“Getting Back To Traveling…”

* AUTHOR’S NOTE: I apologize to my readers for not having posted anything for such a long time. I was, for lack of a more exotic way of putting it, being lazy. Perhaps my move from NYC to Italy had something to do with it, or the ten kilos of pasta weight I’ve put on since then. Perhaps a life of teaching, traveling and photographing got in the way of writing about my life of teaching, traveling and photographing. Truth be told, I’m not sure where said stroke of laziness came from, but I’ll try not to let it happen again. *

 

Ladies and gentlemen, Covid-19 is everywhere.

It would be hopeful to think that it’s nowhere near you, but that would be completely unrealistic. Sweeping from east to west, it has gripped its “stay inside or risk dying” claws into all of us. For those of you who were already staying at home and not risking death, life may not have changed much. For those of us who crave the outside world however, staying at home for months on end was nothing short of tragic. To the former: I wish you many cheerful hours of TV-watching, video game-playing, recipe-trying and family life-living. To the latter: I offer a few of my ideas and experiences on how to go about returning to life as wanderers, explorers and travelers. As cities, counties, states, regions, countries and continents worldwide begin to “open back up”, I think it’s important we take a moment to acknowledge what that means exactly.

 

Let’s face it, there are rules to be followed.

While most of these rules might entail simply not standing near others, some might turn out to be more frustrating. Here in Italy, the government opened itself up several slices at a time, like a big, bureaucratic cake…a time-locked tiramisu if you will. Initially, it was “stay inside or risk dying”.

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(photo: Fidel Amos)

Over the course of the last two months, “stay inside or risk dying” turned into “stay inside unless you have to go to work”, which later became “stay inside unless you need groceries”, followed by “stay inside unless you’re wearing gloves and a mask”.

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(photo: Fidel Amos)

Many other countries in Europe have pretty much followed the same timeline, bringing us to where we are now. I believe this slice is called “fine, you may go back outside, and even travel to certain countries, just wear a mask on the plane and keep washing your hands”. As tourists and travelers, adhering to the rules will make your transition from couch potato to backpacker much easier.

 

In short, know how you’re supposed to move around before you start moving around.

Almost all of the information you seek regarding travel in this time of Covid-19 can be found online or by making a short call. Some airlines require you to wear a mask at all times (a few require gloves as well).

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Kayak.com, my go-to for air travel.

Many hotels and B&B’s are now required to maintain daily (hourly in some cases) practices regarding disinfecting, cleaning and general day-to-day activities. Just about every travel homepage and accommodation website I’ve come across has clearly posted messages describing their policies and limitations during this pandemic.

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Airbnb.com, my go-to for accommodations.

Nearly all restaurants, businesses, stores and public transportation require the use of masks and hand sanitizer prior to entry. Some places will even ask you to sign in/out of their establishments, so that they may have your info should you or other patrons become contagious during your visit or stay. Sure, you may have the right to complain, refuse and vehemently review on Yelp, but it won’t help you to get where you want, when you want. As an added drawback, you might find yourself in a viral video online, pointlessly screaming at an employee for simply doing their job of asking you to cover that offense-hurling mouth of yours. Be informed, be prepared and you’ll be allowed to travel more freely.

 

My first instinct when considering traveling is usually to get as far away as possible not only from my current home but also from my everyday life.

I decided that perhaps this summer might not be the best time to do so (see: everything I wrote in the previous paragraphs), so instead of jumping on a plane and taking in the sights in a foreign country, I planned a weekend trip to Venice for my girlfriend and I.

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(photo: Fidel Amos)

While Venice might seem like an unobtainable goal to many, it’s only two hours away for us. You might be thinking, yes, I happen to have a somewhat fortunate, “geographical advantage”, but the truth is, everyone does, and everyone doesn’t, it all just depends on who you are and where you’re from.

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(photo: Fidel Amos)

Through my upbringing, which required my family to move often due to my parents’ professions, I’ve learned that “geographical advantage”, like many other things in life, is simply a matter of perspective. To someone who has never seen it, Venice might be an oasis of sorts, a magical place where people fall in love, classical music plays softly over loudspeakers, and everyone rides around in gondolas eating gelato to their heart’s content.

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(photo: Fidel Amos)

To someone who was born and raised in Venice, however, it might be a tourist-swallowing pit of despair, filled with flooded streets and the smell of sea life, where everyone rides around in gondolas eating gelato to their heart’s content. When I moved to Verona five years ago and told people I was from NYC, the response was almost always “I would give anything to see it,” to which I always replied, “That’s funny, because everyone I know there is dying to come here!” In short, people generally want what they don’t have.

For the past fifteen years or so since realizing this, I’ve been basing my travels on one particular ideology…

 

Everything new is good; no matter how new, no matter how good.

Sound absurd? Let me explain. Instead of saving up my money to take these elaborate trips to places I felt or heard were mind-blowing, I started taking day trips to places that were reachable by car in two or three hours, then coming back home that night. When I didn’t think I could do it in a day, I’d pick places that were four or five hours away, stay the night, then drive back the second night. In essence, I was only a city or two away from home, but the fact that I had never seen that place and was there an entire weekend fooled my mind and body into thinking that I was on vacation in some far away land. This “self trickery” helped me to realize that I was vacationing incorrectly! I had somehow fallen into the trap of believing that vacations were something for which I should save up ludicrous amounts of money and sick days. They were two-week-long trips to places like Paris, Tokyo, Milan, Rio or London, where credit cards would be charged and diets would be ignored simply because “I was on vacation”. Looking back upon it now, I suppose I should hold the hustle and bustle of NYC life responsible for that way of thinking, because that’s not how I was raised. The earliest vacation memories I have are being in the backseat of our family’s car with my two younger brothers while my parents drove us to some lake, beach, town, mountain or campsite nearby just to “get away for the day”. I remember enjoying the sights, sounds and people of those places simply because they were new to me, and seeing new things reminded me of how large this planet of ours really is and how much I had yet to see.

So what are you saying?

Get out there! You’ve been cooped up in the house for quite some time and could probably use a change of scenery. If you haven’t been cooped up in the house then coop yourself up in the house and order delivery. That would be something new, wouldn’t it? I suppose what I’m trying to say is, don’t refrain from getting away or doing something different simply because you’re saving up time and money for something BIG. You can find the same joy by adding up smaller things. Hop on a bus and head somewhere that’s an hour away. See what the people are like. Breathe the air. Baby steps. Take a friend or family member with you if you need the company. Go somewhere that’s two hours away the next time. Take a walk around that new city or town and maybe have lunch somewhere. Check out the local shopping areas. Baby steps. When you’re ready, try jumping in the car and going somewhere that’s farther, but not too far. We’re going for stressless. Spend what you would normally spend on dinner if you were back home. Don’t splurge. You’re only a few hours from your house. This isn’t a vacation. Walk along the pier. Hold your loved one’s hand and mention something about how interesting it is that the two of you happen to be in this new place together. Rent an absurdly cheap room for the night because seriously, you only need the bed to sleep for a few hours. This isn’t an actual vacation, remember?

Have breakfast in the morning, possibly in bed.

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(photo: Fidel Amos)

You never do that at home right?

Take it easy. Get lost downtown. Head to the waterfront and take your shoes off. Try something new. You don’t have to work today, right? Try two new things. Hell, maybe this IS a vacation after all. See? “Self trickery”. Find out if they have gondolas and gelato…

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“Bare Breasts Are Only The Beginning…”

(First and foremost, I won’t pretend to know the struggle that women face on a day to day basis with regards to inequality, nor do I speak on their behalf when discussing said matter. I do believe wholeheartedly that they should be given every right, power and privilege they deserve (as does every human being, male or female), but until some mysterious alien light beams down upon me from above, giving me the power to change the entire world with a single hand gesture, I can only think the way I think and comment on the things that I see. With that said, I present to you my thoughts on “Go Topless Day”.) 

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(Photo: Scoopnest.com)

For the past few days, I noticed that most of the feeds on my social media mentioned the impending arrival of “Go Topless Day”. As I mentioned before, I’m completely for raising gender equality awareness, but I have to admit I was slightly confused when hearing the news. How could women baring their breasts change the way the world sees them? As I often do when I find myself naive on a particular topic, I took the time to do some research. I studied a little history on women’s rights, looked up a few laws in various countries regarding toplessness, visited several websites which promoted the “go topless” movement, found dozens of write-ups and hundreds of photos encouraging others to go topless in support of gender equality, and saw bare breasts…lots and lots of bare breasts. What I didn’t find, however, was an explanation as to how women around the world taking off their tops could possibly change the…

…then it hit me.

Right smack in the middle of my blind, stupid, male face, it hit me.

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(Photo: GoTopless.org / Scoopnest.com)

Bare breasts were so much more than bare breasts. How could I have not seen it before? It was so obvious! I consider myself a fairly intelligent person, so the fact that such a simple answer had eluded me so was baffling. Then, after a few seconds of quiet introspection, I realized why I hadn’t figured it out earlier.

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(Photo: KardsUnlimited.com)

Regardless of the fact that I was raised in 4-5 different countries with different cultures, regardless of the fact that I was raised by two loving, impartial parents, regardless of my personal belief that both sexes were created equal, the world had subconsciously planted a seed. It was a seed which said “A woman’s breasts are to be seen as sexual, erotic parts of the female anatomy that should be covered up at all times. Breasts are not to used to feed babies in public. Breasts are not to fall out by accident. Breasts are not to be bared when one is hot. And in absolutely no way is a woman’s bare chest to be considered neutral or completely normal, like a man’s.

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(Photo: Twitter – @SheKnows)

No matter how unbiased, objective and feminist I believed I was, deep down inside I was seeing women in exactly the same way that most of the rest of the world saw them…differently! Without even realizing it, I failed to notice that women aren’t removing their tops to raise eyebrows or stop traffic. They’re not holding up “Free The Nipple” signs to cause commotions and turn heads. And they definitely didn’t start the #GoToplessDay hashtag just to have a reason to throw parades.

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(Photo: GoTopless.org)

They’re doing all of the above for one very simple reason…to be the same.

– F

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“Only Human.”

“Another terrorist act occurred tonight. More innocent lives were stolen from us. More religious differences were brought up. More political injustices were mentioned. More grieving was done. More questions were asked.”

“I find it interesting that during times like these, I myself am asked questions; by my peers, family members, acquaintances and ‘followers’. Perhaps this is due to the fact that I am extremely outspoken after such events. Perhaps it’s because I happen to have a way with saying exactly what’s on my mind, and for whatever reason some people happen to listen. For whatever reason, the questions do come. One of these questions I find myself answering is one that always (in one form or another) has been asked on more than one occasion. ‘Why do you seem to mourn certain cities/victims and not others?’ I shall try to answer it now, in the best way that I can…”

“I am only human. As such, I live day by day as a human…it is the only way that I know how to live. As a human I have only one heart and one mind to offer, and along the course of my life I ‘give’ my heart and mind to other humans. I have met new people every day of my life, everywhere that I have gone. Acquaintances, friends, colleagues, lovers. People in passing, people in restaurants, people at work, people on airplanes, people through other people. Every person I come into contact with in every city in every country that I visit on this earth becomes a part of my life in one way or another. Often times these encounters affect me, and in turn the people and places I meet and see are, in a way, affected by me. In essence, I leave a piece of me everywhere I go, and I take a piece of everywhere with me to my next destination.”

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(Patan Durbar Square, Kathmandu / In 2011 when I was there & 2015 after the earthquake)

“So when Twin Towers that I had been in in NYC are hit by airplanes flown by terrorists…I feel it. When suicide bombers detonate themselves in a subway system I traveled in in London…I feel it. When gunmen go on a killing spree on streets that I’ve walked on in Paris…I feel it. When an earthquake destroys temples in which I’ve sat in Kathmandu…I feel it. When a bomb explodes at a marathon in a part of town I’ve taken photos in in Boston…I feel it. When a madman drives a truck into a crowd of nearly 100 people on the same promenade in Nice my parents and I spent my father’s birthday on…I feel it. I’m human, so when lives are lost and destruction occurs in cities that I’ve visited and made memories in, it hurts me.”

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(Nice, France / In 2010 when I was there with my parents, and after last night’s terrorist attack)

“But…being only human, I cannot meet EVERYONE on earth. I cannot be in multiple places at multiple times and share the experiences and cultures that every city in every country has to offer. I do not feel as strong a connection to people/places I’ve never seen as I do those I know and have made a place for in my life. Does it pain me to see other cities of the earth destroyed? Yes. Am I hurt when innocent lives are lost in countries that are not my own? Of course. But I may not write about it and I may not share my feelings on it. This is simply because I have nothing to write and nothing to share…not because I DON’T CARE.”

– F

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Filed under Hear Me Roar, This Thing Called Life, Why I Do What I Do

“The Greatest Of All Time…”

“In 2004, while living in NYC, my friend Gerald Bunsen called me up one weekend and asked if I was available to work security for a photoshoot (I had moved to NYC to pursue acting, but because of my size and character I often found secondary work as a bouncer and private guard). He wasn’t available to make it and needed someone he could depend on to replace him. ‘Of course,’ I said, ‘for who?’…’Muhammad Ali‘, he replied.”
“The photoshoot was for an adidas ad campaign. The team I was on had one job: to escort Mr. Ali from his hotel room down to the street where he would shoot in a car with a few children, then back up to his hotel room. During a meeting that was held before all of this happened, we were given details on how things would progress. Mr. Ali never spoke aloud to us, there was a gentleman with him (whose name I didn’t catch) who spoke with him directly, listened to his replies as they were whispered to him and then relayed the information to us. The photographer asked how long he’d have to shoot, Mr. Right-Hand-Man told him he’d probably have 5 minutes at the MOST to squeeze off a few shots. The photographer wanted more, Mr. Right-Hand-Man said that’d be impossible. When we walked outside I immediately saw why.”
“The second (and I mean literally the SECOND) we opened the front door and set foot on the sidewalk, Mr. Ali was recognized and surrounded. People smiled, laughed, cried, reached out to him, touched him, chanted his name, held out things to be autographed, held their children out to him to be kissed. The security team and I spent the next few minutes (Mr. Right-Hand-Man was right, we had less than 5) holding people back, keeping people calm and witnessing the madness. Although I had met a lot of celebrities while living in NYC, I had never met one as traffic-stopping as him. His presence alone captured the awe and attention of those around him. His smile was addicting…his silence was deafening.”

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(photographer: Unknown)

“When we arrived back at the hotel room, everyone shook hands and began their goodbye’s. Mr. Ali was seated at a giant desk, signing autographs and photos for some of the assistants, staff and security team. As I was still a fairly timid newcomer to the whole ‘NYC scene’ and my job was done, I thought it best to simply leave. As I made for the door, my eyes caught Mr. Right-Hand-Man’s eyes. ‘Would you like an autograph before you go?’, he asked. I was never one to ask for autographs, I always felt that having someone’s name on a piece of paper or memorabilia could never fully describe the experience of meeting that person. And although I had a cell phone on me, technology had not yet caught up to where we are today, with our selfie skills and multi-megapixel phone cameras…so taking a photo would’ve required entirely too much time to set up. I couldn’t just let this moment slip by however, it was Muhammad Ali. ‘No thank you,’ I answered, ‘but is it possible for me to just meet him?'”
“Thirty seconds later I was sitting in a chair next to the Greatest Of All Time, introducing myself, shaking his hand and smiling like a 10 yr old. I never once heard his voice, I didn’t need to. Sometimes you don’t need to hear someone tell you about the years they’ve lived, the accomplishments they’ve achieved, the struggles they’ve overcome and the world they’ve changed…sometimes you can just tell.”
“Rest in peace Mr. Ali.”
– F
PS. This is a photo from that weekend…I found it online after some pretty heavy Google searching.

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“Gaia, Roy, And The Challenge…”

In the past, I’ve shot couples that were comfortable in front of my lens because they were intimate, and I’ve shot models that were portraying couples that were intimate.

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(Photo: Fidel Amos)

This photoshoot presented me with a tiny bit of a challenge however.

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(Photo: Fidel Amos)

The two people I photographed were not professional models or a couple…they were simply friends that I asked to come and shoot for me.

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(Photo: Fidel Amos)

It’s wonderful to see the “progression of comfort”. In a few of the photos one can notice a slight hint of nervousness or an adaptation to the scenario.

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(Photo: Fidel Amos)

Over the course of the day however, that level of comfort opened up, and it shows in the remaining photos…

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(Photo: Fidel Amos)

Thanks for helping me out Gaia and Roy.

– F

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Filed under The Story Behind The Shot, Why I Do What I Do