We were very touched by all the people who texted, emailed, Messengered and otherwise reached out to us before we posted our last Partout to ask, “Did you get home okay???” Thank you. We did! After an unplanned scramble back to DC to avoid being stranded in California, we are safe and well, and so are all our nearest and dearest. We fervently hope the same is true for you and yours.
Like everyone else, we are now mostly just hunkering down at home (the DC one). We counted ourselves lucky to make it here, and we count ourselves luckier to be sheltering in a comfortable house with plenty of soap, hot running water, a Trader Joe’s down the street and a healthy stock of Costco toilet paper fortuitously replenished right before we hit the road.
To illustrate our current state of affairs, Louis will be modeling his wardrobe of face garb from around the world for this Partout (with thanks to Albie for the inspiration). The pirate mode above is from Corsica, perennial favorite of buccaneers and Louis, circa 2011. Immediately below, he shows off the sand-colored gator he wore driving the Highway of Death during Desert Storm.
Faces are something we actually think a lot about these days, and not just because we see so many masked ones on the streets. It turns out that staying put in a distant setting for three months has an unexpected impact during a pandemic: datelines are not just places for us. They are places with faces we know, locations populated by people we have met, storekeepers we have revisited, cheeks we have kissed, life stories we have heard.
We read about Guayaquil, where corpses are being left on sidewalks because the city cannot keep up with collecting its dead, and we see the toothy grin of our Galapagos taxi driver cum tour guide whose son is a university student there. Did he get home before things got bad? Or is he caught in Ecuador’s epicenter?
We read about the role on intergenerational family life on Italy’s devastation and think of families we met in Cuenca. We remember the schoolgirl a year older than our Abby who spent every afternoon after school in her grandparents’ togua jewelry shop. She practiced English with Doris whenever we dropped in. Are they together now? We picture the house our AirBnB host’s mother showed off to us, a multilevel work of love where she and her husband, their two adult daughters and grandchildren plan to live under the same roof. Family life is the tap root of Ecuadorian culture. How will pandemic affect the family trees?
We read about the disproportionate toll of coronovirus on native populations and see the indigenous women with their colorful skirts tucked between their knees, washing their laundry steps from downtown Cuenca in the waters of the Rio Tombebamba. Do they have water at home to wash their hands and stay well?
We remember Marta and Ana, sister-partners laboring together to bring a two-chair beauty shop to life in a neighborhood where we spent almost two months. We saw them often; at $5 for a shampoo and blow dry, Doris figured that weekly visits were a win-win for their business and her coiffure. At $3 for one of the best haircuts ever, Louis made a visit to them one of the last things he did before leaving Ecuador. Marta and Anita were our tutors, who spent our many long appointments orienting us to everything from the traditions of Cuenca’s festivals to Ecuadorian attitudes toward homosexuality. They were our teachers, patiently correcting Doris’s bungling of the subjunctive and wildly giggling over Louis’s Spanish malapropisms.
Now their doors must be shut. Is their shop landlord forgiving their rent? Will their small-business dream become victim even if they and their family all survive? And what of their elderly mother, with whom they live? She underwent a heart procedure while we were getting to know the sisters, making her doubly vulnerable if infected by coronovirus. Is she okay?
Our winter of staying put shrunk the world but expanded the universe of people we care about. That makes the pandemic more personal than our face gear and reminds us with every dateline how very lucky we are.
Tips from the Partout toolbox
Doris has always subscribed to a few (very few) travel sites. That’s because, while it sometimes feels she does travel-planning full-time, she doesn’t, and she craves the expertise of those who do. AirFare Watchdog is her old stand-by when it comes to these options. AFW is a discount airfare compiler that uses live agents instead of automated web crawlers to find the best airfare deals, and it includes discount airlines, like Southwest, that other aggregators leave out. Doris has the site set up to push fares on our frequently flown routes, and she has opted into its travel tips. These seem to come mostly from Smarter Travel, a travel newsletter so venerable that Doris subscribed to it in the olden days of paper. AirFare Watchdog won’t be the best fit for everyone, but some travel site probably is. Signing up for a relevant one or two and eyeballing the emails that come from them is a pretty low-sweat way to stay on top of travel deals and developments.
COMING SOON! From Around the World to Around the Block