Writing personal history

By Caitlin Kelly

I’m no celebrity, obviously, but have been urged for a while to write a memoir.

I’ve always resisted because…really?

How would my life be of interest to strangers?

I’ve enjoyed it, for sure, and had some wild adventures — visiting 41 countries, a two-year marriage, winning some nice writing awards — but is that of larger appeal?

I’ve had a great career: three major newspaper jobs with some fantastic assignments (going to the Arctic, covering Queen Elizabeth), a European fellowship, two books, etc. — so maybe some of that would be interesting to other journalists.

My family, as readers here know, is not a Hallmark card. My late mother and I were estranged for the last decade of her life. I have three half-siblings, one of whom I’m estranged from, one of whom is a self-made millionaire and one I’ve never met and don’t want to.

So, does a any of this add up to a book an agent will rep and a publisher will buy?

To be determined.

Most books are 80,000 words.

So far, I’ve easily and quickly written 20,000 and, to my surprise, am really enjoying it. It’s a mix of personal and professional stories, ranging from my time in Toronto to that in Paris to moving to New York knowing no one and without a job.

I have diaries from my 20s I haven’t even looked at, and a journal from 1998 of my trip to Australia and New Zealand, so I have some material there to work from.

Thanks to Google, I’m constantly fact-checking — like the distance from Montreal to the Arctic, or where the tree line ends in Quebec (the 56th parallel.) I also found a glaring error in my aunt’s Wikipedia entry, so am fortunate my father is still alive and lucid at 93 to do some corrections there; my aunt and uncle, both Canadian but British residents, were very well known in Britain in the 1960s and 70s for their work in TV and radio.

Several people who follow me on social media are most intrigued by my estrangements — how and when they happened and how it has affected me; my recent New York Times story on this topic elicited a stunning 700 comments, so it clearly struck a nerve.

We’ll see if this ends up being commercially useful.

Memoir starts with “me” — but it has to make sense to thousands of strangers.

In the meantime, I’m banging out 1,000 to 1,500 words a day.

What, if anything, would you want to know about me?

Nine years later, still loving our town!

By Caitlin Kelly

I wrote this post in 2012…and so lucky it all holds true, still.

I’ve updated it a bit to reflect a few changes.

I was born in Vancouver, Canada; moved at the age of two to London, England for three years; grew up in Toronto and also lived twice in Montreal, in rural New Hampshire, Cuernavaca, Mexico and — since 1989 — in Tarrytown, NY, a town of about 10,000, founded in 1648, that’s 25 miles north of Manhattan, whose lights we can see from our street.

As an ambitious writer, I wanted to be close to New York City and have ready access to its publishers, agents, editors and fellow writers.

I could never have afforded an apartment in NYC — or even in Toronto — like the one I bought, with a stunning and unobstructed tree-top view of the Hudson River, with a pool and tennis court. The building is red brick, from 1965, and not the least bit pretty. But the landscaping is and the location and the views.

So here I am, all these years later. Before this, I typically moved every few years. Between 1982 and 1989, I changed cities three times and countries (Canada, France, U.S.) as well.

Some reasons why I’m so happy here:

The Hudson River

This is the view from our apartment balcony. Tarrytown sits on the river’s eastern bank, and the river is easily accessible, for boating, or a picnic, bike ride or walk by the water. Sunsets are spectacular and the ever-changing skies mesmerizing.

The reservoir

A five-minute drive from home is a large reservoir with otters, ducks, swans, cormorants, egrets and turtles basking in the sun. You can lounge on a bench, skate in the coldest winters and safely walk around it in all seasons.

Mint

This great gourmet store and cafe is a treasure, filled with delicious treats offered by owner Hassan Jarane, who I also profiled in “Malled”, my book about retail. (You can see our funky street lamps in the window reflection.)

The Tarrytown Music Hall

Built in 1885 as a vaudeville hall, this 843-seat  theatre hosts a wide range of concerts, mostly rock and folk. I saw British singer Richard Thompson there last year playing a two-hour solo set, and my fellow Canadian Bruce Cockburn. I can bop down on a Friday afternoon and snag a ticket for $25. Soon re-opening, I hope!

Phelps Hospital

Yes, seriously. Having had four surgeries there and having been too many times to their emergency department, (broken finger, my husband’s concussion, a bad fall), I know it well. Small, friendly, well-run. It’s a little weird to like a hospital, but I’m really glad it’s a 10-minute drive from our door to theirs.

Bellas

Our local diner, recently and attractively renovated.

Horsefeathers

A local indie since the 80s, great burgers and the best Caesar salad I’ve eaten anywhere.

The Warner Library

Its magnificent carved bronze doors come from an estate in Florence. Built of Vermont limestone with tall ceilings, enormous windows and a lovely quiet elegance, its reading rooms are airy and filled with light. It opened in 1929, a gift to the community from a local businessman, Mr. Warner.

Easy access to Manhattan

It’s a 38-minute train ride or 30 to 40 minute drive by car. I love being able to spend a day in the city — as we all refer to it — and come home broke, weary and happy. I can be at the Met Museum or see a Broadway show or just stroll Soho without stressing over the cost of airfare or hotel. Living in Manhattan is terrifyingly expensive and the air here is always about 10 to 15 degrees cooler and fresher.

The Rockefeller State Park Preserve

Yes, those Rockefellers, one of the wealthiest founding families of the nation. They donated this  750-acre piece of land, open to everyone, whose gently rolling hills, forests and lake feel like you’ve escaped to Devon or Vermont but only a 10-minute drive from my home. The lake is 22 acres and 180 species of birds have been seen there.

They shoot movies here!

Thanks to its small, low-scale downtown with a well-preserved set of Victorian or earlier buildings, Tarrytown offers a perfect streetscape for period films, often set in the 1940s or 1950s. I missed seeing Keanu Reeves and Julia Roberts when they were here, (“Mona Lisa Smile” was partly filmed here), but almost saw Matt Damon when they were shooting “The Good Shepherd”, one of my favorite movies. If you watch it, a scene where he is to meet his sweetie outside a theater — that’s really the Tarrytown Music Hall!

Goldberg Hardware

Greg’s great-grandfather founded the place and he lives upstairs. It’s extremely rare now to find a third or fourth-generation merchant still doing business and thriving, even with a Home Depot not far away. Also mentioned in “Malled.”

Philipsburg Manor

It’s fairly astonishing, in a relatively very young country like the United States, to drive past 18th. century history. A beautiful white stone house, mill and mill pond remain in town from this era. Here’s a bit of the history.

The Old Dutch Church

Built in 1697, it’s the second-oldest church — and still in use — in New York State. It’s technically in Sleepy Hollow (which is the old North Tarrytown.)

The EF Language School

Young students come from all over the world to this Swedish school’s Tarrytown campus to study English. It adds a seriously cosmopolitan flavor to our small town to overhear French, German, Italian, Swedish and Japanese spoken on our main street.

Coffee Labs

Our local coffee shop, with live music and great cappuccinos. Also Muddy Waters, a second coffee shop.

A diverse population

With a median income of $80,000, we’ve got both enormous Victorian mansions and three-family apartment houses. (Westchester county has towns nearby so wealthy their median income is more than $200,000. People like Martha Stewart and Glenn Close live out here.) But Tarrytown has remained blessedly down-to-earth, even as its Mini-Cooper count and yummy-mummy numbers have risen rapidly in recent years. We have Korean nail salons, Hispanic grocers, two Greek-owned restaurants, a Greek-owned florist and a car wash owned and run by an immigrant from Colombia. Hassan, who runs Mint, is from Morocco.

What do you most appreciate about where you live?

Imagine being able to just walk home

By Caitlin Kelly

Readers in England know what this post refers to — the recent horrific and shocking kidnap and murder of 33-year-old Sarah Everard, who walked home alone from a friend’s house but was waylaid, of all people, by a Met policeman, now allegedly her killer.

A public vigil held in in her honor became a site of rage and chaos as London police handcuffed women protestors and dragged them away.

Not exactly what anyone wanted.

Apparently, the constant fear and hyper-vigilance that women of all ages simply take for granted, is breaking news to some men.

Hah!

We spend/waste so much of our lives making sure we are safe — we hope — by choosing a well-lit street or populated subway car, checking our car back seat before we get in.

Parking lots at night? No thanks!

Underground parking garages with no one around? No thanks!

Going for a run or a walk through woods or a forest or at dawn or dusk? No thanks!

Wearing headphones while out in public, just walking? No thanks!

Refusing the attentions, always unwanted, of some random man — Smile, sweetheart! –– can lead to a barrage of shouted filth, sometimes even a vicious physical attack.

This Guardian article expresses it all too well:

almost one in three women in the UK will experience domestic abuse in her lifetime and women are far more likely to be killed by a partner than a stranger – so it’s not like keeping men in the house after 6pm would make women safe….

We’re used to women’s freedoms and women’s bodies being up for debate, you see. We’re used to women being told to modify our behaviour as a reaction to male violence. Women may not be under a formal curfew but you only need to look at the disgusting victim-blaming that went on with Sarah Everard to see that we’re under an informal one. Why was she out at 9.30 at night? Why did she walk home instead of taking a cab? What did she expect? Our freedom of movement after dark may not be restricted by the government, but we often don’t have the freedom to fully relax. We regulate our behaviour automatically; we keep our keys in our hands, we stay on high alert, we pay extra to take a cab because we’re worried about walking home. Street harassment is so common we brush it off as “nothing”; after all, it’s not like there’s anything that we can do we about it anyway. As a recent letter to the Guardian pointed out, “you can be fined for dropping litter in the UK, but not for harassing a woman or girl in public”.

The only time I was attacked was, bizarrely, in my own apartment, in downtown Toronto, never (thank God) on the street. I was not badly hurt, just scared enough to move within a few weeks.

However quaint the notion, most Western women now believe in two words to define how we want to, intend to, spend our lives — autonomy and agency.

My body.

My life.

My power.

My decisions.

But, funny thing, lived in homes and on streets and using public transit and public spaces overwhelmingly designed for the comfort and safety of men.

It’s not “freedom” when you live in daily fear.

So glad of a badly needed break!

A newly renovated restaurant became our hangout. Great breakfasts!

By Caitlin Kelly

Poor Jose hadn’t unchained himself from the computer in a year.

My last break, three solo days in Pennsylvania, was in October, but I unwittingly landed (!) in Trump country before the election and cut short my holiday to head home.

So we were overdue for a chance to flee our one-bedroom apartment where — like so many of you — we’ve been working for a year.

Although we are both full-time freelance, which means no one gives us paid time off, we know we need it every bit as much as those who have salaries and paid holidays and paid vacation. We have to self-fund every minute we’re not working but without it, burnout and resentment looms! In a non-pandemic year, we would normally have already visited my native Canada a few times (by car) and probably gone to Europe or planned a trip there.

So the easiest option was to stay in-state and go back to a place we tried for a few days last summer and enjoyed.

We drove 90 minutes north to the town of Woodstock, NY, pop. 6,000, something of a hippie haven, with lots of shops selling tie-dye T-shirts and esoteric books. But also nestled in the Catskill mountains and we have two good pals who live up there who each met us for an an overdue catch-up.

The tower of Woodstock Town Hall, reflected in early wavy glass of the apothecary across the street

We stayed at a funky 1950s era motel that’s since been renovated and this time splurged on a large room that backed onto a rushing creek. Such a soothing sound!

The sky was full of stars we could actually see and we woke to lots of birdsong.

We also splurged on our first massages in a year (everyone masked) and ohhhhhhh, such sore muscles!

I slept 12 hours one night and only made it up to 11:00 p.m. one night, watching a favorite old (1981) movie on my laptop, Time Bandits.

Built in 1860 for painter Frederick Church, Olana is amazing. The interior is closed for now so I walked the grounds with two local friends.

The Catskill Mountains, seen from Olana, facing west

I took my ice skates and made a reservation to use them but instead just enjoyed a long lazy morning reading and savoring the sunshine and silence and the very high cathedral ceiling of our room (our mid 1960s apartment has 8-foot ceilings.)

We had a couple of good meals.

We each bought a pair of Blunnies, Blundstone pull-on boots I had long coveted.

I bought a bright and pretty spring-like coverlet for the bed.

I read some magazines that have been sitting around for a few months for which I rarely seem to have attention.

We loved the croissants and muffins and breads from Bread Alone, a somewhat legendary New York bakery.

It was good to sit still and stare at the woods.

It was good to be out of the apartment and our town.

It was good to not watch TV for five nights, for a badly needed change.

It was good to come home, once more, with a large shopping bag full of new books.

It was good to take some photos at sunrise, wandering a quiet town.

We came home feeling gratefully re-charged.

Must-see TV: Ted Lasso

By Caitlin Kelly

All my friends kept raving about how great this TV series is and I thought, it can’t be that good.

It is!

It has 10 episodes and has already been renewed for two more seasons.

Ted is an American college football coach hired to coach AFC Richmond, a British soccer league — with no knowledge of the sport — because the team’s owner has walked out on his wife, and she wants to ruin the team by hiring an incompetent foreigner.

You don’t have to like soccer to enjoy this (although why not?). It’s got fun characters, some interesting plot twists and, for those of us landlocked in the U.S. unable to visit our beloved England, a nice way to travel, if only visually.

As someone who also finds many Americans too sentimental and effusive, Lasso is very much this — to the ongoing consternation of his team, his boss and pretty much everyone British he meets. He is absurdly, relentlessly kind and outgoing and supportive, to a point you think — ugggggh, saccharine.

But no.

He also faces some darker moments in his private life, so he’s a character we can identify with and find relatable.

He does have lots of adjusting to do to his adopted home, from different words and meanings for things (relegation?!) to — what is this?! — his immediate dislike of and disdain for tea.

“Hot brown water,” he says. I can’t look at tea the same way now!

There’s a classic WAG, Keeley, whose bubbly exterior conceals a solid heart, the team owner who’s kinder than she first appears and Nathan, the team’s waterboy who’s been utterly overlooked until Ted arrives and starts to offer him chances to show his stuff.

A local pub plays an essential role, and there’s an ongoing conflict between the team’s youngest — Jamie Tartt, who’s 23 and supremely talented and arrogant and team captain Roy Kent who’s probably 35 or so. It all feels pretty realistic, from the many challenges Ted faces of trying to navigate a wholly new culture — being called WANKER! by everyone — while also trying to manage his troubled marriage from across the ocean.

Have you seen it?

What did you think?

A fun NYC day (albeit COLD!)


By Caitlin Kelly

There’s only so many pandemic months I can stand to live a cycle of apartment/gym/grocery store. Living in a small suburban town with virtually everything amusing closed for months is lonely and isolating!

So, occasionally, I drive the hour into Manhattan, find street parking (sometimes unpaid, when lucky) and wander a bit, savoring fresh air and sunshine and funky old buildings and stonework and little old ladies moving slowly down the block, hipsters in plaid coats and so many dog-walkers!

Carved red sandstone, exterior of an apartment building on Leroy Street

I parked this time on Leroy, a short north-south street in the heart of Greenwich Village, all residential, a mix of five and six-story walk-ups and several brick houses built in 1813.

Imagine! Who walked these streets then? What did they wear? Where were they going?

I was headed a block north to my favorite city street, Bleecker, an odd street that manages to run both north-south on its western edge (right?) then straight across to terminate at the Bowery.

Robert de Niro grew up there.

Herman Melville lived there.

Even singer Dua Lipa lived there for a year.

The legendary John’s Pizza.

Here’s its Wikipedia entry.

The pandemic has closed many places, but a few great ones remain — so I hit Rocco’s Pastry and Murray’s Cheese, stocking up on delicacies like sfogliatelle and Brie. I ate brunch outdoors — the only way right now to eat there since indoor dining is banned again and it was cold! Like, 30 degrees cold.

Safely distanced, this is the only way to dine in New York right now, regardless of weather

So I read my Sunday New York Times and covered my coffee with its saucer to keep it hot and wore my lined leather gloves as I ate my baked eggs.

Ludlow Street

I drove southeast to the East Village and parked, again at no cost, on Ludlow Street, just to explore a different neighborhood a bit. I didn’t walk very far but was happy to see two great shops on Rivington are still there, Economy Candy and Edith Machinist, a terrific vintage clothing store. I also found out there’s two-hour metered parking for $10.75 on that street — a garage can easily cost three or four times that much.

I sat for a while on a park bench, soaking up some sunshine, watching locals wander by. It’s not a cool, trendy, hip part of the city, but a weathered neighborhood where people live who don’t work on Wall Street and flee to the Hamptons.

I enjoyed lunch, also outdoors, eavesdropping — a much missed habit! — on five guys, mostly in their 20s and 30s, clearly all really good friends, joking and laughing at the next table.

I so miss city energy.

So even if “all” I can enjoy — no ballet/opera/concerts/theater — is a sunny day walking, I’m happy with that.

The world seen…and yet to see

By Caitlin Kelly

It is, for sure, one of the most privileged things anyone can do — travel!

Even a short local road trip implies use of a safe, reliable private automobile.

It assumes having enough money to move past paying for basic necessities, and the health and strength to enjoy moving around and the time off to actually go anywhere. It’s no coincidence that Americans often show little interest in foreign travel, even if they make a lot of money, because taking even two consecutive weeks off is (sadly!) considered weird and lazy — while Europeans savor their annual six weeks.

In a normal year, barring being broke or ill, I love to get out of our small suburban New York town!

I like it and miss our view, but I also really need to get away from American…..everything. Especially, after the past four years, relentless politics, racism and violence.

Even if you don’t live it firsthand, it’s in every news report every day.

Here’s an alphabetical list where I’ve been so far (internationally):

Antigua

My first visit there was age six or seven, my first solo flight, meeting my mother there. My parents had just split up. My second, decades later, was with my first husband.

Austria

Oh, what memories! I was flown to Vienna from Paris at 25 for the weekend by my 10-years-older antiques-dealer boyfriend. I had never been flown anywhere by a beau! We had a challenging time and I broke up with him there. We watched a woman descend the hotel stairs in a very expensive sable coat and he said: “I’d buy you one if you didn’t give me any trouble.” Tempting, but no.

Australia

A very expensive mistake! I had hoped, for my first book, to interview the female sailors competing in a round-the-world yacht race, in Sydney and Auckland. Instead, they totally shut me out and the trip cost me thousands. I visited Sydney and Melbourne, briefly, much preferring Melbourne in every way.

Bahamas

Nassau, a very long time ago.

Bulgaria

Drove through it on an eight-day truck trip with a French truck driver for a story.

Montreal

Canada

My home and native land.

Colombia

Cartagena, just as it was first being developed as a tourist destination.

Costa Rica

Visited my mother there, who traveled the world alone for years.

Rovinj, Croatia

Croatia

Loved it! Zagreb and Rovinj, a town on the Adriatic, July 2017.

Denmark

At 25, I went to Copenhagen as part of my eight-month EU funded journalism fellowship. I took class with the Royal Danish Ballet (no pointe or center work!) as I was writing about them.

London

England

I lived in London ages two to five and have been back many, many times. But I have seen very little beyond London; a day trip to Dorset and a few trips to Bath when my mother lived there. I am so eager to see Cornwall, Yorkshire and Northumberland, for sure.

Fiji

Thanks to my mother, on her journeys.

High above Paris — silence!

France

I can’t remember my first visit but I lived in Paris (in the 15th at Cite Universitaire) for eight months at 25, on an EU journalism fellowship. Have been back many times, for birthdays and a honeymoon and traveled alone at times. Still haven’t seen Alsace or the Atlantic coast, but know the Cote d’Azur, the Camargue, Corsica and tiny bit of Brittany and Normandy. Seeing the D-Day beaches and cemetery and the Bayeux tapestry was amazing.

Germany

I’ve only been to Munich, briefly, and Berlin, for 10 days in July 2017. I am eager to see more.

Hungary

All of three days in Budapest, July 2017. Eager to go back.

Jose went to the local barber, ex-boxer Patrick Quinn. His haircut was 5 euros.

Ireland

Sigh. How I love Ireland! Have been five times, so far. My great grandfather was the schoolmaster of the one room schoolhouse in Rathmullan, Co. Donegal.

Italy

Have been three times, once for my 21st birthday in Venice (which I’ve been to three times.) I adored Sicily. Been to Rome, Florence, Siena but still so much more to see — especially the Dolomites, Lake Como, Puglia and Capri/Pantelleria.

Jamaica

One visit, with a friend who grew up there.

Kenya

The best trip of my life, really — on safari.

Malta

I didn’t love Malta. I did love Mdina and a 15th century house-turned-hotel there.

Mexico

I lived in Cuernavaca at 14 for a few months with my mother and have been back many times, but not since May 2006. I speak Spanish and miss the country!

Montserrat

A visit in my 20s, before the volcano.

New Zealand

An add-on to my Oz trip. I much preferred NZ to Australia, even though I was only there maybe 10 days and only on North Island. Much as I dislike long flights, I would definitely return.

I learned how to canoe at camp -- useful when we went to Nicaragua
On assignment in Nicaragua for WaterAid — Jen in the bow of a dugout canoe

Nicaragua

March 2014, I did some reporting with a team from WaterAid in rural areas. Great adventures!

Northern Ireland

A quick day trip from Dublin to the (amazing!) Titanic Museum, well worth visiting.

Peru

A fantastic two-week trip with my mother — Lima, Cuzco, Puno, Arequipa and sunrise at Machu Picchu. Plus the scariest landing at Cuzco, true white knuckle stuff.

Portugal

I started a four month journey, solo, in Lisbon, age 22, and traveled to Sinta, Beja, Evora, Albufeira. I loved Lisbon and remember it well — especially the Maneuline architecture and the spectacular Gulbenkian Museum.

Romania

Drove through it on our truck journey to Istanbul.

Scotland

Swoon. I spent my 12th summer in a tiny white stone cottage in Monzievaird, near Crieff, Perthshire, staying with my best friend from sixth grade in Toronto who had just moved there after her parents’ divorce. It was a wild summer, with lots of sightseeing but some very tough arguments with a girl who really didn’t want her mother’s attention divided right then.

Spain

I spent six weeks there, alone, and loved it: Madrid, Toledo, Aranjuez, Seville, Cordoba, Granada, Ronda, Ibiza. My favorite part is Andalusia with all its Moorish influences. There are few places as lushly romantic as Seville when the orange trees are in full fragant blossom!

Sweden

Oddly, a visit in late November, American Thanksgiving, thanks to a cheap-o courier flight. It was dark til 8:30 or 9:00 a.m. and dark again by 2:00 p.m. I loved everything about it: cobblestone streets, the Vasa Museum, the Butterfly House, the muted colors, candles everywhere. Very, very expensive but I would love to return.

Tanzania

Safari. Life changing beauty. So so grateful to have had the income and the time off (a month) to visit at 27 from Toronto.

Thailand

Probably the best travel experiences of my life: gorgeous country, kind people, affordable lodging and domestic flights, delicious food. I flew courier for $700 from New York (the full ticket price, in 1994, was something like $4,000) and spent 21 days there. My first husband joined me and we visited Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son. I then went alone south by train to Krabi and took a two-hour boat ride to Ko Phi Phi. Spectacular! Can’t recommend it too highly.

Tunisia

This was a very generous gift from my husband Jose when I finished my first book in 2003; he gave me some money and said GO! So I flew to London then to Malta then to Tunis. I loved it — my enormous room at the Hotel Majestic was about $30 a night. I adore mosaics and Tunis holds the Bardo Museum, one of the world’s best collections of them,

Turkey

Well….this was the final destination of my eight-day truck trip that began in Perpignan, France. I was exhausted and dirty (no showers for a week) and so happy to have a bed in a room and not in the truck. I only had three days there, alone, but what a city. I visited the Grand Bazaar and spent a day looking at rugs…which provoked the most severe allergic reaction (to dust, I had forgotten!) of my life. I feared I might die, alone and anonymously, in the Otel Harem. But I still use the copper jug I bought there every day in our bathroom.

Long Island, NY

United States

Half my family are/were American, so I had been to this country many times before I moved to it, in 1988, thanks to a green card thanks to my mother’s American citizenship. I’ve seen quite a bit of it, with only about 11 states yet to explore (Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Indiana, Idaho, Oregon.) One of the best experiences of my life was traveling across the country by train. It is spectacular, with such tremendous variations in scale and beauty. Well worth doing!

Venezuela

Oh boy. This was another cheap-o courier flight and my then best friend joined me. We visited Caracas, Jaji. Los Roques and Merida — in a week! But I got the last flight out after the terrifying landslides and she got stuck for a while and had (!) to be rescued by the Venezuelan navy.

Wales

I met a gorgeous blue-eyed Welshman named Nigel on a Christmas Eve flight to Bristol and he took me away to Wales for a few days. That was fun!

And where I still dream of going:

Jordan

Iceland

Finland

Russia

Lebanon

Morocco

Namibia

South Africa

Malawi

Japan

VietNam

Tibet

Nepal

India

Sri Lanka

The Pacific Islands

Argentina

Chile

Brazil

St. Lucia

St. Kitts/Nevis

Bequia

What have been your favorite journeys?

Where do you dream of visiting, and why?

The new COVID-era etiquette

Only solitude is 100 percent safe

By Caitlin Kelly

Canadians have just had their Thanksgiving and Americans are already geared up for Hallowe’en and their Thanksgiving, let alone other holidays and the (large) family gatherings usually expected and anticipated.

Not us.

Jose’s parents are long gone, his nearest sister lives a four-hour drive away and my only close relative, my 91-year-old father, is in Canada, where my American husband is banned and I face a 14-day quarantine. I haven’t seen him in more than a year and haven’t crossed that border since late September 2019, when it was no big deal.

Every social gathering — let alone professional — is now so fraught with menace and fear, caution and basic human desperation for a damn hug!

This week we are joining two friends, outdoors (bringing a blanket!) for a two-person birthday celebration at a Manhattan restaurant. This weekend, we’re meeting three people, also outdoors, for lunch.

The grilling!

Who will wear a mask and when and for how long?

Who have they met with and how recently and under what circumstances?

Do we trust their friends — who we have never met?

We live in downstate New York, where daytime temperatures are still in the 60s or 70s but night-time plunging to the 40s, hardly a comfortable temperature for sitting anywhere for very long.

It’s wearying.

Our family’s first and only grandchildren are twins born in D.C. in May — and my father still hasn’t seen them. Nor have I, since my half-brother refuses all contact after a 13-year estrangement.

Millions of people have now lost loved ones to COVID and never had the chance to say good-bye.

Forget weddings and other groups….the latest NY crisis was the result of (!?) a Sweet 16 party, after a wedding in Maine had the same effect.

Our local church is now, finally, open again physically, with an indoor service (limited, it’s a small space) and outdoors at 4pm on the lawn. What I miss more than anything is belting out my favorite hymns…now a dangerous thing to do.

Yes, it’s hard and lonely to never see anyone.

Yes, it’s annoying and difficult to negotiate these times, especially with government “guidance” that shifts daily.

Needs must.

A few days away, alone

By Caitlin Kelly

The last time I was away from home alone was early March, almost seven months.

It’s a real luxury to leave home, to have a working vehicle and the spare time and income to travel, but the challenges of two people working full-time from a one bedroom apartment — as so many are now doing! — are tiring.

I needed some solitude.

I decided to head to small-town Pennsylvania on the recommendation of a friend, staying at a small hotel with a handsome Arts & Crafts design and a large, lovely garden. I had planned to stay seven nights, but decided to leave early, which surprised me.

It was a rougher part of the world than I generally prefer — tattoo parlors and shooting ranges. There just wasn’t much to do, although I loved my morning routine of reading in the garden for a few hours every day, catching up on months of the many unread magazines I lugged with me.

But the main reason?

It’s Trump country.

I did enjoy a break.

The inn was welcoming and their meals delicious.

I drove country roads in warm fall sunshine and enjoyed rolling hills and lush green farms, weathered barns and old mills.

But the vast majority of lawn signs — and signs posted on barns and other buildings — were overwhelmingly for Trump, a man I despise, who has destroyed many of the things I value, including 200,000 American lives lost to COVID.

I despair every day he remains in office.

So every sign I saw supporting him made me feel ill and alien, surrounded by people who don’t care about any of the things I care most about.

I didn’t have conversations about it. I don’t go looking for trouble!

But it’s been a useful and important reminder of the largely Democratic bubble I live in. I knew that before leaving home.

What I didn’t realize is how viscerally sick seeing so much support for him would make me feel.

It’s a constant subject of conversation now — what will we do if he wins again?

I spoke to an immigration attorney recently and learned that I can get a re-entry permit to leave the U.S. for two years and keep my green card. That’s welcome news, but it doesn’t solve the problem of my husband’s work, based physically in New Jersey.

And another four years of Trump?

I don’t think the United States will survive.

Travel memories…

By Caitlin Kelly

As readers here know, travel is usually my greatest joy in life.

I took my first international road trip — in my playpen in the back of my parents’ car — from Vancouver to Mexico. I took my first flight, at seven or eight, to Antigua from Toronto. I always know exactly where my passport is and my Canadian currency and my leftover euros.

Being confined to the disease-riddled political madhouse of the United States right now is, for some of us, really frustrating.

So here are some of my favorite travel memories:

 

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My last taste of elegant hospitality, Middleburg, Virginia, March 2020 — just as the pandemic shut everything down.

I was on my way to D.C. to attend and speak at an annual conference, and added two extra days in this town to play and relax and enjoy some solo time. I loved it. I also had breakfast there with a local friend, an extra pleasure.

 

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I do love a great hotel bar. This is the freshly and beautifully renovated Royal York, in my hometown of Toronto; September 2019.

 

When you’re traveling and need to meet people for business or pleasure, an elegant hotel bar (if not too noisy!) can be a good option. I interviewed a psychiatrist for my healthcare story here, while sitting on those stools, and later enjoyed a cocktail with a young pal from Twitter.

 

 

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I had never seen elk — or a sign like this! New Mexico, June 2019.

 

This was a great day — Valles Caldera is a national preserve where we spent a day enjoying nature and silence during our week’s vacation. My husband Jose is from Santa Fe, so we love returning to his home city and state, where we have friends and he once more revels in being home.

 

 

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Lacing up my skates for some ice-work at Beaver Pond, Mount Royal, Montreal. Winter 2019.

 

It’s a really Canadian joy to skate without a fee and in public. I really miss all the free public rinks I took for granted in Toronto —- and in New York, I generally only skate on an indoor rink and have to pay for it, a wholly different experience. This was a lot of fun and the rink, very sensibly, even has benches in the middle, so you can plop down whenever pooped.

 

 

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I love funky vintage diners. I meandered happily along Route 25 on Long Island’s North Shore and loved every minute; June 2018.

 

I love to meander! It’s such a pleasure to find a winding country road and savor all the sights — farm-stands, diners, little shops, old houses. This road terminates at the eastern end in Orient, where there’s a wide pebbled beach. It was a great day spent solo while Jose was working locally for the week and we were given a hotel room.

 

 

Georgetown

 

Georgetown, DC is such a beautiful neighborhood. Fall 2017.

 

I’ve been back to D.C. over the years many times — attending awards dinners, on a fellowship, visiting friends, on my way heading further south. It feels so very different from New York in every way, and Georgetown’s narrow cobbled streets and early 19th century homes are a lovely escape.

 

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Love the Atwater Market, Montreal.

 

I loved coming here to shop for food when I lived in Montreal for 18 months as a reporter at the Montreal Gazette. I didn’t stay long as a resident; the winter was brutal and the newspaper not a great fit for me. But, a six hour drive from our New York home, Montreal makes for a terrific break for us now. I get to speak and hear French, catch up with old friends and colleagues, shop for the kinds of clothes I really like (much more European!) and always visit our favorite restaurants.

 

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Pies! Pumpkin, apple, blueberry, sugar, maple syrup; Atwater Market

 

Maple syrup pie! Sugar pie!

 

 

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I love these ghost meringues! Atwater Market, Montreal

 

These were on display just before Hallowe’en. Love them!

 

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Dublin. So much beautiful weaving!

 

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Jose went to the local barber, ex-boxer Patrick Quinn. His haircut was 5 euros. Ireland, June 2015.

 

I’ve been to Ireland five times so far and could easily return many times more. It’s so small you can easily see a lot, even in a week or two. People are so warm and welcoming. The landscapes are astounding. Filled with history. I actually cry when I leave.

 

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Not the loveliest image, but definitely Venice, July 2017

 

I’ve been to Venice three times so far: I spent my 21st birthday there, alone, and enjoyed it, went back on my European fellowship year at 25 and hadn’t been back for decades — and made the crucial error of doing so in July when it was brutally hot and massively crowded. I am glad I went again, though, for all of three days, and remain determined to visit in cooler, quieter late fall or even winter next time!

I loved Giudecca, a mostly residential neighborhood and even found a small playground surrounded by low-level apartments. I sat on a bench in the shade there for a while and just savored the silence.

 

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One of the great pleasures of travel is…sitting still! Taking it all in. July 2017

 

I really loved my first-ever visit to Berlin, a city I’d only seen in films. I took the train from Paris and stayed at a terrific old hotel, the Savoy, on Fasanenstrasse, in Charlottenburg. I loved everything about our hotel — the white tablecloths in the gracious, spacious dining room, a quiet, small back garden, an adjacent cigar bar!, even a hair salon next door. I visited the Pergamon museum and enjoyed the Biergarten and biked around and spent a fantastic day swimming at Schachtensee, one of the many lakes surrounding the city and easily reached by public transit.

I stayed in Berlin 10 days and just got to know it a little. I’m eager to return.

 

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Since 2001, we have been visiting a gorgeous resort, Manoir Hovey, on Lake Massawippi, in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. This is their dock, in fall. Oh, we miss it!

 

After 9/11 Jose and I were pretty shell-shocked as we both covered the truly grim details of its aftermath, I as a journalist and he as a New York Times photo editor. We fled north right afterward to this terrific small resort and have been back since then every two to three years, in every season — named Canada’s number two best resort hotel for 2020 by Travel & Leisure magazine.

 

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Must have tea in London! This was the Ritz

 

OK, so it’s touristy. But fun!

 

 

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I love the details that are so spectacular — not just the official “sights” but the memorable specifics like this Paris cafe

 

I’m wild about all aspects of design. I loved this detail.

 

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This is so French! That gorgeous, polished, oversize doorknob and the deep viridian and the gloss. Ooooohh, Paris!

 

Tell me about some of the places you miss!