I have rarely ventured out of my house during the past year, save for intermittent grocery shopping trips and infrequent walks. I know I am among the lucky ones. But even those of us without serious health, family, or financial issues have been prone to loneliness, anxiety, and general concern about the state of the world.
During the pandemic, I have found a wealth of online virtual programming that has opened up whole new horizons even as I hibernate at home. I choose to focus on those that are presented live, rather than recorded. It makes a world of difference to me to have the instructor and participants there in real time, and in most cases there is opportunity to interact with them. The structure these programs have added to my days has been as much a help as the content. I usually schedule a couple of events a day, but sometimes three if there is something particularly enticing.
I am constantly adding more programs to my list. I gravitate to subjects related to art and culture, but there are many with subjects relating to science, history, politics, and more. I while staying at home has been frustrating, these programs have opened up whole new worlds to me. I have traveled to places I have always wanted to visit and revisited others to which I have yearned to return.
There are museums, travel organizations, universities, libraries, and more offering programs — and some have multiple choices in a day. My local library has had a Monday morning presentation for years. Next week I will attend one about the Museum of Bad Art. It’s free, and you don’t need to be a member. Check out your own or any library. One of the few positives of the pandemic is access to programs that wouldn’t have been available before.
A friend recently asked what I was doing to keep occupied. I gave her my list, and she promptly enrolled in a seminar about Art Deco radios and watched it with her son. She also asked me if it was OK to pass the list along to a friend of her mother’s who was having trouble coping. Of course!
Even some of the more regional organizations have programming of interest to a wider audience. The New York Art Deco Society has multiple seminars daily. The New York Adventure Club also has a range of topics. Coming up next in my calendar: “The History of the Bra, from Push-ups to Protest.”
Some of my favorite programs have been through Context Travel. They have a plethora of possibilities. I enjoy just browsing through their website and imagining the possibilities. I took a five-session course about Japanese woodblock prints. The teacher is an American history professor who has lived in Kyoto for 20 years. He is knowledgeable, personable, and funny. He teaches several courses with Context, and I plan to sign up for another. At the end of the course, he invited any of us to look him up if we ever visited Kyoto. I in turn, invited him to look me up if he comes to Boston, which he has before. I hope he will.
I gave a friend her choice of a Context seminar for her birthday. She chose Naples through the eyes of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. I joined her and it was great — aside from the spoilers (I haven’t yet read the books).
Atlas Obscura is a great organization with many seminars and workshops. Perhaps the weirdest one I’ve seen is about mammal taxidermy. In normal times they feature in-person trips to unusual places. Their newsletter highlighting obscure places of interest around the globe is entertaining and engrossing.
I have taken “walks” thru Gaza and through Paris at night, the first one live but with recorded and visual materials. It was presented by an organization that promotes Israeli-Palestinian understanding, and does actual tours in non-pandemic times. I may go on one of their artisan tours when it is safe. The Paris tour was actually live, with the guide taking us down dark streets via his phone. Paris was under curfew, so I suppose I should not have participated, but the most interesting part was seeing the eerily quiet streets.
I am taking a live international folk dance class. (Picture me dancing around my basement holding hands with imaginary companions, listening to a Macedonian melody.) When the pandemic subsides, I will have to say goodbye to my wonderful teacher, Danny at the 92Y Himan Brown program, who greets each participant personally every week.
The Tenement Museum, in Manhattan, is a wonderful place, located in buildings that were previously tenements. Now they are offering nine different tours online. They are $10-$15 each, per household.
I will keep collecting sites, I’m sure, even as I hope that I will not need to virtually visit them all. Hopefully in the not-too-distant future, I can visit some of them in person. And I hope some of you will take my suggestions — maybe I will see some of you online.
Joanna Liss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.