Travel is the art of translation. It’s about crossing boundaries and carrying meanings. When I discovered the word “solastalgia”—which describes the loss of something beloved due to environmental change—my ears perked up. The word surfaces in photographerPete Muller’s terrific story about how climate change alters beloved landscapes and, in so doing, causes a communal sense akin to homesickness. (Above, Peruvians hold an annual celebration at the foot of a receding Andean glacier).
Ironically enough, in these housebound times, I have the feeling we have all grown a bit homesick. But what have we lost? As a community of travelers, we’ve lost our license to move about freely. It’s no small thing; not only can we not trek to Peru, but in many cases we cannot even leave our homes. If we do leave, then returning home can become an odyssey of its own, as National Geographic photographer Pete McBride recently learned on his epic and lonely homecoming from remote South Georgia Island.
Geographical movement aside, what else have we lost in this period of coronavirus containment? We are not exactly contending with another hard-to-translate word, hiraeth—a Welsh concept that calls forth a yearning to return to the lost places of your past. But I do think we fear losing touch with other people in the world. Not only the people we already know and love, but people we could know and care for, if only we could move about and meet them.
These are hard times for wandering spirits. There is nowhere to go but inside, so perhaps recognizing what is going on is enough. “For now, solastalgia is buzzing at the edges of language,” Muller writes, longing for a future time when climate change will not define our language or our geography. I hope the same, but I also hope that something lasting comes from the moment we are in now.
With enough empathy and curiosity, any circumstance can become a journey in which we discover great things—even staying at home, dutifully flattening the curves of a world that became more jagged and splintered than we had ever imagined possible. Soon enough we’ll be able to unleash our fernweh—a German word that means the longing for a far-off place—and our minds will dance with new geographies to explore.
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PHOTOGRAPH BY PETE MULLER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
Gwen Nordgren sits for a portrait by the pool next to the charred ruins of her former “perfect retirement home,” burned in the massive wildfire that engulfed Paradise, California.
TODAY IN A MINUTE
Traveling ... from home: Nat Geo’s Starlight Williams has five places to “go” this month, without a drop of gas. They include watching the year’s biggest supermoon on April 7 and the (live-streamed) fields of bright orange poppies springing up in the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve. Other places to visit? How about these windows from Brooklyn—and the positive messages inside them?
Man plans, God laughs: Writer Ashlea Halpern quotes that proverb/rap lyric to describe her eventual acceptance and perspective of the travel collapse caused by the global coronavirus pandemic. On the road on assignment half the year, Halpern found herself suddenly grounded, thinking: “I don’t know who I am if not a traveler.” While grateful for her health, she writes for afar that her suitcase is still accessible, ready for the moment when travel bans are lifted. “I refuse to imagine a life without travel,” she says, adding for levity: “It’s the only way to get through this.”
Why are these foods named after places? London broil. Peking duck. Chicken Kiev. (And why not spell them Beijing or Kyiv already?) Nevin Martell examines the roots of these dishes for Nat Geo. “The reality,” Martell writes, “is often lost in translation somewhere between an actual origin story and a marketing campaign.”
In the Motor City: The architects of New York’s Grand Central created Detroit’s Michigan Central Station, which opened on the same day as the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The magnificent train station fell into disrepair as Detroit suffered, and had been closed and abandoned for three decades. Now, the BBC reports, Michigan Central has resurged as the centerpiece of a new Ford campus. The focus of the new campus? High-tech vehicles and the future of transportation.
Traveling ... in books: Nat Geo’s Amy Alipio has a solution for children bummed about a ditched spring family vacation. Alipio has come up with a list of 20 children’s tales set around the world, including a Paddington from London and Buck from Jack London’s occasionally frozen north. Other tales come from Nigeria, the Philippines, and the gods and monsters of Greece.
Underground: The subterranean Amos Rex museum in Helsinki encourages interaction by featuring undulating dome skylights and ceilings that are a playground for people to walk, skateboard, and picnic on. The cultural center sits next to the 1930s functionalist Lasipalatsi building, which translates to “glass palace.”
A champion self-isolator: He and his busted catamaran found their way to a deserted isle 31 years ago. Mauro Morandi liked it. He has stayed—and lived alone—on Italy’s Budelli Island, between Corsica and Sardinia. “What I love the most is the silence,” he tells Nat Geo. “The silence in winter when there isn’t a storm and no one is around, but also the summer silence of sunset.”
IN A FEW WORDS
We are asleep with compasses in our hands.
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THE LAST GLIMPSE
PHOTOGRAPH BY CIRIL JAZBEC, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
A kind of baptism: In Slovenia, these “monsters” come out in the Lenten holiday of Pust, chasing boys and “baptizing” them by playfully beating them with socks filled with ash. The ancient holiday almost died out, but has been revived in recent decades.
This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, and Eslah Attar selected the photographs. Have an idea or a link? We'd love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org. And thanks for reading!
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