Don’t go! You’re crazy! You’ll get sick! Stay home! Are you nuts??
These were the concerned warnings my friends and family were giving me before I left for Europe in the midst of a huge Delta Variant wave sweeping the United States. With only 50% of the country vaccinated and many still resistant to taking it, the Coronavirus variant was gleefully having its way with humans across the globe. And almost everyone I knew had declared, they weren’t ready to travel yet.
So why did I make this apparently rash decision? After being locked up for 18 months and not able to follow my wanderlust inclinations, I looked at the facts of the situation and decided that, being fully vaccinated, extremely experienced with mask and social distance protocols, and armed with the knowledge that airplane travel is actually very safe at this point with its ventilation systems refreshing the air every 12 minutes, I could make this work safely.
My motivation was strong. An independent filmmaker enters competitions to test the waters after being in the cocoon of either writing or making a film for a very long time. Since what we make isn’t just for ourselves, it’s important to get feedback before launching our ‘baby’ into the world. Most film festivals and markets had been online for so long and I was frankly just zoom/pooped out. My digital brain fog was increasing and I knew I needed to stay engaged but I also knew I was craving real person-to-person contact. So far, I had spent the pandemic writing, pitching, and submitting scripts and treatments to various film festivals online around the world. They were doing well, accolades were coming in and one of our projects, a feature film written by Jagiwan Sohal had been selected as a Finalist at the Oaxaca Film Festival and we had just heard it was also a Finalist at the Santorini Film Festival in Greece in early August 2021.
This was a festival I was told by anyone who had been, was insanely magical and impossible to miss, so when they announced it would be one of the first live, in-person events (it’s an outdoor amphitheater), my mind began to ponder the possibility? Should I attend in person as a Finalist? The thought made me giddy.
Earlier in the year we had been selected as one of 12 production companies for the Telefilm Canada RDV Meet the Series Team and had been pitching our projects quite successfully throughout the year. We had online meetings at the European Film Market in Berlin, MIPTV in Cannes, and several other online pitch sessions. One of our series was 40% funded when they announced that our final market, Series Mania, was going to be held in person in Lille in the North of France at the end of August/2021. I was practically salivating at the chance to spread my wings and head to Europe for both events.
Let’s do it!
Both festivals guaranteed Covid protocols would be in place, and I had an airline travel voucher from a canceled European flight a year and a half ago due to Covid. We were now hearing that in a few months our vaccinations were going to wear off and we’d all need booster shots. Remembering the Hunger Games atmosphere trying to get the vaccine in spring of 2020, I decided it was now or never. Let’s do it!
Booking a complicated series of flights to Europe from the US via Canada during Covid takes the determination of an army tank. Phone wait times are over two hours and airlines are flying at reduced capacity so one is forced to do a lot of transiting in and out of various countries. This is even more complicated during Covid because every country has its own rules and requirements for entry, vaccinations, negative tests with expiry times. Though I was finally successful in booking a series of flights, the paperwork involved was enormous and I ended up with over 18 documents to keep track of throughout my journey.
With the world in an unpredictable start-stop mode, there are a lot of system problems at every level. As I needed to get up very early to catch my first flight from LAX, I remembered I hadn’t used Lyft since upgrading to a new phone. No matter how many hours I tried and with an exhausted Lyft support team, we could never make it work and I ended up calling a new taxi service which got me to the airport but would only take cash (something I was saving for Europe). I made it on time but the chaos and wait at the airport was only exacerbated when they found an internal problem with one of my flights and it took the check-in agent an hour to fix it on their end. Finally,I got my begoggled, double-masked self onto the airplane.
Here we go!
It was a 24-hour journey. Even though all of the countries displayed their own stereotypical characteristics during transit: the nice Canadians, the precise Swiss, and the adamant Greeks, I was gobsmacked at how many travelers were either not wearing masks or wearing them incorrectly (noses hanging out spewing thousands of potentially loaded droplets). My heart went out to the beleaguered flight attendants who repeated themselves over and over again about the importance of correct mask-wearing but it seems to me that people are either fed up, just don’t care anymore, or still think it can’t happen to them. I had no choice but to stay begoggled and double-masked the whole trip as people next to me would snore directly at me, their mask around their chins, or yell, unmasked to their family members via my face. You get the picture.
On the other hand, I was delighted to be in the clouds again. Clearing the Swiss Alps out of Geneva was breathtaking, and seeing the Greek islands emerge out of the wildfire smoke was stunning. I concentrated on the privilege and joys of the journey.
Finally, after a very long and full day of travel and very little sleep, I landed at my final destination, Santorini, Greece and was delighted to feel the hot breezes and excited faces of kids from different families playing together in the airport while exhausted parents waited for luggage. I was very happy to collect mine and make my way to the busy area where eager drivers wait with signs for even more eager travelers.
I stood in the hot sun, so looking forward to finding my pre-arranged hotel transfer and the next part of my adventure. I waited. And waited. And waited…
Join me for Part 2 of my journey through Europe during Covid-19.