December 29, 2011
I have always extolled the virtues of traveling light. No matter how long the trip, take one bag you can carry with enough for a week, then go to the laundromat. Traveling with just one manageable piece of luggage means you don’t have to tip bellboys, spring for taxis or pay increasingly strict excess baggage fees at the airport.
Mimi Tanner, a lifestyle expert and author of Declutter Fast, agrees. “The Accidental Tourist, that wonderful novel by Anne Tyler, is about a travel writer who urges his readers to take only one carry-on bag with specific items to make packing as easy as possible. I love his recommendations, and he’s absolutely right,” says Tanner. “If you can go with the clothes on your back and one change in your suitcase, you’re destined for great things.”
But it goes deeper than that. Traveling light is a state of mind engendering freedom, mobility and self reliance. More than anything else, it allowed me to cut the moorings and move abroad, to Paris for three years, Beijing for six months and Rome for three years. During this extremely extended trip, I lived in furnished apartments, moving in with little more than clothes. I left the stuff I’d accumulated in a spooky Hollywood storage unit and after a while didn‘t even miss it.
Before each move I purged my belongings, a habit very useful to travelers because packing light is in a sense very much like purging. Fitness and life balance coach Chalene Johnson says such decluttering includes getting rid of both unneeded material objects (a bag of clothes for each new bag you bring home), unfruitful time commitments and false friends. “When your life has less clutter the things that are most important will stand out,“ Johnson writes.
“Cutting through clutter is exhilarating and exciting,” adds Tanner. “It gives us that sense of accomplishment that encourages us to do even more and frees us for the great tasks we know where are capable of.”
I learned about material and spiritual decluttering from a Tai Chi master-hair stylist in New York’s West Village who observed the ritual of elimination every New Year’s Eve instead of going to a party. One January I discovered that he’d even pulled out his kitchen and was taking meals at a macro-biotic place around the corner.
I never took minimalism to this extreme, but I did adopt ritual purging on December 31, thereby traveling light into the New Year and never having to deliberate over what to take on a trip.
What weighs us down and keeps us stuck in place is excess. We don’t need it. So this New Year’s Eve be it resolved to travel light through life and the world.
November 23, 2011
China’s ever-growing global power and influence just got another mark of recognition: The 2011 Pritzker Prize—which goes to Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura—will be awarded on May 25, 2012, in Beijing.
Considered the Nobel of architecture, the prize was created by Hyatt Hotel chain co-founder Jay A. Pritzker in 1979 (Philip Johnson was the first laureate). Award ceremonies are traditionally held in different cities around the world, but this is the first time the Chinese capital has served. The foundation that governs the prize said it based its selection on the proliferation of projects by past Pritzker winners currently rising in Beijing.
I’ll say. When I was last there in 2007, I watched a whole portfolio of them rise. A Pritzker-in-Bejing tour—not to attempt on foot, given the city’s size—should include:
National Stadium on the Fourth Ring Road
Built for the 2008 Olympics and affectionately known as the “Bird’s Nest“ for its singular round, woven design, the stadium was created by the Swiss architectural team of Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, who collected a Pritzker in 2001.
Central Chinese Television headquarters in the Central Business District
It’s impossible not to rubberneck at this truly amazing structure designed by Rem Koolhaas, Pritzker class of 2000, and his then partner Ole Scheeren. The CCT Building, which was damaged in a fire and is still under construction, has two 50-story legs, connected by an angling 13-story bridge; when the observation deck opens visits will discover that the garden below replicates an 18th century map of Rome by Piranesi.
Four rounded, interconnected, steel and glass mounds in the international business district of Dongzhimen are beginning to look like buildings, as intended by London-based architect Zaha Hadid (Pritzker 2004). When completed Galaxy Soho, an office and retail complex, will join a small handful of projects completed by an architect know for mind and space-bending designs sometimes too complex to execute.
Capital Airport about 20 miles northeast of the city center used to be dowdy and inefficient. But in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics it got an ultra-modern new terminal designed by Norman Foster, whose 1999 Pritzker came about a decade after he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. Cool, window-clad and massive, T3 Beijing is the hub for Air China and thus unavoidable if you fly in on the national carrier.
October 27, 2011
Eleven million people tuned in to the first episode of ABC’s new series “Pan Am,” a paean to the glory days of commercial aviation, before security pat downs, luggage restrictions, bring-your-own-dinner-in-a-bag and all the other indignities of contemporary air travel. (Ratings have since nosedived, placing the show in danger of cancellation.)
Much has been made about the banality of the plot and characters, and the series‘ nostalgia for the bad old days before the Women’s Liberation Movement. In a recent episode, one stewardess, who is also an undercover CIA agent, blunders her way through a top secret assignment while her sister and co-worker, the show‘s ditzy blond, escapes from her girdle to Frug all night long in Jakarta Were young women ever so jejune? Whatever happened to “I am Strong, I am Invincible, I am Woman?“
Viewers must bear in mind that Helen Reddy’s hit song and the bonfire of the brassieres came later. Set in 1963, “Pan Am” still flies through the cloudless skies of Ole Blue Eyes and Coffee, Tea or Me?, a risqué memoir written in 1969 by two stewardesses who had to weigh-in before work and retire at 35.
All that went the way of Pan Am, which folded in 1991 (but is still fondly remembered by the Pan Am Historical Foundation, dedicated to preserving the airline’s culture and contributions). The 1964 Civil Rights Act started the process by prohibiting the airlines from forcing stewardesses to resign if they got married, pregnant or turned older than 35 and effectively opened the profession to men, who now comprise about 20 percent of in-flight attendants. Since then the profession has yielded to more mature personnel because salaries and plum assignments are pegged to seniority, meaning employees tend to stay on the job longer.
That’s progress on a social level; I doubt that even the most haggard frequent fliers rue it. But in terms of aesthetics and comfort, air travelers today are infinitely poorer. The series capitalizes on that and a rekindled appreciation for Mid-Century Modern style by lovingly recreating the accoutrements of the Jet Age. With consultation from veteran Pan Am employees, designers pay undivided attention to authenticity, from the reconstituted cockpit of a vintage Pan Am clipper that serves as one of the sets to swizzle sticks bearing the blue Pan Am logo served with in-flight martinis.
Costumes, too, are pitch-perfect, offering new ideas for Halloween. The show’s website supplies patterns for make-your-own stewardess caps; bags and totes with the company’s insignia are available at travel gear retailers like Flight 001, inspired by Pan Am‘s famous round-the-world service, launched in 1947.
Never mind the trim, blue-suited stewardesses. I’m nostalgic for Flight 001, which originated in San Francisco, stopping in Honolulu, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Manila, Calcutta, New Delhi, Beirut, Frankfurt and London before landing in New York; Flight 002 circled the globe the other way around from the airline’s headquarters at JFK Airport in New York (known as Idlewild at the time).Pan Am’s old Worldport terminal is still there as Delta‘s T3, though the original 1961 parasol-roofed design has been all but obliterated by renovations and the building is slated for demolition. Classic Mid-Century Modern architecture is now best appreciated at Jetblue’s T5, where modernization has maintained important aspects of the winged TWA Terminal, built in 1962 by Eero Saarinen.
When I puddle up on the couch on Sunday nights to watch “Pan Am,” it‘s things like that I dream about. And, frankly, I‘m hoping the series lasts for another year at least so we can see what happens to the ditzy blonde when she gets pregnant after passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.