At the end of every year, I have traditionally put down some thoughts–travel related–about the last 12 months and some hopes for the next. This time I kept drawing a blank.
Let’s face it, it seems pretty privileged and shallow to complain about not travelling, dining out or seeing a show, when the world has faced such deadly catastrophes this year. And yet, for those folks whose livelihoods depend on tourism, the loss is devastating.
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I think of our tour guide, Charlie, in Ethiopia, who has experienced a depressed tourist industry due to Covid and local unrest; the proprietors of our B & B in the Dordogne region of France with few guests; the taxi driver in Athens; the bartender in London.
I am thinking of the Nicaraguan farmers struggling with a corrupt government and civil turmoil, prompting travel advisories. I am reminded of our Palestinian guide losing tourist dollars, already burdened with the crushing restrictions and limitations imposed by the Israeli government, and I am thinking of the Israeli merchants reliant on the pilgrims making their way to the holy lands.
My heart is with Napa Valley towns and wineries choked by the smoke from fires in California that ultimately burned four million acres: an echo of the Australian fires that started the year off. I am thinking of my friends who suffered through terrible days in NYC, including illness from Covid-19, the constant sirens, shuttered theaters, loss of work . . . only to see it repeated around the country and the world.
I am thinking of the fertile state of Iowa that experienced a Derecho and the massive destruction to crops and livelihoods. I am thinking about the Canadian border, so close to my home town, that cannot be crossed by regular folk.
Here in Seattle, near the origination of the pandemic in the US, the toll is still more personal. Many of our favorite restaurants are closed, little shops are shut, theaters mothballed, family and friends out of work or reduced in hours. Our tourist corridors echo empty refrains. Our woes reflect both the pandemic restrictions, and the hangover of a booming economy that has left us a city of have and have nots . . . among other things.
And, then a flicker of hope.
My deserving neighbors in healthcare receive the first vaccinations, and the most vulnerable in my mother-in-law’s retirement home are receiving theirs.
And so just maybe, just maybe, we can start thinking about greeting one another again with a hug or a handshake, eating a communal meal inside four walls, grabbing a cocktail at the bar, watching a movie at the Cinerama, cheering on the Sounders from a bench seat, basking in the beauty of the Pacific Northwest Ballet dancers, or laughing hysterically at our local drag queen show, and especially, especially comforting those who are suffering or grieving a loss.
How will we return to physical community? How will we be guests and in turn hosts again? How can we be gentler on this generous planet? What have we learned from this isolation, both self imposed and regulated?
There are, no doubt, as many answers as there are souls on this earth.
As for myself and my family, I will make an effort to spend my little bit in locally owned businesses. I will use public transportation, if possible, and walk more. I will travel more over land, and I will pack less. I will not approach wildlife, I will stay on the trail. I will learn how to be polite in a given culture before I go. I will bring along shopping nets for farmers’ markets. I will show gratitude that is not patronizing to service people. I will be thoughtful in my memento buying. I will be patient.