Category Archives: Blog

Vaccines, Vacations and How We’ll Have to Travel Differently

So here we are…it’s February 1. Nearly a year and we’re still moving through the pandemic. The great news is that the vaccine is being rolled out, more or less, across the world. Yes, it’s not equal dibs and it’s not necessarily fair but the main fight to get the vaccine out inevitably means that the more advanced economic countries will see it first. There’s also a lot of distribution and supply problems. England seems to be holding up vaccine that was guaranteed to the European community and the Europeans are noticeably not happy. Who can blame them?

However, the Brits have done something right. Of the three main vaccines, the Oxford one can be stored at fridge temperatures and uses a tried and tested means of getting the virus to fight the virus in and out of your body. AstraZeneca/Oxford is simply more tested and more storable. Moderna and Pfizer are part of the top three, but the clear leader is AstraZeneca/Oxford. After the Brexit debacle and an early Covid nightmare the Brits are now showing some leadership. Furthermore, the Brits are ahead of the game compared to most of the world except Israel. God bless the National Health Service. A National strategy in a global crisis makes sense!

There’s more and more of a mask mandate. In Europe it’s full on and now in the US, masks are also being required across the board. At last. In addition, of course, the groovy masks we’ve all been wearing (the cloth and designer ones) are apparently not so effective. Airlines are refusing to accept them and we’re all queuing up looking for our Covid masks.

The news this week is that there is mandatory testing to reenter the USA which is a good thing. Although that pretty much takes care of the Caribbean vacation dreams of many. Some resorts are trying to scramble to figure out ways to test on site.

Canada has just effectively shut down all traffic heading to warmer climates. Let’s face it, there should be an exception for Canadians. Its cold up there! The USA has this week insisted that anybody traveling on an airplane anywhere must have a negative Covid test before they can board the plane. Once the vaccine is rolled out, no doubt there will be vaccine hierarchy. The real question is what will change as we move through the vaccination rollout. The answer is lots.

Some things simply will not go back to the way they were. In the same way that after 9/11 we were suddenly confronted with TSA and security screening before we went airside to board our flights. Something we could never have imagined prior to 9/11. So, what will change for all of us as we move through this pandemic and the vaccine is rolled out?

Safety and cleanliness will be more important than ever before. Things will take a little longer at check-in. We’ll all have to carry evidence of vaccination so that we can move around freely. It will probably be something eventually put into our passport. Testing is here to stay. Random, yes, but here to stay. Let’s get the right people vaccinated first. No cheating lines. Vaccines will enable us to skip quarantines. Get the right one. Masks will not disappear.

If you travel to Asia, you probably have noticed that a lot of people were wearing masks prior to this pandemic. That is going to hang around. In the end, the safety and security of everyone is paramount. That’s what will enable us to travel again. A vaccine and sensible precautions. I don’t want to sit next to someone that is not masked up and want to be sure that everyone on the plane is vaccinated.

Post pandemic, we need to be kinder and more respectful of other people. Be good citizens. When we take our students on trips across the world it’s one of the things that we hope will emerge from the experience. Being more tolerant, being a global ambassador for our country and being socially aware. So, there are good things that will emerge from this.

When this day is done, and this pandemic moves on out of here we will have almost certainly lived through one of the most extraordinary times and one of the most extraordinary tragedies in the history of our world. Travel will be one of the last things that will fully open. But the vaccine is the key and travel will return.

I’m a traveler and have been traveling all my life. We’re just going to have to travel a little differently and with the vaccine in hand we will still be able to take on the world and enjoy the incredible things that are out there. We have a couple of months to go almost certainly, but slowly and surely the curtain will come up and I for one can’t wait to get back on the road again.

Let the show begin!

 

MLK 2021

I love Washington DC. Our son, Rory, lives downtown in Adams Morgan. It is such a beautiful city with its sweeping malls and the Potomac River providing a break between DC and the Arlington National Cemetery. It’s a city of iconic architectural wonder. There are so many points of reference. Powerful monuments to Lincoln, Jefferson, and to our first president, George Washington. Memorials that solemnly capture the tragedy and sacrifice of war. And of course, the towering memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. that adds another vital piece to the jigsaw puzzle we call America.

All of these pieces work better when they are interlocking. And sometimes it’s complicated to make a jigsaw puzzle fit. Sometimes there’s a piece missing, sometimes it’s just too hard and we cannot figure it out. It is both strange and beautiful to imagine that one of the first things kids learn as part of their cognitive learning is to do jigsaw puzzles. It’s a skill that they develop fast, almost without thinking. It’s something that we often forget as we get older. The Spanish say rompecabezas…breaking of heads, a brainteaser! All of the pieces that are scattered around Washington DC are part of a jigsaw puzzle – the Holocaust Museum, the memorials, the Smithsonian, the Capitol, and the White House. All of these pieces work well when they interlock. Some of them sit uncomfortably with history but they work well together. Think of Washington, think of Jefferson, think of Lincoln, think of Martin Luther King Jr. It can be a rompecabezas to imagine how they can interlock but our democracy hangs on all of the pieces fitting together.

On this day, when we all celebrate as a nation the contributions that Martin Luther King Jr. made, we should also pause and reflect.

This time of the year we would normally be getting ready for our annual MLK Global Teacher Conferences. Lots of travel to book and monitor. There are flights, hotels, receptions, sightseeing’s, and usually a special event to somewhere that we have never been to. For the staff and group leaders who travel over this weekend, it’s a way for all of us to connect and feel the partnerships and the teamwork that drives our mission of Travel Changes Lives. From our Tour Managers, to teachers, to staff, it’s a great highlight of the year. Last year, I traveled to Barcelona to meet up with a group of new teachers who were about to travel with ACIS. Then I flew to Belgium to meet with some of our other wonderful teachers and had dinner in a beautiful old church in the stunning and picturesque city of Bruges. A fairytale town of canals, winding streets, horse and buggies, ancient churches, and chocolate and beer! We also spent a day with Peter Ede, our wonderful Tour Manager extraordinaire, traveling to the World War I cemeteries and battle fields not far from Bruges. We visited Ypres, where my grandfather fought, and the Menin Gate, a memorial to the missing and a reminder of the horrors of war.

And then we encountered Covid and a tragedy unfolded. We are all reminded a little of the hustle and bustle with those MLK memories still stored from last year. Those days will return soon.

Lost sometimes inside this weekend is the fact that this is also a time to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. All he stands for, all he accomplished, and sadly, all we have yet to accomplish. His beautiful memorial in DC, towering over the Washington landscape, reminds us never to forget. His peaceful pursuit of equality for African American people reminds us of a way – the right way. In spite of the hate and vitriol and violence, he made his extraordinary “I Have a Dream” speech. His speech is timeless. His words prophetic. “Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends. And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.””

So, last week, when an incited angry mob marched to the US Capitol building and broke inside the inner sanctum of our democracy, we had to wonder what time we were even living in. Was this a time warp? When people ridicule Black Lives Matter, we might ask ourselves, why would people question that statement? This fragile democracy still confronts its demons. Last week, the demons came out. Our fragile jigsaw puzzle needed to be put together again fast.

Below is a piece of one of my favorite songs by James Taylor, “Shed a Little Light”. It says it all.

Oh, let us turn our thoughts today
To Martin Luther King
And recognize that there are ties between us
All men and women living on the Earth
Ties of hope and love
Sister and brotherhood

We are bound together by the task
That stands before us
And the road that lies ahead

Roma, non basta una vita!

There is one question that I keep asking myself…when the world opens up once more, where should we go first?!

Will it be Rome? Will it be London? Will it be Paris?

For me, the answer would absolutely be to go to Rome.  But what would that first day look like?

Well, arrival day in Rome is always filled with both confusion and amazement.  During the cab ride into the city, you pass flat fields on either side and through a modern suburb that houses a replica of the Pantheon of the ancient city that I am heading to.  And then suddenly you take a left turn and up the Aventine Hill.  Now I am on one of the most beautiful of the seven hills.  Time to visit the orange orchard and look through the key hole from which you can see the dome of St Peter’s.  Fairly dramatically across the road sits the villas of Ancient Rome along the Palatine embankment.  And just below, there are the remnants of the great circus Maximus.  Dogs walk where great chariots once raced.

The ride becomes breathtaking now – there’s the Mouth of Truth, two ancient temples along the river, the theatre of Marcello, and then the great Cordonata Capitalina leading to the Campidoglio.  Next to that are the medieval stairs of the Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara Coeli and underneath are some Roman houses that provided a foundation for the 19th century Vittorio Emmanuel II “wedding cake” monument.  It’s a sightseeing and tourist landmark but not much else!  But now we are in the Piazza Venezia.  Down one end through the myriad of streets is the Pantheon and down the other end, the Colosseum.  And then we have disappeared into Rome.

Rome is truly an open-air museum in itself. My favorite Roman walk begins in the medieval square in Trastevere, heads across the ancient Roman bridge, and continues through the piazzas that tumble like centuries before arriving in Bernini’s Piazza Navona.  To get there, you first pass through the Piazza Farnese with its beautiful Palazzo, now the French Embassy, and the two bathtubs from Caracalla that anchor the square.  The Campo di Fiori is next with its exciting bars and marketplace.  Here the statue of Giordano Bruno marks the square.  The best pizza and the best pasta carbonara are available here!  Also this is not far from what once was Teatro di Pompeo, precisely where Julius Caesar was assassinated.

Across the busy road, you make your way into the Piazza Navona.  This is probably the most famous square outside of St. Peter’s. Bernini went to town here with three fountains, the most famous being the fountain of the four rivers.

You continue the long walk via the Pantheon along the Corso to the Spanish Steps and ultimately to the Piazza del Popolo. In between, I love to grab a coffee at a bar, have a Campari, and maybe do some shopping on one of the tiny streets that surround the Senate Building. If I could sneak to Rome in January with the winter sun and empty streets, it would be the start of my reconnection to travel that I have sorely missed. Roma, non basta una vita!

As the World Turns

So, the world just turned upside down.

An election in the USA will bring change and hopefully a more international orientation. Vaccines are being moved through final phases to help us see the end of this desperately bleak pandemic. At the same time, the world has gone into lockdown once more and cases of Covid-19 in the USA are spiraling out of control.

But somehow, this week felt better than prior weeks. It may be because there is more Covid-19 testing, better treatment facilities, and above all, there is now a clear pathway out of this difficult period. Our travel world, which has relied upon a vicarious remote world wandering through cities, museums, and off-the-wall places, now at least starts to see a crack in the door. Airlines are still running restricted capacity and most places are closed…but there is a crack in the door. It’s not much but some light is shining through.

I don’t quite know how it will feel the first time that I go to an airport, check-in for the flight, sit on an airplane, and wait to be whisked to a foreign place. It has been a part of every month of my life for so long. Looking for that day to come.

Dear Japan

Recently, I was looking back at some of my photos, wondering about travel, and thinking of how the globe in my office catastrophically became unglued. Timing is everything! One of my to-do tasks is to get some Gorilla Glue so that my globe can start spinning again. That will be the catalyst for a return to travel. Good old super glue.

I was busy writing down all of the places I have traveled to over the last year or so. Notwithstanding the current war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, I did get to see the great steppes of the Hinterland that stretches all the way to Siberia.

And in between visits to Georgia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan, I thought of Japan. A place that to me feels so calm and serene, which I visited twice last year. I thought it was so impressive how their handling of the virus has been. The very positive ways they have dealt with the pandemic so that people can travel responsibly and with confidence inside of its borders.

I was prompted to think of this because our wonderful colleague who organizes our Japan trips sent me a message. Things are looking up in Japan, she told me. It probably will be one of the first places we can re-enter for travel. So I sat, thinking about Japan a lot. Was it the food, the high-speed trains, and the ancient traditions that hang beautifully in the air over Kyoto? I thought of the evening maiko performance in Gion and the chance of being able to run into geishas during the Toka Ebisu festival in January.

I thought of how profound it was to visit Hiroshima and the island of Miyajima with its famous Itsukushima Shrine. And of course, the frisson of Tokyo. I distinctly remember going into Tokyo Station to buy bento boxes and a set of masks. I didn’t even think that the masks, which I bought primarily as a souvenir, would become part of my daily living. In the Asian world, and especially Japan, masks have been commonly worn for many, many years.

So, dear Japan, I miss you and I cannot wait for that daily flight from Boston to Tokyo Narita to come back. I can’t wait to see Godzilla in Shinjuku and taste some of finest ramen noodle dishes in the world. I can’t wait to eat sushi and miso soup for breakfast. I can’t wait to feel like the tallest guy in the elevator, because I was, and I can’t wait for that feeling of being so far away in such a foreign place, that it gave me goosebumps to even imagine that the world is round. I am totally ready to travel.

The Current News

I find myself trolling the news websites to get a better sense of the pandemic internationally. My usual go-to sites are the BBC and The Guardian. Catalan closed down, the UK has gone to a tiered system, Liverpool is higher tiered and London is lowered tiered, France is in lockdown, and the Czech Republic seems to have shut its borders. Australia is reeling from a recent spike in cases and Switzerland has eliminated specific countries from visiting! And all of this happened within the last 48 hours.

And I thought to myself, that travel is much more resilient than all of this noticias. Travel will endure. Honestly, if the explorers could get on a boat the size of my shoe and spend two years trying to find the spice kingdom by going the wrong way, then these times will be overcome.

Yes, there has been a lot of tragedy. This pandemic will be something we tell our kids and our kids’ kids about. But the world will move on and we will too. The other day, I wondered if the pause in pollution that this had permitted was some divine way to give us a few more years of sanity before the horror of climate change eventually envelops us. We have an election and Brexit and corruption and still the world spins. I may have missed a vacation or two over the past eight months, but at some point, a new normal will come into being.

I was thinking all of this as I stared at the fabulous dance poster in my office of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It’s a black and white contact sheet that has been blown up. My dad loved the Fred and Ginger movies and we watched them every Sunday in the wintertime in England. There is a great line from one of the songs in the movies that sort of sums it up: “There may be trouble ahead, but while there’s music and laughter and love and romance, let’s face the music and dance.”

Love that song. Love travel. Who doesn’t? Let the good times roll.

Observations: How Art Transports Us

I have a lot of art and photographs in my new office. I sort of like the clutter. There is the lampshade with the heron, the soccer poster from 1930, and the deco picture of a woman playing golf.

I love how my David Hockney’s remind my of my time in Santa Monica. There’s a beautiful picture of the Pantheon by an unknown artist, and my black and white photo of Joni Mitchell, given to me by an old friend because my day always starts with “Ladies of the Canyon.”

I have a poem from my daughter and a wild picture of me when I used to act, a large contact sheet of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing, and a corner palazzo in Venice along the Grand Canal. I feel like I am in Doctor Who’s tiny tardis. None of this art or photography is worth a fortune, but all of it is priceless to me.

During this pandemic period, I treasure a place that can transport me somewhere else. A place where I can travel and a place where my imagination can tap into some astroplane. Until we begin our journeys again, these places become important. Memories of walks through museums and cities, a river walk or a skyline.

Yep, my office does look a bit like Gertrude Stein’s living room now, sadly without the original Matisse and Picasso paintings! A little cluttered, but for the time being, a quick swivel of my chair and I have been to more places in 10 seconds than any person deserves. For the time being, that’s better than not.

Observations: How Arriving in Rome Leads to Magic

Let me just say, I miss Italy – the walks, the food, the friends, the light, and the myriad of personalities represented by each tiny kingdom that makes up this crazy country. Whenever I travel to Italy, I find myself in a reoccurring predicament sort of like Groundhog Day…the arrival day. There is a reassuring madness and transition that takes place every time.

In Rome, if you made the mistake of checking your bag, you are often resigned to a long wait by the carousel where I am convinced the baggage handlers gather underneath and watch us poor checkers of bags wait and wilt, teasing us with an early movement of the carousel, encouraging us to jostle to claim the best spot for a smooth departure. Mistake number one. You checked your bag! Rome’s airport is so convinced that it will be a long and possibly fruitless wait, that they have installed a children’s playground and coffee/wine bar to ease the pressure of the moment as the baggage handlers do whatever they need to do to maintain their part in this commedia dell’arte.

And then at some point, if you’re lucky, the bags show up. There is a frantic grab as everyone, except the unlucky ones, retrieve their bags and head to the uscita. And then the next round of fun begins.


Taxi? No grazie.
Metro? Dove? Bus al centro, mi dispiace! Nothing comes easy.

The signs at airports in Italy are always confusing and there are often a couple of exit points so that somebody waiting for you may be in the wrong place. It only adds to the story. By nature, Italians are overly detailed and under sourced in terms of organization. So there are rules that make no sense and rules that are deliberately confusing. And everyone in Italy think they make perfect sense – which they do if you’re Italian.

Confusion, chaos, where is the metro, how do I get a ticket, where is the motolaunch in Venice, which way do I go?! Italians almost revel in that power of perfect and complete orderly chaos. It’s their word after all – caos.

At some point, you survive the airport arrival and end up in your hotel. A little frustrated, but how bad can it be as we are talking about Italy!

Then the arrival moment…the passegiata.

Through the busy piazzas and the bits of Bernini, past the fountains and the Baroque and Roman stone, you stop and take an espresso, or a gelato, or a beer, or a Campari. And you look out onto the movie set walking by and you know something beautiful has happened without your knowledge. You have passed to the other side. You have disappeared into Italy, and have become an observer of all those things that you found frustrating and they have turned into beautiful moments. The transformation is complete.

No need to toss coins in the fountain. The spell is cast and without even a thought, but with a skip in your step, you go about your day secure in the knowledge that you will return.

Observations: How Cameras Capture Our Travel Memories

We just moved our offices and my new office has become a bit messy as I untangle some 20 years of old office life and reorganize it in our new and cool space. In between sorting out my artwork, I also find myself looking back at the photos I have collected over the years. They resonate with me more than ever during these strange times. I discovered a box of slides with a scrawl of countries written on the outside of the box – Africa, Egypt, Italy, Anguilla, The Soviet Union, Morocco – all stacked in dated boxes alongside an old projector and a few carousels. All of those memories stacked into these boxes. Strange. I promise myself every year that I will get these slides developed into a collection that I can store digitally. My kids bought me something one Christmas so that I could do that but it seemed so time consuming that I never got around to it.

Those were the days of my Nikon Nikkormat, my first foray into real photography. I pretty much stayed with Nikon over the course of my SLR career. Lugging the camera wherever I went and loading in ektachrome, kodachrome, or tri-x for black and white. In those days, you couldn’t see what you just shot and you didn’t want to waste too much of your 36 exposures so you became incredibly disciplined when taking photographs.

It’s difficult to recall when the camera got left behind (metaphorically I mean). Although I can still remember losing my Nikon in Morocco in a marketplace. At least I only lost 36 exposures and the camera itself. Then one day, I moved to a tiny, point-and-shoot camera that stored photos digitally. I never really liked it, and I remember it was so slow when you needed it to be fast, but it was easier to travel with. Then in between my Blackberry and the IOS revolution we have today, I got my first iPhone. And that changed my world.

How peculiar to think we no longer travel with a giant camera and a couple of huge lenses. Somehow I miss those days. The precision of changing the ASA or the aperture, loading in a new roll of film, and storing the old. The excitement of developing the images. Some good, some to be tossed, some become framed and hang on the wall in the house. Memories of a holiday and a place in time. A sphinx, a camel, a faraway place captured forever and hanging on the wall by the kitchen.

I was thinking about this because in my office, amidst the rubble and confusion, I have a collection of photos by Robert Doisneau – a French photographer who took more than 325,000 negatives over a career that spanned 60 years. He was based in Paris and most of his photos were of Paris life and its personalities which he often observed as a result of spending hours on a street corner.

His photography hung around a phrase in French: “un pêcheur d’images.” A fisherman of images. He felt this best described what he did. In order to get what he needed, he had to immerse himself in the life of that moment. As he said, “Il fallait que je me mouille.” He had to get wet to feel the moment. It’s the essence of “being there” versus not. If it’s raining, walk out and feel it. It’s the power of travel. Getting wet when it rains.

In these days, it is what I miss the most…Ironically for a Brit, getting wet when it rains! The curiosity that takes me on mysterious journeys, leads me to observations, and like a fly on a wall, enables me to see things differently without getting in the way of the moment. Looking through Doisneau’s collection, I felt like I was almost there. Sort of traveling and sort of time traveling. All from my office in the Fort Point area of Boston.

Reflections on the Pandemic: A Slow Reopening

As Europe has slowly opened this summer, I get to see the places that I frequent through my friends that live there. I get to look at the canals in London, the empty piazzas of Venice, I get to walk through the royal parks and Hampstead Heath, and I truthfully miss it all. Travel is such a compelling part of my life and my colleagues’ lives, that at some point we are all going to jump on a plane to go anywhere and begin the journey once again.

I was thinking of this the other day as I was driving from my house to the office in Boston. But by instinct, I took the wrong turn and I ended up at Boston’s Logan Airport. I almost felt like parking the car, getting out, saying hello to the British Airways staff, and just having a walk around Terminal E. I probably need to see a therapist and I quickly continued back through the tunnel to correct my mistake and headed into the office. But in the meantime, I am waiting for departure day to arrive!

Reflections on the Pandemic: The Cooking Bit

I like cooking and always have. I think I was inspired by my childhood growing up in London. My mum was a terrible cook, and I grew up in the post-war period when rationing was still around. We had to supplement our diet with cod liver oil, halibut orange tablets, and spoonfuls of malt along with the customary bottle of milk at school. There were no eggs, no bananas, and in those days, cooking was just a matter of assembling what you could and feeding everybody with whatever was available. Things like garlic never reached the shores of England. I can remember the French would come over on their bikes across the channel from Calais with strings of onions and would sell them through the streets of London. That was about as exotic as it got. My mum would always burn the onions, and to this day, I still love the taste of burned fried onions with mashed potatoes.

Fast forward to the pandemic and everybody suddenly started to become creative and innovative because there were no restaurants. Money was tight and there were lots of chefs giving free video cooking lessons on the internet. All of us probably became better cooks – a positive from this pandemic. Some of us who cannot cook were likely tempted to think that they could and terrorized their family and friends with dishes they should not be experimenting with. Everyone probably said in a muffled voice, “This is really good. How did you make it?” while thinking to themselves, “When will this pandemic end because these people can’t cook!”

But cooking is fun. It is a process and all of us, even the non-cooks, can begin to appreciate how complicated and difficult it is to prepare a meal for a few people, let alone many more at a restaurant every night. Out of this whole thing, I have a deep appreciation for all of the chefs at all restaurants that I miss going to. All of the inspiration for the dishes that I try to concoct have come from the restaurants I used to go to and no longer can at the moment.

The other week, one of my favorite restaurants, Gypsy Apple, opened for the first time since the pandemic started – Chef Michelangelo Wescott, it was good to have you back again. At least one meal can be prepared professionally now. For the rest of us, we can go about our ways with experimenting, coring artichokes, preparing pastas, and baking cakes as best we can, given the fact that our confidence has been boosted by the mere fact that there is no choice. And we will still continue to say things like, “This is really good. Do you have the recipe for it?”, when it was plainly inedible, and you hope to God that the restaurants will open soon.

Check out this video of me making Carciofi alla Romana!

Reflections on the Pandemic: A Late Summer Update

It’s strange to have passed through an entire calendar of seasonality. I like gardening but in some ways I am limited by the harsh and short seasons in Western Massachusetts where I have a home. However, I have never actually experienced this total transformation from snow to mud to buds to green to flowers and vegetables. One of the blessings of this awful pandemic is that I have been out west more than not and have caught all of these moments up close – and that has been extraordinary to see. My gardens have never been so full. I have never really tried to grow as many vegetables as I did this year. The bouquets of flowers around the house have provided color in an otherwise difficult and challenging environment.

So now, as I watch fall begin and the warm weather start to disappear, and I prepare for the spectacular color display of a New England autumn, we will have been able to say that we have lived here through the four seasons. For a guy who is used to jumping around airports, rushing through the busy tourist corridors of Europe, popping into museums, meeting and greeting, getting on trains, and living in hotel rooms for four months of the year, it’s strange but also wonderful to catch the ebb and flow of nature and the seasons’ ever changing menu of delights.

Reflections on the Pandemic: Spanish in Lockdown

I have been trying to learn Spanish off and on for many years. It’s ok and is always enhanced by my fabulous Argentinian tutor, Martha, who comes to the office to teach a bunch of us. However, I miss too many classes, I never do my homework, but I still love the buzz of a Spanish chat. Frankly, I am unapologetically fearless when it comes to “going for it” with a Spanish native.

During the pandemic isolation, without even the socializing that I needed so much from my Spanish friends, and certainly no contact with my Spanish tutor, I had to resort to other methods to maintain my level of confident hopelessness. That is how I discovered the wonder of tacky Spanish soap operas. As it turns out, the Spanish are famous for their period pieces and use the same group of actors in different costume dramas. They are all beautiful and their accents are (for the most part) from Madrid. With my able partner, Netflix, we started to tune in to another world of getting addicted to soaps. This is not the world of The Crown or Downton Abbey, this is a whole different ball game.

If you are interested in improving your Spanish though, there can be nothing more rewarding than immersing yourself in this other world with subtitles to guide you as you wander through 78 episodes of Gran Hotel, Cable Girls, Velvet, or Love in the Times of War. I became particularly addicted to Gran Hotel and felt a serious sense of loss when the final episode played out. I think it was at 2:00 AM on a cold night in March. Amaia Salamanca was the star of the show. It felt like breaking up with somebody when the show finally ended.

As it turns out, the Spanish mainly export their soap operas to South America. According to my friend from Madrid, they are frowned upon in Spain and are considered “not intellectual enough.” But frankly, for me, as an eager Spanish student, my Spanish improved. When I casually mentioned to my Spanish tutor that I had become addicted to Gran Hotel, her face changed, and I realized that she too was a fan like me. We are in love with the soap opera sect of Spanish TV. What I learned through the isolation of the pandemic was that you can time travel and learn a language. While it is not as wonderful as being there, it beats the alternative.

Reflections on the Pandemic: The Mask

Seven months ago, I went into a tiny store in Kyoto and bought myself a set of three masks because I thought it would be cool to emulate the health and safety protocols that Japan has had for years. Who would have thought that we would all be wearing masks as a matter of protocol on a daily basis?! Whether it is a lightweight bandanna around your neck, a medical mask, or a designer one from a fancy shop, it is standard to wear one now in Massachusetts. And in most countries in the world, it’s impossible to enter a store without a mask. Belarus is definitely an exception but they seem to have more problems with their crazy government than most. Who would have thought that when I saw the intricate masks worn at Venice Carnival back in February, like the long nose masks used to protect against the plague, it would be a premonition of what we’d see around the world on a daily basis? Even leaders of the world wear masks with the exception of the USA and Belarusian Presidents!


Who would have thought that to enter a museum, shop, or restaurant, now means that you must wear a mask. “No mask, no entry” signs are standard everywhere. I have approximately 30 masks now and I keep buying extras from my dry cleaner since he’s selling them to help supplement his decrease in business. Who would have thought?

I am not sure when we will return to our new normal. But one thing I know is that I will continue to wear my mask for the foreseeable future. It may not be 100% safe but it is preventative, protects other people from me and me from other people. And guess what? In my business, you can’t fly without one now. And who would have thought that?

Reflections on the Pandemic: The Office

Some people were born to be remote workers. They wake up, make some coffee, have good Wi-Fi, and then drift off to a room that is all kitted-out for a virtual office. They love the non-existent commute and they’re very self-motivated. They don’t miss the socializing in the office. Type B people…highly focused, not attention seekers. The money and time they save on lunches and travel alone means that they actually make more than all of us. In addition, babysitting becomes less of an issue.

I really had thought of what it would be like to be a remote worker – to not have the buzz of the office, the people smiling as I grab my morning coffee at Flour Bakery, the impromptu meetings, the beer after work, the buzz of the city. I just really couldn’t imagine myself being in that world of the remote workers. But…here I am tapping away, sitting on Zoom, and looking out the window. I am now one of them, a remoter, and it feels weird.

When I closed my office in mid-March, we all became affiliates of the remote club. Little did we know how long it would last. There are some people who never really get comfortable with working from home (literally and metaphorically). And there are some people who just simply find it so easy that they never want to return to the office. In fact, you may have to plead with them to come back.

Over the course of the pandemic calendar, one word gives it away…remote. I feel a bit remote. I miss the buzz and banter. I miss the innovation and creativity that often comes about through this buzz and banter. I miss the faces. I miss the city a little bit – probably because I’m not a rural guy – but I’ve adjusted to the sounds of hearing coyotes in the evening and wondered at the miracle of dragonflies and bats. And I wonder when the world will return to normal. And then I think that this is normal now; dragonflies are beautiful, bats eat mosquitoes, and maybe I’m going mad!