My husband, Jerry, and I live in Pleasantville, a village in Westchester County, New York, with a population estimated at just over 7,000 residents. We settled here two years ago, after downsizing from our long-time home in nearby Chappaqua to a townhouse, only a mile or so away. Our adult son, a software engineer, lives in Manhattan where he’s now working remotely from home.
Life Without Travel is a series of first-person accounts from the Getting On Travel team. Each post offers a personal glimpse into the lives of our travel writers and bloggers apropos of the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020.
Everyone always asks: Is Pleasantville that place where the 90s movie was filmed? Actually, it is not. Also, most people think of Pleasantville as the home of Reader’s Digest and—it is not. In its heyday, the Digest was based in Chappaqua but the hamlet had a very small post office, hence the Pleasantville mailing address. Both Pleasantville and Chappaqua are leafy, bedroom communities on the Metro-North Railroad line, about 45 minutes from Manhattan by train, so many residents commute to jobs in the city.
Westchester holds the distinction of being the first epicenter of the COVID-19 in the U.S., with a containment zone established here on March 10 in the city of New Rochelle (about 25 miles from Pleasantville).
As of today, there are officially 188,694 COVID-19 cases statewide (only those tested count, so there could be thousands more) accounting for almost one-third of the cases in the nation, and 19,313 cases in our county. There have been over 9,385 deaths in the state, 511 deaths in Westchester, and 58 confirmed cases in our small village alone. This week our local community hospital will be setting up a tented field hospital in its parking lot to increase its bed capacity.
Distracted days in Pleasantville
Why has it taken me so long to write this short piece, I wonder? Well, everything seems to take longer these days. Whomever I speak to says that it’s been hard to focus on tasks. I’ve felt anxious and distracted. It often feels as if the virus is looming over us, draining psychic energy and productivity.
I start most days early, with a quick breakfast, usually listening to a morning news show, checking the news online, catching up on emails, and obsessively checking blog stats, which seem to be sinking in sync with the stock market. There’s always something to tidy up, clean, launder, or sanitize—including any food or other deliveries that arrived in cardboard boxes that I’ve placed in the two-day decontamination area in our garage.
I’ve tried new recipes, some that remind us of dishes and techniques we’ve learned about and enjoyed on our travels
I’m the major food purveyor in our household, waiting in prey for a slot to open up from a delivery service. Then there’s planning and cooking meals more frequently than when restaurants were open. Some local eateries offer delivery and/or pickup options, but I’m wary of bringing the virus into our house. I’ve tried new recipes, some that remind us of dishes and techniques we’ve learned about and enjoyed on our travels.
Prolonged and constant hand-washing also takes time! Before I know it, it’s 11AM, time for tuning in to Governor Cuomo’s daily COVID-19 briefings. He presents facts and carefully segregates out his wisdom-filled opinions. We feel blessed to have someone with his leadership skills at the helm of our state at this time.
Although we are strictly adhering to the state’s stay-at-home order, I feel quite connected. I haven’t been in a public place since March 11, when Jerry had a routine medical appointment. When the state began recruiting mental health professionals to volunteer with teletherapy, we were among the 90,000 enlisted, but we haven’t yet gotten called up. Perhaps, we’re aged out or the time gap since our training and practice has been too long. In any case, I try to help as I can by checking in with friends, family, neighbors and people we’ve met on our travels, either by phone, text or email. It wasn’t long before I discovered that several of my own friends and relatives had been diagnosed with the virus.
I continue to write at least five travel articles a month for Forbes. Doing research for several of them has been quite sobering. Although I love cruising, when I wrote a post about how the industry might restore consumer confidence, I wondered what opportunity, if any, would tempt me to get back on a large cruise ship. When I dug into the impact of the pandemic on tour guides, it added to my worries about how the infrastructure that supports travel (flights, accommodations, restaurants, guides) would ever be resurrected and what the “new normal” of travel would look like. Unfortunately, I still haven’t acquired the mindset for writing about or experiencing “virtual travel.”
It’s been a pleasure to work with my GOT co-editor, Hilary Nangle, reading, editing and laying out the work of our talented contributors, both personal essays and stories about trips they’ve enjoyed. My own travel website, MoreTimeToTravel, has taken a back seat for now. I find it hard to drum up the time or energy to write there. I’ve also relaunched a website I produced for ten years, The Friendship Blog, that focuses on female friendship.
Work gets interrupted by breaking news on my cell phone. When I get antsy, I take multiple walks up and down my block (less than a mile in total) and usually run into no one else. Most people are cloistered in their homes, many working at home and raising (and now educating) young children. After leisurely wind-down cocktails (yes, Jerry has acquired wonderful mixology skills) and dinner, I comb through another slew of emails before watching one or more cable news shows. Each evening, we chat with our son, exchanging news and sending virtual hugs. We haven’t seen him since February 4th.
Although I’m well aware that it isn’t a good thing to allow yourself to be oversaturated with grim news, we’ve always been a household of infomaniacs and it’s a hard habit to break, especially now.
Some of the TV shows that have recently engaged my interest: My Brilliant Friend on HBO (even after reading the books by Elsa Ferrante), Call The Midwife on PBS (love the period settings and learning about the health problems of the time), and the four-episode miniseries Unorthodox on Netflix (which portrays the search for self of a young orthodox woman from Brooklyn). Our local library gives us access to Kanopy, a source of some great foreign films at no cost.
My nightly wind-down is playing Words with Friends in bed (I have twenty games going on simultaneously, some with people I’ve met on travels). Then I try to watch Stephen Colbert’s live segments from his home in Charleston, if I can keep my eyelids open.
Yet, another year without travel?
Ironically, 2019 turned out to be our year without travel. Jerry had two unexpected successive hip replacement surgeries, complicated by emergency gallbladder surgery (less than a week after the first hip) and then an emergency appendectomy (a couple of weeks after the second hip)–followed by rehab. Both of us were blessed to be relatively healthy before that so it was a traumatic year for both patient and caregiver.
Finally, 2020 heralded our return to travel. We started off with a February 8th Princess Cruise to the Caribbean, at which we renewed our vows. As usual, we sanitized our hands to prevent norovirus, not really worried about COVID-19 which seemed a world away. And with 1,443 other couples, we set a Guinness Record for the largest multi-location vow renewal at sea.
Then, with a one-day turnaround, we traveled to Pamplona, Spain, to attend an international gastronomy conference. We were privileged to learn about the rich culinary and wine traditions of the region. From there, we traveled to San Sebastian, visiting both the Spanish and French areas of Basque Country. We made new friends and stayed at the historic, five-star Hotel Maria Cristina for a week, one of the most spectacular properties we ever visited. We tasted pintxos, took day trips, and admired the beauty of Northern Spain. We flew home from San Sebastian on February 29, through Madrid, blissfully unaware that the first COVID-19 case had appeared there on January 31. By late March, Madrid had recorded the highest number of cases and deaths in Spain.
Although we generally consider ourselves Italophiles, our trip to Spain was among the most memorable we’ve ever taken, perhaps because of the gracious people we met and the beautiful places we visited. Or, perhaps, this experience felt so special simply because it took place after such a long lull. As we anticipate what might possibly become a second, unexpected year without travel, we are hoping to feel the same way about our next trip.
Right now, however, the right thing is to stay inside, to offer support and love to each other and to those around us (even virtually), and to maintain some cautious optimism about the future.
Based in Pleasantville, New York, Irene S. Levine, Publisher and Editor of GettingOnTravel, is an award-winning journalist, author and blogger. After a career as a psychologist, she transitioned into full-time travel writing. A regular contributor to Forbes.com, she’s written for the travel sections of major newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. Her travel stories also appear on Cruise Critic, PBS Next Avenue, Grandparents.com, AARP Bulletin, The Huffington Post and other websites. She and her husband Jerry produce “More Time To Travel” — a blog offering inspiration and information for the over-50 luxury traveler.