Sunday Essay: Where will you go next?

Isolde D. Amante
·3 min read

THESE last few weeks, a man called Phil has made travel possible. He has shown us what is said to be the best steak in Buenos Aires, let us tag along as he schlepped up several hills in Lisbon, and swayed astride a temperamental camel in Marrakesh. “Oy,” the man said, as one of the animal’s steps nearly unseated him. Those unguarded moments when he mutters “Oy” are among the funniest moments with Phil.

His full name is Phil Rosenthal and he is the writer and creator of the hugely successful American sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond,” which ran for nine years until 2005. In 2018, Phil’s food and travel show “Somebody Feed Phil” launched on Netflix. Late to the party, I stumbled on it last year after binge-watching “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”

For a lot of people, Korean soap operas where someone invariably suffers amnesia or crash-lands in forbidden territory provided relief from the worries of life in a pandemic. Watching Jewish guys travel, eat, and strike up interesting conversations has been my balm of choice.

Tired after a day’s work and in need of a distraction? Watch Phil attack a bowl of khao soi (egg noodles with chicken in a coconut cream and curry broth) in Chiang Mai. Dismayed by the lack of encouraging news about when a safe and affordable vaccine might reach us? Watch Phil eat freshly made pork and ricotta ravioli in Chicago, while he and chef Sarah Grueneberg enjoy a warm conversation about the food that brings them joy.

Not that joy was absent in 2020. It was very much around, once we learned how to look. Finding it again in the experiences and relationships we used to take for granted was one of the best parts about last year.

Still, there were days when you could not help but feel hemmed in; when the need to be someplace else, if only for a few days, felt like a real ache. Those were the days when watching Phil helped. Wandering (vicariously) with someone so curious, so obviously pleased with each new dish soothed you. It made you look forward to traveling again. It reminded you of the many awe-inspiring sights and experiences the world continues to offer, reachable once a safer way to wander becomes possible.

That time cannot come soon enough for the world’s travel and hospitality industries, for whom 2020 was devastating. In a statement just before Christmas, the UN World Tourism Organization called on governments “to rethink quarantine rules for tourists.” It said that tourism “cannot wait for mass vaccinations to become a reality” for it to restart. I’m sure you saw signs of wanderlust in your social media feeds during the holidays, either in the photos of friends who spent a few days at the beach, or in the nostalgia shown by others who posted photos from their Christmases in other places from two or three years ago.

Travel had in recent years become more accessible, thanks to a combination of cheaper airfares, vacation rentals, and abundant information that whetted one’s curiosity about most places on Earth. Without warning, the pandemic changed all that.

Lockdowns that were needed to slow down the spread of SARS-CoV-2 made travel impossible for all but a handful. So, we learned to move in our reduced orbits and turned our gaze and attention inward.

In 2020, some of us embraced the fact that we could be happy spending the rest of our lives where we were. And some of us realized we needed to be someplace unfamiliar every now and then; that the world, for all its terrors and uncertainties, holds still so many wondrous sights and experiences that we can’t help but wish to see and taste more of it.