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12 Places We re Dreaming Of p.37
YO U O N LY G E T O N E S P I N
Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock goes the clock. It’s so rhythmic it’s almost soothing. It lulls you into a false sense of security. Tick another coffee. Tock another meeting. Tick another lunch. Tock another quiet night in. And before you know it, you’re so numb from the comfort of routine that you didn’t feel a thing when that great adventure called life slipped away like sand between your fingers. But fear not, adventure has other plans. Roll with them. Embrace adventure. Grasp it with both hands until your knuckles turn pale. Don’t let comfort take you down. Rise above routine and monotony. Ride shotgun with fear and the unknown. Don the uniform of the restless. Get uncomfortable being comfortable. And here’s the reward for the discomfort. Your heart will be fuller, your compassion deeper, your horizons wider and your memoir way, way, better. Before you die, make sure you have lived. And never forget, you only get one spin.
A E T H E R A P PA R E L . C O M
Architect. Mentor. Beekeeper. A life well planned allows you to
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Ta b l e o f Contents
19 SECTION 01
RE I MAG I N E
RECON N ECT Where to Go 12 Places We’re Dreaming Of 39
W YO M I N G
T H E T R AV E L E R ’ S MANIFESTO
Travel has changed. So must we.
A FA R T R AV E L E R S ’ AWA R D S
U Z B E K I S TA N
It’s time we turn to purposedriven travel, especially now.
W H E R E T R AV E L TA K E S YO U Illustrator Ilya Milstein shares his vision of what a dream trip might look like now.
Cover photo by João Canziani Spine illustration by Violeta Noy
WHERE THE PAT H L E A D S Finding beauty beyond the backyard: a lesson from lockdown
A NEW GLOBAL CITIZEN In a transformed world, what does it mean to be well-traveled?
MEXICO CIT Y 46
59 SECTION 03
IL LUSTRATIO NS, FROM LEFT: ILY A MI LSTEIN, SIMO NE N ORONHA; PHOTO S, CLOCKW ISE FROM TOP RIGHT: WALKER EVANS/J.PAUL GETTY MUSEUM, FRAN CES CO LASTRUCCI, ANDREW FAUL K, NI CO LE FRANZEN, P AO LA + MURRAY /G ALLE RY STOCK
Amid the serene farming villages and monasteries of China’s Yunnan province, writer Peggy Orenstein discovers a slice of paradise.
PERSIST A photographic love letter to New York City
TUSCANY BY THE BOOK On a dream trip to Dante’s birthplace, a bibliophile meets the folks keeping the art of book-making alive.
My hope was to find something less scripted and more true: the bliss and grace of the unexpected .
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I understand that anyone who furnishes false or misleading information on this form or who omits material or information requested on the form may be subject to criminal sanction and civil actions. AFAR ID Statement AFAR® (ISSN 1947-4377), Volume 13, Number 1, is published bimonthly by AFAR Media, LLC, 130 Battery St., Sixth Floor, San Francisco, CA 94111, U.S.A. In the U.S., AFAR® is a registered trademark of AFAR Media, LLC. Publisher assumes no responsibility for return of unsolicited manuscripts, art, or any other unsolicited materials. Subscription price for U.S. residents: $24.00 for 6 issues. Canadian subscription rate: $30.00 (GST included) for 6 issues. All other countries: $40.00 for 6 issues. To order a subscription to AFAR or to inquire about an existing subscription, please write to AFAR Magazine Customer Service, P.O. Box 6265, Harlan, IA 51591-1765, or call 888-403-9001. Periodicals postage paid at San Francisco, CA, and at additional mailing offices. 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No other place in Alaska brings together glaciers, iconic wildlife, panoramic views and the comforts of a cit y.
FRO M DAYD R EA M TO
So, you’ve been thinking about places you might go. Musing on magnificent coastlines with white sands and clear waters. Make sure Lord Howe Island is high on that list. This World Heritage-listed isle is pure paradise at any time of the year, and with just 400 visitors allowed at any one time, you’ll have all its natural wonders to yourself. Take a moment to plan and map out your dream vacation, because when it’s time to fly, we’ll be ready to welcome you back. It’s time to be inspired, visit
LORD HOWE ISLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE
AFAR TRAVELERSâ€™ AWARDS BEACH HOTEL
Dorado Beach, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve, Puerto Rico DESIGN HOTEL
Royal Mansour, Marrakech, Morocco
H O T E L S
GRANDE DAME HOTEL
The Ritz Paris
Park Hyatt Tokyo U. S. HOTEL
Fairmont San Francisco
F OOD & WINE EXPERIENCE
Four Seasons Resort, Bora Bora
Blackberry Farm, Tennessee
C R U I S E S
L ARGE-SHIP CRUISE
Royal Caribbean CLO CKW ISE FRO M TOP: C OURTESY OF VI KI NG CRUISES, EMIL IANO GRANA DO
Where are you dreaming of going this year? AFAR readers cast more than 150,000 votes to honor their favorite hotels, cruises, airlines, trips, and destinations. We hope this comprehensive list of winners helps spark your wanderlust and inspire your next trip. For more details, visit afar.com.
JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn Resort & Spa
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Viking Cruises FRENCH POLYNESIA CRUISE
Paul Gauguin Cruises
F OOD & BEVERAGE PROGRAM
Oceania Cruises EXPERIENTIAL ITINERARIES
Seabourn AL ASKA CRUISE
Holland America Line
Viking Cruises CARIBBEAN CRUISE
Inspirational Paths Discovery Await
AWAKE KEN N IIN NSPIRA ATION N W ITH THE WON NDERS OF GRE REECE. At Azamara® our signature Destination Immersion® experiences go beyond the realm of cruising in ways that transform even the most seasoned travelers. We connect adventurous spirits with people and cultures through immersive itineraries, longer stays, and more overnights in harder-to-reach ports. We have pioneered the concept of Country-IntensiveSM Voyages— itineraries that include the most iconic destinations as well as hidden gems, all within a single country. There’s no doubt our new Greece Intensive itineraries will reawaken your senses and ﬁll you with wonder. We invite you to view the world with fresh perspective, awaken inspiration, and bring your boutique hotel with you every step of the way.
For more information, call 1.855.AZAMARA, contact your Travel Advisor, or visit Azamara.com. Explore FurtherSM Azamara® is a proud member of the Royal Caribbean Group family of cruise lines. ©2020 Azamara. Ships Registered in Malta.
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AI R T R AV E L FIRST-CL ASS EXPERIENCE
BUSINESS-CL ASS EXPERIENCE
U. S. AIRLINE
Delta Air Lines
DOMESTIC REWARDS PROGRAM
U. S. AIRPORT
F OOD & BEVERAGE PROGRAM
Singapore Changi Airport
San Francisco International Airport
HIKING & WALKING TRIPS
TCS World Travel TRIPS THAT DO GOOD
T R I P S
RAF TING & KAYAKING TRIPS
Sea Kayak Adventures
D E S T I N AT I O N S
Wilderness Travel VBT Bicycling Vacations
ASIAN CIT Y
National Geographic Expeditions
NORTH AMERICAN CIT Y
New York City
Abercrombie & Kent
SOUTH AMERICAN CIT Y
Buenos Aires CARIBBEAN ISL AND
Puerto Rico AFRICAN CITY
Cape Town MIDDLE EASTERN CITY
F OOD & WINE DESTINATION
UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE
Napa Valley, California
Machu Picchu, Peru
ART & CULTURE CIT Y
U. S. ROAD TRIP
California Highway One
CLO CKW ISE FRO M TOP L EFT: COURTESY OF SIN GAPO RE CHANGI AIR PO RT, ALANNA HALE, ALEX CRETEY SYSTERMANS
We Protect This
The Surfrider Foundation is dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the worldâ€™s ocean, waves and beaches, for all people, through a powerful activist network.
To learn more and get involved, visit go.surfrider.org/afar
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Fo u n d e r ’s N ot e and systemic barriers. And it can do all this while leaving a lighter environmental footprint. To us, the future of travel is one in which local businesses and residents welcome visitors who seek to give, not just take, when they experience a destination. “Our presence changes a place,” writes Eric Weiner on page 20. “The question is how.” At AFAR, we’ve long said that our readers are the world’s best travelers because we’re a company driven by values, and you respond to those values. You care. You want to make a positive difference. You want to do better. Based on the way people throughout the world responded to the pandemic, I’m hopeful that there are many more people like you out there. You are the role models who influence how others travel. We at AFAR will do our utmost to help people to be better travelers and more conscientious world citizens. And we ask you to continue to push yourselves to be better travelers. What you do makes a difference. Together, we can make travel a much more positive force in the world. We look forward to making the journey with you. Safe travels, GREG SULLIVAN Cofounder & CEO
T HE C OV I D- 1 9 PA ND E MI C has caused so much pain and destruction. My heart goes out to everyone who has lost a loved one and to those who have suffered through sickness and confinement. And I feel such empathy for those who have had their livelihoods upended and dealt with financial hardship. Our industry, the travel industry, has been crushed, and the consequences have affected so many of our friends and colleagues. It is heartbreaking. AFAR has not been immune. While we greatly expanded our digital content in 2020, this is the first print issue we have published since last spring. To us, the future of We are fully aware that the travel is one in which pandemic is not behind us yet. In local businesses and this issue we aim to inspire you to residents welcome travel when the time is right for visitors who seek to you—turn to page 37 for ideas from give, not just take, some of our favorite writers. when they experience We also know that we can do a destination. better, both as an industry and as travelers. As we begin to reimagine travel, AFAR has joined an industry effort called the Future of Tourism, which is dedicated to inspiring and educating travel businesses and travelers alike to improve what we were doing before the pandemic. We have always believed that travel can be a powerful force for good in the world. Done right, travel can redistribute wealth; broaden people’s perspectives and make them wiser and more caring; and support people who have been shortchanged by prejudice
Keia la —
[ T O D A Y ] WE RUN WITH THE SEA.
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Obtain a property report or its equivalent as required by Federal or State Law and read it before signing anything. No Federal or State Agency has judged the merits or value, if any, of the property. This is not an offer or solicitation in CT, NJ or NY or in any state in which the legal requirements for such offering have not been met. Warning: The CA Dept. of Real Estate has not inspected, examined, or qualiﬁed this offering. Fees, memberships and restrictions may apply for certain amenities. Details available. Price and availability subject to change. ©January, 2021. Kukui‘ula Development Company (Hawaii), LLC. All rights reserved.
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ILLUSTRATION: SIMONE NORONHA
TRAVE L CAN BE BETTER THAN IT WAS. WE CAN DO MORE THAN SNAP A PHOTO AND LEAVE. WE CAN SLOW DOWN, TAKE THE TIME TO BE RESPECTFUL, TO APPRECIATE, TO LEARN, AND TO EXPERIENCE THE WORLD MORE DEEPLY. pg 2 0
pg 2 6
pg 3 0
T H E T R AV E L E R â€™ S MANIFESTO by Eric Weiner
WHERE THE PAT H L E A D S by Emma John
A NEW GLOBAL CITIZEN by Negin Farsad
THE TRAVELER S MANIFESTO
by ERIC WEINER illustrations by SIMONE NORONHA
I I will travel again. That much I know. The question is how. I don’t mean whether I’ll be wearing a mask or carrying hand sanitizer— I will be—but a bigger, more philosophical how, and its close cousin, why. These are questions I thought I had answered. I’ve spent a lifetime traveling and thinking and thinking about traveling. Along the way, I cobbled together my own “philosophy of travel.” Go solo, do no harm, see as much as possible. It was a good philosophy, I thought, one that enabled me to travel ethically while still enjoying myself. But a backlash was brewing, as the scourge of overtourism came into sharp relief. Crowds of eager travelers were sullying the environment and fraying the social fabric of overrun destinations. Friends, meanwhile, questioned my outsize carbon footprint. In Sweden, they invented the word flygskam, “flight shame,” to describe this phenomenon and a hashtag, #jagstannarpåmarken
(#stayontheground), for its remedy. The Dutch airline KLM launched a “Fly Responsibly” campaign, which sounds awfully close to “Drink Responsibly.” Was travel, I wondered, the new alcohol? Or worse, the new smoking? No, I told myself. Whatever toll my journeying took on the planet was more than compensated for by the good accrued. But the truth is: I never stopped to fully define this alleged “good.” I was winging it. I secretly began to suspect that my friends, and the Swedes, might be right. Maybe travel was the new smoking, and I was a two-pack-a-day guy. Then came COVID-19, upending the world and shining a harsh light on global wanderers like me. When it became clear it was international travel that enabled the coronavirus to spread so rapidly, I realized how incomplete, how inadequate, my philosophy was. I needed to dive deeper into the how and the why of travel. Locked down for much of 2020, I had plenty of time to think about past travels, naturally,
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but also future journeys. What will they look like? What fresh attitude will I bring to them? I devised a few new principles, refined a couple of existing ones, and stitched them together into a kind of Travel Manifesto. “Manifesto,” I realize, is a strong word. It suggests boldness and daring— revolution, even. This is precisely what I need, what we need: a new way of traveling. I can’t guarantee I will adhere to my Travel Manifesto religiously, but this is what I aspire to, and aspirations matter. We may miss the mark, but at least we know what we’ve missed and by how much. Then we dust ourselves off and try again.
1 T R AV E L S E L E C T I V E LY
There, I said it. I feel better already. By trying to see everything, I run the risk of seeing nothing. If I’ve learned anything during this time away from travel, it’s that it’s better to travel well than to be
I CAN ’ T G O E VERY WHE RE .
To know the essential Charleston is to understand more than exquisite architecture, transcendent hotels, and revered restaurants. To truly experience Charleston requires time to discover a region that has navigated pain and prosperity, heartbreak and hope to achieve bold progress and realize a more powerful sense of place. The journey continues today. In telling the full story and encouraging dialogue we cultivate a deeper understanding of the past, advance reconciliation, and develop a stronger community for current and future generations. Plantations across the Charleston area inspire discussion and education around our community's past by telling the true story of our historic sites and the people - free and enslaved - who were instrumental in defining the region and nation. Learn about African and African American experiences and contributions to the area's cultural heritage at africanamericancharleston.com. Content on this site, Voices: Stories of Change, spans from pre-Colonial times and beyond.
MAGNOLIA PLANTATION AND ITS GARDENS Examine the challenges facing African American families from pre-Colonial times through the modern Civil Rights era through the award-winning program From Slavery to Freedom: The Magnolia Cabin Project Tour.
Create a new connection with history and discover transformative experiences found only in the Charleston area.
FIND EVERYTHING NEEDED TO PL AN YOUR GETAWAY AT EXPLORECHARLESTON.COM
MCLEOD PLANTATION Visit the masterfully-restored property and discover the plantation’s strategic significance during the Civil War, including the role of the freed black Massachusetts 55th Volunteer Infantry in emancipation.
MIDDLETON PLACE View the award-winning documentary, Beyond the Fields, or join a special tour originating from Eliza’s House to reveal essential stories about the labor, religion and spirituality of the people who indelibly shaped Charleston’s past.
DRAYTON HALL Gain insight into how enslaved workers literally and figuratively built the Lowcountry through Port to Plantation, an interactive exploration of the economic ramifications of slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries.
BOONE HALL PLANTATION Attend a performance of Exploring the Gullah Culture, a live educational presentation of a unique African American culture that has defined the Lowcountry for more than 200 years.
WHERE TO GO
Manifesto . . . suggests boldness
ambitious. We can’t all save the world or the dolphins or anything else. But we all can travel for good. That “good” can take many forms: It could be as is precisely what I need, what simple as supporting Black-owned businesses in we need: a new way of traveling. a new city or as all-encompassing as a collaborative expedition with climate scientists. High on my list in this new world: Helping biologists gather data in the Serengeti. Less important than the particulars is a well traveled. Better to experience places than fundamental shift in attitude, from getting to giving. collect them. When we collect places, we’re in Might all this purposing get messy? Sure. But travel has always been “getting” mode. When we experience them, messy. The notion of the phantom traveler, traversing a place without we’re in “being” mode. And that’s when we creleaving a mark, is a myth. Our presence changes a place. The question is ate the memories that last. how. Do we leave it better than we found it or worse? Going forward, I will triage my trips, careful not to confuse the popular with the good. Popular places are, by definition, over-traveled. There’s something to be said for scruffy places, frumpy places, even boring places. Perhaps there are no boring places, only boring travelers. As I dream about, and plan, future travels, T R AV E L S L O W LY I won’t necessarily skip the Istanbuls and the Tokyos, but I’ll be sure to include the Izmirs and Okinawas. SP E ED I S T HE EN EMY O F T R AVE L , because, as the French philosopher I was recently inspired by a friend who Simone Weil observed, speed is the enemy of attention. Of all the indeinsists on eating only “quality calories.” Not cencies she witnessed on the factory floors of 1930s France, the greatest, necessarily calories high in protein or low in she said, was the violation of the workers’ attention. The conveyor belt sugar, but calories they will enjoy fully. Every moved at a velocity incompatible with any other kind of attention, “since journey comes at a financial cost, an environit drains the soul of all save a preoccupation with speed.” mental cost, and a social cost. Before bookGood travel is slow travel. Loiter. Linger. Find a café in Amsterdam or ing that flight, I will now ask myself: Is the cost La Paz and plant yourself there for longer than seems normal. I guarantee worth it? Are these quality miles? I’ll find the you will see or hear or feel something you would have missed otherwise. answer not on a spreadsheet but in my heart. Variety may be the spice of life, but familiarity is its main course. Even before the pandemic, I found myself less interested in traveling to new destinations than in returning to old, familiar ones, and seeing them anew, through slow eyes. Each autumn, I travel to Kathmandu, plant myself by an old Buddhist stupa called Boudhanath, and watch the collage of people and commerce circling it. At first, I notice the small differences: a posh new café and a T R AV E L P U R P O S E F U L LY sign warning that “the use of drones is strictly prohibited.” Plenty about Boudhanath hasn’t changed, though. There are the Buddhist pilgrims circling the stupa at all hours, twirling metal prayer wheels, and there’s TRAVELING FOR LEISURE is a relatively recent the young Tibetan woman selling oil lamps and sandalwood beads. The phenomenon. For most of human history, only reason I notice any of this is because I slowed down. people traveled to flee a war (or to start one), to As a rule, I estimate how long I should reasonably spend in a place— seek God or treasure, to chart new sea routes, then add 20 percent. I’ve never regretted the extra time. A while back, or to explore new wonders. It’s time we turn to I was planning on spending two weeks in Reykjavík, the Icelandic capital, purpose-driven travel, especially now that the but decided to tack on three additional days. It was during those three pandemic has laid bare the hidden (and notdays that I met the two most memorable characters of my journey: a so-hidden) costs of tourism. perceptive composer named Hilmar, who taught me the importance of When we take a vacation, in a way we vacate “cherishing your melancholia,” and a smitten expatriate named Jared. ourselves. When we travel with purpose— Now, after the forced stillness of quarantine, I’ve learned that my caeven if that purpose is as simple as traveling pacity for slowness is greater than I thought. I’m amending the 20-Percent with an open mind and a kind heart—we fill Rule to a 30- or even 40-Percent Rule. You can travel too quickly. You ourselves, and, ideally, consider our impact on cannot travel too slowly. a destination. Our purpose needn’t be overly
and daring—revolution, even. This
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by EMMA JOHN
T R AV E L E M P AT H E T I C A L LY
WHEN WE TRAVEL, we usually expand ourselves not by turning inward but by interacting with other people. Do we see only differences—language, cuisine, customs—or do we also identify commonalities, a shared humanity? This is empathy. If we don’t empathize, at least a little, with those we encounter, we never really see them. Empathizing with other people doesn’t mean becoming them. It’s fashionable to brag that you “travel like a local.” No, you don’t. You travel like a foreigner. That’s because you are one. And that’s OK. The empathetic traveler doesn’t try to fit in. She knows that is impossible and that there are advantages to seeing places at an angle. One of the best books about U.S. democracy was written by a Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville. This is no coincidence. An observant outsider often sees what insiders do not.
5 T R AV E L J O Y F U L LY
TR AVE L, O F C O U RS E , is not drudgery. At its best, it is not only meaningful but fun. Otherwise, why bother? Too often, I realize, I’ve either expected too much from a place (and left feeling disappointed) or expected too little and therefore closed myself off to what a place might offer. The solution, I’ve learned, is to expect nothing yet be open to everything. Expectations are the enemy of happiness. Expectations, even positive ones, rob you of the sudden beauty of a first impression. When I first saw the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, I wasn’t sure if I was responding to the actual place or to some idealized image I’d absorbed from all those Instagram posts. Maybe Angkor Wat really is beautiful; maybe it’s overrated. There is no correct reaction, of course, only an authentic one—and it’s easier to have an authentic reaction if our perspective is unmuddied by the thoughts (and Instagram feeds) of others. That’s why I’ve learned to prepare, but not over-prepare, for a trip. I’ll read historical accounts of my destination but not contemporary ones—and, yes, I really do go on an Instagram fast. Jettisoning expectations also frees us up for the sort of serendipitous encounters that make travel meaningful and, should the travel gods smile on us, magical too. Over the years, the travel gods smiled on me quite a lot. Then COVID-19 arrived. I may never travel the same way again, even after the virus is vanquished. Thank goodness. A realignment was long overdue. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the pandemic represents an opportunity, but it has forced me to question my assumptions, to see the world, and myself, a bit differently. And isn’t that what travel is all about?
Eric Weiner has written several stories for afar. He’s also an author, most recently of The Socrates Express: In Search of Life Lessons from Dead Philosophers (Avid Reader Press, August 2020).
WHERE THE PATH LEADS
T The signs were everywhere, but I rarely saw them: slender green arrows mounted on metal posts, pointing out over fields, along rivers and canals, the white words painted on them, public footpath, getting not so much as a thank-you for their service. GR E AT BRI TA I N , M Y N ATIV E L A N D SC A PE , is overridden with these footpaths—roughly 150,000 miles of trails known as public rights of way. The land they cross is often private, but public rights of way—which allow anyone to traverse that land on foot, bicycle, or horse—have been part of the country’s history since the Dark Ages, enshrined in law for centuries. We all found our own ways of coping with lockdown. Some people turned to fitness videos, some to baking. I escaped to the footpaths. My parents’ cottage in Buckinghamshire, 40 miles northwest of London, was small for three people who had had a lifetime of each other’s foibles—but it was surrounded by countryside. And so, for the sake of my sanity, I walked.
WHERE TO GO
Footpaths operate on the same principle as red-car syndrome: Once your brain is aware of their existence, they proliferate madly. I rarely repeated a route; each new possibility had to be explored. A month after lockdown began, I found myself following a trail I’d never before noticed. It was lined on both sides by tall hedges, the path made narrower by shoulder-high elder trees, which offered high fives as I passed. Halfway up a gentle incline, a wooden stile spilled me into open space. Looking back, I could see for miles. To my left, stippled cows peered benevolently from their paddock. To my right, a field of yellow rapeseed ran all the way to a cluster of houses and a stone-turreted church. At the field’s edges were more hills, embroidered with forest, above them a sky of urgent blue. My breath caught. I was looking at one of the prettiest views of the British countryside I had ever seen. And I had never encountered it before, despite visiting this area for two decades. I had known what a freedom Britain’s footpaths were; now I understood they were also a privilege. Months into the pandemic, I feel a sense of responsibility to protect these footpaths. Public rights of way in Britain are formalized on the basis of use. Over generations, thousands of miles of paths have been forgotten, or built over, or made impassable by landowners, and left off government maps. In 2000, Parliament decreed that any historic rights of way that are not on the official record by 2026 will be gone forever. An online campaign, launched in February just before COVID-19 hit Great Britain, provided access to old maps and encouraged citizens to hunt for—and help register—these lost paths. Thousands of people like me joined the search and within a few months, every one of these forgotten paths had been identified. More lockdowns beckon this winter as a second wave of infection sweeps the country. To soften the blow, I’ve set the challenge of completing the 87-mile trail across the Chiltern hills, which starts near my parents’ home. I won’t be the only one who found herself appreciating something that’s been in her backyard all along. With time on our hands and our movements curtailed, we all see the world around us more clearly. The question is: What do we do with our new perspective? Emma John is a contributing writer to afar and the author of Wayfaring Stranger: A Musical Journey in the American South (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2019).
A NEW GLOBAL CITIZEN
by NEGIN FARSAD
WHERE TO GO
I I guess if I had to put a label to it, I’d call myself a Global Citizen; you know, if push came to shove. Or si la poussée vient à pousser. See? I just dropped some French, and yet I’m primarily writing in English. How Global Citizen of me! the type who went to college, did a semester abroad, backpacked around Europe, watched French films at independent cinemas, and in a pinch, could recall, and even correctly pronounce, the name of the German chancellor, you’d call me a Global Citizen. A woman who’s sensitive to the plight of rural Hondurans and doesn’t confuse them with other Central Americans. Who understands the difference between a crumpet and an English muffin. A woman who gets it. That woman may be a Global Citizen, but she is the Global Citizen from an era of American life when only certain types were privileged enough to be well traveled. Parts of me are that woman—the college, the semester abroad, followed by the teaching English abroad, followed by the cashiering and waiting tables abroad. I do see snooty foreign films, and I do feel a pang of recognition when I look at a crumpet. I see you crumpet, I know who you are. But I’m not the every-bougie-woman you may have conjured, because I’m also Iranian and Muslim and the daughter of immigrants. I was raised not just bilingual but trilingual—my parents are from a pesky part of Iran that neighbors Azerbaijan. In that region, you speak not only Farsi but also Azeri. That’s right, I speak all the useful, marketable languages. I’m your bougie everywoman doused in saffron. I represent an intersection of a thousand things: the Iranian, the American, the Azeri. I’ve lived in Paris, London, on the East Coast, on the West Coast, in the desert, and in the snow. Maybe all of that makes me a Global Citizen. But that’s not really it. What makes me a Global Citizen is that I was raised to love a place I didn’t spend much time in. That I was taught to feel belonging in two countries. Throughout my life, that feeling of belonging has spilled over to nearly everywhere and everyone. My earliest memory of an international flight didn’t have the glamour of “travel.” I was going to see family in Iran, because that’s where they all were. For me it was the equivalent of visiting the in-laws in Sheboygan. There were no mai tai cocktails or flower leis to welcome us. Instead we were greeted with an announcement on the flight reminding the ladies that before they left the plane, they had to wear the hijab—to cover their hair and the contours of their bodies in accordance with the rules of the Islamic Republic. My mom would whip out a chador and groan. I was a kid, so I didn’t think much of it. Iran looked different, and yes, a little scary. But still, I had the best times there. Iran was fun! I had so much family, and they constantly threw parties and gave me candy. What I F I WA S YO U R BO UG I E EVERY WOM AN ,
“Traveling like this, at a human speed, an otherwise invisible world revealed itself.” From Peter Bohler’s “How to See the Morocco Most Tourists Don’t” episode in the new Travel Tales by AFAR podcast
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WHERE TO GO
What makes me a Global Citizen is that I was raised to love a place that I didn’t spend much time in. That I was taught to feel
belonging in two countries.
more could a kid want? We would go to Iran for many summers and I loved it. I loved this place that was so different and so much more restrictive and yet none of that mattered. Now I’m married to a Black man—his mother was white and his estranged father was Black. They’re both deceased. He has experienced homelessness, lived a middle-class life, and glimpsed the finer things. His background is similarly a thousand things: It’s American, Polish, Catholic, agnostic, and of course some African heritage he’ll never quite know. Together, we made a kid, who’s now a toddler, who has my thousand things and his thousand things, which means I have to start doing math. I expect her to love the many thousand things that make her a person. Places she hasn’t seen yet and places she may never see. In fact, she contains too many ingredients to start excluding points on the globe. Instead, she’ll have to embrace them all. Her first international trip was to Morocco, at just two months old. Her dad is an actor and was on the set of the TV show Homeland. While we were in Morocco, locals kept saying she looked so Moroccan. That she was surely one of them. It made me happy that they were so willing to claim her. We became instant family in those moments. She has that ethnically ambiguous face where she can easily blend into so many countries. But it’s not just thick eyebrows and brown skin—she’s actually made of so many countries. Our family doesn’t naturally fit on the cover of any country’s travel brochure. Sometimes we look like we’re from the place, sometimes we look like weird sideways versions, sometimes we’re in Finland. So we just build a new category: We belong everywhere we go. We don’t ask. We assume we belong and hope it sticks.
And of course it will. Because my baby shares her Muslim background with more than a billion people scattered around the world; she shares her African background with billions, too; she shares her Americanness with hundreds of millions. It would be too much for her to gerrymander the places that don’t contain her. She has to be empathetic to their shortcomings, proud of their achievements, and worried for their collective future. Because my daughter is that kind of Global Citizen. She has to travel more thoughtfully. She has to plan long voyages where she can not just see people, but know them. She has to care about the air and the water and the erosion. She has to see places as not just a collection of monuments but as a continuum, and she has to know that when she touches that continuum, she changes it. So she has to be careful with that power. She has to imbue it with love. But nearly all of us in America fit this description. We’ve each got a thousand things behind us. We’re hyphenated by race, ethnicity, religion—and those are just the obvious ones. We’re also hyphenated by education, sports team, mustard preference, pet selection, and whether or not we believe in bedazzling T-shirts. Some Americans quarantined to jazz and others to Bollywood. Black people marched for Black Lives Matter and Filipino people marched for Black Lives Matter. Our calls to action last year—and this year, this century— crossed and will continue to cross generations, cultures, races, and classes. So of all the people, in all the world, it should be easy for us to be this kind of Global Citizen— the kind that arrives in a country with care. After all that 2020 heaped on us, I believe that global spark is still with us. Even in the people who bedazzle their T-shirts. Negin Farsad is a writer, comedian, and actor based in New York City.
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WHERE TO GO
02 R E CO N N E C T
ILLUSTRATION: SIMONE NORONHA
WE VE HAD MONTHS TO DREAM ABOUT OUR NEXT TRIP. WHERE WILL WE GO, WHO WILL WE MEET, WHO WILL WE BE? NOW WE RE NEARLY READY TO GET BACK OUT THERE, UNITED BY HOW THE WORLD SURPRISES AND INSPIRES US. W YOMING SEVILLE
U Z B E K I S TA N
MEXICO CITY TIBET
Where to Go in 2021. It might be more appropriate
Because 2021, while imbued with hope, is still an unknown. Lockdowns, border openings, and the vaccine (oh, the vaccine) remain in flux. In a time when so much remains uncertain, there are some things we know to be true. The pandemic revealed a world without travel. We learned what we took for granted and what we missed the most. And we know we will go when the time is right. On the following pages, you’ll read about 12 places we’re dreaming of now: A journalist longing to return to Ghana; a novelist’s dream of following, slowly, in the footsteps of her favorite adventurer in Greece; an activist’s desire to travel intentionally and conscientiously in Vietnam. We’re leaving aside the “how” of travel for now—that will come, with time. Because as Desmond Tutu wisely said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” Here’s to a brighter 2021.
to ask Should I Go in 2021? And if so, How Exactly Do I Go?
WHERE TO GO
Wyoming of the great indoors. If anyone was prepared to stay inside during a global pandemic, it was me. But I also crave adventure, and I cherish what it means to wonder and to try. I have cerebral palsy, which might explain the irony of being a wanderlusting homebody. As a child, I scraped my knees out in a world not built for me and learned that home didn’t have as many restrictions. But my mom wanted me to have an after-school activity, so she found a horseback-riding team made up of nondisabled and disabled children. Being outside, high up, moving at a blur-inducing pace was thrilling. I’ve never forgotten that sense of freedom. Now, after months spent indoors as a high-risk individual, riding is what I imagine doing most. I picture meandering through Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park on a four-day excursion, stopping only to camp under the stars. I’d be wearing jeans, a shift from my current uniform of sweatpants, and my legs would curve over the sides of a horse navigating rocks and streams. I’d listen to the sounds of birds overhead as a crisp breeze sends the scent of wildflowers through the air, and I’d breathe it in while admiring the park’s namesake mountains scraping at the sky. Mostly, I’d relish a setting where time doesn’t pass painfully slowly or incomprehensibly fast. Those peaks and valleys are just there, as they have been for more than 15,000 years, unmoved by human chaos. I used to prioritized livelier destinations— ones with crowds moving through busy streets and markets and museums and concert halls. Maybe a horseback trip isn’t a new idea, but it feels like the most restorative. I want a slow place to get me back up to speed. Luckily, Grand Teton National Park promises a wideopen adventure, but with plenty of sitting.
I ’M AN EXP LO R ER
Kelly Dawson is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles.
WHERE TO GO
Ghana HEATHER GREENWOOD DAVIS
The phrase was uttered by the elder who had taken my hand shortly after I arrived in a small Ghanaian village in 1997. And though the words were simple, they pointed to a difficult fact: Black people displaced from their homeland by slavery had been severed from their ancestral roots. Now that we were back to visit, those who’d never left the continent could see in us connections we still couldn’t see in ourselves. My role on this trip was as a reporter. I was sent by my newspaper to accompany a group of Black teenagers who had won the trip, and I’d heard this phrase spoken to others many times. Those who heeded the call were introduced to someone who looked just like them, each time finding an unexpected resemblance through some distant lineage. Now, it was my turn. The trip was my first to the continent. It was also my first international assignment. I didn’t want to screw it up. I was wary of personal moments that might distract from my perceived professionalism. And so I didn’t follow that woman to “my people.” More than 20 years later, I’m still haunted by that decision. In 2019, hundreds of thousands of Black people participated in Ghana’s “Year of Return,” an invitation to Black people from across the diaspora to return to the country, 400 years after the first slave ships left the country’s coast. I watched online as they visited the slave dungeons and historic villages I had seen on my own visit. Those memories flooded back—as did that offer of connection that I’d politely declined. I would make a different choice today. Older and slightly wiser, I see the opportunity I missed. I wasn’t ready then, but I am now. When it’s safe, I will go back. This time I’ll take my kids. I’ll show them the door of no return, where enslaved Africans last glimpsed their homeland. I’ll also introduce them to Ghana’s waterfalls and national parks. And most important, I’ll introduce them to the people shaping the aesthetic of everything from fashion to music on a global scale. We’ll pop into traditional villages in places like Kumasi, but we’ll also marvel at the stilt homes in Nzulezu and the skyscrapers in Accra. This time, I’ll focus on my own experience. And when a hand is offered, I’ll be ready to grasp it and let it lead me home. Heather Greenwood Davis is a writer, explorer, and speaker based in Toronto, Canada. You can follow her on Instagram @ByHeatherGD or read about her family’s adventures at globetrottingmama.com.
DERRICK OFOSU BOATENG
“I C AN TA KE YOU TO YO U R PEO PL E .”
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Seville IN JACK S O N HE I GHTS , New York—the neighborhood I call home, and one of the pandemic’s first epicenters—our early spring days were dark with trauma. Ambulances wailed outside my windows, the news was awash with scenes from overwhelmed Elmhurst Hospital a few blocks away, and I grimly counted my cans of beans, because even the bodegas were closed. During lockdown, I found comfort in mentally revisiting my favorite tapas bars of Seville. How I’ve missed those crowded tiled taverns, the countermen rasping out rapid-fire pregones (tapas calls): oxtail stew, lacy fried fish, dusky curls of Ibérico ham. But the eats— ¡delicioso!—weren’t the only reason I longed for Andalusia’s capital. Seville is Spain’s most sociable city, with its fiestas and religious processions and its ritual of the tapeo, the bar crawl that refuels the city’s community spirit. In my fantasy tapeo, I start at La Flor de Toranzo in the historic center, trading confidences with strangers over icy Cruzcampo beers around the ’40s-era zinc counter. The signature tapa? Freshbaked Antequera rolls mounded with anchovies under squiggles of condensed milk. From there, I squeeze onto a rickety stool at Casa Moreno, a spot hidden in the back of a grocery store. Manzanilla in hand, I take in the fearsome stuffed bull’s head on the wall above a cabinet of rare sherries and wines, curated by Emilio Vara, one of Seville’s most beloved taberneros (barkeeps). Emilio’s “kitchen” is a single beat-up toaster oven churning out warm montaditos—small canapés—“plated” on squares of wax paper. Son of a well-known local journalist, Emilio pours his creativity into penning aphorisms on stickers—“Joy makes us invulnerable,” “Haste destroys all tenderness”—and into entertaining his regulars. A good tabernero, he says, is above all a psychologist. I finish with batter-fried bacalao and braised Ibérico pork cheeks at the nearby Bodeguita Romero. Here the same blue-haired widow shows up to eat every day at noon, smartly dressed and coiffed. The bars of Seville, she once observed to me, are the city’s kitchens, its living rooms, its confession booths. Without this human connection—she gestured proudly around us—how would we ever survive?
Anya von Bremzen is an AFAR contributing writer and the James Beard Award–winning author of six cookbooks and a memoir, Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking.
THIS PAGE, CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: SIMON BAJADA. KATE BERRY, JOÃO CANZIANI OPPOSITE PAGE, FROM LEFT: ULRIKE HOLSTEN/PICTURE PRESS/REDUX, MARTIN KLIMEK
ANYA VON BREMZEN
WHERE TO GO
Ilha Grande, Brazil
The bars of Seville, she once observed to me, are the city’s kitchens, its living rooms, its confession booths. Without this human connection—she gestured proudly around us—how would we ever survive?
A D ECAD E AG O , I went with one of my besties, Anyeley, to Brazil. We travel well together, which is a coup for wildly different people—Anyeley is an African American practicing Christian and I’m a secular Iranian American Muslim. At the time, we were single gals in grad school. Despite having none of the luxuries of travel, we managed to have the time of our lives. So when we’ve talked about our first postpandemic trip, it’s to Ilha Grande, an island off the coast of Rio. The island is small and walkable with unbelievably pristine beaches. It’s not a party island, though there is partying; it’s not a sleepy island, though there are plenty of ways to relax; it’s not an island propped up by festivals or by the wealth of a few. Ilha Grande is a destination that somehow provides whatever it is you want from it. Back then, we wanted dancing and beaches. We found both on Lopes Mendes, a beach accessible by boats helmed by teenage boys who want to terrify passengers with their wave jumping. Every day, there was swimming and dancing—so much dancing. People would dance at sunset on the beaches; they would dance on the paths of Abraão, the main town, at night. At one point we walked into a bikini shop, looking for the Brazilian bikinis locals wear as easily as sweatpants. As the elderly shop clerk rang us up, she invited us to her Bible study. Anyeley was floored. “That’s what Christianity can look like,” she said as we left. “You can sell high-cut bikinis and promote your Bible study—I love it!” I loved that too, the way the entire globe can shrink down to three very different people. I wonder what our future trip will look like. Will we brush up against the issues that have divided the U.S.? Or will we find bikini shops run by Bible-thumping Brazilians who could somehow bring us closer together? When Anyeley and I inevitably go back, we won’t stay at a hostel, and we won’t be as brazen with our swimwear. But I know that in that casual Ilha Grandean way, the island will somehow provide us with a magical thing we need. Years ago, that was dancing and cute boys, but because we’ve been deprived of our togetherness, maybe this time around, togetherness is all we need. That and some terrifying wave jumps.
Negin Farsad is a writer, comedian, and actor based in New York City.
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The Mani, Greece hallucinatory and steadying about Greece’s landscape, the elemental wind and dazzled light, its scoured crags and wine-dark sea (to use Homer’s phrase). My husband and I used to make regular pilgrimages to the Cyclades; then came the joyous upheaval of children, followed by years of unmooring—the passing of parents, half a dozen relocations, a devastating house fire, the uncertainties of midlife and marital strain. And now the unsettledness into which we’ve all been thrown. I suppose it’s no surprise that I find myself fantasizing again about Greece, where the simplest things can seem so profound. Just to sit for a plate of horiatiki (salad) at a seaside taverna is to participate in a ritual seemingly untarnished by the passing of time. In particular, I’ve been thinking of the barren cliffs and vermilion-stoned villages of a region I never made it to, on the southernmost tip of the Peloponnese: the Mani. There, my favorite British adventurer built his home among olive groves confronting the expansive sea, as if to settle into permanent contemplation of eternity. It’s easy to fly to now, but in 1951, when the late Patrick Leigh Fermor trekked there over the Taygetus range, the Mani was virtually inaccessible to outsiders. Leigh Fermor was a sort of Byronian 20th-century knight who had set out earlier, at age 18, to walk from Holland to Constantinople, sleeping in haystacks and carousing in beer halls and wooing a princess along the way. At one point in Mani, the chronicle of his Greek journey published in 1958, Leigh Fermor describes swimming from a fishing boat to the cave known as the entrance to Hades, a surprisingly serene experience. What I dream of now is what Leigh Fermor called a “private incursion” into the Mani: not a conquering of its Byzantine chapels or medieval embattlements or towering peaks, but a wandering along cobblestone paths and sun-bleached shores. Shores that hint at myth and perpetuity, in the way that only Greece can. T H ERE ’S S OME T HING
Charmaine Craig is the author of the novels The Good Men, a national best seller, and Miss Burma, long-listed for the 2017 National Book Award for Fiction. She lives in Los Angeles.
WILLIAM ABRANOWICZ / ART + COMMERCE (2)
I suppose it’s no surprise that I find myself fantasizing again about Greece, where the simplest things can seem so profound.
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THIS PAGE: KEVIN FAINGNAERT. OPPOSITE PAGE, FROM TOP: KEVIN FAINGNAERT, JESSICA ANTOLA
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Vietnam HO W DO E S AN A ME RI CA N travel responsibly in Vietnam? It’s been on my mind this year, a year when many of us are thinking more deeply about the effect we have on the places we visit. I passed through Vietnam briefly almost 20 years ago, but I’ve always wanted to spend a month in the country, savoring spring rolls while skipping about between historic temples and palaces. But if I aspire to be an American with a conscience, should Vietnam even be on my vacation radar? How can I do the relaxing, vacationy things and, simultaneously, reckon with such a complex, often brutal history—one that my own nation helped create? To avoid Vietnam—to avoid the discomfort of history—feels problematic, too. So in 2021, once the country has reopened to visitors, I’d like to plan a responsible trip, in every sense. I’d start in Ho Chi Minh City (and would call it that rather than its French imperial name, Saigon). I’d tour the War Remnants Museum, which until 1995 was called the “Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression.” I’d spend a day with Tiger Tours to learn about the war from the Vietnamese perspective. And I’d stay at the Myst Dong Khoi, part of a locally owned group of hotels. I’d go to Da Nang, the coastal city where U.S. troops first landed, and visit Son My, where American troops massacred more than 500 villagers in one of the bloodiest events in the war. There’s a memorial there, as well as the ruins of an ancient temple. Throughout my trip, I would eat at small, family-owned restaurants, which grew out of postwar economic reforms that made it possible for many Vietnamese to open their own businesses in this still-communist nation. And yes, eventually, I might go to a beach near another coastal city, Cam Ranh, maybe stay at the Anam, another Vietnameseowned luxury resort. There, I might relax into the soft sand and swaying palms—but I’d think about the American military personnel who once sat in the same spot, against the backdrop of ruination. There is no escape from history. Sometimes travel, when our minds are most open, is the best way to connect with it.
Sally Kohn is a writer, speaker, political commentator, and author of the book The Opposite of Hate (Algonquin Books, 2018).
Korsha Wilson is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and host of A Hungry Society, a podcast that takes a more inclusive look at the food world.
If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that the next flight is no longer something to take for granted—and once it’s safe to venture out again, this long-overdue holiday is something I won’t put off any longer.
FROM LEFT: SCOTT SUCHMAN, NICK HANNES/PANOS PICTURES
T H E B US S A EM A NC IPATIO N S TATUE is unmissable. Located in the middle of a busy roundabout, it depicts a man in tattered shorts, his hands outstretched, broken chains hanging from the shackles on his wrists, and his eyes looking up at the blue Caribbean sky. Barbadian sculptor Karl Broodhagen created the piece in 1985 to commemorate the abolition of slavery in Barbados in 1834. When I first saw it from the window of a taxi in 2016, I was taken aback by its unflinching depiction of the brutal enslavement of a people. But it wasn’t melancholy—it was prideful. I wondered if Bajans, as Barbadians are also known, thought about that history as they zoomed by in their cars. A locale shows its ethos in the details. During that trip, I saw how Barbadian culture has been shaped by enslaved Africans and their descendants. I felt it in the sway of exuberant soca music spilling out of cars and shops, at bars where locals and tourists talked and laughed over rums that were once produced by slaves on the island. I tasted it in the national dish: flying fish native to the waters around the island, stewed with tomato and onions. It’s served over cornmeal and okra cou-cou, similar to Southern grits—both inherited from banku, Ghana’s ubiquitous fermented cornmeal and cassava dumplings. When I ate the dish at Primo in St. Lawrence Gap, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, I was experiencing, through these ingredients, the connection between all the places the transatlantic slave trade touched. In the United States, as we continue to confront this country’s legacy of enslavement, I’ve thought often of Barbados and of the statue: It reminds me that it’s absolutely necessary to acknowledge our history and face it squarely, so that we don’t repeat it. Sure, you can visit the island for the (excellent) rum bars and beaches, but the true magic of Barbados lies in embracing its entire story. For me, a Black woman traveler, my next trip to the island will feel like a return in more ways than one.
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Uzbekistan SARAH KHAN MY FAT HE R, the unofficial family historian, can trace our ancestry back 40 generations and across nine modern-day countries, including Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey, Uzbekistan, India, and the United States. I’ve lived in or traveled to many of those places: I grew up in Saudi Arabia, I’ve been to Spain and Turkey, and I return to India every year. But one thread of my heritage has always felt enigmatic: What, I wonder, were the lives of my ancestors like in 16th- and 17th-century Uzbekistan? I had lofty goals of tracing the footsteps of that branch, the Rifaees, in 2020, when I started plotting a family trip to Samarkand and Bukhara, both prominent stops along the Silk Road. Landlocked Uzbekistan was, for centuries, a vital hub for Islamic scholarship and culture, and its location drew travelers from across the Muslim world— including many who, like my ancestors, decided to stick around for a few generations. I sketched out a dream itinerary, based on years of late-night research. I’d take my parents to the imposing Registan Square in Samarkand at sunrise, to see the morning light gild the turquoise tiles of the three grand madrassas, or religious schools. We’d pray in the Bibi-Khanym Mosque, once the largest in the Islamic world. There’d be a break to try pumpkin manti—traditional stuffed dumplings—at a rooftop café overlooking Bukhara’s Po-i-Kalyan complex. We’d search for references to our ancestors in madrassas and necropolises, looking for any clues that could help us see them as more than just names on a family tree. I figured out all this detail before I’d even booked a flight—and then the pandemic put the brakes on my Uzbek aspirations. My parents are the reason I travel: They carted me all over the world growing up, and thanks to them, some of my earliest memories are of scampering down airplane aisles. I had envisioned this Uzbekistan adventure as a way to say thank you for passing the torch, that now it’s my turn to take them around. If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that the next flight is no longer something to take for granted—and once it’s safe to venture out again, this long-overdue holiday is something I won’t put off any longer.
Award-winning travel writer Sarah Khan has lived in five countries on three continents. You can find her byline in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Saveur, and many other publications. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @BySarahKhan.
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EuroVelo 6 on assignment in Austria, I found myself on two wheels, rolling through bicycling heaven. Sixty miles west of Vienna, on a bike path along the banks of the Danube, the sun shone through wispy clouds onto terraced vineyards that stretched up the hills. I took a bite of an apricot, just picked from a small mound left outside a farm for passing cyclists. A sign indicated the route I was traveling: EuroVelo 6. I wrote it down—and promptly forgot about it. Like so many others searching for ways to get out into the world safely, I fell more deeply in love with cycling in 2020. By summer, I was leaving my apartment in New York City for days at a time, panniers packed and my phone primed for navigation only. Then I started thinking bigger. I thought of EuroVelo 6. It turns out, I had traversed less than 1 percent of a bike route that extends across 10 countries in Europe, from France to
A FEW Y E A RS AG O,
Romania, the Atlantic Ocean to the Black Sea. Could I really do all 2,765 miles of it, through burning sun and cold rain, going days at a time without even the hope of a shower? Before the lockdown, I’d have said, “No way.” Now I say, “Why not?” I researched each section: from the developed trail through the middle of France to the rougher portion—more dirt, less pavement—snaking some 700 miles from Budapest down into Serbia, then through Romania and Bulgaria, until it reaches the Black Sea. As I mapped it out, Europe was heading for yet another wave of COVID-19 cases, and Americans were still prohibited from traveling to most places. But what are pipe dreams if not delayed plans? Sometime in 2021, I will clear my calendar, get on a bike in Nantes, France, and ride east. I’ll be alone and outdoors, perfect social-distancing conditions. I wonder if apricots will be in season by the time I hit Austria. Sebastian Modak is a writer and multimedia journalist based in New York City. He spent 2019 circling the globe as the New York Times 52 Places Traveler.
Like so many others searching for ways to get out into the world safely, I fell more deeply in love with cycling in 2020.
Castle Hot Springs, Morristown
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Mexico City ERNEST WHITE II
AT THE BEGINNING OF JULY, the streets of Mexico City were quiet. Restaurants had just been given the permission to offer indoor dining, and my friends and I walked through the Roma Norte neighborhood in search of seafood. We skipped across multilane thoroughfares where just four or five cars were stopped at traffic lights, as we talked loudly in English and Spanish, our voices echoing in the empty streets. Mexico City wasn’t the crackling megacity I’d fallen for on my first trip back in 2004. Then, the city’s arteries flowed with greenand-white VW Beetle taxis, the traffic a constant roar. As I explored the Bosque de Chapultepec, the Museo Frida Kahlo, the ancient pyramids outside the city, I made new friends: Mexican teachers, Guatemalan políticos (in one case, a política), Panamanian actors, Spanish entrepreneurs, U.S. journalists. We’ve stayed in touch all these years. Even more than the tacos at Orinoco, my friends are the reason I visit Mexico City, the reason I’ve built a relationship with it. They are the reason I got on a plane in July, unsure of what I’d find. Mexico City was, in many ways, just another place rendered dormant by the pandemic, the electricity generated by some 20 million people turned down low. But “low” isn’t “off.” Walking toward Contramar, Gabriela Cámara’s legendary seafood restaurant in Roma Norte, we heard laughter through face masks and encountered new street art: a vintage automobile covered with lacquered flowers and ferns. We took selfies. The city simmered. We ordered calamari at Contramar, where the always polite waitstaff wore face shields and latex gloves. In solemn recognition of the pandemic, we lowered our laughter. But we laughed, nonetheless. The road to recovery won’t be swift. But I know I’ll go again next year, when Mexico City is amped all the way up: loud, lively, and full of love.
Ernest White II is a storyteller, explorer, and host of the travel docuseries Fly Brother with Ernest White II.
OPPOSITE PAGE, CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: KATE BERRY, NICOLE FRANZEN, MATHIAS WASIK. THIS PAGE: ZACHARY C. BAKO
Even more than the tacos at Orinoco, my friends are the reason I visit Mexico City, the reason I’ve built a relationship with it. They are the reason I got on a plane in July, unsure of what I’d find.
T HE ST I CK Y HE AT that rises from the sidewalk has never deterred me from fulfilling my New Orleans cravings: For the last several years—until 2020— I’ve made an annual pilgrimage for the crispy fried chicken doused in Crystal hot sauce at Willie Mae’s Scotch House, charbroiled oysters bubbling with Parmesan and butter at Drago’s, steaming po’boys with fried catfish at Parkway or Adams Street Grocery, a muffuletta that I can barely fit into my mouth (still, I make it work) at Verti Marte. My love for New Orleans is a sensory addiction that began with taste—those bayou flavors were first introduced to me in Los Angeles by my grandmother Gwendolyn, who learned from her mother Emily, born in New Orleans. No matter what kitchen I am in, the stirring of roux to create gumbo invokes a yearning for the place that is a symbol of my family’s great migration West, of flavors and oral histories passed from mouth to mouth and onto plates. I know that my great-grandmother’s life in New Orleans was nothing like my annual visits full of freedom, Pimm’s Cups, jazz, and fried foods. I know that her sacrifices, like those of many New Orleanians, exist far beyond the noise and neon signs of Bourbon Street, in deep backwoods and near lakes, between the walls of shotgun homes. Those sacrifices can be seen on sunken houses that still read “save us!” years after Hurricane Katrina, on streets with second line parades, where life and death are equally celebrated. I will return as soon as I can: to honor my great-grandmother’s memory, to dance and sing with the brass bands, to celebrate the flavors that have become tradition to me each visit. Until then, despite distance, my memories sustain me—they make New Orleans so real, I can taste it.
Kristin Braswell is a writer and entrepreneur committed to changing the world through travel. She has visited more than 20 countries, creating lasting memories with people and places that inspire her brand, CrushGlobal.
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Tibet D E AR E ST T I BET,
For many years I have heard you, calling across the 9,000 miles that separate me from Lhasa and my ultimate Buddhist pilgrimage. I first heard your gongs in a gallery in Kingston, Jamaica, and in the traditional music wafting from a teahouse in Port-of-Spain. I have felt your presence at New Yorkâ€™s Rubin Museum of Art, where candlelight bounces off the brass skin of bodhisattvas on display. Still, it is not enough. I want to journey for 33 hours to feel your full embrace. I am a man snagged on the hands of a corporate clock even while working from home. One day, travel will again be my escape from the samsaric wheel of Zoom meetings, phone calls, and quarterly board reports. I long to be in Tibet, where there is food for the body, mind, and Buddhist soul. I wish to see the Himalayas, its head crowned by clouds. I will reach you through Nepal, birthplace of the Buddha, to ascend the steps of Potala Palace greeted by the om mani of chanting monks. I would love to sit among your people in a smoky Lhasa restaurant, listening to storytellers serve up tales as heartwarming as your yak noodle soup and steaming butter tea. Or maybe I will arrive through China, curving along the ancient Tea Horse Road to find Xiangcheng, a mountain valley town famous for Tibetan street food. Narrow is the road that leads to heavenly momos packed with yak cheese. But your embrace eludes me. Your borders are currently closed. Group Visas and Entry Permits from China are mandatory along with quarantines and masks. So in the meantime, I will make plans. Ask a monk on the mountain to hang a prayer cloth and release my wishes into the wind. See you soon. Yours for many lifetimes, rwg Roland Watson-Grantâ€™s first novel, Sketcher (Alma Books, 2013), has been translated into Spanish and Turkish. Watson-Grant is the recipient of a Musgrave Medal in his home country, Jamaica.
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ILLUSTRATION: SIMONE NORONHA
THE CRISIS HAS REMINDED US OF THE BEAUTY AND FRAGILITY OF OUR PLANET, A PLACE FULL OF WONDERS TO BE EXPERIENCED. WHEN YOU ARE READY, THE WORLD AWAITS.
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HIGHER GROUND by Peggy Orenstein
PERSIST by Julia Cosgrove
TUSCANY BY THE BOOK by Lisa Abend
H IG HER G ROUND On a trip through the less-visited corners of Yunnan, China, writer Peggy Orenstein discovers the true meaning of paradise. Photographs by DIANA MARKOSIAN
Illustrations by ELIZABETH SEE
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one-room hut of a Tibetan nomad, a wizened old man I’d met while hiking through the Baima Snow Mountain Nature Reserve, a protected wilderness in the far northwest of China’s Yunnan province. My lungs, already straining for breath at an altitude of nearly 12,000 feet, were choked by the smoky fire at the center of the room, and I was trying not to think about the five-mile climb back to the trailhead. The man gestured toward his two butter churns. He showed me a wood cabinet filled with rounds of yak butter that he made and sold to monasteries, where monks plunge their fingers into ice water before carving the blocks into elaborate lotus blossoms, chrysanthemums, images of Buddha. He offered me a cup of something thick, yellowish-white, and slightly chunky: milk, produced by his yaks, that he’d fermented for several days. I sipped. It was sour and fizzy and, admittedly, a little personally challenging. But it was like nothing I’d ever tasted, in this place that was like nowhere I’d ever been, with this person who was like no one I’d ever met. I drained my cup and thought: Welcome to paradise. I would recall that moment often while driving through the “three parallel rivers” region, where the Yangtze, Mekong, and Salween rush down side by side from their headwaters, all within 55 miles of each other. My 10-day driving trip followed a centuries-old trade route through deep-cut gorges and over Himalayan mountains, from the ancient town of Lijiang to a city that in 2001 was rebranded “Shangri-La” by the Chinese government, which claimed it was the location mythologized in James Hilton’s 1933 novel, Lost Horizon. That may be true. Or not, since Hilton never actually set foot in China, though he did apparently consult the writings of Westerners who lived in this region. Still, that bureaucratic sleight of hand seemed apt. Visitors to China invariably bump up against the government’s Big Brother edicts—what you’re allowed to see and what you’re not, what is real and what is for show, what is tolerated and what is obliterated. Of course the country’s utopia, too, would be defined by decree. As I passed by farmlands dotted with Buddhist stupas, through towering forests, and along rivers running red with silt, my hope was to find something less scripted and more true: the bliss and grace of the unexpected. My journey, taken just months before the COVID-19 pandemic began, was part of the individually customized “Songtsam Circuit” named for (and developed by) a series of small luxury lodges. The inns, where I spent I WA S SIT TING IN THE
my nights, were established by Baima Duoji, a Tibetan former documentary filmmaker for CCTV who grew up in a farming town near Shangri-La and wanted to introduce visitors to the culture and hospitality of what used to be a rarely traveled region. “Songtsam” means “heaven” in Tibetan—that promise of paradise again. Each lodge is integrated into a remote village, all of them places that would be difficult to discover as a non-Chinese traveler and virtually impossible, without a knowledgeable guide, to experience in any depth. The lodges’ staff, architecture, and cuisine all draw from the surrounding ethnic populations, providing the sense that nearby communities are being supported, not appropriated. Duoji wants guests to feel “taken care of as they were when they were children,” reflecting the Buddhist idea that (as a result of reincarnation) any of us could, in some life, have been anyone’s parents, and any place may have, in truth, once been our home. In practice, that meant that, late my first afternoon, blurry from jet lag and culture shock, I was welcomed to my Lijiang digs with handcrafted slippers along with home-baked barley cookies, fruit, and tea. I wandered hallways that were sumptuous with thick carpets, hand-laid timber flooring, panoramic views, and exquisitely curated art, ranging from stone statues of Green Tara, a female bodhisattva of wisdom and compassion, to polished brass and lacquer vessels and mandalas inscribed on silk. For dinner, I was urged, repeatedly, to order more than I could possibly eat—pork ribs fried with tangy local plums; briny, house-cured ham; beef stir-fried with Cordyceps, a fungus grown on insect larva (way more delectable than it first sounded to me); fried chickpea jelly (ditto). Returning to my room, I found a thermos of hot, creamy milk placed next to my bed, fresh from the cows lowing beneath my window. With all
IN CHINA’S YUNNAN PROVINCE, THE 13 PEAKS OF THE MEILI SNOW MOUNTAIN RANGE ARE SACRED TO TIBETAN BUDDHISTS.
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ABOVE: TRADITIONAL LANTERNS HANG IN THE MAIN SQUARE OF SHANGRI-LA, IN CHINA'S YUNNAN PROVINCE. RIGHT: NAXI WOMEN IN TRADITIONAL DRESS STAND IN A RICE FIELD IN THE YUNNAN TOWN OF TACHENG.
due respect to my mom and dad, my childhood was never like this! Another thing: My guide, a 29-year-old Tibetan woman named Lhatso, addressed me, in all sincerity, as “dear Sister.” I soon began reciprocating, because truly, who knows? We initially planned to skip Lijiang’s old town, which in recent years has become overrun by crowds, and instead hike part of Tiger Leaping Gorge, one of the great treks of China. But the trails were closed by floods and rockslides, so old town it would be. And it was true: At first I felt like I’d blundered into a Chinese version of “It’s a Small World,” a place where ethnicity was preserved less as lived culture than as a performance for others. Yunnan province is home to the largest population of ethnic minorities in China—there are more than 20 groups in the region, each with its own language and distinct cultural traditions. The two largest in northwestern Yunnan are the Naxi, who live mostly around Lijiang, and Tibetans, who live in what is called the “Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture” (but is ultimately controlled by the Chinese). Over the centuries, these groups have faced sometimes brutal pressure to assimilate, as is the case today in places like Xinjiang province, where more than a million Muslim Uighurs have been placed in concentration camps to be “re-educated” in the traditions of China’s majority Han Chinese. In contrast, today’s Naxi are not only allowed but encouraged to practice their traditions.
AT A HOUSEWARMING PARTY IN SHANGRILA, GUESTS SIP YAK BUTTER TEA AND SNACK ON PORK BUNS AND OTHER LOCAL DELICACIES.
A driver dropped us near the town’s central square, where women in classic Naxi dress coaxed shy tourists to join them in folk dances. Musicians performed on traditional instruments, exchanging photos for tips. Lhatso quickly turned away, leading me down cobbled streets lined with silversmiths, brass workers, and food vendors. I stopped to sample a flower bun (a buttery pastry filled with sugared rose petals), bought some sour-sweet tamarind candy that melted on my tongue, and snacked on pomegranate seeds and roasted durian. The crowd thinned by the time we reached the Zhongyi produce market—tourists tend to congregate near the central square, and anyway, it was the off-season. Naxi women sold handmade tofu, honey, and rice noodles (a local specialty). Tables overflowed with pu-erh tea leaves pressed into flat cakes, a process that, in ancient times, made portable fare for trade on the Tea Horse Road. A man sold sewing needles from a wheeled handcart that blared a tinny, ice-cream-truck version of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” The air was redolent with the funk of mushrooms and medicinal herbs. I could imagine the scene had been much
SHANGRI-LA LIJIANG India
Yu n n a n
M ya n m a r
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the same—minus the Christmas carols—since the 12th century, when this city established itself as a commercial hub. Later that afternoon, we drove to a farming village to have tea with an elderly Naxi woman introduced to me only as “Auntie.” (“I don’t know her real name!” Lhatso said later, when I asked.) Auntie wore a blue apron and a cape with straps crossed in front of her body. We sat around her potbellied stove noshing on popcorn, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts, which were in season and ubiquitous. Years ago, the Naxi were matriarchal: Children were raised by their mothers’ families; fathers could visit in what were called “walking marriages.” Women were shamans, ran businesses, controlled the family income. With a few exceptions, that is no longer true; Auntie herself is married to a Han Chinese man, her second husband. Still, vestiges of that time remain. Even today, the concept of “big” in the pictographic written language of the Naxis includes the symbol for women, while “small” includes the symbol for men.
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LOCALS GATHER OUTSIDE SHANGRI-LAâ€™S SONGZANLIN, THE LARGEST BUDDHIST MONASTERY IN YUNNAN.
Auntie turned on music and demonstrated the steps of a folk dance, inviting me to join her. But the words of the song, it turned out, were not Naxi. It was a Chinese anthem expressing appreciation for the Communist Party. I asked whether she knew any Naxi songs. She insisted this was a Naxi song—about how the Naxi are thankful for communism. I tried again, asking whether she knew any dances that, perhaps, her grandmother might have known. She gave me a hard look and shot back, “Do you know dances from your grandmother?” ecologically diverse regions of China, and one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. During my visit, farms brimmed with tobacco, corn, rice, barley, sunflowers, fruit—even the occasional cannabis plant. The next morning, as we headed southwest from Lijiang into the mountains, we passed villagers, many in traditional dress, walking with baskets strapped to their backs, going about
YUN N AN IS ON E OF T H E M O ST
their ordinary lives. Women sold crops at roadside stands; men played pool on outdoor tables; a musician sat on a curb playing a gaohu, a bowed stringed instrument. The slopes surrounding us were striated every shade of green. I glimpsed the simple wood-frame houses characteristic of the area. Shaggy cows eyeballed me, sometimes while blocking the road. More than 1,000 feet above Lijiang, we stopped at Wenfeng monastery, where Lhatso, who’d spent her teenage years studying Buddhism abroad, gave me a crash course in the religion. I tried to listen but was distracted by the riot of color in the soaring main hall. Every surface was intricately painted in red, blue, green, yellow; statues of deities—some many stories high, some a mere few inches— presided amid butter lamps, paper flowers, offerings of wine, soft drinks, tea, fruit, packaged snacks. “Buddhism is not just decoration,” Lhatso gently reminded me. I knew she was right, but this was beyond anything I’d ever seen. Tibetans say that we go through life unawakened: Well, I was wide awake now. The region’s highest lama happened to be on site, and since, as it turned out, he and Lhatso had both grown up in Sichuan province, he invited us into his chambers. The lama, whom Lhatso referred to as Rinpoche, or “precious one,” sat on what looked like a padded wooden throne, sipping tea from a thermos decorated with cartoon cats. I knelt at his feet and held out a silk scarf I’d bought outside, called a khata, which he blessed before draping on my neck. He gazed at me a moment, eyes dancing in seeming amusement behind gold-rimmed glasses. Then he began handing me gifts: an umbrella, a thermos, and a tote bag all emblazoned with the logo of the monastery; a book he had written; a string of prayer beads with a small blue medicine Buddha attached to promote healing. I bobbed my head as I accepted each one, hoping to convey both my unworthiness and my thanks. The mountains are full of artisans, families who have for generations made juniper incense for monasteries, shaped black pottery vessels, and forged copper cowbells. We traveled among them, a CD of Tibetan pop songs on repeat as our soundtrack. (I found myself unconsciously humming one, an ode to a mother’s love, whenever I had a quiet moment.) Everywhere, craftspeople offered me fruit and nuts, though I was neither pressured nor expected to buy their wares. In Tacheng, a village of
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40 homes where I spent two nights after leaving This was beyond anything Lijiang, we strolled through rice paddies and along stone walls to the home of a Naxi woman I’d ever seen. Tibetans who made tofu, old-school style. She ground say that we go through soybeans on a heavy, stone press, the white foam cascading into a bucket, then squeezed the life unawakened: Well, liquid through cheesecloth into a wood-fired cauldron. A few minutes later, she added a coaguI was wide awake now. lant then served me the result—delicate and silky topped with soy sauce, chiles, and scallions. A few days later, in the Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, we visited the home of an artist whose grandfather had gilded wooden bowls at the Potala Palace in Lhasa, including one for the Dalai Lama. The artist’s grandfather passed the trade along to her mother, who had passed it down to her. She would have liked to teach it to her own daughter, but, like much of the new generation raised in these parts, the younger woman had moved to the city. Few people that I met in these hamlets were under 60, and I almost THE 18TH-CENTURY TOURISTS EXPLORE never saw a child. That made their way of life feel simultaneously more WENFENG MONASBAISHA OLD TERY IN LIJIANG, TOWN AT THE FOOT tenuous and more valuable. What’s more, a railroad will soon connect CHINA, SITS AT AN OF JADE DRAGON these towns, bringing in more tourists, more industry—and I suppose ELEVATION OF MORE SNOW MOUNTAIN more money, though I wondered at what cost. Some villages had already NEAR LIJIANG. THAN 11,000 FEET.
H OW TO G O (O N C E YO U CA N )
The Beijing-based outfitter WildChina specializes in custom itineraries throughout China that can include the Songtsam lodges in Yunnan province where the writer traveled. (Trips take into account enhanced safety and sanitation protocols.) Seven-day trips from $2,700 (wildchina.com). You can also find a travel advisor to help plan your trip at afar.com/tac.
TIBETAN WOMEN GATHER TO CELEBRATE A HOUSEWARMING IN SHANGRI-LA.
Contributing writer Peggy Orenstein wrote about Wyoming on horseback in the July/August 2019 issue of AFAR.
Photographer Diana Markosian is an artist currently based in California.
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been demolished, their residents displaced to make room for environmentally questionable dams that will bring greater hydropower for development. The dharma wheel turns. Change is inevitable, but some is unconscionable; I could only hope that in addition to destruction, I was witnessing survival. Rounded hills became craggy and sharp as we ascended into the Meili Snow Mountains. Periodically, the clouds slid away to reveal a silvery peak soaring over 22,000 feet: Kawagebo, among the most sacred mountains in Tibetan Buddhism. Kawagebo has never been summited; an infamous effort, in 1991, ended when all 17 Japanese and Chinese climbers died in an avalanche. The local government has since banned further attempts, but thousands of pilgrims circumnavigate its 149-mile base each year to cleanse their karma. My inn that night was located in a town of just five homes, all of which practiced polyandry. Lhatso took me to one in which three brothers shared a single wife. I can’t say how that was for her, though I was told that at least one of the brothers spent most of his time with his girlfriend and another worked far from home. The eldest of the husbands made us yak butter tea—a mixture of yak butter, pu-erh, and salt—along with yak cheese dipped in sugar and a bowl of tsampa, the roasted and ground barley that is the staple of the Tibetan diet. Tea with salt. Cheese with sugar. Wives with three husbands. What could I do but accept what was offered? As we ate, I printed a string of colorful prayer flags, pressing them one by one onto an ink-covered wood block carved with the image of a horse and a mantra wishing health and happiness to all beings. Tibetan Buddhists don’t pray for themselves: They send out good wishes to others. Part of me wanted to keep my flags as a souvenir, but I resisted that impulse. Instead, I hung them in the mountains the next morning while trekking in the Baima National Reserve, and let the horse and rider scatter my blessings to the wind. The rainy season had just ended, and every surface along the trail was carpeted with moss. The last of the season’s mushrooms hid in the shadows, and I spotted a few foragers who hoped to bring their final harvest to market. After a drop of 1,600 feet, the trail opened onto an alpine pasture where yak and cattle grazed, the sound of their cowbells low and pure. I sat among them eating my lunch (which, I noted guiltily, included yak jerky), recording a sample on my phone. But I knew that even if I got the sound right, I could never capture this feeling. Perhaps, in the end, paradise is just that: the brief moment when full awareness meets absolute gratitude. Certainly that happens in travel, and here in this land, I would find it in the unexpected, the serendipitous: the twinkle of a lama’s eye, a pasture full of yaks, a cup of milk in a smoky room.
S I 1932
Photomontage, New York City Berenice Abbott
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N E W Y O R K C I T Y
in New York City at 3:18 a.m. on Christmas Day, in the midst of a whiteout blizzard. As my mom labored in a hospital lobby before being admitted, my dad and our dear family friend tried to distract her by calling Dial-a-Joke. Though Mom is a proud agnostic, the soundtrack to her contractions was the Pope’s Christmas mass, beamed through the TV from the Vatican. Seven long hours after my mom’s water broke, I arrived in the city that never sleeps, brought forth with the very persistence and perseverance that and where he and I saw the revival of the define the place. show 35 years later. As a child and young adult, I lived in I am never lonely in New York, even Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Manhattan. when I am alone—my kindred are with The story of my family is empty without the me. Though nearly all my family memcity as a leading character, saying to my relbers who came before me are gone now, atives, as it says to all its residents: “Show me relegated to the cabinet of memories in what you’ve got.” There is the Rockefeller my mind, the city reminds me of each Estate, just north of the Bronx, where my one of them, and their pluck and pergreat-grandfather reportedly tended the severance, every time I return from my rose garden; the city’s Arts Commission, home in California. which my great-uncle, an amateur oil paintThis year, perhaps more than any er, ran for 20 years; the Soho printing pressother in my lifetime, the city’s mettle es, where my dad worked as a messenger was tested. The spring of 2020 will be while a teenager in the 1960s; the fashion remembered for the surge of a plague trade magazines and advertising agencies that devastated communities across the where my grandmother answered phones city and overwhelmed hospitals. As the and transcribed memos as a secretary and pandemic wore on, ornery prognosticathe family breadwinner; the Upper West tors anticipated the demise of the city Side apartment where my mom lived with and labeled it a “ghost town.” three other young women at the beginNew York is no ghost town—it nevning of their careers in the 1970s; the taber has been, it never will be. The vibrant loid newspaper and wire service newsrooms metropolis will continue to write its where my parents worked as city desk renext chapter and the chapter after that. porters; the Broadway theaters where my My ancestors, like so many others, gave dad saw the original production of How to their energy to the city, and the city will Succeed in Business Without Really Trying continue to give it back to me. There’s simply no place in the world where I feel more alive, and I know that sentiment is shared by locals and visitors alike. Yes, the city has been through hell, but—as the following photos attest—its indomitable spirit of hope and unbridled joy will ferry it into the future. I can’t wait to return and wrap my arms around New York. It will be a changed city. It always is. The minute I think I know it, when I think I can say, “I get it. I see how it all works and doesn’t work,” New York checks my ego, humbles me, and replies, “No. You don’t know me. Nobody really can. But go ahead. Keep trying. Persist.” — J U L I A C O S G R O V E I WA S BO RN
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Jazz musician Wynton Marsalis
Maridelis Morales Rosado
Gay Pride Parade, Manhattan
Leonard Freed / Magnum Photos
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1 9 74
Shanghai Beauty Shop
Neal Boenzi / The New York Times / Redux Pictures
James Estrin / The New York Times / Redux Pictures
Boy playing in fire hydrant, The Bronx
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Edwin J. Torres
The Thunderbolt roller coaster, Coney Island, Brooklyn
Wings of the Hawk, 42nd Street, Manhattan
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Los Paisanos, Queens
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T U S CA N Y BY T H E B O O K
Writer Lisa Abend steps inside the small, family-run workshops where the ancient art of bookmaking lives on, and discovers a side of Italy too many travelers miss.
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supple leather; libraries with their long tables and coy little lamps; students who come from all over to study book conservation. And to me, nothing seemed a higher expression of that glorious book culture than the bookplates—those tiny, illustrated squares, also known as ex libris, that are pasted into volumes to identify their owners—which I discovered in a printshop window in Lucca. I longed for one. Each was custom designed and hand printed, a small, exquisite work of art intended not merely to identify the owner, but also to express something about her, like the intellectual version of a heraldic shield. I entered the shop, and without a word, the ink-stained man inside looked up from his work, handed me a form, and sent me on my way. Printed in an elegant font on thick paper was a series of questions. Favorite poet? Favorite time of day? Favorite number? Based on my answers, the printer would then design a bookplate just for me. Never, I thought in that moment, had I wanted something so badly. And yet I balked. It wasn’t the money, although I certainly didn’t have it. And it wasn’t that the questions were difficult, although some—favorite stone?—admittedly gave me pause. It was more that I could recognize, even in my callow state, my own callowness. A bookplate was a seriOUTSIDE, THE SEPTEMBER SUN beat down on Lucca’s postous thing, I realized. It was a permanent sign of a person with card streets with the ferocity of a boxer who knows his best days tastes long cultivated. It was the kind of thing an aristocrat or an could be behind him. But inside—just a few months before the author with a shelf of books behind her might possess. I wantworld went sideways—it was dark and cool and smelled of ink. ed to be a writer, but I certainly wasn’t one yet. I kept the form Matteo Valesi put on some Bob Dylan and brushed clear a space but never filled it out. at a table overladen with books and papers. He motioned for me I never forgot about it, though, and after a couple of decades to sit, then peered at me closely. “You’ll need to answer careI began to wonder if I was ready. By then, I had established myfully,” he said. “This is not to be entered into lightly. I’ll need to self as a journalist and moved to Europe. I had even become an know your family history, your passions, who you are.” author, and if the shelf of my works was composed entirely of I wasn’t at this shop for therapy. I was there, at the Antica multiple copies of the one book I had published, at least I had a Tipografia Biagini, for a bookplate. shelf. Finally, it felt like maybe I had earned my bookplate. It had been decades since my previous visit. I was in col There was only one problem: By the time I was ready, books lege the first time I traveled to Tuscany, and my memories of themselves were no longer what they used to be. Today, a book is that trip are mostly the standard-issue stuff of any backpacking not the thing that most of us turn to first for research, or to relax student: the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the David, the sniffy waitwith at the end of the day. I googled Antica Tipografia Biagini to ers offended by dinner orders that consisted of a single plate of see if it still existed (it did), but could find no indication of whethtortellini alla panna with a carafe of tap water, the hostels and er it still designed those small squares of paper that attested to gelato and trains and random Italian boys you make out with their owners’ love of books. And what of all the other bibliophilby the Ponte Vecchio. But there was one aspect of that trip that ic enchantments—the binderies, the libraries, seemed a little more personal, something the book conservationists—I had encountered only a nerd like me could adore: the books. in Tuscany? Did they still exist? As the birthplace of the poet Dante and a key I began my search in Florence. On my first center for scholarship during the Middle day in town, I was relieved to find the Giulio Ages and the Renaissance, Tuscany has long Clockwise from top left: Giannini e Figlio bookbindery exactly where been associated with literature and the purLibreria Gozzini in I had left it, directly across from the Pitti suit of knowledge. But because of its reputaFlorence; Lucca’s Piazza Palace. I admired the letterpress cards and tion for craft, it also preserves a relatively high dell’Anfiteatro; a Heidelberg leather-bound notebooks, laid out just as seducnumber of enterprises devoted to books as press at Antica Tipografia tively as before, as I headed to a cramped room objects: dusty, genteel bookshops lit by chanBiagini in Lucca; a leatherin the back that looked like it hadn’t been tideliers; old-fashioned printshops; binderbound book at Giulio died since the start of the Industrial Revolution. ies that fashion book covers from irresistibly Giannini e Figlio in Florence.
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At Giulio Giannini e Figlio in Florence, sixth-generation bookbinder Maria Giannini lays paper on paint-topped water to create a marble effect.
There, Maria Giannini was doing amazing things with a comb and a blow-dryer that had nothing to do with hair. The sixth generation of Giannini bookbinders, Maria learned the craft from her father and her uncle. The latter still handles the actual binding, while Maria specializes in making the colorful marbleized paper that, in the Florentine style, is used to line the inside of book covers. She demonstrated the technique, drawing a comb across paint that seemed to float magically on the surface of the water, before placing the paper in the bin and allowing it to pick up mesmerizing, multicolored patterns. She then dried the paper with the help of that Conair 2000. “Marbleizing is relaxing,” she told me. “And sometimes it surprises me: the power of the colors and patterns that come out.” As she worked, Maria told stories: Her great-great-grandfather made notebooks for members of Queen Victoria’s court, and Dostoyevsky once lived in the flat upstairs. But she spends the majority of her time looking forward rather than back at the past. Many of Florence’s other bookbinderies have closed, and she is desperate to avoid that fate. To supplement the notebooks and paper boxes that tourists buy, Maria offers classes. It’s not enough, though, and the question of how to survive keeps her awake at night. “I want to save the handcraft part of
It was thrilling to find these places—Giannini, Gozzini, Marucelliana— shrines to a time when books mattered.
what we do. It’s even more important now, because everything is the same everywhere," she said. "So I have to find a way.” She turned to the wooden cabinets that line the workshop, opened a narrow drawer, and pulled out a tiny block. I peered at it closely and could make out the letter M. It was an ancient stamp used to decorate leather. “I’m thinking of making jewelry from them.” Maria isn’t the only one trying to come up with new ways to survive. Many of Florence’s independent bookshops have closed, plowed over by giants like Rizzoli Bookstore and, of course, Amazon. Todo Modo, its shelves full of contemporary fiction and an alluring selection of graphic novels, was humming with life on
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The Ponte Vecchio, Florenceâ€™s iconic medieval bridge in the centro storico, is a short walk from some of the cityâ€™s best bookshops.
L uc c a Si e n a
Fl o r e n c e
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About 170 years later, his great-great-greatthe afternoon I visited, but only, a clerk told grandson showed me around the warren of me, because of the author’s reading that was overflowing rooms, one capped with a Murano about to start in the event space toward the chandelier. “Some people come in for the smell back. Across the street, at Art + Libri, Alessio Below, from left: alone,” Edoardo said. Though just 29, he had Lupi told me the pleasantly jumbled shop was The medieval city of Siena a pre–Internet Age reverence for the printbarely hanging on. Stocking nothing but art is an hour’s drive from ed page that emanated from him as he showed history books, it’s been an important resource Florence; Giulio Giannini e me some of his treasures: excerpts from a 16thin this art-centric city. “A specialized bookFiglio displays its handmade century text produced in the early days of the store like this used to be the first place you’d leather notebooks; printing press, a set of erotica from the Victorian turn if you were searching for something,” Sator Print in Siena restores era, the shop’s hand-typed card catalogue. “Why Alessio said. “Now it’s the last resort.” centuries-old books. do books matter?” he said. “Because history But perhaps nowhere else was that sense matters. Books are our memory.” I thought of of holding out stronger than at Libreria objecting that the history contained in them is still available in Antiquaria Gozzini, a shop for rare books that has been a digital form. But there, with the scent of old paper wafting from Florentine fixture for more than a century and a half. It took me the handsome shelves, I knew what he meant: Held over their life a while to find it, because its location across from the Galleria spans by who knows how many other pairs of hands, books are dell’Accademia Firenze meant the storefront was obscured history you can touch. by the massive crowds waiting to get in to see Michelangelo’s As if on cue, a white-haired man in a tweed jacket entered David. “You’d think it would be great to have so many people from the street. “Buon giorno, professore,” Edoardo greeted him. passing by,” lamented Edoardo Chellini, the store’s co-owner, Many of Gozzini’s customers these days are older, and Edoardo once I had pushed my way into the shop. “But it’s like a wall. No worries about the future of the shop. “I really want to keep this one can get through.” going, not just for me and my family, but for the city,” he said. Gozzini got its start in the mid-19th century, when Oreste “It’s part of Florence’s history.” Every day, he considers ways to Gozzini began selling books in the square outside the Duomo.
get the people to come in. “Maybe we give tours,” he said with a shrug. “Or maybe we’ll open a café in the garden.” It seemed a peculiarly Dantesque form of purgatory, to be faced day in and day out with the legions who could save your family business if only they’d notice you, and it put me in a melancholy frame of mind as I headed to the Laurentian Medici Library. Tour groups clustered in the patio there too, but when I climbed Michelangelo’s staircase, with its gentle, puddle-like curves, to the library upstairs, I found it virtually empty. Sunlight streamed through the stained glass windows and illuminated the lists of titles scrawled down the side of each of the pews, which had been designed in the early part of the 16th century by the artist and writer Vasari—the first person to use the word rinascita, or rebirth, in print. “That’s not graffiti,” whispered the docent, Gianluca Ciano. “It’s the catalogue—it tells you what books were kept on this row. Here, you came to the books, instead of the books coming to you.” The tomes were transferred long ago to another library, but the thin metal chains that protected them from avaricious scholars were still there. “If they didn’t chain them down, people would steal them,” Gianluca added. “Back then, books were more valuable than gold.” That comparison came back to me the next day, when I visited another library, the Marucelliana, where simply locating the
reading room felt like finding buried treasure. It’s open to the public, but when I arrived late one afternoon, there was no one there save for an attendant. She informed me that the reading room was closed, but a little begging on my part convinced her to dial someone who, after a few minutes’ negotiation, granted me permission. “We’ll have to be quick,” she said. “So stay close.” With that, we plunged into the stacks. We took a right past Moral Philosophy, a left by the biographies of the Italian patriot Garibaldi, then right again before riding an elevator to more stacks and winding our way through them as well. Finally, my guide pushed open a door, and I gasped. We were in the reading room— half inner sanctum, half Hogwarts—where the dark, ornate cases that filled every inch of wall space were lined with books, and the long, polished desks spoke of centuries of scholars hunched over pages. I could have stayed for hours, but my version of Dante’s guide, Virgil, pushed me along. We paused only to admire a bust of the guy who founded the place in 1752 as a library for the poor, an exception to most libraries at the time, which were reserved for the elite. And then, before I could process it all, I was herded back into the elevator, through the maze, and out into the street. It was thrilling to find these places—Giannini, Gozzini, Marucelliana—shrines to a time when books mattered. But they also made me acutely aware of how past that time is. Nostalgia wafted from them as steadily as the scent of old leather and
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paper, and it wasn’t hard to imagine a day when taught himself calligraphy and manuscript illumithey too would surrender to time and technology. nation. With his quiet, meticulous presence and the But Tuscany’s culture of books looks forward paper clip holding his glasses together, he remindas well. Michiko Kuwata, a Tokyo native, moved ed me of a medieval monk, except that many of his Michiko Kuwata, to Florence to study painting and book conservacommissions these days come from Jewish tourists co-owner of AtelierGK tion, but 18 years later, she and her partner, Lapo who request his skills for the prayer books used at Firenze in Florence, Giannini—of those Gianninis—are working to rePassover seders or the ornate wedding contracts prepares a Latininvigorate the ancient crafts from their tiny studio called ketubahs. Italian dictionary for in the Oltrarno quarter south of the Arno River. On the other side of Siena’s striped cathedral, I restoration. Michiko still restores books, using tools—a tiny pair found Duccio D’Aniello shooing away tourists who of fine-edge scissors, a collection of plush brushhad stopped to eat pizza on the ledge of his shop es— nearly as beautiful as the volumes she conserves. On a sinwindow, blocking the view of the antique volumes and prints he gle book, it takes her two full weeks of 12-hour days to reverse the sells inside. Itinera di Duccio D’Aniello dates back only to 1984, but affronts of age and overeager readers. She has an intimate connecDuccio's parents have run a famous rare bookshop in Rome for tion to the past, but she doesn’t worship it. She held out a heavy, longer than that, and the shoebox of a space is stuffed with such embossed book she was working on. “It’s nice, but it’s very . . .” She marvels as a 16th-century herbolarium and an illustrated guide to paused before settling on the proper adjective. “Old.” Tuscan ornithology. “There aren’t many collectors left,” he said, At the bench next to her, Lapo nodded in agreement as he so he survives on the tourists—presumably not the same ones who heated a tiny awl and used it to melt silver leaf. “Tradition here would plop down for a slice on his stoop—who come looking for can be oppressive,” he said. Eager to do more modern work, he what he described as “a nice, original souvenir.” and Michiko opened AtelierGK Firenze in 2010. “Tourists just Finally, I reached Lucca and made my way to Antica Tipowant the heavy Renaissance binding or the marbled paper,” Lapo grafia Biagini. The place was just as I remembered it, though added. “We’re trapped by the imaginary idea of Florence.” its owner had changed. Matteo Valesi was visiting his family Michiko and Lapo have fought their way out of that trap in Lucca in 2008 when he stumbled across the printshop and with their contemporary takes on hand-decorated paste paper immediately fell in love. Its founder, Gino Biagini, could hanand buttery leather books, and especially by pursuing their true dle the famously finicky Heidelberg Class 1951 press the way passion: to handcraft one-of-a-kind books that are works of art Michael Schumacher can handle a Ferrari, and his talent had in their own right. They showed me a four-volume set evoking earned him an international clientele. He had designed ex libris the seasons. Winter stood out, its luscious turquoise cover inlaid for Jodie Foster and Robert De Niro. But Gino was by then exwith a pane of blue glass atop rippled paper. hausted from the work and the 60 cigarettes he smoked a day, In a working-class neighborhood a few kilometers up the and Matteo, though he had no experience as a printer, conArno, Piccola Farmacia Letteraria is also bringing new life to the vinced him to pass the shop along to him. old neighborhood bookshop. Elena Molini opened it in 2018, when Now, Matteo pulled out scrapbooks and showed me examshe tired of the big-box approach to selling books and went looking ples of the shop’s work. Page after page was filled with gorgeous for a more intimate connection with her readers. The solution? To squares, each one somehow representative of the book lovtreat books as the medicine they are. Working with a team of psyer who had commissioned it. One plate had the book owner’s chologists, Elena put together the shop’s selection of 6,000 books, name printed in block letters on the body of a 1920s propeller then categorized them by emotional state: Anger, Love, Loneliplane; another bore a cozy scene of a library with a quote from ness. “Most of them are contemporary novels, not self-help books,” Lord Byron. In one of my favorites, a single finger from an outshe says. “Narrative is more universal, because it puts characters stretched hand drew ripples in water embossed with the Latin first. And if you identify with a character, it can open your mind to phrase Primum facere, deinde philosophari—First do, then phihow you might respond in the same situation.” I ask her what she losophize. “So you see,” Matteo concluded, “an ex libris is not would prescribe for bibliophilia, and she thinks for a minute before something you choose on a whim. It is with you forever.” reaching for a copy of The Pocket Guide for Book Maniacs, a volume “A sign of identity,” I said. “Like a tattoo.” that tracks the best novels sold by Italy’s best bookshops. “Ecco!” he cried, and for a moment I thought he was going to As I left Florence and traveled across Tuscany, I kept comhug me. Instead, he slid across the table a blank, identical copy ing across much of the same—a handful of bibliophiles, intent on of the form I had picked up all those years before. This time, I keeping the old book arts alive. In Siena, Bertolozzi Caredio Pierreached for a pen. giorgio showed me an 18th-century volume he was restoring after its present owner’s preschooler had used a Bic pen to supplement Lisa Abend is an AFAR contributing writer who wrote about its illustrations of animals. But restoration is only part of what he the Maldives in the March/April 2020 issue. does at his shop, Sator Print. In addition to binding books, he Photographer Francesco Lastrucci is based in Italy.
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Where Travel Ta kes You
Illustration by I L Y A M I L S T E I N
TIME TO MEET AGAIN
Have a healthy journey with all precautions taken down to the smallest detail for your in-flight safety.