As a married father of three young children, I was social distancing on the weekends before I knew the term existed.
Going out and staying out late in a crowded restaurant, or walking through busy streets on a Saturday night becomes something of a luxury once you reach a certain age. The difference was that, until a week ago, there was always a dim possibility that I could be out somewhere.
Right now, the only dim possibility is that we can stop worrying over the headlines long enough to travel outside the mental loop of stress we’ve all cultivated.
After a week of keeping indoors, I’m sure I’m not the only one thinking about what to watch, read or listen to in order to feel a little less hemmed-in.
The following recommendations have all been personally test-driven by me, and are offered in a spirit of camaraderie and friendship as we wait for life to get even a little bit back to normal.
Books That Will Take You Far
I write stories for a living, so it’s hard for me to limit myself with suggested titles but Paris To The Moon is perfect for a man with a growing family who has ever wondered what it would be like to uproot yourself from your normal life for a prolonged period of time.
Adam Gopnik’s memoir of his years in France are as hilarious as any fish-out-of-water comedy, but are also highly erudite and occasionally touching. This shows what it’s like to go beyond acting like a tourist and really attempting to immerse yourself in a culture.
For those who prefer non-fiction, there’s nothing better than the Geoff Dyer’s Yoga For People Who Can’t Be Bothered To Do It, which recounts his adventures in Cambodia, Indonesia and Amsterdam. This is the anti Eat Pray Love, a series of travel essays that are as funny as they are perceptive.
Movies That Make Life Larger
I don’t think it’s available for streaming, and the DVD from Amazon is shockingly expensive, but if I could re-watch anything right now it would be The World, a 2004 film from director Jia Zhangke that’s set in Beijing World Park, a theme park that displays small versions of famous world monuments like the Statue of Liberty. In that sense it’s as global as it gets, but it’s also a strangely intimate love story with a fantastic ending. Find it if you can.
Failing that, this would be a good time for anyone who missed them to get caught up on Michael Winterbottom’s ‘The Trip’ series of films, where two friends play fictional versions of themselves as they voyage across England, Italy and Spain.
I usually see these with my friend Neil and besides the fact they are lovingly shot, they really hit on the good and bad of being a man at mid-life. Personally I think the second one was the best, but I’m thrilled that Greece is next on their itinerary.
Art You Can Explore From Anywhere
With their entire business model in free fall, galleries have finally started to take advantage of the opportunities offered by digital technology.
The New York Times offered a pretty comprehensive survey of the online art options that are available. I’m by no means finished looking at more than a few of them, but I can recommend one of the viewing rooms in Art Basel from Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac. (Warning: some of these will only be available for a limited time.)
It features many favourites of mine, like Alex Katz and Robert Rauschenberg, but also some discoveries, like this one from Antony Gormley simply called ‘Gird’ that feels somehow representative of our current moment:
Food That Tastes Like Travelling
More than a decade ago, my wife and I spent one summer riveted to a TV series in which a chef named Jamie Oliver cooked at a British school and helped kids learn to eat better. He was already well known in the U.K. by then, but this was the point he truly crossed over.
His followups included a trip to Italy, which begat another TV series but more importantly, a cookbook. If nothing else, this is a time to try making new dishes. It might be hard to find toilet paper in the grocery store, but certain ingredients might be more readily available.
I bought the whole cookbook and it’s well worth ordering online, but here’s a sample recipe to get you started: Rotolo of spinach, squash & ricotta — a healthy but delicious alternative to the pasta you’ve probably been making every second night.
Wine That Helps You Wander
I’m incredibly biased towards almost any good California red, but when my wife recently brought home a bottle of Stave & Steel Bourbon Barrel Aged Cabernet Sauvignon I realized there were some parts of Napa Valley my palette hadn’t fully explored.
A review published earlier this month said Stave & Steel “is full bodied and smooth on the palate, with ripe, jammy berries, and a hint of sweetness on the finish.” I’ll simply add it tastes fantastic, and makes me think of warmer, happier, freer days that are (hopefully) still to come.