are you also itching to travel?

Can you?

 

Will you?

American rage, multi-layered

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

Have you ever had a pousse-café?

It’s a drink that contains two to seven layers of alcohol, added by weight, to create a colorful array of stripes in one glass.

 

America’s rage is a pousse-café, with so, so many layers.

 

People are being tear-gassed and shot by police with rubber bullets.

Protestors, including professional journalists, have been targeted by police and permanently blinded.

Stores have been attacked and destroyed and looted, from mass market Target to luxury brands like Chanel.

Some Americans are appalled, astonished, gobsmacked.

Not me.

Not millions.

 

 

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A classic image, taken by the late photographer Bernie Boston

 

 

There are so many layers to American rage now:

— the endless lethal parade of African Americans who are shot and killed by police (ooops, wrong apartment!) or hunted down by gun-happy civilians, and here are only a tiny few of them: George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery…

— the daily fears this has created, for generations, that simply being black, going for a walk, walking too fast or in the “wrong” neighborhood or wearing a hoodie or even birding in Central Park, is an invitation, as it is, for some people to wield their white privilege and entitlement and choose to endanger or end others’ lives.

— the “talk” every black parent has to have with their children, especially teen males, about how to walk through their lives on eggshells because so many others will choose to see their basic existence in the same spaces as a threat.

— the income inequality that has kept so many Americans at such deep disadvantage in a nation whose comforting myth is “just work harder!”

— the extraordinary costs of attending even a public university or college, acquiring massive debt that dogs graduates for decades, even as they drift into poorly-paid jobs that make it impossible to repay those loans, and loans that — unlike any other — cannot be discharged by declaring bankruptcy.

— health disparities that have killed many more people of color thanks to COVID-19 because POC have underlying health conditions (“co-morbidities” in medspeak) that left their bodies more vulnerable, like obesity, asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure.

— 100,000 Americans — with many more to come — already dead of COVID-19.

— a Federal minimum wage of $7.25 that has not been raised since 2009; only 29 of 50 states have made theirs higher, more than $11/hour.

— extortionate costs for health insurance.

— the loss of millions of jobs.

— the loss for millions of their health insurance coverage — because that’s how many Americans get the only coverage they can afford, when their employer picks up some of its cost (i..e. benefits.)

— widespread police brutality, even blinding permanently some protestors, including journalists

— a deep, abiding despair at the lack of political leadership, and shocking passivity on all sides, to address any of this.

 

It’s a drink that tastes very, very bitter.

 

Stay or go?

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By Caitlin Kelly

I’ve been very lucky of late to find an editor who likes my essays, so she bought this one on the  topic I have come back to many times — too many! — on this blog: whether to remain living in the U.S. or return to Canada.

Here’s a bit of it:

And so I left behind a perfectly good country, one with excellent and heavily subsidized university education, cradle-to-grave healthcare, a wide, deep social safety net, and a Constitution that promised “peace, order and good government” rather than “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

For years, Canadians had often guessed I was American, which is a veiled insult that means too bossy, too direct, too nakedly ambitious. I wanted faster decisions and a wider playing field, not the endless foot-shuffling of risk-averse fellow Canadians and a career limited to a handful of major cities.

I’d thought American was more egalitarian than it is, but that turned out to be silly idealism. When I dared suggest to someone at Dartmouth that I audit classes there, since we were in the middle of nowhere for the next four years, pre-Internet, the university administration refused. How about part-time study? Also no.

As I began to try to make sense of my new home, I read two seminal works of the early 1990s that explained the shadowed side of John Winthrop’s 1630 vision of America as a much-admired “city on a hill”: the first was Alex Kotlowitz’s There Are No Children Here, about two boys growing up in a decrepit Chicago housing project during the 1980s; the second was Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities, a study of two school districts, divided by wealth and class, which were allotted wildly unequal resources by the American way of funding education through housing taxes. This was a key difference between my experiences in Toronto and Montreal.

In Hanover, a local social worker told me about the grinding poverty she saw on muddy backroads, the battered trailers with plastic on the windows, while Dartmouth’s most privileged students raced their shiny sports cars through town and dropped enormous sums in its few stores. There is poverty in Canada; this is particularly true for the shamefully neglected Indigenous people. But the shocking inequality of the United States, where the three wealthiest Americans collectively own more wealth than the bottom half of the population (while the middle class struggles to pay for healthcare and university tuition), is absent; Canada has its billionaires and millionaires, but they tend to be more discreet about their good fortune.

First American lesson: Prove you’re rich! Income inequality be damned.

 

I really enjoy the quality of life and the kind of professional opportunities that living in the U.S. — near New York City — has given me.

I would never have had these things had I stayed in my home country.

Canada is both geographically enormous — and really small!

 

 

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Montreal harbor — with the legendary housing Habitat, from Expo 1967

 

If you have (as I have) lived in a few of its major cities and have no wish to keep moving just to find a new job with a slightly different perspective, then what? I had lived in Toronto (a really ugly and expensive city) and Montreal (a charming city but with very limited prospects for an ambitious Anglo journalist). Vancouver was too far away (and also has very costly housing) Ottawa and Halifax and Calgary too far away or too small.

My half-brother, 23 years younger, married an American and has long lived in D.C. and recently became a first-time father, of twins — so now we have American citizens in the family.

And my husband, Jose Lopez, is also American, as was my first husband.

I know it hurts my Canadian father, who had a very distinguished career as a film-maker there, that we both have professionally and romantically dismissed Canada, even though we visit. I suspect many immigrants to the U.S. feel some of what I do — pride and pleasure in our accomplishments here (it’s HUGE) — but also something of a tug to our homeland.

It is an utter nightmare for many Americans to have a President like Trump. It is very frightening to imagine four more years of him, while also having little optimism about how much better Joe Biden would do.

 

 

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I love old diners, anywhere! This is on the North Fork of Long Island, NY

 

You choose to leave your home country, initially, for all sorts of reasons — education, marriage, adventure, a job, a fellowship.

You choose to stay elsewhere for a host of others.

I lived in Mexico at 14, in France at 25, and moved to the U.S. at 30.

Moving away is always a little scary, but — for me — so was the prospect of spending my life in a city I didn’t like much, and which still is the professional hub of my industry.

And the truth is that, being gone for decades, means re-entry can make you feel like a stranger in your original homeland.

 

Have you lived outside of the country of your birth?

If you returned, what brought you back?

 

And if you would never go back — why not?

Where will you go?

“Trapped” — perfect pandemic TV!

By Caitlin Kelly

 

Thanks to a Nordic pal here in the U.S., we recently discovered Trapped — and loved! — this Icelandic cop show.

It’s the most expensive series ever filmed there, two seasons of 10 episodes each, from 2015.

I might be the only person left in the world who has yet to visit Iceland, but I can now really see why people go. What a spectacular and dramatic landscape it is!

It only has 364,000 people, and 60,000 in the capital, and is the most sparsely-populated nation in Europe.

The characters in Trapped are all very human, often confused, working either in Reykjavik or an isolated small town on a fjord — where the evil runs mighty deep and sometimes for generations.

There’s Andri, the police chief in Season One, who’s a tall, hefty guy with a thick brown beard and hair that always needs brushing, His assistants, Hinrika and Asgeir, are small town residents, and a real contrast — Hinrika is tough, smart and cynical while Asgeir is always vaguely goofing off and playing chess on his computer.

Their police station is small, and, like everything here, absolutely dwarfed by snow-capped mountains.

The sense of being trapped in this show has many layers: by small town life, by family dramas and secrets, by unsolved murders and disappearances, by ambition. Mostly by weather! So much snow, rain, ice! Roads get shut down and planes and helicopters grounded.

The opening credits are visually very strong and the music very good, initially composed by the late and very talented Johann Johannsson.

By Season Two, Andri has moved back to big-city Reykjavik, and Hinrika is now police chief. But her marriage to Bardur, 20 years her senior, is ending and Andri’s oldest daughter has become a rebellious 15-year-old in a lot of black eyeshadow, living with an aunt.

The pace is slow, but there’s plenty of plot development and it takes a while to finally reveal who’s the true baddie.

Along the way, we get to see Icelandic sheep farmers and ponies and an enormous ferry that is key to the first season plot. There’s a female minister whose formal collar is a white ruffle that looks positively medieval.

Several people die in gruesome ways — consumed by flames, and one with a bolt gun used to kill sheep.

But it’s really compelling and the murder of one character left us on the the verge of tears.

Here’s the Wikipedia entry about Baltasar Koromákur, its creator.

 

Have you seen it?

 

 

COVID’s challenge: moral injury

By Caitlin Kelly

I hadn’t heard that phrase until September 2019, when I sat down to interview an American physician, Dr. Emily Queenan , describing why she stopped working in her native country and moved to work in Ontario. It wouldn’t have been the easiest choice, choosing small-town Ontario with mixed-race children and having her husband leave a corporate job.

But it was absolutely the right choice for her.

From my 2020 story for The American Prospect:

 

Dr. Emily Queenan, who is American, also voted with her feet; after studying biology at Williams College, working for Americorps in Peekskill, New York, in community health, and attending medical school at the University of Pennsylvania, she did her residency in Rochester, New York. She opened a family medicine practice there in June 2009, closing it in May 2014—and moving to Canada.

After being recruited by an agency of the MOH, Queenan visited four cities selected from a list of rural communities needing a doctor, She chose Penetanguishene, a middle-class town of 8,962 in northern Ontario on Georgian Bay, a beautiful area that welcomes many summer-home visitors.

“It was a wrought decision to close my practice,” Queenan says, sitting in the 1920s-era red-brick house in small-town Ontario whose main floor is now her office. “I envisioned having my [U.S.] practice for decades. But I was really burned out by the burden of being someone’s family doctor and the moral injury of denying care versus the lack of payment versus dealing with your own medical bills. This is not asked of other professions.”

Still in New York, Queenan attended a local meeting of Physicians for a National Health Plan, an American advocacy group founded in 1985 by Dr. Steffie Woolhandler and Dr. David Himmelstein, “trying to decide what was next. I was on the cusp of turning 40 and saw a career of fighting stupid fights. Doctors across the country were going through exactly what I was going through. I am not unique.”

 

 

Maybe you are, or know, a physician or nurse or other healthcare worker; my first husband is a physician I met when he was finishing med school at McGill so I watched him through his residency and early practice — which brought him to some unpleasant realities.

Most healthcare workers choose their profession because it expresses their values — to help and to heal, whenever and wherever possible.

Covid has torn their world to shreds, as evidenced by the recent suicide of Dr. Lorna Breen, an ER physician who had worked in a New York City hospital under such terrible circumstances that her sister said she called it Armageddon.

Her father is also a physician, so she would have grown up with this moral code.

From The New York Times:

 

“She tried to do her job, and it killed her,” he said.

The elder Dr. Breen said his daughter had contracted the coronavirus but had gone back to work after recuperating for about a week and a half. The hospital sent her home again, before her family intervened to bring her to Charlottesville, he said.

Dr. Breen, 49, did not have a history of mental illness, her father said. But he said that when he last spoke with her, she seemed detached, and he could tell something was wrong. She had described to him an onslaught of patients who were dying before they could even be taken out of ambulances.

“She was truly in the trenches of the front line,” he said.

He added: “Make sure she’s praised as a hero, because she was. She’s a casualty just as much as anyone else who has died.”

 

When patients die in the ambulance, on stretchers, in waiting room chairs, or after appearing to be recovering, your skills, strength, speed and teamwork still aren’t enough.

 

You just can’t help.

You can’t comfort.

You can’t save.

 

You feel angry and helpless and overwhelmed — for doing everything you know and it’s not enough.

Let alone re-using PPE.

Here’s a definition from a PTSD website run by the VA:

In traumatic or unusually stressful circumstances, people may perpetrate, fail to prevent, or witness events that contradict deeply held moral beliefs and expectations (1). Moral injury is the distressing psychological, behavioral, social, and sometimes spiritual aftermath of exposure to such events (2). A moral injury can occur when someone is put in a situation where they behave in a way or witness behaviors that go against their values and moral beliefs.

Guilt, shame, and betrayal are hallmark reactions of moral injury (e.g., 3). Guilt involves feeling distress and remorse regarding the morally injurious event (e.g., “I did something bad.”). Shame is when the belief about the event generalizes to the whole self (e.g., “I am bad because of what I did.”) (4). Betrayal can occur when someone observes trusted peers or leaders act against values and can lead to anger and a reduced sense of confidence and trust (5).

 

Will New York City be gone for good?

 

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In true NYC spirit, on a miserably rainy day, these middle-school students went sailing for the first time on the East River, in tiny wooden boats they built by hand

 

By Caitlin Kelly

If you’ve never been there, it’s hard to imagine — a daily crush of energy, talent, ambition and haste.

It’s a city people flock to from across the globe and across the U.S., to study, work or enjoy a great vacation.

I first came to the city, (as suburbanites here call it, as if there were no other!) around the age of 12 or so, to visit my great-grandmother, Blanche, the Countess Casagrande. (Yes, really, thanks to an Italian husband I never met.) She lived on Park Avenue, still the ne plus ultra of Manhattan real estate.

I came back in my early 20s a few times, once to perform as an extra in Sleeping Beauty with the National Ballet at Lincoln Center for a week, other times for pleasure. I met a handsome young man in the shoe department of Brooks Brothers who took me that evening to the town’s most exclusive joint — Studio 54. Of course, we went to Fiorucci first to buy a pretty dress.

Back when Conde Nast — still the publisher of Vogue, Vanity Fair and many other glossy magazines — was at 350 Madison Avenue (next to Brooks Brothers!) I met with editors at Glamour and Mademoiselle, leaving my enormous black portfolio of clippings there for a few days, hoping beyond hope one day to write for them. Amazingly, they read an as-yet-unpublished story tucked into my portfolio’s back pocket which was due to be published in a Canadian magazine, and re-bought it for Glamour.

That, at its best, has been my New York City — a place where even a young (very lucky!) Canadian, even wearing all the wrong clothes! — could quickly sell to a market of her dreams.

 

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Via Carota, Grove Street

 

So my New York is archeological, layered with memories over decades.

Since moving to a NYC suburb in 1989, I’ve spent countless hours in New York City, 95 percent of them in Manhattan; Brooklyn, now impossibly hip, is too far, as we say, a schlep.

So I miss it!

My hair salon — owned by Alex, a man in business for decades, whose three chairs welcome everyone from a Grammy-nominated musician to Brooklyn museum curators to Wall Street executives but also silver-haired seniors accompanied by their aides — is on Grove Street, in the West Village. (That’s Greenwich Village, which no local calls it. Either the West Village or East.)

Across the street from him is Via Carota, admired as one of the city’s best restaurants — and what a delight it is.

Was.

 

Will it be again?

 

That’s the question hitting everyone here, hard.

So many people rely on one another, economically and professionally, from the nannies and chefs and dog-walkers employed by the wealthy to the owners of the 25,000 bars and restaurants and all their staff to the thousands who work in orchestras and theater, not just Broadway.

And rent here is so high that many who’ve fled back to their parents’ for the duration — like one young woman who told the Times she was paying $1,800 a month with two room-mates —  may never return.

 

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The Koch Theater, Lincoln Center

 

Here’s an analysis of what the city faces going forward (as we say, fah-ward):

It took just a matter of days to shut down New York City, once the coronavirus took hold. Restarting it will take much, much longer.

The economic impact in the city from the global pandemic has been striking: Hundreds of thousands are already out of work; at least $7.4 billion in tax revenue is projected to be lost by the middle of next year.

And the changes will be felt long after New York begins to reopen its economy.

How New York City, the epicenter of the country’s outbreak, begins to recapture its vibrancy is a question consuming political, business and cultural leaders.

The very features that make New York attractive to businesses, workers and tourists — Broadway, the subway system, world-class restaurants and innumerable cultural institutions — were among the hardest-hit in the pandemic. And they will take the longest to come back.

 

 

The city has lost 13,000 people, so far, to COVID-19.

 

 

So many have died so quickly — 400 to 700 every day for weeks — that hospitals now have refrigerated trucks outside as morgues, with bodies stacked on makeshift bunks three high. That plain wooden coffins, stacked, are being planted on Hart Island, the place for unclaimed bodies.

 

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The annual orchid show at The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx

 

Friends in the city are traumatized by the constant wail of ambulance sirens.

Beloved neighborhood haunts are closing, like Coogan’s:

 

Coogan’s was the promise of New York incarnate: multiethnic, friendly, welcoming, smart. The premise of the business was the opposite of social distancing.

It opened in 1985 and in time became an Irish place where the bartenders were Dominican-Americans and the waiters African-American and the customers, all of the above and more. So many held court there over the years, it is hard to keep them straight. Did Mr. Walsh still remember the Israeli karaoke singer?

 

There’s the New York City you’ve all seen in films and TV and commercials.

Then there’s the real New York, home to millions, some for generations, others for a few years.

My mother was born there and married my Canadian father — who she met in the south of France — at St. Bartholomew, one of the city’s most beautiful churches, on Park Avenue and enormous. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like, at 17, to walk down that aisle. They moved to his hometown of Vancouver, where I was born.

But New York City always beckoned me; for an ambitious Canadian journalist who could get a green card thanks to my mother’s citizenship, why not try?

I’ve had some great adventures here.

Found two agents who sold my two books to major publishers.

 

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The first time, after a meeting on a bitterly cold winter’s day at Simon & Schuster, (its hallways lined with the framed covers of all their best-sellers — SO intimidating!) I went around the corner to another city institution, The 21 Club, and had a strong cup of coffee and some celebratory profiteroles.

The second time I almost fired my agent after we met with editors at Portfolio, downtown on Hudson Street — she later called with their offer as I sat at the chipped and worn Formica counter in one of my diner haunts, Neil’s, on Lexington. (Which you can see in the terrific recent movie Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Spent a glorious afternoon, on assignment for the Daily News, aboard a tugboat.

Stood on a Broadway stage to interview a woman for The New York Times making history in the theatrical industry.

 

This is the city I’ve known well, worked hard in, wept a few times in — and mostly enjoyed.

 

It’s layered with my own memories now:

— the office building at 200 Madison, my first magazine job

— Central Park, around which I once roller-skated and where, after winning a softball game with my Canadian team-mates we burst into the Canadian national anthem in French, to the astonishment of our opposition.

— the block on Mercer which held the Coles Center, NYU’s athletic wing, and now (of course) will be condos

— Fanelli’s,the 173-year-old bar a block south of there with its gorgeous etched glass doors and crazy mix of patrons.

When I arrived — with no family, friends, job or alumni network, and a recession — I took up fencing. Of course! The NYU coach,  a former Navy man, was a two-time Olympian. Where else could this happen?

It’s never been an easy place for a newcomer.

People walk fast, talk fast, prize social capital and Ivy League degrees, genuflect to the right addresses and clubs, to money and power.

It’s normally expensive, intimidating, crowded, noisy, dirty…

But what will become of it?

Dancing for your life…street version

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

Loved this, from The New York Times dance critic:

One day, before the coronavirus pandemic, a river of pedestrians — half manic, half clueless — was feeding onto the escalator at the West Fourth Street subway station during rush hour. Blocking the escalator entrance were people gazing at their phones. Once they finally stepped on, they planted themselves on the left. It was a mess.

You stand on the right; you pass on the left. This is the choreography of everyday life.

I found myself directing people where to stand and when to move. As the bottom half of the escalator started to organize itself, I noticed that something similar was happening toward the top. I recognized the voice up there: It belonged to Ori Flomin, a dancer, teacher and choreographer. We saw each other and giggled.

“Of course,” he said, “we are the ones arranging people in space.”

 

I started studying ballet at 12, and took ballet and jazz classes five nights a week in my 20s. I only stopped a few years ago thanks to my messed-up knees.

Dance, for fun or in a studio, has long been a way to stay in touch with my senses and sense of balance and rhythm and grace. I’ve never really understood people who “hate to dance” but I know there are many of them! Once you learn to parse a piece of music — a waltz or a mazurka, have your body remember allegro and adagio and what it should do in response — it’s a permanent muscle memory.

And understanding how your body moves within space — and especially in relationship to other bodies — is key to dance, even if all you ever do is take a dance class. You still have to navigate your spot at the barre or leaping and spinning across the floor. You swing your legs in grands battements, careful not to knock anyone while focused on staying strong, centered, elegant.

Spatial awareness is a very real quality we all need to cultivate right now in shared spaces to avoid endless transmission of COVID-19.

Heedless selfishness is now, we all know, lethal.

Those days are gone. Or soon will be; on April 1 — no joke! — New York governor Andrew Cuomo declared every New York City playground closed.

But the ambitious, driven, rushrushrush sort of people who live in New York City — a massively dense city to start with — are also used to being shoved and jostled, in the subway, in line-ups, pretty much anywhere.

So learning to literally keep your damn distance, every day, everywhere — to step out of an elevator with anyone else in it (a la Devil Wears Prada!) — is a new challenge.

Add to this the relentless American individualism that somehow insists each person’s own comfort and safety matters far more than anyone else’s…good luck!

 

6th floor life

 

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Our view

 

By Caitlin Kelly

The number 6 has always been a good one for me — my birthday is the sixth day of the sixth month.

We live on the sixth, top floor of our building — the third time I’ve had that spot in an apartment, first as an undergrad in Toronto, attending University of Toronto, and later in Montreal, in a gorgeous 30s complex called Haddon Hall; I dream of actually getting that apartment back! Two bedrooms, great views, perfect condition, working fireplace, tall ceilings….sigh. All for $600 a month, mid 1980s.

My ongoing decision to live on the highest floor of a building, far away from any access to it, is the result of a terrifying experience in my second year at university, when I lived in a studio, alone, at the back of an alley on the ground floor, in a sketchy downtown Toronto neighborhood.

The kind of place, if anyone had been paying attention to my welfare, someone would have said: “No way! Not a safe choice!”

But no one  paid attention and it was affordable.

One night I yelled out the window at people making noise. A few nights later (I really don’t remember), a man tried to pull me out through the bathroom window — as I was taking a bath, directly below the window.

I was wet and slippery and the window too small and narrow.

But that was the end of that apartment.

I spent the summer, recovering emotionally from this attack, in a shared sorority house on a quiet and lovely street, surrounded by other women.

My next home was the 6th floor studio at the back of a six-floor 60s building, with a balcony, overlooking a park.

No one could possibly get at me.

No one ever did.

It was a great little apartment, only one long block north of campus, so I could zip home and change clothes in fall and spring as the temperature shifted. It gave me back the confidence I could live alone, safely, and enjoy my independence again. I was already writing for a few national magazines and would sit at my desk, tapping on my pale turquoise manual typewriter, staring out over the park’s treetops, like a bird in my own little nest.

In Montreal, that high perch proved, sadly, less secure as our building was broken into repeatedly, thieves assuming that renters were wealthy, which we weren’t. I got so scared I went to the police for advice since my bedroom was at the very opposite end of the apartment from the front door — no escape. They had little comfort to offer except that burglars were likely unarmed. I lived there for 18 months while working as a reporter for the Montreal Gazette.

When my first husband and I bought this suburban New York apartment, the first attraction wasn’t its great view of the Hudson River, or the lovely grounds — it was all we could afford! I was lucky enough to have a decent down payment, thanks to an inheritance from my maternal grandmother. The place was a bit gross, thanks to wall-to-wall filthy beige carpet that stunk so badly of cat urine even the realtor stood on the balcony while we looked it over.

In the decades since, by far the longest time I’ve ever lived in one home, (the longest before that was maybe three or four years, in childhood/adolescence), I’ve repainted each room and hallway multiple times. The living room morphed from a mushroom beige/gray faux finish to a brilliant Chinese red to the pale yellow/green we last did in 2008. The bedroom went from a faux-finish crisp blue and white to aqua to apple green to Skimming Stone, a lush, warm gray from my fave, Farrow & Ball.

I really love the quiet perch of a top floor.

We’re literally in the treetops and red-tailed hawks soar close by daily, one even landing on our balcony railing once.

Our river view, looking northwest, is now obscured by tree growth, but fine in the winter. We watch barges gliding upriver and storms heading south.

In these perilous times, home up here once more feels like a nest, safe and enclosing.

And impossible, we hope, to breach.

 

 

Why now’s the perfect time to watch Babylon Berlin

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By Caitlin Kelly

 

A frightened world!

The economy in chaos!

Bitter nostalgia for lost glories

The rise of a silent-but-deadly threat soon to destroy the world as we knew it (in this case, Nazism, not COVID-19)

 

It all rings a little too close to home right now…

This three-season series has long been one of my favorite shows ever — and the most expensive European TV series made.

And for those newly hungry for fresh viewing content, these three seasons offer 28 episodes.

In 1929 — a year with plenty of fiscal and political nightmares — a Cologne detective named Gereon Rath moves to big bad Berlin to work with their vice squad, soon aided by Charlotte Ritter, a young woman sharing a squalid flat with her parents, grandparents, sister and brother-in-law and baby and younger sister. To earn money to keep them alive and housed, she works nights as a prostitute in the basement of Moka Efti, an enormous nightclub owned by the Armenian, a local crime boss.

The show offers many sub-plots and terrific characters, from the Berlin boarding-house owner, war widow Miss Elizabeth, to a braid-headed, firebrand, female Communist doctor to the creepy rich son playing profiteering games with wily Russians.

There’s Svetlana Sorokin, who’s desperate to get her hands on a train car filled with gold and who — of course — sings at Moka Efti disguised as a man with black hair and moustache. Greta Overbeck’s work as a housemaid to a wealthy, Jewish Berlin politician drives a major plot point.

There’s a driven journalist, (of course!), much trading of favors and access, the enormous gap between the wealthy and the desperate.

Every element is visually powerful: the impeccably Art Deco dining room of Moka Efti, with its room-length aquarium filled with pulsating jellyfish, gorgeous period automobiles and clothes, interiors filled with period furniture, wallpaper, lighting.

If you’ve ever been to Berlin — I finally spent 10 days there in July 2017 — it’s very cool to see elements of it: from its cobblestone streets to the subway to one of the many lakes where Berliners spend long sunny summer days swimming and boating and relaxing.

Sadly, the show also now feels much more relevant now with its themes of social unrest, widespread fear, no reliable political leadership, undercurrents of racist, nationalist fervor.

 

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More on Liv Lisa Fries, who plays Charlotte Ritter.

 

From The New Yorker:

 

The show plays as part period drama, part police procedural, and part mystery thriller, but there is always an undercurrent of foreboding, drawing on our knowledge of what’s to come. Hitler’s name is heard only once in all sixteen episodes; Nazi Brown Shirts first appear in one of the last. The opening lines of the show’s haunting song “Zu Asche, Zu Staub” (“To Ashes, to Dust”) capture the era’s troubled Zeitgeist: “To ashes, to dust / Taken away from the light / But not just yet / Miracles wait until the last.”

Here it is:

 

I hope you’ll check it out — and enjoy!

 

 

 

Adjusting to the Covid-19 pandemic

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By Caitlin Kelly

I won’t belabor you with the endless details of the coronavirus pandemic — trusting that you’re paying attention to reliable sources of news like the World Health Organization.

If you live in the United States, where millions — like my husband and I — have no sick pay or access to unemployment benefits since we are self-employed, this is very worrying.

Thanks directly to the coronoavirus, we’ve just suddenly lost a very large piece of paid work  — with no access to unemployment benefits — that we’ve been counting on for months; unlike many Americans we do have savings.

The only people I know who aren’t panicking right now have significant savings or the ability to move back home with their parents to cut their living costs.

That’s a small percentage of Americans.

What worries me most isn’t just the lack of preparedness by the American government and the lying grifter in the White House “leading” it all — but the bedrock of traditional American values.

 

Individualism.

 

The “I”ll do whatever I want and screw you” behaviors I’ve seen for years.

Only now, they’re lethal.

If you’re on Twitter, as I am, you might have seen the hashtag #CoronaKatie, a young woman who tweeted:

 

I just went to a Red Robin [a fast casual restaurant chain] and I’m 30 [a very high risk group for spreading the virus.]

It was delicious and I took my sweet time eating my meal. Because this is America and I’ll do what I want.

 

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Get used to being alone!

 

I can’t adequately express how angry this selfishness makes me.

I fully expect many of us, unwittingly, may have already infected others while we remained without active symptoms. I feel guilty and worried, and don’t even know if I should.

As one brilliant UK physician Graham Medley, a professor of infectious disease modelling, has said — stop behaving as though you hope to avoid the virus.

Behave as though you already have it and do everything in your power to not infect others!

I moved to the United States when I was 30 — but was born, raised and socialized in a country with two attitudes profoundly different from the United States, to this day, both affect how I think and how I behave:

 

cradle-to-grave healthcare provided through taxes

a national, equally bedrock concern for the common good, which this public policy makes abundantly clear.

 

Everyone matters.

 

Anyone who still insists on going out into crowded, shared public spaces — unless medically or legally necessary — is a fool and possibly risking others’ deaths.

If you’re OK with this, please stop reading and following this blog at once.

As you likely know by now, anyone over 60 — with a weaker immune system than those younger — is more vulnerable. Those with underlying conditions, especially respiratory, are very much at risk; my late mother, who died in a Canadian nursing home February 15, had COPD and other health issues. It may have been a blessing she died before this, as nursing homes are a petri dish for this disease.

I am scared.

Even though we have savings, we’re wholly self-employed and if our work dries up, we’re screwed. Whatever the U.S. government offers as help, it never — as usual — affects anyone self-employed.

For now, Jose’s two anchor clients are still going and he is able to work from home for one of them. I have work through mid-May, but nothing after that.

We will figure it out. We have to!

 

I pray that you and your loved ones stay safe and healthy.