By Michael Venutolo-MantovaniSpecial to the Star
Sat., July 24, 2021timer5 min. read
As vaccination rates began to rise and the light at the end of this long, dark tunnel grew ever closer, I started to wonder when and how I might itch the travel bug that I worked so hard to dull over the course of this pandemic.
Would my wife, Emily, and I return to Tivoli, the little storybook town on the hills overlooking Rome, to visit dear friends whose three-year-old is just 10 days older than our own? Or would we head to Talloires, the tiny French village at the foot of the Alps, where Emily’s family would go every summer when she was a young girl?
There were so many boxes I craved to check. Los Angeles, Quebec City, Paris, Spain. Perhaps a first trip to South America or the United Kingdom. Of course, we would have to return to New York City, which was our home for so long.
But more than anything, I felt a strange calling to return to my roots.
I longed to visit the small, pine-filled stretch of the Jersey Shore where I was raised, and breathe in the distinctive stench of low tide that so reminds me of home; to spend a week with my family in Philadelphia, where both Emily and I went to college, to experience its thick summer heat and retrace the paths I stumbled so many times as a young man.
I wondered then, was this yearning for the familiar a personal preference, or something more universal? Was it the complete unmooring from reality in the last year and a half that had me so focused on the places I recognized as “home”?
I resolved to ask the experts: Where would the travel writers travel when they are able? Did they too long for the familiar, or did they have their hearts set on a bucket list, now that the tenuous privilege of travel has been made ever more clear?
For Washington, D.C.-based writer Eric Weiner — whose most celebrated book, “The Geography of Bliss,” sought to find some of the happiest places on Earth — it was the former.
Weiner and his family have spent the past several years travelling to the town of Newport, Vermont, “right smack against the Canadian border,” as he describes. It is there that Weiner traditionally reunites with friends from Canada, and he anticipated a return trip this summer.
“I’m not one of those bucket-list people,” Weiner says about his desire to revisit a place he’s been countless times before. “At this point in my life, I get much more pleasure out of reconnecting with the places that shaped me.”
The ever-itinerant Stephanie Elizondo Griest, author of “All the Agents and Saints: Dispatches from the U.S. Borderlands” and other titles, has never spent more than a few months in one place. That is, of course, until the pandemic took hold.
But after the monotony of months spent in Chapel Hill, North Carolina — where she teaches creative nonfiction writing at the University of North Carolina — Elizondo Griest is spending much of the summer with the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, an arts organization in Taos, New Mexico.
“I felt this deeply strong compulsion to be surrounded by ancient geological formations,” Elizondo Griest says from Taos. It was the uncertainty that came with a global pandemic which led her to the American Southwest, seeking solace in the stability of its enduring landscape. “I wanted to be assured that the world is old, the world has been through many things, but we will get through this as well,” she says.
Like so many other travel writers, Faith Adiele had several trips planned last year — Paris, Miami, Maine — that were all cancelled. But when the pandemic crested another wave last fall, she and her husband decided to drive from their home in Oakland, California, to rural Washington state, where Adiele was raised, to surprise her mother and spirit her back to the Bay Area.
“My husband was like, ‘We gotta save your mom. She’s stuck up there and infection rates are high. And I need to see where you grew up!’”
For Adiele — who wrote “Meeting Faith: The Forest Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun,” a much-beloved memoir on a spiritual trip to Thailand while she was studying at Harvard — it was a trip back in time, as the trio traversed grounds that she grew up camping with her grandparents.
For Adiele’s husband, it was a chance to see his wife as he never before had. “He was learning all this stuff about me, because I’m so urban now,” Adiele says. “He was like, ‘Where did you learn all this stuff?’”
Though he’s travelled often over the past year and a half, criss-crossing the Pacific five times, the pandemic has engendered celebrated British essayist Pico Iyer with a keener eye for the ground most commonly beneath his feet.
“I’ve been cherishing the chance to explore my hometown these past few months,” Iyer says from his home in California, “to notice much I’ve taken for granted for decades.”
Of course, staring out at the Pacific as it stretches before him has quickened a longing in Iyer for the shores of Greece and Rio de Janeiro, two locales he’s not visited in years.
But like so many other travellers, it is the sturdy sense of home that Iyer craves most.
“I’m tempted to visit places that have always felt like friends, especially if many of my friends are out of reach,” says Iyer, whose latest book — “A Beginner’s Guide to Japan” — explores the nation he calls home much of the year.
He continues, “I’m returning to France this summer to remind myself that some things never change, and that this summer can be like the many summers past when I’ve been there with my wife. And I’m returning to Japan as I would to a place that has weathered every kind of storm and remains positive, unrattled and kind.”
Travellers are reminded to check on public health restrictions that could affect their plans.