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Virtual Field Trips

            At the beginning of the Covid-19 shutdown, my Facebook page flooded with resources for students, including long lists of virtual field trips to zoos and aquariums and exotic locations. And then the adults, feeling left out. started posting pictures and videos of all of the places they wanted to go. And I couldn’t look away.

“What IS this show?”

            I never travel in real life, but, now that I can’t go anywhere, I spend a lot of my time wondering where I’d go if I could. I even saw a car commercial that encouraged people to take to the open road this summer, though my first thought was, I am not going into a gas station, in a town where no one knows me, wearing a bandana over my face. Even as a white woman, that just seemed like a stupid idea. And I haven’t seen that commercial again.

I think, for the most part, people who live in the United States aren’t going anywhere for a while. Instead, I’ve been taking virtual field trips. I’m on the second season of a murder mystery series set in France, where each episode highlights another picturesque French town I’ve never heard of. They pronounce “oui” as “way,” which is disconcerting, but the landscapes are breathtaking. There was a murder on an isolated island, steeped in fog, and a murder on the border with Spain, and a murder set between cliffs and caves, and a murder at the end of a long drive by the sea. I’ve also visited the beach in Sandhamn, for another mystery series, set in Sweden, and then there were murders in Masada, and Tel Aviv, and Tennessee. In order to solve fictional murders, I have vicariously climbed mountains and gone scuba diving and even tried line dancing and Flamenco.

“We could dance too.”

            There’s something extraordinary about the technology that allows us to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. There’s also something strangely comforting about a murder that can be solved, by someone else, in an hour and a half, with proof, and clear motives, and justice prevailing in the end.

            I’ve also been listening to a lot of Duolingo Spanish Podcasts lately (because I forgot I had subscribed two years ago and now there’s a pile of them on my phone). The varied accents and unfamiliar vocabulary of the stories are a challenge to my advanced beginner Spanish, but the host always steps in, just in time, with an explanation in English. Each podcast is set in a different part of the Spanish speaking world, like Cuba, or Mexico, or Columbia, or Madrid, or Los Angeles, and the narrators tell stories about becoming the first female skydiving teacher in South America, and learning to love your Afro-Latina hair, and building up a mescal factory in rural Mexico, and becoming a successful wheelchair tri-athlete, and on and on.

“Any stories about dogs and their nose-less birds?”

            I don’t think I would have found this much joy in my virtual field trips ten years ago; it would have overwhelmed me. I wouldn’t have known what to do with all of these lives that were nothing like mine, teaching lessons I didn’t feel ready to learn. But therapy has done a lot of work on my internal world. I feel like a construction worker, using my invisible tools to build invisible rooms in my head to store and organize all of my complicated feelings. I’ve learned a lot about pacing, and self-protection, so I’m not as easily flooded; and when a story or idea is more challenging than I can handle, I have plenty of internal shelves to store them on, for later.

            I’m still not at the point where I could manage actually traveling to any of these places in real life, but clearly I don’t have to. Another benefit of virtual field trips is that I don’t have to stockpile a month’s worth of medication from my local drugstore, or try to find someone willing to tolerate Cricket for an extended period of time. I don’t even have to worry about the weather, or a new wardrobe, because I can just wear my pajamas, and rest my head against my air-conditioner, and visit Bombay or Tokyo or Quebec or wherever I choose to go next. Coronavirus be damned.

“Can we go to the dog park?”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

82 responses »

  1. For me it’s animal videos. Watching puppies, kittens and penguins roam an empty aquarium has been so much fun. And I have a newfound love for penguins. And the porcupine at the zoo. Who knew?!

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  2. faithfamilyweaving

    I was missing road trips and California – before the quarantine cancelled everything. I still miss the ocean. But now I travel through TV and DVDs and really enjoy the older shows that were filmed in LA. Enjoy your travels!! ❤️

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  3. Are the mystery shows you watch on PBS’s Mystery? I love watching those. It really is like virtual traveling.

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    • I watch everything on PBS mysteries but I’m also addicted to the streaming services through my library with tons of foreign language shows I’ve never even heard of before.

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  4. I haven’t had the focus for watching shows, but it sure sounds like a good way to travel right now. I traveled with students long ago. I set up my retirement life to stay home and do my hobbies. I like your analogy of storing things on shelves until you are ready for it. Enjoy your excursions and Happy 4th.

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  5. I think we’re all going to enjoy reality travel for some time to come. Great that your library streams so many foreign programmes. I’m enjoying reacquainting myself with the area in which I live. Happy 4th July! 🇺🇸

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  6. Out in the West everyone is renting and buying RVs and trailers for family vacations in the National parks, etc. Already sold out on rentals through August. Oh, btw, if you’ve not seen it, check out “Butterfly Spanish” on YouTube. It may be too basic for you but the teacher is a delight.

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  7. As an armchair traveller, the restrictions haven’t impacted upon me in that regard. Nice to see other places, though…

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  8. I’m having second thoughts about travel and what the future will hold. I think exploring our own spaces will be all we can do for many months and perhaps years.

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  9. You almost make armchair travelling seem better than the real thing!

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  10. I am lucky i that I did a lot of travelling before I was 60. I have little desire to leave the country now, and will be happy to explore more of Britain when safe to do so. Hearing ‘Oui’ pronounced as ‘Way’ is typical of the accent of local people in the southernmost regions of France, so not at all unusual.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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  11. Virtual Travel has a lot to recommend it, such as not having to worry about finding somewhere to eat or searching for toilets. I have friends who have been everywhere and others who have never left the country. Some trips sound horrendous and we listeners will say – That was meant to be a holiday! When I worked at Heathrow Airport I was very happy to be going home each day and not getting involved in all the hastle of getting on an aeroplane. Now it must be even worse. I just had a nice holiday in Monaco – via a gentle documentary!

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  12. It’s wonderful isn’t, seeing the world from the comfort of your armchair. I see posts showing beautiful scenes of mountains and forests, wildlife and oceans and they fill me with wonder. No worries about packing, currencies, visas, passports, airports or finding somewhere to stay.
    I was a late starter in travel, not going out of the UK until 1991 (the Isle of Wight doesn’t count) and whilst I visited Milan, Luxemburg and Geneva on business for the bank, I haven’t done much more other than France, Jersey C.I., Holland, Ireland and Germany for short visits rather than touring. My megga trip to NZ for 2 months in 2010 to see Bro opened up a whole new world and thanks to SIL, her family and a friend, I saw a lot of her wonderful country.

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  13. Yeshiva Girl was excellent. What is your next project? The only regret I have for traveling is not being able to take my son to Japan after his college graduation in May. Maybe one day in the future.

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  14. Yesterday we watched “Weekends With Yankee Magazine” and felt nostalgic about places in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maine where we are unable to visit at the moment. Vermont won’t even let us in at the moment, despite our low covid rate! So I haven’t watched more distant travel videos. I am mourning our close day trips being unavailable. (Even if we just stayed in the car, how would we find a bathroom?”)

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  15. That sounds great! I’m glad you are enjoying it.

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  16. I love this post! So hopeful and innovative. I am loving the fact that these social networking technologies allow us to be in so many places we wouldn’t ordinarily get to. And I love how you get your travel out of these mysteries. It’s so good to hear you say you wouldn’t have been here 10 years ago yet here you are. Gives me hope….

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  17. Glad that you are enjoying your virtual field trips, Rachel!

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  18. Wow, you have been WAY WAY more adventurous online than my Beloved Human! Mind you, I’m happy with that cos otherwise she might spend less time with ME! 🙂

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  19. Its depressing how this year everything has become increasingly virtual. Today a representative of the NHS here in the UK said how great it is that technology now means people can ‘see’ their doctors/consultants over video link rather than have to go see them. I think that’s depressing. There is no replacement, especially in the medical realm, for actually meeting patients. People like to think when Covid 19 is sorted we can all return to how things were, but I’m beginning to wonder of it really ever will if some people get their way.

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  20. Hooray for virtual vacations!! Enjoy to the max!!

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  21. When we were kids, my Dad used to say, “Why would you travel there, if you can see it on TV?” We thought that was an awful approach. But the older I get the more I find myself adopting the same attitude (LOL).

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  22. Hey you! You are so doggone interesting and devoted to your writing! How did you ever get brave enough to allow comments all those years ago? I still shake in my boots! I keep thinking I have it set up, but I have never ever had one teeny tiny comment! I think travelling cross country with my face covered by a bandana would lead me into a life of crime!( oh no, not again!) What is your new baby’s name? I lost my Kiko last month after 15 years, but I still have silly Kleo! She never wanted to share the stage with the boy! Keep pushing on, my friend. And I’m looking forward to reading your book!

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  23. Rachel, things will change. I want you to see Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I lived there twice. I want you to see a real bear and buffalo and antelope and elk. And the geysers. And the Tetons. You will go someday. That is my prayer.

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  24. I wish Americans were staying put right now… A significant number are visiting Ireland at the moment and refusing to self isolate for the 14 days required. People here are concerned about tourists spreading the virus. Meanwhile we can’t leave Ireland for non essential travel. I think you have the right idea- tour the world from the comfort of your couch!

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    • I’m surprised Americans are allowed to visit Ireland, or anywhere, really. We are not handling this virus well at all.

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      • Europe is considering a ban on American travellers but it hasn’t happened yet. By the time it does we may already be back to square one. It’s frustrating having sacrificed so much during the months of lockdown. Such a crazy situation…

  25. I’ve wondered from time to time about how we might be helping criminality through the all the masks we’re wearing. In your first paragraph, you raise this point and are the first person I’ve heard (or read) do this. Not that it’s an excuse not to wear a mask. And in the protests about not wearing masks, I’ve yet to hear or see a message about not helping robbers.

    You’ve done so well in taking virtual field trips. The murder-mystery aspect is appealing. (I’m watching a British murder-mystery as I write). I studied Spanish for some years in school, but it was Castilian. It’s great that you’re being introduced and informed about the regional and national dialects. I tried speaking Spanish with folk in Mexico sometime ago. They were generous in saying they could understand me, even though my Spanish was formal. Well, it would be.

    I don’t know if dogs might enjoy a virtual dog park. Looking at other dogs running might make them envious, understandably. But I hope you and your pets keep doing so well with all the concerns and strangeness of this time.

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  26. Staycation is also cool 😎, and more environment-friendly. But I’m probably just turning into an old cat now, so now compensating for all those carbon footprint…. You’re still young, the world is waiting for you 🙂 🌄🌋🌊🐘🐯🐵🐳🌴🌵

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  27. What is the name of the French murder mystery you are watching? We have been binging on PBS Mystery shows as well as a few others. Right now I am big on murder mysteries and science fiction. I hadn’t though of it before but you are right. What I love is that justice prevails in the end. It’s so comforting. And so not true of real life these days.

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  28. Enjoyed reading. More travels and power to you

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  29. I have an Oculus Quest and really have been doing virtual tours in my living room. Because the cities are empty you get a better feel for the architecture.

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  30. We are planning to go on a road trip this summer, for sanity’s sake and to get out of NYC. I wish I could go visit Bombay! I have been to Tokyo and Quebec, although I would visit Quebec again (as I went as a child). I think reading is marvelous to live in someone else’s shoes, but I also like seeing and experiencing that in person (visiting friends, e.g.) whenever work allows =)

    By the way, I bought your book!

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  31. I live near Bryce Canyon (absolutely gorgeous, fwiw, and lots of antelope frequent my neighborhood as well as elk and deer) and the tourist season in town is a little slower than usual, but not much. Hope you can make it out this way someday, maybe on the same trip when you take in Jackson Hole (be sure to visit some of the hot springs, and take a white water rafting trip – unless you’re afraid of water. I used to be a raft guide up there and it’s AWESOME!)
    On the mask issue, if you read a post I made earlier today, you’ll see that one of my friends who lives in Jackson, WY reported that about a week ago, a lady wearing the required mask, stole about $2,000 worth of merchandise from a local store. Impossible to ID her because of the mask.
    As for not doing well, instead of the over 2 million deaths originally predicted for the US, we’re at about 150,000. Also, increased testing will always give more positive results, especially when they’re saying as much as 50% of those infected don’t ever develop symptoms.
    Then, if you look at year over year deaths, the US total deaths since January are barely higher, about 1.5%, than normal.
    Yes, some areas have been hit particularly hard, and some things have been learned – like putting people on ventilators actually increases the risk of death – but overall, the death rate is the same or less than the flu, and about the same percentage of elderly are succumbing to COVID-19 as ordinarily die with the flu. Again, yes, I know some areas (like New York, Seattle, Chicago…) have much higher death rates, but I’m talking overall.
    Our county has 1, yes, one death attributed to COVID-19, but when you look a little deeper, you find that the person who reportedly died of the virus actually committed suicide, but had the virus, so it’s now listed as a COVID-19 death, which means the hospital can get more money. And that is far from an isolated case when you really start digging into the truth rather than believing everything the main stream media and some government officials are handing out.
    Be well! Stay safe! Get sunshine if you can! SOOO glad I have 10 acres to work/play outside every day!!!!!

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  32. Rachel:
    I feel some sadness that you must rely on virtual travel these days. It’s because of intelligent readers like you that I find the inspiration to continue to share my stories. I’m moving to more of a podcast format by the way. I hope you and your lovely pets enjoy.

    Reply

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