This is the time of year when far too many of us put together a list of new year resolutions only to find them on the shelf collecting 365 days of dust. I thought that rather than go through that futile exercise I would simply list a sampling of life-changing experiences that would merit an add on to your bucket list. Each has particular meaning to me and may not fit your goals, however, hear me out:
*Visit the DUOMO in Florence, Italy. Quite possibly the most breathtaking architectural work of art in all of Italy and beyond. When you first turn the corner in Florence and experience this church coming into view you will think that it is an otherworldly encounter. Trust me when I say that it will change your perspective and make an indelible mark on your life.
*STAND AT THE BASE OF EL CAPITAN the center of the mountain climbing universe. 3200 feet of granite extending straight up to the heavens. This is something to behold. Climbers consider this the most perilous ascent in the world and a prime example of the wonders of nature. I am not a climber, but I stood at the base, put my hand on the giant rock, looked up and became dizzy simply thinking about how and why someone might expect to climb its face.
*THE CULINARY OLYMPIC EXPERIENCE. If you are a professional chef, I would encourage you to establish one goal of competing in the culinary Olympics held every four years in Germany. With thousands of the world’s best chefs putting their skills on the line the adrenaline rush is impossible to describe. Win or lose, this is a benchmark experience.
*STAND AT THE TOP OF AN OLYMPIC SKI JUMP. There are only a few in the world, but one sits in my backyard of Lake Placid, New York (home to the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympic Games). Standing at the top of the 90-meter ski jump and looking down will form a knot in your stomach. Television will never do it justice. I stood at the top in 1979 when they were pouring the last few feet of concrete (the entire structure was a continuous pour until it was done), with just a 2 x 4 railing. The experience made my heart skip a beat.
*FLY INTO THE NICE, FRANCE AIRPORT. There are airports and there are airports but access to the one in Nice includes a low flying pass over the Mediterranean as the pilot steadied a descent – simply spectacular.
*GO TO A DEAD CONCERT. Yea, I know, you either love or hate the Grateful Dead, but before you pass judgement, buy a ticket to the latest version of the Dead without Garcia, and live the experience. There is nothing like it.
*STANDING ON TOP OF THE HIGHEST PEAK SOMEWHERE. Whether it is The Eiger, Mt. Hood, Everest, or New York’s Mt. Marcy – when you stand on top of the highest peak in a state, country, or the world you will be, at that moment, higher than anyone else in that area. When I stood on top of Mt. Marcy, I was higher than more than 10 million other people in the State of New York and that is exhilarating and humbling.
*STAND ON THE STAGE AT CARNIGIE HALL. To a musician, Carnegie Hall is the epitome of venues. To be there means that you are a master of your craft and as such are part of a unique club of individuals who have earned the right. Well, everyone can be part of a tour that allows you to stand on that stage and look out at the magnificence of this theater. Do it!
*HAVE DINNER AT A MICHELIN 3-STAR RESTAURANT. To many, the cost of a Michelin dining experience is far too extravagant and excessive. That is until you experience it. If you want to know what the big deal is, then save up your silver dollars and make a reservation at a three-star mecca for the culinary arts. Crazy money, but worth it.
*WORK A DAY IN A VINEYARD. Do you enjoy a nice glass of wine, but are you at a loss to understand how the beverage gets to the bottle? Spend a day bent at the waist either weeding, tying vines, or picking grapes, sit down with the crew for a meal prepared by the vintner, take a few ibuprofen to calm the back pain, and raise a glass in awe of the winemaker.
*VISIT A MEAT PROCESSING PLANT. We take for granted the fact that that beautiful steak, roast, or chicken come from an animal that gave its life for you to enjoy a meal. It’s not enjoyable, but it is important for everyone to visit a meat processing plant so that you can fully appreciate the animal and show it respect the next time you cook or consume.
*SPEND TIME ON A COMMERCIAL FISHING BOAT. Depending on the type of fishing, this can be one of the most dangerous jobs to be found. Some commercial fishermen travel a hundred miles offshore to catch the haddock, flounder, tuna, or swordfish that you enjoy on your grill or in your sauté pan. Prepare for an uneasy stomach but spend a day or even a few hours on a fishing boat, or even a lobster boat to understand the work of these blue-collar artisans.
*STAND UNDER THE EIFFEL TOWER AND LOOK UP. You have seen the pictures, read the stories, and maybe you have even visited Paris, but until you stand directly under the center of the Eiffel Tower and look up (if you are daring – lie on your back and do the same) you cannot grasp the wonder of this incredible structure.
*SPEND TIME IN THE WOODS – BY YOURSELF. There is no greater church, no more peaceful environment, no more meaningful connection with the earth than to spend time alone in the forest. Smell the pine and the musty aroma of mushrooms and decaying trees, listen to the sounds of insects and creatures of the wood, and feel the vibrations that come from noble trees standing tall for decades or generations, taking in carbon dioxide and giving us back the oxygen that allows us to live.
*WALK INTO NOTRE DAME. The fire that nearly destroyed Notre Dame came close to removing this magnificent work of art and incredible tribute to God. It is spectacular and make sure that it sits on your bucket list. Spend time there, order a few Café au Laits at a nearby brasserie and watch the people walk through its doors – it is truly special.
*WRITE A BOOK. Everyone can do it. You all have stories to tell and share. Write constantly, read even more constantly, and write some more. Listen to other’s critique of your work. You will get better. Tell your story and let it live on.
*TOUCH THE DESK OF ESCOFFIER. At the museum in the chef’s former hometown of Villeneuve Loubet, France sits the desk where he wrote his menus and memos. If you are a chef or a cook, visit this mecca and lay your hands on his desk. It is inspiring.
*WALK THROUGH THE CAVES OF MOET CHANDON. Underneath the streets of Reims, France lay miles of chalk caves that hold hundreds of thousands of Moet Chandon and Dom Perignon bottles resting and preparing themselves to grace your table a few years down the road. Experience it.
*WATCH THE MOVIE – FREE SOLO. I need not say more other than watch this movie about Alex Honnold who was the first climber to ever successfully scale El Capitan without ropes. Scarry as hell – you will shake your head in wonderment.
STAND IN THE MUSEE d’ORSAY AND STUDY A VAN GOGH OR MONET. One of the most important museums in the world – this extraordinary haven for Impressionist Art is worthy of anyone’s bucket list. You will know the paintings but fail to comprehend how beautiful they are until you stand a few feet from them.
*FLY OVER NYC ON A CLEAR NIGHT. It’s called the center of the universe for a number of reasons, but it is most breathtaking at night when lit like a Christmas tree shining as a beacon welcoming people from every corner of the world.
*SIT IN CENTRAL PARK AND LOOK UP AT THE DAKOTA WHERE LENNON LIVED. Sit on a bench, look up at the building façade, and sing “Imagine” out loud. It’s therapeutic.
*WALK THE MARGINAL WAY IN OGUNQUIT, MAINE. I have been there almost every year for the past ten and while visiting, my wife and I walk the mile long marginal way that is on the rocky edge of the Atlantic Ocean dozens of times and marvel at sunrises, the power of crashing waves, the distant view of fishing boats, and a sense of how majestic our world is.
*WATCH THE PEAK OF MOUNT HOOD FROM A PLANE. Flying to Oregon or Washington State will likely always include a pilot dipping his wings to give you an incredible view of the Mt. Hood Summit. It is amazing.
*MARVEL AT LAKE MEADE FROM THE MIDDLE OF THE DESERT. It doesn’t seem possible that in the middle of the desert there is a real oasis (albeit manmade). A body of water that nourishes much of California farmland and the opulence of Las Vegas. When you first see it, the vista doesn’t seem real.
*SKATE ON THE OLYMPIC OVAL – EVEN IF YOU CAN’T SKATE. Visit Lake Placid in the wintertime, rent a pair of skates even if your ankles (like mine) resist staying upright, and shuffle around the outdoor speedskating oval where Eric Heiden won five gold medals in 1980. It’s amazing.
*HOLD A WHITE TRUFFLE IN YOUR HAND AND TAKE IN THE AROMA. There is no other smell like it. It is Mother Nature’s hidden treasure for a reason. Order gnocchi, fresh fettuccini, or even loose scrambled eggs and have the server shave plenty of this hidden gem on top. Take in the smell and do so with eyes closed.
*DRINK A GRAND CRU BORDEAUX IN BORDEAUX, A PINOT NOIR IN OREGON, AND A DEEP RED ZINFANDEL IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA. No bottle of wine is worth more than $20 – or is it. If you want an answer to this – try a great wine that has been stored and aged properly. Relish how it smells, look at how it coats a glass, make sure that it is a very good glass, sip a small amount and swirl in it your mouth, stick your rose right in the glass to take in all of the aroma, and let it slide down your throat. It will never become your everyday wine, but you will learn to appreciate it.
*WORK ON A BUSY LINE AT A SERIOUS RESTAURANT. The work that goes in to completing that plate of food in your favorite restaurant is mind blowing. If you are a young cook or just a person who enjoys great food, find a way to spend a full day and night in a professional kitchen and on the line even if just to watch.
*STAND ON THE EDGE OF NIAGARA FALLS. It is a wonder of the world after all.
*SIT WITHIN 10 FEET OF STANLEY JORDAN PLAYING THE GUITAR. Or it could be Tommy Emmanuel, Jeff Beck, Jorma Kaukonen, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, or a handful of other masters, but the key is to find a way to get that front row seat so that you can take it all in and feel what that musician feels when he or she bends those strings or picks a friendly tune.
*COOK DINNER FOR BELA FLECK AND THE FLECKTONES. Just because I did this. Very cool. I asked him who is favorite banjo player was and he responded, “who’s yours?” I said – you of course.
This is part of my list – yours will be different, but what is most important is that you fill your life with remarkable experiences, fill your dance card and set out to check everything off that you can.
PLAN BETTER -TRAIN HARDER
Happy 2022 – may it knock your socks off
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