Grappling with the news and the changes each day brings, Jen Barr looks at what it means to not travel in the age of coronavirus.
Last night, for better or worse, as I was toggling between global news reports about COVID-19 and Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn, it hit me: Thailand, Boston, Chatham, Vermont, Maine, Rome, Puglia are some of the places I have been lucky enough to travel to in the past six months or so. But I couldn’t have imagined six months ago, being here, in this new place, this daily state of limbo.
Seeing the firsthand account of a former colleague, a writer living in Catania, Sicily, who is now in the second week of a government-mandated quarantine through April 3, has brought the realities of COVID-19 closer: “The rules changed overnight,” she shared on Facebook, “and now the only places open are grocery stores and pharmacies. Postal services have been suspended….Today I went to the grocery store (as allowed). There was a perfectly-spaced line (everybody one meter apart) outside waiting to get in, with police monitoring entry. Like a club: one in, one out. People wearing gloves and many in face masks. Inside the grocery store, it was like a game of human Tetris, as people maneuvered the produce section and the aisles to maintain distance, often waiting at the other end of an aisle to let someone have the whole row to themselves. The things that were running low or completely gone: toilet paper, milk, mozzarella and burrata, Nutella, anchovy paste, olive oil-packed tuna.”
Her story seemed surreal. Just a few weeks ago, I was beginning to plan a work trip to Mallorca, Lisbon and Comporta in May. A long-weekend in Florida had already been booked for late-April. Then last Sunday, I learned from a work colleague with family in Cologne that Germany had closed its borders to Switzerland and Austria and the city had adopted the same policies as France and Spain, closing restaurants, cafés and nonessential places of business. By Monday, it was announced that New York City restaurants and bars can only remain open for takeout and delivery and we wait to learn if the lockdown will be more significant. San Francisco residents have been told to “shelter in place.” Every day the new stories trickle in: A doctor friend with family in Milan talks of missed opportunities and how crucial social distancing (and possibly more significant measures) are to flattening the curve. A video from another friend in Madrid shows the empty streets outside his apartment in the middle of the afternoon and shares his own solo quarantine story. A Whatsapp message from my friend in Sicily sums it up best: “Welcome to the world on lockdown.”
My family and I live less than a mile from the edge of the “containment zone,” in a one-square-mile village that borders New Rochelle, New York, home to cluster Patient Zero. Last weekend my husband brought our eldest child home from college with four days’ notice; she will complete her sophomore year, online. We have fielded questions from our son, a senior in high school, about whether he will have a graduation or a prom or start college next fall. And we have experienced the frustrations of our 13-year-old daughter, who is experiencing the ramifications of social distancing, home-schooling and the cancellation of sleepovers and the biggest swim meets of the year. Overnight, I have watched my Instagram change from friends and colleagues in sunny places—the Bahamas, Florida, Harbour Island, Costa Rica, Sri Lanka, Turks & Caicos, Paris, South Africa—to simpler messages about family time, nature walks, dog walks, meals cooked, favorite trips taken. Last and most definitely not least, at Indagare we have found ourselves struggle to adjust to not seeing our colleagues in the office every day (except on Zoom calls), and coming to terms with an idea that felt foreign to us a week ago: putting travel on hold. How do you not travel? How do just stop going places?
A little over a week ago I was sitting in the Nassau County Aquatic Center in Long Island, ready to watch my son at the New York State High School Boys’ Swimming & Diving Championships. Just as it was about to begin, the meet organizers struggled to get the National Anthem to play on the sound system. There was a long, awkward silence, which was filled, quite suddenly, by a group of 25 referees and coaches who began singing loudly and spontaneously from the pool deck. By the time they had reached “the dawn’s early light,” the entire audience was singing along, without any music. As 500 or more spectators stood there in solidarity with all eyes on the American flag, my husband and I both felt teary. That moment is with me still: all those people, understanding what it meant to be in that place, in America, together, in that moment.
Now, after spending more time with my family than usual and watching a medical and economic crises unfold abroad and at home, I have been thinking a lot about how much being free to be out in the world means to us and to this Indagare Community of travelers—and how we may have taken something for granted: Our right to Liberty and Travel for all. At a moment when going to the grocery store or CVS seems almost indulgent or imprudent, the idea of travel feels truly like a privilege. My father, who is old enough to be able to recall the time when his Boy Scout Troop collected rubber tires and scrap metal for the war effort during World War II, said it best the other night: it takes a global pandemic to make us appreciate what is really in front of us.
As frustrated as we might be by social distancing at times, we need to remember that travel has prepared us to embrace unfamiliar experiences, to trust our instincts, and to do what makes the most sense for each of us, our families and our communities. Our goal at Indagare is to continue helping and inspiring the members of this travel community, no matter where they are, through this challenging time. But as we work from home and limit our exposure to others, we are keenly aware of the importance of doing our part to try to help flatten the curve.
My family has quickly accepted that traveling to New Orleans to celebrate my father’s 90th birthday this spring is not in the cards, but it has also brought into sharp relief how much more important the bonds that tie us together are and it has made me value the experiences out in the world we have been fortunate enough to have had. The celebrations will wait. The trips will wait. What matters is the safety and health of those around us. The team at Indagare hopes to have you back out there again, when the time feels right again. For now, the world will wait.