The following blog post is shared from my travel blog at Raising Global Citizens.
A fog-like feeling usually weighs heavy in my head when I return home from extended travel. Which day of the week is it? Was it all just a dream?
Certainly, when you’ve been away long enough, home has a sort of sacred comfort. Even though you were thrilled to leave, overjoyed to be away, you are also delighted to return home. A paradox. The great contradiction of travel.
Some three years after returning home from our multi-year filming project that spanned the globe, I honestly feel like we’re still “landing.”
Looking around my neighbourhood — with its clean sidewalks, manicured lawns, drivers abiding by traffic lights, bank machines with sufficient funds, Starbucks everywhere — I occasionally feel like a disoriented visitor.
It’s exemplary. But something is missing… It’s all bone and no marrow. It’s what isn’t here that is so palpable. There are cars driving by, but it is eerily quiet compared to the honking of scooters in Saigon, cars in Buenos Aires and taxis in New York. No hauntingly beautiful prayer calls like in Istanbul or Beirut. The air is fresh and unsullied but lacks the nose-tickling sensations of incense, spice and cooking meat of Bangkok and Bombay.
Cardboard cut-out houses and erect steel and glass buildings appear dim in contrast to the bright colours of pueblos, barrios and neighbourhood of Salamina, Ouzville and La Boca.
No siesta follows lunch, and evening strolls are vacuous when compared to those in Palermo or Cordoba.
I’m sentimental. Nostalgic even, for the bustling promenades along the Arabian Sea and the resilience of the Lebanese people. For the pulse of the cities in Vietnam and the endless smiles on the faces of its people. The slow pace of life in rural Argentina that allows one all day to enjoy conversation with family and friends and the variety of meat coming off the grill at an asado (an Argentine BBQ). The majestic mountains of Tombstone Park, and the tender ruggedness of Yukoners. Not to forget the lush vibrant land of Colombia and the heart-warming charm of its people.
Just the same, I’m filled. Filled to the brim with the rich flavours of our wondrous world.
Today, even after thousands of miles behind us, the world seems a little smaller, and often I think about the lessons we learned from the nine countries we visited. Of course, this is the subject matter of our film, but one of the preponderant lessons is that of continuing to congregate and generously celebrate the little things in life with food.
When in Argentina, I recall a friend popping over a few times a week with picadas or treats, and matè, cervezas or malbec, for a merienda (afternoon snack). He would always say you do not need either an invitation or an excuse to be together and celebrate life. These little afternoon visits would often stretch late into the night.
In Beirut, every single person who knew we were there insisted on taking us out for delicious and fresh dinners…always sneaking out to pay for it before we could offer. The same happened in Istanbul. The pinnacle of hospitality.
In Colombia, schedules were cleared so more and more locals could join us at cantinas, and in Sicily, a “quick” espresso in a little café with a local turned in aperitifs, dinner, and finally, gelato, digestifs and another espresso.
And wholesome feasts prepared and attended by entire families in Vietnam stretched late into the night.
Each time, the fresh food thoughtfully prepared, local drink and ambience brought people together in total presence. This presence, I have come to believe, is the magic property that comes when food, drink and ambience are whisked together with care and intention. A sacred elixir that empowers us to concede the day and transcend into the present moment while nourishing and blessing our bodies and our souls.
It is my belief that a great responsibility is entrusted to travellers. Beyond the life-changing experiences we enjoy by immersing ourselves in new cultures, we must share our newfound lessons and insights with others both at home and away. Of course, important are the lessons of tolerance, acceptance, human rights, equality and our shared humanity; however, sometimes the very essence of what we experience while travelling is what we need to share.
What I believe and share with you here is that taking time to prepare meals and be together is one of the most important “lessons” I took home from those travel experiences.
Eating together symbolizes our shared life; but, moreover, its most delicious component is time. The time we take to make the food and the time we take to eat it together.
Have you ever noticed that we interpret time intervals to be longer when our memories for a certain period are denser? In other words, periods with fewer memorable events appear to have gone by more quickly or cast away entirely. When we slow down and have this sacred experience of sharing food as a celebration of life, not only does it make us feel incredibly alive and human but it slows down the perception of time and increases the quality of our lives.
This recipe is simple, but all too hastily brushed aside in favour of more questionable, albeit conveniently cooked and quickly consumed, alternatives.
Don’t wait for birthdays, Friday nights and special occasions. Make it a priority to prepare good food often, create welcoming and inspiring places to eat that food, and share it lovingly with those you know — and sometimes with those you don’t. Eat your meal in the middle of the living room floor surrounded by tea lights or outside by a roaring fire. Create enriching spaces that turn meals into memorable experiences. The meal itself doesn’t have to be fancy or measured by the value of how much that bottle of red costs; but instead, its the experience that is of real value to us and those around us.
With travel also comes the acknowledgement that the world is imperfect and that we must fully face the hardships, suffering and conflict that penetrate the fabric of life each day. And right alongside that — we can be thankful for the pure love and beauty of the human experience found while sitting at the dinner table engaged in conversation and revelling in the marvel of our shared humanity.