MERRY CHRISTMAS! Marina di Ragusa and Caltagirone, Sicily
It is December 29th and we have just celebrated our 2nd Christmas aboard Gratitude and living overseas. The end of the year is such a great opportunity to take stock and see where we have been and examine where we wish to go. I think you would have to be a monk living on a mountainside to have remained unaffected by the events of 2020. Certainly, there isn’t a person living in the modern world who can say it had no effect on them, and it is a personal belief of mine that in the way that many reflect on their own lives in terms of major life events, ie “before marriage” or “before children”, we as a world will refer to this as “after Covid”.
While some of the fallout from Covid, speaking purely in personal terms, has resulted in no change whatsoever, such as homeschooling and living together 24/7, some of the changes have even been positive ones such as little crowds in many tourist destinations. I am, without question, becoming a better cook, though that could also be the result of living aboard in a foreign land trying to replicate foods (bagels for example) that Jack is missing. But more than likely it is the pursuit of new and better examples of local food when restaurants all around us are closed.
Living on a boat in a foreign land in a pandemic has its advantages but it is not always easy. Immigration challenges coupled with the added bureaucracy of Covid tests and travel restrictions has things more complicated and, let’s face it, eating the local food is a true highlight of travel that we have been missing. This stretch of lock down has resulted in museum closures as well, and even restrictions on travel between villages.
Relationships. I wonder to what extent relationships have changed during Covid. When we left the US, we worried about our friendships and relationships back home and how being away would affect them. We wondered what friendships would develop while we were traveling and if we would be lonely. I think 19 months is long enough to gather the necessary evidence to declare that our dear friendships are as rock solid as they ever were. That is not to say that we aren’t missing friends or that they haven’t evolved into a new version of themselves, but they are solid. Many friends and family had plans in place to visit prior to Covid and those plans were postponed, as were our plans to go back “home,” so, the way that we maintain friendships has changed. We text more, but we still talk. We email photos and we even zoom and facetime. I (Laurie) am taking a live zoom cooking class with my dearest friends back in the US, which has not only created an intentional activity to do together, but I’m also sharing it in our own galley with new friendships made here in Sicily. And finally, we still “attend” church very often with our community back home via live stream.
But I think that a pandemic, or any huge life change for that matter, helps to clearly define friendships vs. acquaintances. In the midst of a pandemic, your friends will always call, always check on you and try to find a way to safely see you. But acquaintances will move silently away from you, remaining friendly yet slowly slipping away. Moving overseas we have seen near and dear friends move heaven and earth to maintain connections with us while we have also witnessed acquaintances slowly lose touch. In our cruising life we have made friends and we have had drinks with acquaintances. That is not to say that if I found myself in the same bar/restaurant with an acquaintance I wouldn’t stop and have a drink with them, just that maybe I wouldn’t change our cruising plans to ensure a rendezvous. Acquaintances are wonderful and super important, but they are not quite the life blood that true friendships are.
Which is why our new friendships, which we have recently developed here in Ragusa, have been so wonderful. Everyone with children who reads this will understand that just because your kids are friends, it doesn’t mean that you will be friends with their parents and vice versa. But it is truly a gift when whole families make a connection. Friendships have so many benefits (especially in a pandemic) but one of the loveliest benefits for a cruising family with an only child is the ability to work through disagreements in a relationship with another child because your child wants to. There are times when we meet someone with whom the connection is simply not worthy of the effort to work through the differences. Times when the values or the interests are not in alignment for whatever reason. In these times, it just becomes not worth the energy to work through the disagreement to arrive at a deeper and more meaningful connection. Especially when it is likely that one or both of you will be moving on and a future rendezvous unlikely. But then you meet someone with whom the values and interests are so closely aligned that minor disagreements are worthy of the effort to work through to a happier resolution. Watching your child making compromises and genuinely caring about the feelings of the other and working compassionately toward solutions to disagreements is a huge gift for a parent worried that their child isn’t getting enough social time with peers.
We have truly enjoyed this holiday, perhaps more than any other in our life, and yet the only people we saw on Christmas day was each other. Italian lockdown rules required that for the 24,25,26 we were not permitted to leave the boat for any reason other than health, safety or work. We have another lockdown coming on Thursday for the New Year and then 1 (hopefully) final lockdown a week after for a religious holiday. Working within these guidelines, we have had a children’s party and gift exchange before the lockdown and several hikes this month, both before and after the lockdown. Technology has permitted us to watch the Birmingham Ballet (England) to perform a paired down but no less beautiful version of the Nutcracker via taped performance. We have watched The Christmas Carol monologue streamed and performed brilliantly, and possibly most importantly, we watched our own church at home “live” at the service we would have attended with dear friends on Christmas Eve. Earlier in the month we watched a live Christmas performance of Bocelli in the Palma Opera house. So, we have had our share of culture albeit from the comfort of our salon.
So yes, this is not exactly the cruising year we had planned but it has been an adventure nonetheless and we wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
To briefly recap 2020:
We celebrated the new year Jan 2020 in Lagos, Portugal then watched with the rest of the world as borders began closing along with shops, museums and restaurants.
Permitted to leave in June, 2020, we hit the ground running and cruised to: Gibralter for Jack’s birthday, Cartegena, Spain followed by Ibiza, Mallorca, Menorca (The Balearic Islands), Sardinia, Tunisia, Siracusa, Marina di Ragusa, Sicily resulting in a total of 1,741 miles for 2020 on Gratitude.
With new restrictions going into place together with weather changing in the Med and Immigration woes, we traveled by train, plane, bus and car to Rome, Portofino, Cinque Terre, Florence, Pisa, and Castagneto Carducci.
Since arriving in Marina di Ragusa, we have re-doubled our efforts in school, begun Italian language lessons and taken road trips to several baroque towns. We are arranging to have long term maintenance on Gratitude when she comes out of the water hopefully later in January. Items on the list include bottom paint, wax entire boat, replace Vacuflush heads with Tecma, varnish the rails/table, replace all exterior cushions and replace the washer and dryer. While Gratitude is at the spa, we hope to travel to Mt. Etna and see snow as well as several other towns en route. We are busily making plans for next years’ cruising on the East side of the Med including spending the summer next year traveling to the Lakes and Venice of Italy, then around the top of the Eastern med to Croatia and the Dalmatian coast ending up for the winter in Montenegro.
Before we left the US, we had many friends/family ask “for how long will you be gone?” That question remains with no clear answer in site, but we all feel a bit closer to this life than we do our “old” life. That is to say, – Not anytime soon.
So, with an eye toward a (much) freer 2021, hoping that we can see, in person, old friends, new friends and make firmer connections to the countries we visit through museums and restaurants, glorious restaurants!
HAPPY NEW YEAR!