For a little while, watching her out in the world from which I had become so disconnected,I was okay again.I first fell for Justine Shapiro late on a Saturday night at the end of my worst year. It was in South Africa, and she was nearing the end of a grand adventure through the country, a place where she had childhood bonds. Indeed, her journey culminated in Soweto with a reunion with a long-ago friend, the woman who had cared for her as a little girl.
I was star struck. It was near the end of 1999, and I was in a dark place. The previous summer I had lost the best job I’d had, lost my home, and lost the only woman I’ve loved. I was living in exile in Knoxville, Tennessee, the most foreign place I’ve ever been. I was struggling to make a living and build a freelance business to resuscitate my career. Sometimes I worked temp jobs to make ends meet. And at night, I sat up wondering if my life was truly over.
Then came that Saturday night when I discovered Justine Shapiro on the Globe Trekker show on the local public television station. And for a little while, watching her out in the world from which I had become so disconnected, I was okay again.
Justine was a woman after my own heart. She was someone I could travel with. She had a great smile and a sense of adventure, was always asking questions.
Over the next two years, I followed her adventures: the gaucho ranch in Argentina, the motorcycle road trip through the Southwestern United States, wandering through rural France, and learning to cook in Paris. There was a melancholy visit to Poland, tears at Auschwitz. And a comical implosion as an Octoberfest beer hall waitress.
Justine didn’t take any crap, either. Once, a sleazy guy came on to her on a train in Italy, and she gave him the evil eye and moved on. If somebody gave her a hard time, she gave it back.
Then came the sad night when I first noticed her wedding band during the Australia episode. By then, I was okay. Two years had passed. The time of exile was ending. I was moving on to the sun, to the place where I now live and work.
If you don’t know Justine’s work, look it up. In addition to hosting Globe Trekker, she co-directed and co-produced an Academy Award nominated documentary, Promises, about Israeli and Palestinian children.
I owe Justine a great debt for these adventures that followed, for the open-eyed way I approach them. Even the decision to finally record them comes from her. Call her my muse, I suppose. Wherever she is, I’m thankful.