You know you’re in Maine in winter when the TV weather forecast describes twenty degrees Farenheit as “balmy.”
For over seven years running, I’ve been traveling regularly from my home in New York City and now Washington, DC to Freeport, Maine, where I teach at the Stonecoast low-residency graduate program in creative writing. When I tell people what I do they often say, “Ooo, Maine in winter. Must be cold.”
Yes, must be, but when I travel to Maine, I rarely have time to feel the weather. My busy schedule keeps me mostly indoors, shuttling between my hotel room and various classrooms, with brief dashes between buildings and various colleagues’ cars. (We carpool.)
Last January, however, I experienced the true meaning of Maine in winter: a full-on storm of wind and ice and snow that froze the roads and buried trees in banks of creamy white. Conditions became so bad that our program decided to finish early, after lunch. With three of my colleagues, I bundled into a car and headed back to our hotel.
We were making our way through a forest of tall pines, driving along a curving dirt road that winds its way up one of the many fingerlike peninsulas that jut out from Maine’s southern coast. The road was smooth and slick, and so we crept along carefully, our tires occasionally sliding over the ice.
About halfway to the main road, we passed three young people looking forlorn beside SUV that had swerved into a ditch. One of my colleagues, the writer Rick Bass, said, “Let’s help.” Being the city boy that I am, I thought he meant, let’s call AAA on our cell phones. In fact, he meant let’s get out and help.
Rick, who lives in Montana and is well renowned for his writing about nature, has a tanned face marked with deep lines. He wears worn fleece sweaters and hiking boots that look as if he actually hikes in them. A lot.
I have lived in cities, New York and now Washington, DC, for all of my adult life. I read and write and go out to dinner and attend the theatre. My hands are soft and supple. The last time I had slept outside I was still not entirely sure of the mechanics of sex.
Watching Rick crunch across the knee-deep snow to the side of the road where the car had gotten stuck, I couldn’t imagine what we could do to help. But Rick plunged directly into the forest, grabbing branches, snapping several of them in half over his knee, and then instructed me to do the same. I wondered, for what purpose? To build a fire? Light smoke signals?
In fact, we were going to stick these branches underneath the tires of the vehicle so they could gain traction while we pushed from behind.
Though I followed Rick’s instructions, I had little faith in his plan. How could mere human effort actually dislodge a car from its location except on reruns of the Beverly Hillbillies? Sure this was just a show of straight male bravado. No way it would actually work.
At first it seemed that I was right. As the driver gunned the engine, Rick and I and one of the passengers pushed from behind — with little result. The car would budge an inch or two before sighing further down into the deep banks of snow. “Keep going,” Rick said. “We can make it.”
But in fact, after half an hour of the car huffing back and forth and more branches and leaves stuck under the tires, more gunning the engine and pushing, suddenly, without warning, the car crawled forward, then momentum took over, and it was on the road. We had put it there.
“You’ve done this before,” I said to Rick.
He gave me a wry look. “I’m from Montana,” he said.
As we returned to our car, my arms and hands were tingling, and my face felt warm. I felt strangely disoriented, and maybe liberated by the experience. So much of my life has been spent studying words on pages or on screens within the confines of climate-controlled rooms. I get my exercise from walking, playing tennis, or stomping on exercise machines at the gym. For me, the elements are generally something I dodge on city sidewalks, heading from art shows to restaurants to bookstores or classrooms.
But what if all that were taken away? How would I take care of myself? What survival skills do I have?
Maybe more than I had realized…
Getting older may mean slowing down and taking fewer risks, but it doesn’t mean stopping. Never stop doing what you love. Never stop exploring. Never stop wondering about life’s mysteries and what lies beyond this world. It’s something we as travelers know, innately feel — we’ll wander this world until our last days.
This lovely video encapsulates all that inside one woman’s conscience:
Do our mothers still have dreams, hopes, and journeys to make? At age 67, Melody reflects on her life, her hopes, her failures, and her dreams while exploring the magnificent waters and canyons of the Utah desert.
Someday, we’ll all be there — our best days behind us, all those we knew and loved gone, a past looming large over an ever-shrinking future, reflecting on a live well lived — if we’re so lucky.
THE DUMB, DEADLY anti-vaccination movement has recently been blamed for the largest measles outbreak in the United States in 20 years. The controversy around anti-vaxxers, as they’re called, is that not only are they putting their own children at risk, but that they are putting other people’s children at risk — children who may be too young or too sick to receive a vaccine themselves — by exposing them to their unvaccinated kid.
As more people become vaccinated, we get closer to eradicating certain preventable diseases. But while the problem in the United States with vaccines is appalling, vaccinations are a global issue. Take this map created by Save the Children: it shows which countries have huge amounts of unimmunized children. India, Nigeria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo dominate the map, while other populous countries like China and Brazil are virtually unrecognizable.
Vaccination is important, but it’s importance spreads beyond the United States: public health can’t stop at the borders.
LOOK, I’M WHITE, and I can admit it: white people say some clueless shit sometimes. But sometimes we don’t pick up on quite how clueless or offensive we’re being when we say certain things — things which we mean in a totally harmless way, for the most part.
This video from Buzzfeed does an amazing job of flipping the stuff white people say on its head by showing how weird or offensive it would sound to us if we heard it coming from a different race. Not that we should need the help to stand in someone else’s shoes, but hey, as I said: sometimes we’re clueless.
THIS FILM IS FOUR MINUTES OF PURE JOY. As French filmmaker Guillaume Blanchet practices his keepie uppies in the world’s most beautiful places, it’s impossible not to smile.
Shot with a GoPro Hero2, the short has been doing insanely well at film festivals around the world. We can see why. Blanchet says of Bounce, “For two years now, I’ve been lucky enough to travel with my best friends to Canada, France, Greece, the USA and Morocco, always bringing a ball in my suitcase. Along this great journey, we have come to witness the universality of football as we discovered new places, and new people.”
A celebration of the greatest game of all, the original soundtrack, “Let’s Bounce” is by Etienne Gaudreau, and it’s just about the happiest thing you’ll hear all day. Enjoy.
27. That’s the number of times I’ve said “thank you,” and it’s only been about three hours into my flight from New York City to Doha, Qatar.
“Would you like more champagne, Ms. Lapelosova?” Porthmonth, a dark and handsome flight attendant from Mumbai asks me. “Served in a tumbler glass, as you requested earlier?”
I grew up in what the rest of America would consider to be upper-middle-class suburbia, but my family has always been poor. We give a good show, dressing nicely, and not bringing up things like politics or religion into conversation. But the most luxurious thing I’ve ever done in my life, is travel. People in my family just don’t do it, because they can’t afford to.
I’ve never had a Louis Vuitton bag. I’ve never taken a car service to the airport. I’ve never paid more than $15 for a steak, or a bottle of wine. Luxury it not a word I’m used to, or a lifestyle I know how to handle.
And to an extent, being catered to makes me feel uncomfortable. Getting my nails done for $7 at the Korean nail salon down the street is one thing; I’m not used to people asking if I’d like to sample the wine before pouring me a glass, or what I’d like as a pre-appetizer, appetizer, entrée, cheese plate, dessert, and aperitif. I’m used to being the one asking those sorts of questions, serving customers at sports bars where I stick to the floor from too much spilled beer.
This is the first time I’ve ever really been serviced in such a way that it almost doesn’t feel real. Every crew member in the business class cabin knows my name. They know the kinds of food I like to eat, and at what pitch I prefer while setting up my lay-flat bed so I can fall asleep to Home Alone for the fifth time in a row.
Do Millennials even belong in business class? Everyone around me is a male architect over the age of 40.
I spend more time in the galley talking to the crew members than I do to the other assumedly top-tier members of society sharing my business class cabin; it’s how I am able to express my gratitude for the level of service they have provided. Letting them know that they and their stories are valued helps me feel more relaxed with the level of privilege that comes with flying business class.
The suite at the Four Seasons Hotel in Bangkok is larger than my two-bedroom apartment.
I keep all of my belongings in one corner of the walk-in closet. I don’t want to mess anything up. I don’t even want to hang up my clothes, for fear that the middle-class, casual clothing I had packed would somehow mar the beautifully polished mahogany wood encasement.
Everything in the hotel felt like it would break simply by touching it. I gingerly walked around the property, careful not to put too much pressure on things like brass door handles and teakwood railings, watching my steps and pausing to avoid possible collisions with fast-walking staff members who always bowed with their hands folded like they were praying.
These actions were all of course uncalled for, but I wasn’t used to being in a place that had so much “stuff;” murals painted on silk, porcelain vases, glass balls set on mirror-faceted tabletops.
The nicest place I’d ever stayed before that was the Borgata Hotel in Atlantic City. At the time, I felt fancy, but really it was just another room with another polyester bedspread and a view of The Golden Nugget Casino across the marina.
“We try to make this place feel like home,” Nicola Chilton, the PR manager of the hotel explained to the jetlagged set of us on our first evening. She was a superwoman, in my opinion – tall, athletic, fashionable, spoke five languages, and sang like she had been born at a piano.
Her favorite place in all of Bangkok was a ramshackle eatery along the river, next to the Peninsula Hotel. Jack’s Restaurant was inconspicuous next to the high-end buildings that surrounded it, but that’s why I liked it.
The owner Jack was also the cook, alongside his wife. They only had one frying pan for which they cooked every meal. Their son, X, served us bowls of green curry and plates of homemade Pad Thai. He also played guitar, and sang karaoke versions of Top 40 songs from the 1990s.
The group of us that Nicola has brought to this placed laughed along to the lyrics of “99 Dead Baboons” and drank enough Chang beers to fill up an entire table. It was good to know that there were people in this world who weren’t put off by mismatched dining chairs, the scent of catfish from the harbor, and the way that hot, muggy air felt against their skin.
Christina was Romanian. Like all Qatar Airways employees, she was pretty, spoke English very well, and carried herself with a professional sense of pride that felt genuine.
“I went to university to study politics,” she relayed to me from over the bar in the airplane’s lounge. “But in Romania, there are not many opportunities to use my subject.”
“So you decided to work for an airline?” I asked, looking over her official uniform. It was smart, and looked fairly comfortable; a burgundy pencil skirt made of wool, a matching blazer set over a tan and cream silk shirt patterned with Oryx silhouettes. She wore a pillbox hat with a gold pin in the shape of the desert animal’s head.
I enjoyed the comfortable, cotton sleeping suit that was provided for me as a business class passenger, but wouldn’t have minded a chic-looking set like Christina wore.
“I wanted to see the world,” was her reply. I knew she’d say that.
The plane hit a spell of turbulence. I frantically searched for the seatbelt attached to the leather couch I had curled up on, hoping my glass of Krug champagne would remain unspilled. Christina helped me find it, and sat down next to me.
“Don’t worry,” she said, smiling warmly. “If anything happens, I’ll be here too.”
She didn’t know about my fear of flying. Her years of experience were enough to help her recognize, and reconcile it for me.
The A380 aircraft that carried us from Bangkok to Doha had a First Class cabin, but because this inaugural flight had been rescheduled, all eight “open-suites” remained empty. Christina was usually the lead flight attendant for First Class, but she was courteous and proud, despite having to deal with me in the Business Class lounge that day.
I admired her. Five days on, two days off, but always in a new city. I can sleep for the full twelve hours I’m in the air, but she has to always be awake. I didn’t know if she was allowed to eat the same food served to the passengers, or if any of her favorite TV shows were played on the plane’s entertainment system. These were questions I wanted to ask her, but felt I couldn’t. Or maybe, I didn’t want to know the answer.
I wanted her to know that not all Business Class passengers were entitled classholes. A new generation of traveler was on the rise, a generation that took responsibility for its actions, and was concerned about the well-being of others.
French filmmaker Mathieu Le Lay grew up and lives in France. Although his native land is beautiful and diverse, it lacks what only North america can provide: wide open spaces.
The American West is where Le Lay decided to seek solitude and fulfill his love for the great outdoors. During his six-week backpacking adventure across Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Washington, he captured the beauty and uniqueness of these places in the following images and one film: American Loneliness.
EVER THOUGHT YOUR LIFE is too expensive? Well, if you’re living in the western world, it probably is, but it’s probably not as expensive as life in Switzerland. Movehub, an international moving company, put together this incredible infographic to show you where the cheapest places in the world are, and where the most expensive are, with a bit of info on every country in between as well.