I recently had the pleasure of meeting Jeremy Bassetti when he invited me onto his award- winning podcast, Travel Writing World. Experiencing that unique synaptic prickle that comes from fresh conversation and a new perspective on the world, our encounter made me nostalgic for that special quality of life in the city currently lost to lockdown. Not least the random way in which one might bump into a long-lost friend or be invited to attend a seminar or just go for a quick coffee.
Jeremy and I were two strangers talking across an ocean with the help of technology but this was the closest to serendipity that I could have hoped for in these lockdown days. We discussed Ralph Waldo Emerson and John Muir, the Wilderness Prophet and the early roots of the environmental movement. And how for centuries big ideas have been carried on the trade winds between North America and Europe to the benefit of both. And we talked of pilgrimage and the common humanity that can be found at major pilgrim sites of all faiths and, how by stepping out of our communities and all that is familiar and safe and becoming part of a bigger humanity, even for a few days, we open ourselves up to new perspectives on life.
In part, this is what we miss in our bubbles and our shielding and our quarantines. Of course protecting ourselves and our loved ones is paramount – we need to stay safe from the virus. But we also need to be careful that we don’t emerge from this crisis with a fear of others and their values, and their points of view. Listening to a whole range of writers on Jeremy’s podcast reminds me that there is a big wide world waiting for us and stumbling across Tim Hannigan’s review of Wilfred Thesiger’s ‘Arabian Sands’ on Jeremy’s site quickly blew away my ‘no serendipity blues’.