The Summer of 2020

I am writing this from Greece, more specifically from the Island of Tinos in the Cyclades. I realize how privileged this sentence is in this strange summer of 2020. As I write this, the United States is #1 in total COVID-19 cases and in COVID-19 deaths. My second home, Louisiana, has the highest of COVID-19 cases per capita in the US. Americans are not allowed in European countries – including Greece. And many remain without employment, including so many of my spa and salon friends who are still not allowed to return to their jobs. 

Considering this bleakest of situations back home, it seems surreal to wake up to the blue Aegean, on an island where life seems unchanged since my first visit when I was a child. 

It also seems like gloating. Travel envy is as prevalent these days as Zoom fatigue. I had thus decided not to post anything on social media about my current whereabouts. And then I changed my mind. My friend Kelly reminded me that “people follow you to see your life; it’s not bragging. … Also most of your followers know you vacay in Greece.”   

So instead of pretending I’m not here, I am here. And I want to tell you about my trip. 

My husband and I left the US for Switzerland on July 11. We changed this date twice, and the airline changed our itinerary three times. Finally booked on a flight that would actually happen, we flew from DC and New Orleans (respectively) to Dallas, then to London, then to Geneva. I can travel to Europe as I have a Swiss passport (so Switzerland has to let me in) and a US passport (so the US has to let me return). Edwin can travel with me, with his lone US passport, because we are legally married, and our marriage is properly registered in Switzerland. Having said that, as we were checking in to our international flight from two different cities, just getting his boarding pass printed in New Orleans was a challenge. The system would not let the check-in agent do anything with his US data, until he was able to show a letter from the Swiss Embassy proving our marriage, my record locator proving we were meeting in Dallas and doing the rest of the trip together, and a photo of my Swiss passport proving my double nationality. 

Step 1, checking in. Done. 

Step 2, boarding the DFW-Heathrow flight. We were called by the gate agent prior to boarding and had to show all of our paperwork again. 

Step 3, actually being let in to the EU at Heathrow. At the automatic transit desk, where you usually scan your boarding pass and the light automatically turns green and the gate opens to let you through, we are surprised as instead, the light turns red and makes a loud unpleasant sound. We try again. Same thing. We sheepishly head to the stern-looking lady at the “in person desk.” We show her our boarding passes, including the one from London to Geneva. She types something in her computer. “Are you married?” she asks. Yes, we respond, as I show that prized piece of paper from the Swiss Embassy once again. She looks at it, picks up the phone, and starts explaining something to a superior. In the middle of the conversation, she asks us “You wouldn’t also happen to have a certified copy of your marriage certificate, would you?”. Well, as a matter of fact, yes of course we do (who doesn’t travel with their notarized marriage certificate?). We smile and hand it to her. More conversation with superior. And then, finally, she manually scans our boarding passes. The light turns green, and the gate opens. We are officially on EU soil. 

(Side notes for those considering travel: We wore N95 masks on every plane, and surgical masks in every airport. We had shields with us but neither of us used them. We did not wear protective clothing or glasses.) 

There is nothing further to report until we get to customs in Switzerland. Once again, our marital status is questioned. Once again, the magical Swiss Embassy letter comes in handy. I offer our marriage certificate, but the customs agent nicely says the embassy letter suffices. Before she clears us, she reminds us of the Swiss government mandated ten-day quarantine we are facing upon entry (implemented July 6), and that we must register ourselves with the proper authorities when we arrive at our place of quarantine. Here, my Swiss passport is of no help. I have come from the unfortunate United States of America – and so I too, not just my American husband, must quarantine. 

Indeed, this is why we had to change our travel date to start with. The reason for this trip was first and foremost my sister’s wedding. To be “free” on the 24th, for the rehearsal dinner, we needed to have 10 days (+2 for “just in case”) of quarantine. And quarantine, in Switzerland, well, is very Swiss. We called to register with the Canton (the state of Geneva) as required. Throughout the ten days, we each received two “check in” calls, aka monitoring calls. Were we taking quarantine seriously? (Yes) Had we left our place of residence? (No) And did we have any symptoms? (No). Ten days without leaving the house was a first for me, as it was for Edwin. Luckily, we found the most beautiful AirBNB (with a terrace) to spend these ten days, Courtyard #1 at The Hamlet in the center of Old Town Geneva. Nothing to complain about, other than my inability to go for long runs along the lake as I like to do. 

We made it. We were present at Rachel and Bernard’s ceremony of love and I was able to give my speech. And then, the last leg of the trip was upon us. Zurich to Athens

(Second side note: My father is a medical doctor, and offered to give us COVID-19 tests, with results coming in within 24 hours, at any time during our stay in Geneva. We declined, because we never had any symptoms, and also because we did not know what we would do with the information should this test come back positive.)  

Similarly to our ability to travel to Switzerland, we were allowed to travel to Greece because of my Swiss (and Italian) passport and our married status. We had to fill out an online travel form (the Passenger Locator Form) 48 hours prior to boarding. This included questions such as permanent address, and where we had spent the last 14 days. Based on this questionnaire, upon arrival in Athens, we would be directed either to baggage claim, or to a COVID-19 testing area in the airport. Should the latter happen, we would have to quarantine for 24 hours until our test results came back. Luckily, we were directed to baggage claim (I do believe being able to say that we had spent the last 14 days in Switzerland had much to do with this). 

And then, we were in Greece! Baggage claim, taxi to Rafina, slow ferry to Tinos (no fast ferries are running at this time due to decreased traveler demands). And then, we were in the village of Isternia, my happy place. 

So here I am. A blend of working from home and vacationing in Europe. Life in Europe (specifically Geneva and Tinos), is surprisingly normal. Limited travel offerings (from short airport lines, a closed restaurant at the Zurich airport hotel, the lack of fast ferries) remind me that life is not quite normal. People wearing masks (mandated on public transportation and inside stores in Switzerland, and in the grocery store on Tinos) remind me that life is not quite normal. Yet mostly, people are going about their business. Children are at summer camp or at the beach. Adults are on vacation, on their honeymoons, or working their normal jobs. Is it because summers in Europe are spent outside versus in the air conditioned indoors? Is it because wearing a mask has not become a political statement? 

I cannot help but return to thoughts of my friends at home, some who have lost loved ones to COVID-19, some who are suffering from the disease, many whose businesses are hemorrhaging. I worry about what will happen when school reopens (indeed the news from counties who have begun to reopen are dreadful). I worry about what will happen when unemployment goes up more. I worry about the fall and the holiday season. I do not know why things feel better, more “normal” here. But I do know that we, Americans, can do better. 

July First Musings

July 1. New month. New quarter. 2nd half of 2020. 183rd day of the year, 183 days to go. Today, I choose to celebrate. celebrate. I have once and for all put to rest all of my grand 2020 plans (made pre-COVID-19), I have once and for all accepted that this current reality is indeed the new normal and will be for quite some time. Today, I choose to celebrate. 

I celebrate the first half of the year.  

  • My family and I are alive and healthy. 
  • My Mom got COVID-19 and beat it. 
  • I have spent 107 days and nights in a row with my husband and we are more in love than ever. 
  • I am still in business.  
  • I work in an industry that will never go away and that makes people not only look better, but also feel better. 
  • I did not lay off or furlough anyone on my Alchimie team. 
  • I became a cat mom. 

Today, I also choose to focus on all that I have to look forward to in the second half of 2020.  

  • My sister Rachel’s wedding (praying to the travel gods).
  • Botox at Forever Institut (praying to the travel gods).
  • A couple of weeks in Tinos, Greece (praying to the travel gods). 
  • Hamilton on Disney Plus
  • The elections. 
  • Quiet dinners at home with my husband and cat babies. 
  • Quiet dinners out in those places that are excelling at safety measures and social distancing (including Bourbon Steak and Peacock Café
  • Getting back out in the field. 
  • And, I am sure, many (hopefully good) surprises…   

 Here’s to the second half of 2020! 

Reminders

This week, I am in Tinos, Greece. Not my first visit, but my first visit during the low season. The magic of this island is as strong as ever…

Fewer people make for stronger connections – those of us here really want to be here. The cooler temperatures make for new experiences – walking through the villages and heading to the Chora (town) more frequently. And the lessons of the island are as insightful as ever.

  • Feeding the island cats feels like the day’s most important project. AKA taking care of others, with no expectation in return, makes me happy.
  • Leaving the book I just devoured (The Last House Guest by Megan Miranda) in the unofficial “sidewalk book exchange” of Isternia village, and seeing it gone the next morning makes my whole day. AKA an act of random kindness for an unknown stranger, makes me happy.
  • Going to the bank (inside the building, not the ATM) feels like an enlightening, welcoming, kind, human connection. AKA taking the time to enjoy every human interaction, even in the form of an “errand,” makes me happy.
  • Slowing down and watching the sunset, grateful for nature and her rhythms, no matter the season, is good for the soul.
  • Finally, as the Greeks say, “eteron ekateron.” AKA “it is neither here nor there.” And/or “it is said of two things that can both apply simultaneously, different from one another, without affecting one another.”

One step at a time…

Summer is the time for barbeques, beaches, sundresses, and most of all sandals and flip flops, and even spending time barefoot. Our feet get to come out of closed shoes and show themselves… Indeed, I have spent the better part of the last ten days sans shoes as I am in Tinos, Greece, and am spending my days at the beach. I have a renewed appreciation for feet, often viewed as the lowliest part of our anatomy, and how essential it is to take good care of them. 

Did you know: 

  • There are 52 bones in a pair of feet – almost one-quarter of the total number in the human body. 
  • Socrates once said, “When our feet hurt, we hurt all over.” 
  • The typical American woman owners 27 pairs of shoes, and spends $277 on shoes annually. (Although Carrie Bradshaw estimated she had spent $40,000 on shoes in a season four episode of Sex and the City…) 
  • The average shoe size of American women is 8. 
  • 23% of women get a monthly pedicure. 
  • And yes, feet rank #1 on the list of most common sexual fetishes. 

(All data from Allure Magazine). 

My foot care rituals include cuticle oil nightly (I love CND’s Solar Oil and SpaRitual’s Cuti-Cocktail Nail and Cuticle Oil), my Dry skin balm daily, and using a nice foot file weekly (SpaRitual’s Soul Mate Eco Foot File is the best). What are yours? 

 

Vacay…

Vacation. Vacay. Vacances. A magical word.

In three days, I will be on vacation. Every year, I take the last week of June and the first week of July off and head to a tiny island in Greece with limited wifi, more churches than people, and good Raki. There, I rest and prepare myself for the second half of the calendar year. I read. I think. I sleep. I swim. I watch the sunset. Sometimes I watch the sunrise. I eat Greek salads. I drink rosé. I nap. I do nothing. I work (some).

In 2017, Americans gave up 212 million days off in 2017 ($62.2 billion in lost benefits). This year, 39 million Americans won’t take a summer vacation. I get it, taking time off is not really how I am wired. I have learned, however, that vacation is necessary. It is part of health care, part of self-care. It is not an indulgence, but something that makes me better at my job (CNBC and USA Today). 

Pre-vacation benefits:

“Isn’t it amazing how much stuff we get done the day before vacation?” (Zig Ziglar)

  • Knowing I am about to be on vacation is a great motivator – almost like I am giving myself an ultimatum. This week I completed two projects that I have been procrastinating on (one of them for 3 months) because I didn’t want to have them weigh on me during my time off.
  • Knowing I am about to be on summer vacation also has positive self-care consequences – I have been eating better (because bikini…) and got my second pedicure of the year because of my upcoming trip.

Vacation benefits:

“A proper vacation does three things. It takes you away from the stresses and demands of your daily life; it gives your body time to heal and rejuvenate, and it invigorates your mind by returning you to your normal rhythm.” (Sage Wilcox)

  • Sleeping. Being constantly sleep deprived, I have a rule to sleep 10 hours minimum every night while on vacation.
  • Daydreaming. I actually let my mind wander, I create space and time in my brain for new thinking, new ideas, more creativity.
  • Exercising. I swim every day in the clear, cold, salty sea, which is good for my body and my soul.
  • Being. I try to disconnect and to not be constantly attached to my devices. This year, I will try harder.

The post-vacation benefits are real. If you don’t believe me, trust the experts: “We know that when people can rest, relax, recharge, there’s a ripple effect of benefits in terms of productivity, creativity, and collaboration when they return to work.” (Scott Dobroski, community expert at Glass Door), and studies show that vacation has proven benefits, including alleviating burnout and making employees more resilient and better able to cope with stress upon their return.

I will come back from Greece refreshed, reenergized, remotivated, more creative, and more productive, ready and excited for the rest of 2019.

Keep Calm…

Our Alchimie Forever marketing calendar says that April is the month of Calm. As in calm skin, and calm spirit.

Calm skin. April is National Rosacea Awareness month. Those who suffer from rosacea know this is the antithesis of calm. Red, angry, irritated, uncomfortable, are words that describe rosacea skin; calm is not. Helping to calm your skin looks like this:

  • Avoid triggers. These will vary somewhat individually: heat, alcohol, spice, and more.
  • Protect your skin. From the sun (always), but also from the cold and the wind.
  • Treat your skin gently. Avoid harsh products, cleansers and otherwise. Look for anti-inflammatory ingredients. Remember that less is more.
  • When all else fails, apply makeup to cover up the red. I so rarely recommend makeup other than for color… but sometimes it really is necessary.
  • Your dermatologist is your friend. Listen to his / her recommendations, follow his / her prescriptions, trust the expert.

Calm spirit. Is there a calm spirit month? This is the time of year when my spirit is the antithesis of calm. Tired, overwhelmed, irritated, uncomfortable, are words that describe an agitated spirit; calm is not. Helping to calm my spirit looks like this:

  • Avoid triggers. I know what mine are, I trust you know yours.
  • Protect my energy. Be more quiet. Spend more time in nature (as I write from the gardens of Salamander Resort & Spa).
  • Treat myself gently. Sleep more, drink less, exercise more. Cancel appointments (responsibly).
  • When all else fails, smile until I make it. A Saturday with absolutely zero commitments is 3 days away. Tinos is 64 days away…
  • My therapist is my friend. For me, that means my massage therapist… thank you Brian!

Calm – of skin and spirit!