California, concluded. Lots of photos!

By Caitlin Kelly

I loved stumbling into a farmer’s market in a suburban mall parking lot.

OK, I cried. It’s hard to drive an L.A. freeway while crying!

But it was painful to leave California and its stunning beauty and weather — I didn’t have even one rainy or cloudy day in 29 days in June, and I faithfully wore sunscreen but came home quite tanned!

Chinatown, San Francisco

I loved seeing 11 friends, in North California and in Southern California, some of whom I had never even met in person (Twitter, online writers’ groups, Facebook) and others I’ve known for decades. I “wasted” two sightseeing days (one in San Francisco and one in Los Angeles) with friends — just sitting for hours catching up and, of course, with lots of discussion about our work and goals in journalism. No “sight” could possibly have pleased me more.

I had 12 days — June 10 to 22 — completely alone, which never for an instant was lonely or boring; I’ve been traveling the world alone since I was 22, so I am not only used to it but really enjoy it.

I found these period Russian icons at Fort Ross so beautiful

Jose and I, like many people (and those with small children and pets) have been working in a one bedroom apartment since March 2020 and COVID — making the normal free options of our local large library impossible.

I needed out! I craved solitude! I wanted adventure and independence!

My late mother’s beloved Mousie, a perfect travel companion — at Julia Pfeiffer State Beach,

Big Sur

I stayed in six different kinds of lodging, none of which was disappointing — two renovated/attractive motels, one with a gorgeous, lush interior garden, free breakfast, laundry and a pool — and savored the luxury of a five-star hotel for my final five nights, The Langham in Pasadena. Its nightly price was less (!!) than my motel in Santa Barbara and worth 100 times the value: valet parking, multiple restaurants, pool, spa, concierge…you name it. My room had a fantastic view over their enormous gardens and the city below.

Looking down from impossibly twisty Route 1, Big Sur

Isn’t he great? The most treasured object in the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco

I loved the foliage!

I was also a terrible tourist — in Los Angeles, arriving with ambitious plans — I didn’t visit a single museum or sight. I did see glorious Union Station, had dinner at Musso & Frank, (open since 1919), and visit multiple neighborhoods: Little Tokyo, Hollywood Boulevard, Santa Monica, Pasadena, the Arts district. I loved seeing how people just live, driving around different neighborhoods; most middle class houses are small and one-level, but many have spectacular gardens and often are painted in delicious colors: deep blue, mustard, pale pink, olive, soft gray.

Couldn’t find(?!) a cake at the grocery store, so I had a birthday pie! Dinner at Canadian friends’

home in Oakland.

I was also a terrible non-hiker. With daily temperatures at 90 degrees or more, it felt like an unhealthy choice and, warned about ticks and rattlesnakes, thought better to return with proper hiking boots! I did a few flat hikes (2 miles) and that was good.

My tiny perfect bedroom at Deetjen’s

Big Sur, looking south

At the astonishing Monterey Aquarium

I can’t wait to go back.

Surprises

By Caitlin Kelly

One of the challenges of travel is choosing to enter and navigate unfamiliar territory — whether cultural, linguistic, meteorological, historical, political or geographic. It can make for some lovely, serendipitous discoveries along the way or that sinking feeling of whyyyyyyy?!

You always arrive with limited time and energy and a budget you hope won’t destroy you financially for months to come — unexpected costs and some splurges.

Some of this trip’s surprises, almost all pleasant:

The incredibly low price of taking Caltrain, the commuter rail of the Bay area — $1.75 one way, versus $15 one way for the same sort of system, Metro-North, in New York.

The relative ease of finding street parking in San Francisco.

Having pals notice my Facebook and Twitter posts saying “I’m in California” and reaching out to meet up for a meal — like my cousin who I hadn’t seen in decades!

That a small hotel room isn’t the issue if it’s quiet, safe and charming. It’s why I’ve avoided all chain hotels on this trip but also because even the usual reliables got such very very mixed reviews as I was making my decisions.

That today’s monstrous-sized vehicles, especially in any parking lot more than a decade old, let alone one from the 1960s or earlier, make parking and maneuvring safely a nightmare, sometimes with mere inches of clearance.

Gas prices in California (taxes) are about $6.69 a gallon, $2 more per gallon than New York.

No rest stops?! This has been the worst shock of all, when faced with 3-5 hour drives between locations. You really have to stay well hydrated with heat and glare….but there is nowhere to use a toilet except stopping, turning off the highway and hoping to find something clean nearby. (A local friend says they do exist, but not on the roads I took.)

That so many people from very very far away swooped into California to make their fortunes…like Russians?! Also, Sir Francis Drake?!!!

The reason the landscape here so resembles that of Mexico’s…it was Mexico before 1846.

There is much less history here in some places — beyond indigenous of course — than on the East Coast, where my town contains New York’s oldest church (1685.) The Santa Barbara Mission dates from 1786. It is making me re-think history.

I do poorly with a lot of heat or hours of direct sunlight, so my good friend Merrill very thoughtfully took us hiking at two coastal sites — very very windy but cool.

I was actually disappointed by the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, having seen, everywhere, much more beautiful and unusual plants in private or commercial gardens. I didn’t explore the whole 78 acres so I may have missed some true treasures.

I had no idea what astonishing plants and flowers grow here. I stop, stunned. almost every day by a cactus or tree or flower.

I had to backtrack two hours’ driving to Morro Bay for whale-watching but found the village (10,000 people) more intriguing than shiny, prosperous Santa Barbara. I enjoyed SB (and got a haircut and pedicure and did laundry there) but Morro Bay is marked by a huge mysterious 23 million year old volcanic rock that dominates the skyline.

I loved humpbacked whale-watching. How amazing to be surrounded by them, smelling their exhaled breath (fishy!) and watching them surface then dive. Their dives leave a telltale flat pool — a flukeprint!

I didn’t expect to like Morro Bay as much as more chi-chi Santa Barbara but I liked it a lot…a working fishing village. I especially loved waking to the barking of harbor seals and the low constant tone of the foghorn.

During my true alone time — June 10 to 22 — I’ve enjoyed some good conversations along the way with strangers: a gay couple from my area of NY; a woman whose job it is to find and chase people distributing illegal hazardous material; a young college graduate in search of life advice and a pastor of a tiny congregation who planted his church 30 years ago. I love hearing people’s stories!

Churches that are enormous windowless industrial looking boxes.

I certainly knew California is known for produce and agriculture — but not for cattle ranches, many of which I’ve seen along this trip, some more than 100 years old. It feels very Old West in so many places.

I’m enjoying this break but I miss my bed and my routines and my husband.

Now down to my final five days, and headed to Pasadena and Los Angeles, where I’ll be meeting up with several friends I know through social media.

Onward!

Ten cities’ hidden gems

By Caitlin Kelly

While COVID has made much travel nightmarish-to-impossible, some of us are still venturing out (vaxxed and masked!).

I recently enjoyed lunch in Manhattan with a friend in from London who I hadn’t seen in maybe a decade.

This list is highly personal and fails to include typical tourist must-see’s. I like to take my time when I travel, to settle in, to savor a few great spots for an entire day or afternoon instead of rushing all over an unfamiliar city.

If you’re still planning travel — maybe in a year or two! — here are some of my favorite spots.

Los Angeles

You know how you have a perfect day?

Mine was in L.A. in August 2000, flown in on assignment for SouthWest’s in-flight magazine. I had worked hard on the story and had some time alone. I went horseback riding through the hills of Griffith Park at sunset, then headed to Santa Monica, where I danced to live blues at Harvelle’s — in business since 1931. I really love L.A. and haven’t been back since then…is that possible?!

I’ve been reveling in its sights through seven seasons of the cop show Bosch, which is set there. I can’t wait to hit the classic bars and restaurants in it: Frank & Musso, Formosa, Smog Cutter and Frolic.

I hope to take a solo trip back there this spring.

Toronto

My hometown is a huge, sprawling city whose waterfront has been marred with hundreds of glass box condo towers. But it also still has some less-obvious charms.

One of my favorite Toronto sights — the ferry to the Islands

The Islands — easily reached in all seasons by public ferry (maybe a 20 minute ride) — offer a spectacular vision of the city, especially at sunset. In summer, you can bike for miles, enjoy a beach, go for swim in Lake Ontario. In winter, stroll and admire the hundreds of small houses where the fortunate few live year round.

Our wedding church, St. Andrew by The Lake, Centre Island, Toronto

Jose and I were married in September 2011 in the tiny, wooden church on Centre Island. Even if you’re not religious, or Anglican, it’s a lovely spot to visit!

One of my favorite stores anywhere is Gravity Pope (no explanation for that name!) The best selection of men’s and women’s shoes anywhere, including some familiar brands, and others. Styles are hip but practical. I love everything I’ve bought from them.

New York

Overwhelming, right?

Not if you flee midtown.

Old Town Bar is a classic, filled with wooden booths and an upstairs that feels like a world apart. It opened in 1892.

It’s easy to spend a few hours here (and I prefer it to noisy, costly Eataly)Chelsea Market. Lots of great meals and food shopping, even for tourists (tea, chocolate, coffee, pastas) and Sarabeth’s, a classic Manhattan bakery. Posman Books is a terrific indie bookstore. A great way to while away a freezing winter day.

Restrooms downstairs. Its only downside — no seating unless you pay for something. Very NYC.

Montreal

I love a great spa and Bota Bota is truly unique — a former boat, in the harbor — offering every amenity possible. It’s the perfect place to melt your bones on one of YUL’s bitterly cold afternoons.

It opened in 1942 and loyal locals still line up to sit in one of its booths. Beauty’s diner is a great spot and I treasure my Beauty’s T-shirt.

Vancouver

My grandmother lived there for a while when the Hotel Sylvia was apartments. I’ve stayed there a few times. It’s not fancy, but has a great history and right near the beach. Built in 1912, it’s cosy and welcoming.

Granville Island is hardly secret, but like New York’s Chelsea Market, it’s a terrific all-day place to hang out — restaurants, shopping, flowers, food and a gorgeous location.

Paris

Le Bon Marche

So many pleasures!

I do love an elegant department store — and Le Bon Marche really fits the bill. On my last visit, in June 2017, I stocked up on gorgeous linen napkins, swooning over its tabletop offerings. The shoe department is just a stunning physical space; that’s its roof pictured above.

The Musee Guimet is much less known than the Big Boys, the Musee D’orsay and the Louvre. Jose and I love Asian art, the Guimet’s focus. A smaller, more manageable museum, its cafe and gift shop are also well worth a visit.

London

Sue me — it’s Liberty or death! Liberty, the store, filled with the loveliest of basically everything.

I’m also a huge fan of flea markets — Portobello Road or Bermondsey.

Lisbon

Few non-Europeans would know Calouste Gulbenkian (what a name!) — but the museum named for him in Lisbon , holding his private collection remains one of my favorite places ever, and it’s been decades since my only visit. It’s filled with a wide array of treasures and surrounded by beautiful gardens.

D.C.

There are a few restaurants that just make you feel happier settling onto a stool at the counter, surrounded by hustle and bustle. Ted’s Bulletin, (described as an upscale diner) is one such place for me.

A few blocks away is a terrific shop, Goodwood, which opened in 1994, that offers a superbly-edited mix of clothing, shoes, fragrance, stationery, antiques, rugs. I never miss visiting and always find something lovely.

Zagreb

I loved this city, having arrived there in July 2017, alone, with few expectations.

The studio and home belonging to the former sculptor Ivan Mestrovic is here — and I was stunned by the beauty of his work. He later became a U.S. citizen and taught at several American universities.

Berlin

I stayed there, my first visit, for 10 days in July 2017, at the Hotel Savoy, an oldie-but-goodie — currently closed for renovations. I can’t wait to go back! The street it’s on also proved a treasure trove, two blocks away from the Kathe Kollwitz Museum, the bookstore and cafe Literaturhaus. And the name! Fasanenstrasse — pheasant street.

A family reunion, of sorts

My maternal great grandmother, Blanche Gresham, 1924

By Caitlin Kelly

For years, my late mother and I were estranged. When we were in touch, even as her only child, she almost never discussed her childhood or adolescence before, at 17, she met my Canadian father in the south of France, then left her native New York City to move to his hometown, Vancouver, where I was born six years later.

Both parents grew up wealthy — in large houses with servants, attending prep school (my mother), owning a horse and a sailboat (father). But neither childhood was necessarily calm and happy.

So their histories have remained mostly a mystery to me.

My mother died April 15, 2020 and a very large, heavy packing crate arrived a year later from her final home, a nursing home in Victoria, B.C.

For a variety of reasons — partly fear the works inside would be very damaged (they weren’t), ambivalence about owning the final items of hers and knowing we have no one in our family to leave these things to — I didn’t open it for nine months.

It took a lot of hard work to get it open — thank you Jose!!

This week, finally, we did, and my husband Jose attacked it with a hammer and crowbar and a lot of determination!

Amazingly, the four things inside were in excellent shape; only a few bits of one frame had chipped off and the glass was wholly intact on everything (having been taped.)

There were two family portraits and a gorgeous Inuit print of a polar bear from 1961 I had long admired. And a sampler, from 1845.

This is one of the earliest Inuit prints, by Lucy, 1961; ignore my unbrushed hair!

So now my maternal great-grandmother — Blanche Gresham — later the Countess Casagrande of Park Avenue — has come almost full circle, some 3,011 miles.

I only met her once, as a very old, very infirm lady in that apartment. My mother adored her. I adored my grandmother — while we both had very difficult times with our own mothers. Go figure!

These women led quite extraordinary lives, cocooned by enormous wealth, but with marital mayhem — my grandmother married six times, four in a decade. I never met any of them, long gone by the time I met her.

I think (?) the smaller image is her with my grandmother Aline, and her sister Lois

I am very curious about these women and their lives; the money came from my great grandfather, Louis Stumer, a Chicago stockbroker and developer of a gorgeous skyscraper in 1912, The North American Building, on State Street in Chicago, (since torn down):

Developers Stumer, Rosenthal and Eckstein hired one of Chicago’s busiest, and best, tall building architectural firms Holabird & Roche for the project. William Holabird and Martin Roche, along with a team of talented designers and engineers, had developed a commercial building system that was not only pleasing to the eye, but more importantly for an investor could be built quickly, efficiently, and ready for rent-paying tenants on schedule. They were instrumental in helping make what came to be known as the Chicago School world famous.

One reason I chose to move to the U.S. was my fascination with this family and their lives. One relative became an ambassador, one an archeologist, one (!) a bullfighter. My cousins had lives that included piloting their own Cessna and running a rug business from Morocco. They were all intimidatingly confident — and so much larger than life than most of the quiet, polite Canadians I grew up around.

It’s quite comforting to finally have these women in our home now.

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.

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 power of silence

By Caitlin Kelly

There are only two places I’ve been, so far, where I was surrounded by utter silence — inside the Grand Canyon and on a friend’s ranch in New Mexico, a place so quiet I could hear myself digesting.

Some cultures revere silence and know how much we all need it. The United States isn’t one! People love to talktalktalktalktalktalk and will spill what sound like the most intimate secrets in a quick conversation with a stranger. It’s exhausting and disorienting if you come to the country from a more discreet, reticent culture.

And silence?

Terrifying!

Jose and I did a seven day silent Buddhist retreat in the summer of 2011 a month or so before we married. There were 75 people of all ages and it was fascinating to be surrounded by people with whom not a word was exchanged until the final Saturday evening, when we “broke silence” and found out, verbally, who everyone was.

I admit, we had whispered occasionally in our shared monastic bedroom but mostly relied on Post-It notes to communicate.

I was shocked to see participants walking through the woods — on their cellphones — or leaving in their cars to head into town for…talking?

I blogged about it every day and found the experience healing and insightful. Talking and listening is really really tiring! If you actually pay attention to others, this consumes a lot of energy.

Not talking is very freeing.

Silence imposes discipline.

It forces you into your own head, a place many prefer to avoid.

I was fascinated, when I tell people I did seven days without speaking, (we could ask questions of the teachers once a day), they all said: “I could never do that!”

And I would reply….why not?

Here’s an interesting NYT story about staying silent at breakfast:

Eating in silence is an ancient practice with roots in many monastic communities. “Buddhists, Celtic Mystics, Sufis, Vedic Mystics,” said Ginny Wholley, a teacher at the UMass Memorial Health Care Center for Mindfulness. “Everyone has a component of silence that is an inherent part of the practice.”

Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the center where Ms. Wholley teaches in 1979 as a way to promote and study the benefits of practices like these in a secular setting — in part because it’s challenging. The concept for silent breakfast is simple enough: focus on your food, quietly, and deal with whatever thoughts come up. But it’s more difficult than it seems.

….“One of the funny things about starting a mindfulness practice is that when you quiet the external noise, you start to hear more of the internal noise. If you’re not used to this, it can be incredibly unpleasant,” said Ravi Kudesia, a mindfulness researcher and assistant professor at Temple University’s Fox School of Business. “The key idea here is that it’s better to notice the whispers before they become screams.”

Here’s a list — one of my posts from that 2011 retreat — of all the sounds I heard instead.

Has COVID changed your priorities?

By Caitlin Kelly

No one would ever dare suggest that a lethal virus is a good thing.

No one could have imagined that more than 200,000 Americans would already have died — and many more now suffer serious long-term effects.

But I’ve started to notice some changes in how we think and behave that, oddly and maybe shockingly, feel better for some of us — while hurting others! — than how we all lived, unquestioningly, before.

Shared and public places are much less crowded

Thousands of small businesses have closed. Disney laid off 28,000 employees and airline staff, from cleaners to veteran pilots, are out of work.

So it’s not kind to be happy about that. But if you, like me, loathe crowds of all sorts, even before they were potentially life-threatening, this is a huge relief. Our town YMCA recently finally re-opened and the pool has four lanes, open now only one swimmer at a time. (Normally, five, which I would find really uncomfortable. Having someone tap my foot to pass? NO.)

Since my beloved spin class is long gone, I’ve started doing three pool visits a week and sometimes have it all to myself. I would never have experienced our old, overcrowded Y as luxurious — but this is.

I miss such fun, silly, spontaneous moments — like meeting Canadian comedian Mike Myers at a Canadian consulate event in Manhattan

We’re being very , very selective about our relationships


In normal life, we tend to include a lot of people — face to face or through social media — who we may not especially like or admire. It’s a sort of social lubrication, necessary to get things done smoothly and efficiently, even when it’s basically pretty insincere.

In a time of terrible political division, with millions refusing to wear masks it’s really not a wise use of our limited energy to argue with anyone anywhere.

We need every ounce of it for ourselves and families and pets and true loved ones. This is a good thing! Conserve energy.

Now, certainly, seeing anyone in person means de facto assuming risk — even if you’re both masked or outdoors and well-spaced. Is this relationship worth it now?

Why?

Fewer relationships can also make for deeper emotional connection

I’ve noticed this. By the time I make a phone date or set aside time to be with someone face to face, why make chitchat? I’ve never been a fan of it, anyway, and now, with COVID’s sudden and invisible lethality/mortality so much closer to all of us, it’s no time for performative intimacy.

We’re being very clear and direct about what we need and expect of one another

I have a friend of many years, a fellow Canadian who runs her own successful business, and who has invited us many times this year to their country house. Much as I appreciate her generosity, I just won’t go and keep saying so.

I finally wrote her a very blunt — not angry — email explaining why: she interacts, for her work, with a lot of people. Many of them are very wealthy and rich New Yorkers (like many wealthy people) do what they please. So I don’t trust their choices, which may affect my friend and me and my husband.

Luckily, Jose and I are fine…This is him earlier in 2020 photographing the Pulitzers at Columbia University in New York City

Lousy relationships and marriages are under an intense new microscope when we have nowhere to flee

There are few experiences more miserable than being confined to (small) quarters for months on end with someone you really don’t like or love.

Here’s a New York Times essay about Coronavirus divorce:

In regular times, we’re always in motion, we’re always hustling, we’re always consuming, striving, climbing, struggling to get from A to B. And if you are unhappy with your relationships or your marriage, there’s a thousand ways to distract yourself: travel, work, socializing. I’m told that some people golf.

Now, all of a sudden, everyone has to be still. There’s no place to go but inward.

We’re all seriously re-examining our choices, whether about where we work, who we work with/for and how (hard) and where we really want to live now

This is huge.

City dwellers are fleeing to suburban or rural areas, desperate for outdoor physical space and the ability to distance from others. On my recent four-day visit to small-town Pennsylvania — about a 90 minute drive from Manhattan — every real estate listing I read said “pending” and a local told me her realtor friend was working 70-hour weeks.

American life — with no unions, low wages and a relentless capitalist drumbeat of DO MORE FASTER NOW — is typically really exhausting. The pandemic is now forcing millions to think, behave, work and relate differently, and for many months yet to come, whether managers or workers or the self-employed.

Some are planning to leave the United States.

Yes, it’s really hurting some people — mothers of small children especially are at their wits’ end, (one crying on-air on a recent national TV show after being fired by a boss who said “Figure it out” while managing a one year old and four year old at home.)

If nothing good comes of this massive upheaval, maybe it’s some long overdue change.

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!