I dream of Sicily—but not The White Lotus
Plus: in this country, we do still have elections, a freedom we should cherish with all our might
Greetings from New Hampshire—it’s my last day here before driving back to my house in Maryland, and then on to Catalunya over Thanksgiving climbing (recommendations for 36 hours in Barcelona are welcome!).
This will probably be my last night here for a while, and I will miss it.
Sometimes I think back to when I bought this house in January 2019. At the time, I thought it would be a second home, a place to go climb sometimes, a property to hold until much later in life, perhaps. But it’s turned into so much more: a pandemic haven, a homestead, a home base, a location to host friends and family, and a place I truly love.
Thanks to everyone who joined me here this Fall! It was a true pleasure!
#1: A small d democracy follow-up
A few days ago, I drove to Russell Elementary School a mile from my home, walked into the gym, gave my name and address to the nice old lady sitting at the fold-out table, and was handed a folding paper ballot and a pencil. I walked down the court to one of the small tables with a curtain around it, sat down, and started shading in ovals. There was no box to vote straight ticket, so it took me a few minutes to go down the entire list, from governor and senator all the way down to my state reps.
I’ve voted in every mid-term and every presidential election since I was eligible—and a few municipal and special elections for good measure. That would be 22 years of never missing an election. I consider it more than a privilege; it’s a sacred responsibility.
Meanwhile, this week I’ve spoken with people who told me they did not vote: too disenchanted with politics, too angry at the whole system, or, just too logistically challenging. For what it’s worth, these were all women, all leaning liberal, all supporters of abortion rights. It does boggle my mind sometimes.
Word has it young people “turned out” this election—but for ages 18-29, turning out means somewhere around 27 percent, or just over one in four. Young people are often the loudest voices shouting about how much they want to change in our politics, and yet 3 in 4 don’t exercise their most fundamental right to have a say in making change happen. Meanwhile, in any given mid-term, roughly half of all eligible voters stay home.
Yesterday was Veteran’s Day. There is always much flag-waving and giving of gratitude to the men and women who have served,—but what have they fought for if not this, our most fundamental freedom: the ability to choose? You want to honor them? Vote.
It feels odd to even write this rah-rah America democracy stuff—even a bit uncool—but maybe it’s still worth it. Deep down I’m still kind of idealistic about this grand American experiment. (Side note: interesting how many “election deniers” have just conceded that they lost their elections… one might even be tempted to say democracy is doing fine. Not great, but fine).
Anyway. When you don’t show up to vote, that means you leave the decisions about running our country, your state, and your community to those who do. It’s as simple as that.
#2: I dream of Sicily—but would never stay at the White Lotus resort
Succession is by far the best guilty pleasure on television, but a close second might be The White Lotus, which just started its second season set in Sicily.
And, I’m drooling.
There, the sun-soaked Mediterranean beaches and the beautiful Italian women. Here the narrow cobblestone streets and winding mountain roads, the millennia of history, civilization built upon ruin of civilization. There the food and wine, here the sea, and always the slow, deliberate, decadent lifestyle.
I’ve been dreaming about a trip to Sicily for at least two years, and at this point, it looks like next Spring or Summer are my best opportunities to take my son and go exploring. Originally, I was looking at Lo Stagnone, a shallow bay purpose-built by God for kitesurfing all the way on the Western end of the island, between Trapani and Marsala. A smaller barrier island off the coast blocks the waves and makes for a wide-open expanse of butter-flat water.
But then, as I was dreaming about the water and looking for YouTube videos of kiting in the area, I saw this:
There, in the foreground at the bottom, are the kitesurfers. And there, on the left in the background, is a cliff. And not just any cliff—the mega sport climbing area of San Vito lo Capo, at the very tip of the northwest corner of Sicily.
I’d known about the climbing area, but I didn’t know you could also kite directly off the beach. When I showed my son, he turned to me and understood immediately: my two loves, climbing and kitesurfing, right next to each other. That’d be a good place for you, he said, in the understatement of the year.
But back to The White Lotus. The show was filmed at San Domenico Palace, now a Four Seasons hotel near Mazarro, north of Catania on the East coast of Sicily. It’s a beautiful property to be sure, filled with beautiful people and beautiful vistas.
The White Lotus is wonderful as guilty pleasure eye candy, but as I was watching episode two last night, I couldn’t help but think that it’s also the complete opposite of how I travel. Rather than wandering the narrow streets of old towns, the guests wander the hotel grounds. Rather than searching out new, interesting, busy places to have a meal with locals, or a coffee, or a drink, they go sit at the same hotel restaurant every evening, and order from the same menu. Rather than traveling independently, embracing discomfort and serendipity, they employ an army of waitstaff to see to their every need. These people get away from real life for precisely one week of vacation; I try to make travel a way of life.
These people are rich—one of the characters says of another that she’s worth half a billion dollars. But even were half a billion dollars to fall into my lap, I would not travel this way. Maybe I’d rent a nicer car, buy myself a new kite, and make sure my apartment has a view of the ocean and a nice, big kitchen. Half the days I’d wander the local market, pick what looks fresh, and bring it back to cook my own food. And I would avoid the all-inclusiveness of resorts like the plague, all-inclusiveness being the enemy of everything I value about travel.
#3: Beautiful World, Where Are You
I’m really enjoying Sally Rooney’s Beautiful World, Where Are You, which was published last year. Everything in there feels very of the current existential moment, with one of the characters particularly depressed out of the state of the world, and grasping for meaning:
Maybe we’re just born to love and worry about the people we know, and to go on loving and worrying even when there are more important things we should be doing. And if that means the human species is going to die out, isn’t it in a way a nice reason to die out, the nicest reason you can imagine? Because when we should have been reorganising the distribution of the world’s resources and transitioning collectively to a sustainable economic model, we were worrying about sex and friendship instead. Because we loved each other too much and found each other too interesting. And I love that about humanity, and in fact it’s the very reason I root for us to survive—because we are so stupid about each other.
I’m always a sucker for humanity is worth saving type stuff.
Happy living, everyone—