This week, I’m back in Toronto — where I lived ages 5 to 30 — and Jose is in Pennsylvania visiting his sister and brother-in-law. He’s having a great time.
I hadn’t been back in 2.5 years, and usually visit once or twice every year, so it’s been too long. COVID obviously made it difficult to impossible. I’m very lucky to be able to stay with a friend as Toronto hotels are now prohibitive as well.
I’m catching up with people from my past — one, even a very good friend from high school, one I met later in life, one I’ve known since my early 20s, one a fellow former journalist against whom I competed (!) covering a Royal Tour in the 80s. One is the former partner of one of my half-brothers, someone I adore.
These are all people with whom I have a lot of shared history and culture and experiences.
I miss them!
I do love my life in New York — but America right now is such a dumpster fire of violence and racism and misogny and people in politics who are so toxic I can’t even bear to look at them.
(Canada also has plenty of issues as well, no question.)
When you leave your country of origin — even one speaking the same language as your new country — you do leave a lot behind. People don’t get your musical or literary or TV references. They don’t know your national anthem. They can’t even name the capital of your country. They’ve never heard of your alma mater, only the only Canadian one they’ve heard of instead.
Americans are deeply incurious!
It’s so comforting to be with people who “knew you when”:
— as a driven/ambitious high school student
— same in university
— same in my 20s!
But who also know your family and/or their complicated history and how it affects you still.
It’s so comforting to just pick up again, even after 2.5 years, without much preamble. I stay in fairly close touch with a few of them through phone calls and emails. This was also a relief as a recent visit in NYC to friends there felt more strained and distant.
Because Canadians probably move around a lot less than Americans, I know people will still be here, not gone to a distant city — Toronto is the center of many industries and if you don’t speak good French, Montreal can be more difficult.
It’s been a glorious time to be in the city — every lilac bush fragrant, every tree in white or purple or pink blossom.
I get around only by bus, a 40-minute ride from midtown to my friend’s quiet street, and their home, literally a block from the edge of Lake Ontario.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you have moved around a lot, it can be hard to decide where your heart truly lies — where “home” is.
I’ve lived in six cities and two towns in five countries — my native Canada, England (ages 2-5), Mexico (age 14), France (ages 25-26), the United States (age 30 on.)
I always felt too American for Canada — too bossy, too direct, too ambitious, too much in a hurry.
Now I feel too European for the U.S. — I savor time off. I don’t flagellate myself hourly for being less “productive” than my many peers and competitors, many half my age. I like long vacations and two-hour lunches. I take naps.
So while home again in Canada for the first time in two full years, the eternal question arises again: where’s home?
While I spent decades in Toronto, and have many many memories there, is it home?
Home, to me, means a place I feel truly welcome, and while we have lifelong friends there, Toronto housing is absurdly overpriced — nasty little houses an arm’s length apart are $1 million and condo boxes $600,000. No thanks!
Then…maybe a house in the Ontario countryside? Same problem. The cost of housing is inflated by demand, beyond what is workable for us.
Or another country?
Tempted by Montreal’s many charms…
I follow several Facebook pages now on living in France and look at a lot of French real estate online. Because of COVID, I don’t see spending the requisite time and money to search more seriously.
I lived there for a year at 25 and have been back many times. I know a few areas a bit: Paris, Normandy, Brittany, the Camargue, the Cote d’Azur, Corsica. I speak fluent French. I love the way of life and physical beauty and ease of getting around thanks to the TGV network. But if we moved there full-time would any of our North American friends ever come to visit?
Would we easily make new deep friendships?
My mother died in a nursing home in 2020, her apartment sold a decade earlier to pay its costs.
My father buys and sells houses, forever restless. So there’s no family homestead to attach to emotionally…I left one of his houses at 19 and never again lived with either parent.
So, for now, my heart remains in Tarrytown, a small town north of Manhattan on the Hudson, a town so pretty we are constantly seeing film and TV crews arriving to set up on our main street. I landed there when my first husband found a psych residency nearby and we bought a one-bedroom apartment. I had never been there nor ever lived outside a major city. It’s dull and hard to make friends, but we enjoy a great quality of life with Manhattan only 45 minutes south and gorgeous scenery for walks and bike rides and a lot of history.
With 45 gone for now (but who knows?) life feels so much calmer and less terrifying than it did between 2016 and 2020 when, like many others, thoughts of fleeing were a daily part of our life, however impractical.
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):
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.
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.
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.
Nassau, a very long time ago.
Drove through it on an eight-day truck trip with a French truck driver for a story.
My home and native land.
Cartagena, just as it was first being developed as a tourist destination.
Visited my mother there, who traveled the world alone for years.
Loved it! Zagreb and Rovinj, a town on the Adriatic, July 2017.
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.
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.
Thanks to my mother, on her journeys.
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.
I’ve only been to Munich, briefly, and Berlin, for 10 days in July 2017. I am eager to see more.
All of three days in Budapest, July 2017. Eager to go back.
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.
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.
One visit, with a friend who grew up there.
The best trip of my life, really — on safari.
I didn’t love Malta. I did love Mdina and a 15th century house-turned-hotel there.
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!
A visit in my 20s, before the volcano.
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.
March 2014, I did some reporting with a team from WaterAid in rural areas. Great adventures!
A quick day trip from Dublin to the (amazing!) Titanic Museum, well worth visiting.
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.
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.
Drove through it on our truck journey to Istanbul.
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.
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!
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.
Safari. Life changing beauty. So so grateful to have had the income and the time off (a month) to visit at 27 from Toronto.
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.
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,
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.
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!
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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
Pies! Pumpkin, apple, blueberry, sugar, maple syrup; Atwater Market
Maple syrup pie! Sugar pie!
I love these ghost meringues! Atwater Market, Montreal
These were on display just before Hallowe’en. Love them!
Dublin. So much beautiful weaving!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Must have tea in London! This was the Ritz
OK, so it’s touristy. But fun!
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.
This is so French! That gorgeous, polished, oversize doorknob and the deep viridian and the gloss. Ooooohh, Paris!
As Covid has slammed shut many borders, especially to Americans — boldly accustomed to ready, sometimes grateful access to other countries — it’s an interesting time to look at one’s passport, and national identity with fresh eyes.
From an EU website:
UNWTO estimated that US tourists spent €119 billion ($139,712,545,000) on international travel (excluding international transport) in 2017, showing an increase of €8 billion on 2016.
Over half of US citizens’ outbound travel is to neighboring countries, making up the top two destinations.
The entire top ten of outbound travel from the US is comprised of
Mexico Followed by
But a passport isn’t just an essential for international travel. It’s a portable symbol of your country and its values, from the images printed on its pages, to the cultural baggage we carry with us as well.
Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market — and a red-coated Mountie
Here’s an essay from The Atlantic about what it’s like now to hold an American one, my husband’s.
An excerpt, written by a man with an Indian passport:
An American passport, until recently, could bring you anywhere with minimal need to worry about visas and border checks. But this is the world of immigration that Americans must now familiarize themselves with. Before the pandemic, more than 100 countries were willing to admit Americans; now, by one count, fewer than three dozen countries want you. What you have done matters little; instead, your movements are limited by factors outside of your control, and your passport locks doors rather than opening them.
I spent my university days in London envious of friends with “good passports” who could hop on a train to France or cross the Irish Sea to Dublin without any notice. My vacations, by contrast, had to be meticulously laid out. I visited consulates with flights booked, hotels reserved, itineraries planned, and travel insurance paid for, worried that I would nevertheless be rejected. On one occasion, my girlfriend and I flew from Jordan to Beirut, where colleagues had airily assured me I could get a visa on arrival. When we landed, however, immigration officials told me my colleagues were mistaken, and those rules did not apply to Indians. I was put on a flight back to Amman while my girlfriend, with her British passport, collected our bags.
Even these stories are ones of privilege: holidays undone by byzantine, hazily interpreted visa rules; reporting assignments turned down because travel could not be arranged as quickly as it could be for colleagues with British or American passports. Others have, of course, suffered far more difficult and painful experiences—an array of migrants must endure complicated refugee and asylum processes, and even those who travel for tourism or study must dig deeper into their savings than I must to pay steep application fees.
The document is elegant. No one can dispute that. The deep navy blue of its slightly pebbled cover, the understated gilt imprint of the royal arms of Canada, which somehow looks faded even when new — the passport is a classic. Its cover may be harder, more durable, the pages inside more decorated than when I was a boy, but, in the hand, its familiarity is heavy, anchoring. A passport is a little book printed for a single situation, the condition of being between countries. To hold it is to be going from home to elsewhere or from elsewhere to home. Over time, the booklet assumes the association of distance and belonging, of leaving and returning. This year that association, often subtle, like a half-remembered smell from childhood, clarified itself in the atmosphere of trauma that overtook the world. This was the year when we remembered what it means to hold a Canadian passport…The passport gave me the sensation of homecoming, familiarity, the knowledge of my physical safety, an assumption of care that has become less and less easy to take for granted in a sickening world. To have a passport, to have papers is a blessing we could ignore before COVID-19 but not after. I would be lying if I did not acknowledge a positive presence, too, a connection with a people. I was grateful to be among Canadians…I was grateful for strong institutions. I was glad to return to a country where the administrative state is maintained and supported, not just by politicians but by ordinary people.
It’s an odd experience to live in one country, as I do, while still using the passport of another. This sometimes prompts surprise or a question from an American customs/border official.
But that slim blue object carries more weight for me than its physical size. If nothing else, it’s a comforting bit of my first home and, depending how the U.S. elections go this year, still offers me an escape some Americans now deeply envy.
It’s now been five months since COVID began to dominate our lives — with more than 137,000 Americans dead, thousands more soon to join them.
It’s been a long time to readjust, albeit immediately, to a world we never wanted: terrified of catching a disease that, if it doesn’t kill you, can radically damage your health for years to come. A world where parents, somehow, have had to school their own children or supervise their online learning in addition to earning an income in a full-time job.
And there’s no end in sight.
I live in New York, now one of the few states that flattened the curve because we listened early to the directions of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Is it fun to isolate?
To stay home most of the time?
To avoid all social gatherings?
To postpone medical, dental and grooming appointments?
Let alone to miss culture-in-person — dance, music, museums theater, movies.
And the single greatest problem with being a soldier right now is the stunning lack of leadership, of a general with a clue, with a strategy and tactics. We’re fighting the virus with very few weapons — masks, social distancing, ventilators, proning, remdesivir — and losing what feels like an endless battle.
I often deeply wish that the veterans of WWII were not so old, the few left alive, to share more widely and consistently the shared sense of sacrifice and solidarity that somehow got them through it all.
The enemy, Nazism and genocide, was clear(er) then and the fight, however long and expensive and bloody, was one most people agreed was essential to win, no matter the personal sacrifices. It was a matter of pride, then, to share the sacrifice, to know what you were doing to help really mattered and your colleagues, friends, family and neighbors largely agreed.
Not to whine that a mask contravenes your liberty — just like blackout curtains or rationing once did as well.
Today, somehow, a lethal virus is still not as clear an enemy — and thousands refuse to believe it even exists, like the 30-year-old whose last regretful words were: “I thought it was a hoax.”
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.
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.
I’m not going to suggest this crisis has a silver lining, not when medical workers and shop staff and home-care assistants are out there putting their lives on the line, and people with the virus are dying afraid and alone. There is no silver lining, but there is a rare opportunity to see how behaviour changes when it is challenged by a new and terrifying threat. It seems to me that we’ve quickly – but perhaps only temporarily – lost our appetite to strive for perfection.
It’s been astonishing to see human fragility on display on a mass scale, with no shame or scorn. Vulnerability isn’t generally the mode that is most welcome in this world, and even people who say they love Leonard Cohen’s line, “There is a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in,” tend to spend most of their time furiously hiding their own cracks from public display.
But now it’s all cracks. Firefighters break down during interviews, nurses sob on their Facebook pages, broadcast anchors reach for the Kleenex. Cory Deburghgraeve, an anesthesiologist who volunteered to do intubations at his Chicago hospital because he’s young and childless, talked about treating people who are isolated and in distress: “I have to find a way to hold it together in order to do this job. I tear up sometimes, and if I do, it can fog up my face shield.”
No question, social media is typically shiny and performative, certainly for “influencers” and anyone who needs to maintain a veneer of fabulousness to keep their credibility.
This blog is one social media spot where I tend to loosen my stays, as it were, revealing some truths about myself — attractive or not! — in the knowledge many of you (despite 22,000 followers) aren’t actually listening.
The ones who are (thank you!) tend to be kind.
My shell really cracked wide open in June 2018 with a diagnosis of small, early-stage breast cancer, surgery and radiation.
I’m not someone who cries easily or often, but I cried at the dinner table. I cried in our shared hallways.
I asked others for help and succor; two friends were amazing and came with me to the hospital for moral support for tests —- three in one day.
It changed me in some powerful ways, how I see my life and how I want to relate to other people. Cancer does that to its survivors.
Normal life, certainly in the land of “rugged individualism”, the United States, usually means asking for help is somehow considered shameful, a moral weakness, hence conservatives’ blasé brutality toward the poor and needy.
As the host of The Takeaway, a national daily NPR talk show, Tanzina enjoys a well-paid, challenging dream job many of us would kill for, yet…
When I gave birth to my son at the end of January, an unexpected miracle to me at the age of 45, I never could have imagined spending my maternity leave in the middle of a pandemic.
But by the time I brought my son home to my apartment in Queens, the coronavirus had already landed in the United States. Soon, the borough would become the epicenter of the virus, nearly collapsing the emergency medical services of nearby Elmhurst hospital.
Single parenthood is certainly tough. Raising a newborn is already isolating; now leaving the house may be dangerous. But the pandemic has highlighted just how fragile my social networks really are, which, as a public figure and radio host who’s had her name and face splashed across billboards and tote bags, is something that’s hard to admit.
This global scourge is certainly forcing millions of us to reconsider our choices, whether work, family, friendship, where we live, what we buy, what we deem essential and what, we suddenly see, is real, shallow, silly bullshit.
So, what next?
Social and economic differences, something we used to politely ignore socially and politically ignore when useful to our needs, are suddenly glaringly obvious — as African-Americans and Latino and lower-wage workers are dying from COVID-19 in disproportionate numbers.
A crisis on its own has not been enough to start a labor movement, but if a movement has been simmering, a crisis can make it boil over, said Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor historian at the University of California, Santa Barbara. For example, he said, the conditions weren’t right for workers to revolt during the 2008 recession, but this time they might be.
“We have had a decade and more of agitation, planning, think-tanking on the need to solve problems of inequality and capitalist dysfunction, and so these ideas are more prominently on the agenda, and not only of liberals,” he said.
‘A Once-in-a-Generation Opportunity’
During this pandemic, workers in the United States have organized strikes at Whole Foods, Instacart and other companies, asking for protections like hazard pay, gloves and sick leave. Congress has passed policies, albeit temporary ones, that would have been politically unthinkable before now, including paid leave and direct payments to individuals. Democrats have introduced bills to make some of the benefits permanent.
Has this pandemic changed you?
Do you think, if/when this ends, you will revert to your “old” self?
So we’re doing some of our usual silly banal things, like watching Jeopardy and playing gin rummy and tossing a softball into our battered leather gloves then sitting for a while on a bench in the sun — far away from anyone on our building’s property.
They are comforting and familiar and we need them so so badly.
We haven’t yet, thank God, lost anyone we know to COVID-19 but our minister has it and two of our parishioners, (who are recovering.)
Those of us old enough to remember it, the only time, domestically, that feels like this was the 1980s and the AIDS crisis, which I covered for The Globe & Mail and the Gazette in my native Canada.
Thank God, we still (for now!) have the same smart, tough, wise, no-bullshit public health expert today that we turned to back then, Dr. Anthony Fauci.
But, no matter where you live, we’re all grappling with a sort of life that makes no rational sense right now:
— millions out of work
— no idea if, how or when the economy will recover
— millions still at work endangering their lives and those of others, whether healthcare workers, first responders, police, grocery staff, delivery staff, to care for us
— the world’s richest nation with so few ventilators, let alone trained ICU staff, that triage is going to become brutal for everyone
— a “leader” who babbles and lies and and sneers at and insults any journalist who dares to challenge or question him
We are lucky, so far, to be healthy.
We are lucky, so far, to have continued freelance work.
We are lucky to live in a quiet suburb with places we can go out for a walk safely without dodging dangerous/selfish crowds of people.
The governor repeatedly assailed the federal response as slow, inefficient and inadequate, far more aggressively than he had before.
Mr. Cuomo was once considered a bit player on the national stage, an abrasive presence who made his share of enemies among his Democratic Party peers. He was too much of a pragmatist for his party’s progressive wing, too self-focused for party leaders and too brusque for nearly everyone.
But now, he is emerging as the party’s most prominent voice in a time of crisis.
His briefings — articulate, consistent and often tinged with empathy — have become must-see television. On Tuesday, his address was carried live on all four networks in New York and a raft of cable news stations, including CNN, MSNBC and even Fox News.