Whale of a Tale

Whale of a Tale

July 31, 2019

To celebrate my 44th birthday last February, my wife and four of our friends booked a last-minute Inspirato Jaunt™ vacation to Punta de Mita on the Pacific side of Mexico, 10 miles north of Puerto Vallarta. We enjoy vacations near water, and I’ve gotten into sport fishing the past few years, so it seemed like a perfect fit for our first Inspirato trip. We arrived at our five-bedroom Vista Bahia residence at Los Veneros Resort Residences and Beach Club to fresh margaritas, martinis, beers and meat prepped for grilling. There were floor-to-ceiling accordion doors leading outside, and the whole front of the residence opened up to a patio and a private pool overlooking the ocean. There seemed to be an endless supply of chips and salsa available at all times.

Each morning we awoke to the smell of breakfast being prepared by our personal chef who started our day with delicious pancakes, waffles, quiche and huevos rancheros. During the day we enjoyed couples’ massages and specialty cocktails while looking out over the Playa de Estiladeras. The nights that we weren’t grilling and relaxing by the pool, we went out for lobster dinners along Puerto Vallarta’s famed malecón, or boardwalk, a short drive away.

They took care of everything—I was never left wondering what would happen next. We even had a rental car delivered to us with such detailed instructions on where to go and how to get there that we had no problem navigating our way around the scenic peninsula. Sometimes it’s nerve-wracking trying to navigate in another country, but everything went incredibly smooth during our five-day stay.

The highlight of our visit was day three, when we took an all-day fishing charter out of the marina at Punta de Mita on a 35-foot-vessel. There were huge swells out on the open ocean, but our captain did a phenomenal job of maneuvering us through the chop. I can’t say enough about how fantastic the captain and crew of the Banderas in Paradise (BIP) charter were that day. I’ve been on fishing boats where no one really talks and there’s no effort to connect with you. This team was super supportive and made an effort to get to know us. They seemed to be having just as much fun as we were out there on the ocean. 

When I started reeling in a fish, the crew ran around the boat making sure there were no obstructions. I welcomed their assistance since I lost a marlin after 30 minutes of serious effort during a previous fishing charter because I gave the line too much slack. I didn’t want that to happen again. I was lucky enough to snag the largest of the four fish caught that day: a rooster fish that was about 4 feet long. My adrenaline was pumping. It was quite a birthday catch. On the water later that day, we also spotted two large humpback whales and a baby whale a mere 20 yards from the boat. Our boat looked small compared to this trio of giants. They swam right by us and would breach, splash, drop and shake their tails. It was very like something out of a National Geographic documentary, one mashed up with a SeaWorld show. At one point the whales glided through the water side-by-side, jumping and weaving back-and-forth between one another and truly showcasing their playful side. It was as if they knew that we were there to watch them and decided to put on a show for us.

Back at our residence, we sat out on the balcony and spotted a few more whales and dolphins popping up out of the water. We were thoroughly impressed. While talking with locals about our great sightings, we learned that we witnessed the tail end of the annual whale migration. The height of migration is a few weeks earlier and most whales have moved on by late-February. If we’d come just a little bit earlier, we might have seen ten times the number of whales. Whenever Kim and I get together with the other couples from the trip, we always talk about our day out on the boat and our desire to head back to Punta de Mita to see the whales again. In fact, by the time you read this, we’ll have probably already returned. 

Voice of Gold

Voice of Gold

July 30, 2019

Andrea Bocelli has never been on to balk at a good challenge. Blind since age 12 due to congenital glaucoma worsened by a soccer mishap, the internationally beloved Italian tenor says, “I was a restless kid. I had grown a taste for challenges, with a tendency to do all that I was forbidden or suggested not to do—and, if possible, to do it better than the others, even with enormous sacrifices.” Indeed, before he became a father, Bocelli, now 55, says, “I did not miss out on the excitement of water-skiing and paragliding as well as the thrill of speed.” Add to the list snow skiing, riding horses and bicycles—even skydiving and driving a car—and you’ll begin to grasp the confident tenacity that enthralls millions of fans worldwide.

What’s not challenging for Bocelli these days is selling out massive venues as well as albums, more than 80 million of them, making him the best-selling classical solo artist ever and one of the best-selling artists in music history. Perhaps the one bastion that may never fall to the richly emotional charms of his fluid, versatile voice is the conservative opera-world establishment. “Andrea Bocelli is one of those crossover artists who infuriate the opera purists, but is loved by many for his musical gifts,” says Michael Sinclair, editor of The Opera Critic. “I don’t consider him an opera singer in the true sense of the word.” In this way, Bocelli’s career shares parallels with The Three Tenors phenomenon, when Luciano Pavarotti, Plàcido Domingo, and José Carreras brought opera and classical music to huge stadium audiences, an anathema to opera traditionalists. Given that opera is Bocelli’s first love, enflamed when his nanny Oriana gave him a record of the late Franco Corelli, the famous Italian tenor who would later become his teacher, disdain from some critics must sting a bit—but only enough to reaffirm his disciplined dedication to improving his bel canto every day and with each performance. Earlier this year, Bocelli released Passione, a collection of Mediterranean love songs. Essentially a sequel to his highly popular Amore, a 2006 collaboration with Grammy Award-winning producer David Foster, the well-reviewed album features classics like “Garota De Ipanema” (Girl from Ipanema), “Love Me Tender,” and “Sará Settembre” (better known to English-speaking audiences as Neil Diamond’s “September Morn”).

On the album, Bocelli sings in six languages (Italian, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Neapolitan), is accompanied by Latin rhythms and a 63-piece orchestra recorded in London, and performs duets with pop stars Jennifer Lopez (“Quizás Quizás Quizás”), Nelly Furtado (“Corcovado”), and even the late French chanteuse Edith Piaf, whose vocal for “La Vie En Rose” Foster extracted from a 1940s-era master recording.  

Many of the songs on Passione were among those often requested when Bocelli sang and played piano six nights a week in bars throughout Tuscany in the mid-1970s, to help pay for voice lessons with Corelli. During this time, he also studied law at the University of Pisa, near the family farm in Lajatico, where he and his younger brother, Alberto, grew up. Bocelli remembers these youthful days fondly: “It often happened that a beautiful girl who could sing in tune would come up and ask to sing something with me.” “I have always been singing, since I was a boy,” Bocelli says. “I used to compete, in the living room of my home, with the voices of my heroes whose interpretations came through the record player.” At age 6, he began studying classical piano, later learning to play the flute, saxophone, trumpet, guitar, drums, and more.

“Up to age 18, I had quite a radical attitude toward pop, excluding a priori all that was not classical or opera,” he says. But when he began playing “light music” in piano bars, he says, “an entirely new world opened up to me; I realized pop has its masterpieces.” For Bocelli, it’s easy to identify beauty in a piece of music, whatever the genre. “The fundamental difference is in the consequences it generates; it slowly gets inside you and helps you to grow, developing your spirituality.”

For a year, Bocelli worked as a stateappointed attorney. But his heart was in music. His big break came in 1992, when Italian rock star Zucchero called for tenors to make demo tapes of his song “Miserere,” hoping to convince Luciano Pavarotti to record a duet with him. Legend has it that Pavarotti refused to believe Bocelli’s tape was made by an unknown piano player, then told Zucchero to use him instead, famously saying, “There is no finer voice.” Pavarotti did, however, record the duet, but it was Bocelli who performed in his place on Zucchero’s European tour, quickly gaining a name for himself. Around this time, Caterina Caselli signed Bocelli to her Sugar record label. Three things drew her to the tenor she says: a “deeply marvelous” voice, with “low frequencies that creep into our emotional fields and conquer our hearts”; beauty (“He looked like the young and absolutely heart-throbbing Omar Sharif ”); and charisma that “enables him to relate to people from all walks of life.” In 1996, Bocelli recorded “Time to Say Goodbye,” a duet with English soprano Sarah Brightman that quickly shot to the top of the charts in Europe. In 1999, he began a grueling world tour, which included his first performances in the U.S. His opening performance at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. won several standing ovations. This marked the beginning of a special relationship with America and with New York City in particular, where then-mayor Rudy Guiliani granted him the Crystal Apple in 1999. In 2011, Bocelli gave a Central Park concert broadcast on PBS and attended by 60,000, singing with Tony Bennett, Celine Dion, and many others.

At every break in the tour schedule, Bocelli traveled home to his expansive villa, a former hotel on the northern Italian coast near Pisa, to spend time with his two growing sons, Matteo and Amos. At a party in 2002, he met the younger woman who would become his fiancé and manager, Veronica Berti. “A few minutes after we met, he dedicated to me the romanza ‘Occhi di Fata’ [or Fairy Eyes],” she recalls. “That evening was enough for us both to decide to choose to spend our lives together.” Their light-filled home includes a large collection of musical instruments, ready for spontaneous harmonizing. Collaborator David Foster describes a typical scene: “We have so much fun when we’re working together. Andrea has an incredible sense of humor and his musical tastes are unbelievably varied. On any given night, while on a break, you could find us in the living room: me on piano; Pierpaolo, the sound engineer, on bass; Andrea’s sons on percussion; and Andrea himself on drums, playing and singing a Beatles song.”

Foster says the first time he heard Bocelli sing was a rare “aha” moment: “I was completely blown away by this powerful yet gentle voice singing in a style that I had never heard before. He is the only person I know who walks perfectly in both the pop world and the classical world. His pop voice is effortless and his knowledge of classical is vast. He prefers one over the other but he’s so clever that you will never figure out what his favorite is.” Those closest to Bocelli are clearly inspired by his will and passion for life, but are quick to add that these are balanced with a gentle humility, integrity and loyalty to his family, friends, and homeland. Together with his brother, Alberto, he owns a winery, “an adventure designed to honor and pass on the great love of our father, Sandro,” Alberto explains. “In the eighteenth century, the Bocelli family worked as sharecroppers on a property of the Corsini princes. The passion for our land has remained in our chromosomes.” Producing quality traditional Tuscan wines is a point of pride: “If we can recoup the expenses we are already happy.” In his hometown of Lajatico, Bocelli also helped sponsor construction of an open-air amphitheater, where he hosts a packed concert with special guests every July. Aptly named the Teatro del Silenzio, the venue goes dark the rest of the year. Growing up, Alberto watched his brother transform what could have been a limitation into opportunity for growth. “I think he grew his strong will in the difficult apprenticeship  of childhood, when he used to do half the things because he liked them, and the other half to demonstrate how silly others’ prejudices were.”

His old friend Adriano Fiaschi says that during their endless youthful discussions of dreams, love, and life, he came to appreciate Bocelli’s unique perspective on the dichotomy between being and appearing. “Since he was a boy, Andrea has pursued ‘to be,’ not ‘to look’,” he says. “Those who do not have any sight problems may be misled by the superficiality of the appearance, while Andrea is prone to see the essence of things; he knows how to capture what matters. Sight implies practical advantages, no doubt, but in this sense, also some disadvantages.”

To select the songs for Passione, Foster spent two 14-day stretches at Bocelli’s villa, coming up with a list of 80 candidates. Asked what makes a great love song, Bocelli told Foster, “When I sing a song, I must first fall in love with it and feel it in my heart. It must arouse emotions and enter the fibers of those who are listening to it. It must become the voice of many in the world, so that they can mirror in it their most genuine feelings.” In the midst of his Passione tour this summer, Bocelli reflected on his ambivalence about touring. “Mine is a wandering life. The rhythms it requires still cost me physical and psychological strain today, as 20 years ago. I spend most part of the year abroad, and every time I have to leave the peace and the happiness of my house and most of all, my loved ones. At the same time, I am perfectly aware of how wonderful my work is, and I certainly do not complain.” His preparation for a tour is always the same, he says. But with rising fame and growing public expectations, he says, “I cannot afford leaving anything to chance. The set list is quite meticulously prepared and reasoned. The performance of the pieces, especially the opera ones needs constant study.” Thankfully, tour logistics are handled by his staff, ‘an enlarged family.’ And after a decade of exhausting airport waits and delays, he now travels by private plane, a luxury which affords him “the perception of a family ambiance even when I am among clouds, traveling from one continent to the other,” he says. While on tour, Bocelli maintains a strict regimen. “Between concerts, I try to spend my time in isolation. I avoid drinking wine, coffee, and other pleasant things. I follow the diet of an athlete and take with me a gym ball, a simple tool to keep in shape. I try to speak as little as possible and to maintain the maximum concentration. Therefore, there’s usually no shop- ping, no trips. In fact, I can say I have traveled the world wide and far, but most of the time, I just know the airport, my hotel room and the dressing room of the theater. Before concerts, I study, read, or write myself (poems and aphorisms) in order not to give in to laziness and to keep my brain fit.”

Caselli vouches for his disciplined work ethic. “Andrea always aims for the sky and gives his very best, even when he is not in tiptop shape,” she says. “I recall seeing him perform live on Good Morning America at 7 a.m. without a speck of hesitation, after waking up jetlagged at 5 a.m. And this, let me say, is a rather unlikely practice among performing artists, who normally refuse to sing anything sooner than the early afternoon.” The day before any live performance, she says, he has a strict rule of almost religious silence: no interviews, no phone calls for the sake of his voice.

Shows share with all Bocelli’s live performances a special quality—an alchemy born of the magical effect his voice seems to have on his dedicated fans. His former piano teacher and collaborator for 20 years, Carlo Bernini, describes the effect, especially common in large concerts in the United States and South America. “[His] singing interacts at a deep level with the listener,” he says. “I see many couples arrive and absentmindedly occupy their places. Gradually, as the concert proceeds, people have a happier disposition and end up hugging or holding hands, or one is weeping and the other one is encircling his or her head. At the end of the concert, the public comes out visibly regenerated, pacified, and full of new energy.” Part of the magic is that his audience senses that Bocelli himself quite naturally embodies passion and romance. “I’m still very much in love with life. Love, the engine of the world, and even romance are essential ingredients of a whole existence, regardless of the passing of time. I think it is a priceless privilege for man to have the possibility to interpret, poetically, their own adventure on Earth,” he says. “What is often too large to be contained in the rational mechanisms of our minds, we can perhaps, if not really achieve, at least perceive through a poem, or perhaps a musical phrase.” With his fairy tale life and overwhelmingly positive outlook, Bocelli has little patience for labels like crossover artist or for petty critiques from opera-world purists. At the June opening of the opera season in Verona, he reportedly remarked with characteristic pragmatism to a journalist’s question about the attendance crisis in opera [houses] today, “We should invite young people to the theaters, to rehearsals. We have to spread it just as we do with sport. In a word, opera needs to be supported by an adequate marketing operation. For the rest, opera is more than alive and enjoys good health.”

When he looks ahead, Bocelli sees plenty of music projects— and a desire to give back something of what life has given him. He recently founded the Andrea Bocelli Foundation, which works to help people around the world who are in need due to illness, disability, poverty, and social exclusion. “I created a foundation to put all our strengths together, to make sure that my actions are not ‘a drop in the sea’ but united with all other drops—as Mother Teresa teaches us—to become an ocean,” he wrote in a letter on the nonprofit’s website. Appropriately, one of the first grants went to the MIT Fifth Sense Project, where researchers are working to develop a technology that can help blind people to perform the activities of daily life more independently and efficiently. Another, named Project Virginia, supports high-risk pregnancy care at a hospital in Haiti. After this tour wraps at the end of the year, Bocelli says he’s dreaming of just one thing. “At the top of my desires, there is always the peace and the quietness of my home in Tuscany, together with my children and the people I love,” he says. “That is my favorite holiday, the main goal in my wish list.”

Simona Bresciani’s list Destination Concierge for Tuscany

Spa: Relax at Espa, a modern wellness center tucked into Castello del Nero, a 12th-century palace located among the rolling hills of western Chianti. After a massage and skin treatment, take in the view of vineyards and olive groves from its heated pool.
Meal: Steps away from the duomo (cathedral) in Siena sits Antica Osteria Da Divo, which serves classic Tuscan fare in ancient Etruscan underground rooms carved out of the region’s soft volcanic rock.  Wine: Combine two Italian classics into one with a guided road trip in tiny 1960s’ vintage Fiat 500 cars that ends at a 15th-century villa and vineyard. Harvest grapes, stomp them into juice, and learn the Italian way to producing wine.

The Destination the Former President’s Daughter Loves to Visit

The Destination the Former President's Daughter Loves to Visit

June 27, 2019

The breathtaking Il Campanile estate is a mix of 14th-century ambiance and 21st-century amenities with original architecture restored, brick by brick, in all three of the guest residences—La Villeta, Villa Belleza and Villa Collina. Think fully equipped, state-of-the-art kitchens with private chefs and cooking demonstrations, roaring fireplaces outfitted with pizza ovens, and a serene swimming pool surrounded by chaise lounges and lush Italian terrain. With nine bedrooms, nine and a half baths and 12,700 square feet for roaming and relaxing, the only reason to venture off the estate is to explore the nearby rolling hills and picturesque towns. 

“We sampled special wines from Tuscany and met the people who own the vineyards and heard their stories. Those days were just unbelievable.” 

The friends’ escape brought many adventures. Among the most memorable, Bush-Hager describes a starlit evening when a couple among them got engaged to the surprise and delight of everyone in attendance. Surrounded by their closest pals, the newly betrothed celebrated well into the night in “the most romantic place imaginable,” Bush-Hager gushes. “We’d always planned to dress up and have a masquerade themed last meal,” she says. “We all brought cocktail dresses, and the boys their tuxedos or suits, but we didn’t know our friends would be engaged, so of course that made it even more special. And we went around the table and gave toasts to the trip, and shared our favorite memories, and toasted the future bride and groom. It was a wonderful engagement!” 

Exploring Tuscany

But there were plenty other once-in-a-lifetime moments along the way. For instance, in Siena, the friends were directed by the Il Campanile chef to a truly hidden gem. “We walked all around the town, saw the old church and strolled the streets and shops. And then we went to a little restaurant that we would never have known about if Sophie the chef hadn’t recommended it,” she recalls. They also toured the region’s array of vineyards. “We sampled special wines from Tuscany and met the people who own the vineyards—these amazing people— and heard their stories. Those days were just unbelievable.” Bush-Hager, who’s frequently photographed by the tabloids working up a sweat while taking New York City spin classes, recounts the group bike trek they took into the Italian countryside. 

“We’re all super-athletic, but the hills of Tuscany were a bit more than we bargained for,” she says, laughing. “It was hard, but also really cool because we saw all these medieval towns and stopped at a vineyard, and we ended up at the owner of the bicycle tour’s home, off a dirt road with his kids running around. His wife cooked us this very fresh, really delicious, really authentic meal and told us all these wonderful tales. It was lovely to sit in his garden, their home and backyard, and [enjoy a meal] they would serve to their own family. Those are the authentic moments with people who live in the region that we loved.” 

Savoring the Culture

But Bush-Hager has a special spot in her heart for the Il Campanile estate itself. “On one of our favorite nights,” she recalls, “we had a chef come in and cook pizza in the pizza ovens in the house, right there in the courtyard. And on another night Sophie gave us a cooking lesson, and we made this incredible menu together. It was great learning the customs and culture of Italy through food.” So what did they prepare in the kitchen that night? “Sophie taught us how to make homemade pasta, which is a very complicated process if you’ve ever done it. Plus bruschetta,” she recalls. “Sophie brought in all the ingredients from her own garden. It couldn’t have been any fresher. We also made two kinds of sauces, one with vegetables and one classic bolognese sauce. And tiramisu for dessert… The typical Italian meal.” 

On the Road Again

Bush-Hager was in London this summer to broadcast a story on the Olympics for NBC, and next she will “travel around Europe a bit,” she says. “I’ve been…a few times; Henry and I are trying to find someplace new to explore.” They also want to do more jetsetting before starting a family, which she demurely admits her parents, George W. and former first lady Laura Bush, would love to see happen soon. For now, the couple is quite content with “our pet Barney,” once famously known as America’s first dog, now pushing 13 years old. Besides, she insists, there are so many more exotic lands to discover. “I’ve always had serious wanderlust,” she explains. “My husband and I both have jobs that keep us traveling incessantly. I’ve never been to Asia, and I’m really hoping to get there sooner rather than later. I’m also dying to go to India. I’d say those will be my two next trips whenever I get a second. And sometimes it’s nice, since we’re so busy, to just have a weekend at home in New York—it feels almost luxurious. But I love, love, love traveling.”

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Once famed for keeping her Secret Service detail on its toes—she and her sister, Barbara, loved nothing more than outsmarting and losing the agents assigned to them—a more seasoned Jenna Bush-Hager now focuses on work, travel, philanthropy and social consciousness, not hijinks.

Bush-Hager is the chair of Next Generation, launched in 2009 to “save, protect and improve the lives of children around the world,” according to the organization’s website. The former first daughter adds, “By volunteering, fundraising and advocating for UNICEF’s lifesaving programs, we hope to mobilize a new generation and end the senseless deaths of so many young children.” The group tackles malnutrition as a first-line defense in developing nations, plus raises funds and awareness.

Close friends and founders of The Novo Project, BushHager and Mia Baxter “share a passion for travel, food, art, stories and photos of the people and things that are making an impact in the global community,” claims their website. Its mission is to spotlight game-changers, thought-influencers and serve as inspiration for innovations in design and creative pursuits. For example, “we might highlight a sustainable bakery,” Bush-Hager tells us. “Or anything that shapes our culture.” 

NBA Star Anthony Parker’s Interview and Travel Priorities

NBA Star Anthony Parker's Interview and Travel Priorities

June 25, 2019

A successful career isn’t as fulfilling if you don’t take time to enjoy the rewards. Anthony Parker’s fast-paced life as a professional basketball player took him around the country during nine years in the NBA and around the world playing overseas for six years, yet he rarely had time for more than a quick meal in any one place before moving on to the next. Parker retired from the Cleveland Cavaliers recently and accepted a scouting position with the Orlando Magic, a job that will keep him closer to home and his wife and two young sons, in Tampa, Fla.

We caught up with Parker, 37, to talk about how he’s enjoying his newfound free time, including a family trip to the London Olympics to cheer on his sister and the gold-medal-winning women’s basketball team

It’s only been a few months since you announced your retirement from the NBA, but how’s the adjustment been?

I’m enjoying it. It’s been good for my family because we know we’ll be settled here going forward, as opposed to always having to migrate either from the season back home or from home to wherever I’m playing at the time. My sons have gotten involved in some activities that they wouldn’t normally have been able to participate in, which is important as they get older. I moved around a lot as a kid, so I can relate. I’m enjoying time with my family and enjoying things that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to do.

You initially left the NBA to play for Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel; how was that experience?

My first year over there was the biggest adjustment, both on and off the court. A lot changed in a short amount of time—I had just gotten married, and we moved to the other side of the world where we didn’t understand the language. But it turned out to be the best experience. We have friends all over the world now, and being familiar with a lot of different countries and languages really gives you a different perspective on people both abroad and at home. I really embraced the experience and am so happy that I was able to have it.

How did playing overseas advance your game and allow you to return to the NBA as a starter?

It gave me the opportunity to continue playing at a high level and, in doing so, to mature as a player and evolve my game. My best basketball experiences happened when I played for Maccabi Tel Aviv. I went over there with the intent of trying to get back to the NBA the very next year, but after that first year I was like, “This is kind of nice. I could get used to this.” If the NBA was something that made sense and happened to me then great, and if it didn’t then I would be content with my career overseas.

You led Maccabi Tel Aviv to five Israeli Super League national championships, three European titles and you were also voted Euroleague MVP two years in a row. Was there a degree of recognition when you went out in public?

Yes, there was. Israel isn’t in Europe, but we participate in the European league, and among European teams Israel and Lithuania are hugely into basketball. People think of the Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys as America’s teams, and that’s how Maccabi Tel Aviv is to Israel. There’s a great degree of national pride in Israel, and people really rallied around our team. I developed a great relationship with the fans; however, I was always happy to come back to the U.S. and be with my family and have private time.

That’s also where you adopted the number 18, which you wore throughout the rest of your basketball career.

The number 18 is related to chai, which is a symbol of life and good fortune in the Jewish faith. For me it was a way to bring the experience that I had with Israel and Maccabi Tel Aviv and the fans back to the States—to let them know that it wasn’t all forgotten.

Were you always focused on your next game, or did you have time to enjoy the places that you visited?

With a basketball schedule you don’t have a lot of time to see the sites while you’re traveling, but we did have a couple of rare opportunities. I did get a sense for different cultures and perspectives around the world, and that was really refreshing. Anywhere you go people are basically the same—they want good things for their children and pretty much the same things that you or I would want. Traveling abroad really drove that point home.

What are your travel priorities now?

Living overseas really sparked a love of travel, and we try to take our kids along with us as much as we can. Last summer we went back to Israel—it was the first time we’d been back since my youngest son was born there—and it was great to show him where he was born and visit our friends. It’s so valuable to experience different things. I can’t imagine how much my kids’ perspective differs from mine at that same age, not having been to nearly as many places as they have.

Best-Selling Author Chef Ming’s Thriving Career and Travel Tips

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Best-Selling Author Chef Ming's Thriving Career and Travel Tips

June 19, 2019

“I love the concept of a restaurant,” says Boston-based chef, best-selling author, culinary TV star and Inspirato Member Ming Tsai. “With great food and service, you can make people happy.” It’s that positive approach to cooking that has propelled Chef Ming, as he’s called, to the top of the food chain in the Boston area thanks to his signature restaurant, Blue Ginger, in Wellesley. It’s also led to the opportunity to cook for heads of state, China’s among them, as well as a private dinner party for the late poet Maya Angelou.

Tsai learned the ropes of the restaurant business from his mother who ran a Chinese restaurant, Mandarin Kitchen, in Dayton, Ohio. Despite a blue-blood education—Phillips Andover and a mechanical engineering degree from Yale—that prepared him to follow in his engineering father’s footsteps, not his mother’s, he spent his summers in Paris cooking, first at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu and then working in area restaurants. It was there that he realized his calling.

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“There I was, a first-generation Chinese-American, telling my immigrant parents that I want to be a chef,” laughs Tsai. “My mother was supportive, and my father just said, ‘Son, if you’re not passionate, you will not be a success.’ And that was that, I was a chef.”

Tsai earned his masters in hospitality from Cornell and then landed in Santa Fe, New Mexico’s famed Coyoté Café. By 1998, he and his wife had moved to Boston and opened Blue Ginger, which Tsai describes as a mix of East meets West cuisine (think garlic lobster or butterfish in a creamy miso sauce). In 2002, the James Beard Foundation named him Best Chef Northeast, and Blue Ginger has held onto its status as one of the top restaurants in the region.

Why Boston? “Our priorities were to find a city that was big enough to support a Chinatown, so we could easily supply the restaurant with the best ingredients, and had a sizable population that was well-traveled because if you’re well-traveled, you’ll appreciate good food and wine. We loved San Francisco, but the economics didn’t work, and it came down to New York or Boston. As a student, I already had a connection to Boston, so we chose Boston.”

Since then he’s collected an Emmy for his Food Network show, East Meets West with Ming Tsai. In 2013, in the hip Fort Point neighborhood, he opened Blue Dragon, which he describes as an Asian gastro pub (“Try the whole fried chicken,” Tsai says). Driving all his efforts is the deep-seated satisfaction his food brings out in people. “People who appreciate great food and wine will do what it takes to find it, and it’s those people who make being a chef the best.”

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Favorite Vacation Destination

“My family loves to ski, and I can’t wait to get out to Vail in the winter. What I like about vacation houses is that, as a cook, I have to have a kitchen to cook in—that’s why I don’t do hotels. We love Inspirato homes because they do a great job of stocking it with everything I need to feed my family.”

Must-Have Travel Ingredient

“You have to have garlic. In every cuisine around the world, there’s garlic, and the smell of garlic sautéing in butter or oil makes my mouth water and makes me feel instantly at home. Of course, in my opinion, ginger is the equal of garlic for its savory and sweet flavors.”

Why Travel Writer Paul Theroux Visits Cape Cod Every Summer

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Why Travel Writer Paul Theroux Visits Cape Cod Every Summer

May 10, 2019

At first glance it might seem surprising to find the roving travel writer and novelist Paul Theroux spending his summers on Cape Cod. Best known for unflinching accounts of extended, gritty journeys, Theroux helped redefine modern travel writing with his 1975 book, The Great Railway Bazaar, an account of his train journey across Europe and Asia.

A sharp counterpoint to much of the travel writing of the time, Theroux called it as he saw it, and if readers found him cranky or harshly critical, so be it. That didn’t stop them from buying his books, including novels such as The Mosquito Coast, by the millions. “I think the people who read my books and like them, and there are plenty of them, wouldn’t read me if I were merely a bad-tempered person,” Theroux told Salon.com.

Into his later years, Theroux has sought rigorous overland trips, such as a journey that took him across thousands of miles of rutted roads in Africa, recounted in 2002’s Dark Star Safari. So why does this itinerant scribe keep coming back to Cape Cod? There’s fresh air, sand and sea (he’s an avid kayaker), and, of course, history (it’s where the Pilgrims landed in 1620), but most of all it’s become his home. “What a writer needs most is solitude, monotony, routine, security, encouragement and happiness—and, for me, sunshine and the comforts of home,” he tells me. “All my life I have worked to create an ideal place to live and work in, a happy house in a pleasant place.”

Theroux, who turned 74 in April, and his extended family gather on the Cape each summer; he lives with his wife Sheila on Oahu during the winter months. He wouldn’t compare his family to the Kennedys, who famously shared a compound on the Cape in Hyannis Port, but there are some similarities. Like the Kennedys, the Theroux clan has more than one shining light: Paul is the brother of authors Alexander Theroux and Peter Theroux, and his sons Louis and Marcel are successful writers as well.

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When I interviewed Theroux in February, the family was preparing to celebrate the 104th birthday of his mother, Anne Theroux. But she died less than a week shy of that birthday, in Brewster on Cape Cod. “My mother’s extreme longevity has kept the family together,” he tells me just before she passed. “We are still children, still siblings.” After she died, Theroux says: “The fact that she was with us for so long makes it all the harder to contemplate her passing.”

Paul Theroux says he’s been able to travel roughly for months on end because of the sense of place, of belonging, he’s found at his home, located near Sandwich on the Upper Cape, quite close to the residences of other family members. In an essay in Sunrise with Seamonsters, Theroux writes that were it not for the cozy contentment he finds on Cape Cod, “I think it would have been impossible for me to travel or stay away for any length of time.”

And in Fresh Air Fiend, he notes that the Cape has been a lodestone for him, its magnetic allure pulling him back into the fold after every extended journey. “It is my home, so it is in my dreams,” he writes, “a landscape of my unconscious mind, per- haps my mind’s only landscape.”

The writer Nicholas Delbanco, who lives part-time on Wellfleet, on the Cape’s wilder eastern side where the land juts north into the Atlantic, says that although his friend Theroux is a “high-profile” author, he doesn’t seek attention or the perks of fame. “That’s congenial to the New England sensibility and Cape Cod in particular,” says Delbanco, author of the recently released novel, The Years. “For New Englanders, that sense of rootedness is crucial. And for a guy who has spent so much of his life wandering, it’s no surprise that he would also have a place where the roots go deep.”

Naturally, Theroux isn’t the first writer to find solace on the Cape, which he calls “this handle-shaped piece of geography, swinging from the crankcase of the Bay State.” With its golden beaches, windswept shorelines, whitewashed clapboard houses, spirit-lifting vistas and promise of solitude, the hooked peninsula has long been a summertime getaway for artists, writers and others who seek to escape the hubbub and frenetic pace of urban life.

Since the formation of the Provincetown Players in 1915, the first theater company devoted to producing original works by American playwrights, the Cape has opened its arms to writers, establishing a tradition of appreciation for the arts. Among those who have spent time on the Cape over the years: Henry David Thoreau, Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams and poet Mary Oliver.

But perhaps none of these writers has been as intrepid as Theroux. Known locally for paddling his kayak around the Cape, he has embarked on potentially treacherous solo journeys to the nearby islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. The naturalist Edward Hoagland recalled that Theroux used to paddle from Hyannis Port to the Martha’s Vineyard home of author William Styron and pull up his kayak on Styron’s beachfront yard.

Theroux said the potential dangers of paddling around the Cape tuned his senses to hazards while traveling abroad. “This complex landscape has taught me ways of measuring the world of risk,” he writes in “The True Size of Cape Cod,” an essay in Fresh Air Fiend. “But the word ‘landscape’ presents a problem on the Cape. I find it hard to separate the land from the water, or the water from the winds.”

In our interview Theroux notes that the “Cape waters, and Nantucket Sound especially, can be dangerous in a small boat—even in a big boat, if we consider the currents at Woods Hole.” The ocean liner Queen Elizabeth II ran aground 10 miles west of Martha’s Vineyard in August 1992, forcing the evacuation of more than 1,800 passengers, according to the New York Times, and knocking the ship out of commission for a year.

“The real challenges are the tides,” Theroux says in our interview, “the strong winds and the shoals. … Understanding and overcoming these facts of nature is one of the satisfactions of being on the water.”

A decade ago, when I asked Theroux (for my collection of interviews with travel writers called A Sense of Place) why he spends summers on Cape Cod, he replied, “Is that a serious question?” I responded by saying I understood that the Cape is a lovely place but that the world is full of lovely places. Why migrate yearly to the Cape?

Theroux says he enjoys spending time near where he grew up (he spent his youth in Medford, a suburb of Boston), and that he loves the sunny weather and the quality of the ocean-reflected light on the Cape. “There is something magical about marine sunlight,” he says, then adds, “I also subscribe to the ancient Phoenician belief that a day spent on the sea is a day that is not deducted from your life.”

His love affair with the Cape began when he was a boy and his family vacationed there. “It would have been the late 1940s, because gasoline rationing was still in effect. The weeks we spent there bewitched me,” he says. “I longed to go back—and we did. As soon as I made some money I bought a house on the Cape (in the early 1970s) and have spent every summer there since. I work, paddle a kayak, row a boat, grow tomatoes and am visited by my children and grandchildren, nearly always in sunshine,” Theroux tells me. “This is bliss.”

Perhaps Theroux’s enjoyment of the good life on the Cape is enhanced by the rigors of the life he’s led. In 1963, after graduating from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, he en- rolled in the Peace Corps and was assigned to work in Malawi as the country was gaining its independence.

After almost two years there, Theroux was discharged from the Peace Corps amid allegations he aided a coup. When asked about this, Theroux says he was simply taking the mother of Malawi’s ambassador, and her dinner service for 12, to Uganda. On the way back he was asked to deliver some money and a message, which, though he says he didn’t know it, was part of a plot to kill Malawi’s president.

From 1965 until 1968, Theroux taught at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, where he wrote his early novels, met his first wife, and introduced himself to the author who would become his mentor, V. S. Naipaul. Theroux and Naipaul later had a falling out, a tale recounted in Theroux’s 1998 memoir, Sir Vidia’s Shadow.

Theroux has traveled relentlessly and written prolifically into his seventies. His latest book, Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads, about travels in the U.S. South, will be published this September.

But as far and wide as he’s ranged, he keeps coming back to the Cape. In his essay “Summertime on the Cape” in Sunrise with Seamonsters, Theroux says: “Most people go away for a vacation; I go home.” And that seems true for many perennial visitors—even if they haven’t grown up on or near the Cape, each time they come back they enjoy a sense of homecoming. Robert Finch, an author whose tales about the Cape are broadcast on the local public radio station, WCAI, and are collected in A Cape Cod Notebook, moved here in 1971 after spending his boyhood in New Jersey. “I grew up in a place where rivers were littered with broken glass and oil spills, and marshes were usually on fire,” he says. “So coming to the Cape was something I’d never experienced before—the beauty overwhelmed me.”

Theroux believes visitors can fully appreciate Cape Cod without spending the entire summer there. But he ad- vises vacationers to stay longer than a few days. “The only thing that matters on the Cape is that you stay a while,” he writes. “A week is not enough, two weeks are adequate, three are excellent, a month is perfect. This isn’t travel, remember; this is a vacation.”

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Spending extended time on the Cape gives visitors a sense of its rhythms and unusual attractions. Theroux has written that several towns on the Cape have auctions, and that the one in Sandwich run by the Sandwich Auction House (sandwichauction.com) since 1974, is among the best. “Inevitably, some of the items are junk, but just as many are valuable,” he writes, “and some are treasures.”

Theroux recognizes that part of the Cape’s appeal is the sense of revisiting the joys of childhood. “Ever since I was an ashen-faced tot, I have regarded the summer as a three-month period during which one swam, fished, read comic books, ate junk food and harmlessly misbehaved,” he writes in “Summertime.”

For him, summer begins when he crosses the Sagamore Bridge, which spans the Cape Cod Canal, and lands on the Cape. What happens when he crosses that bridge? “I feel happier, more content, younger, more hopeful,” he tells me. The appeal of this homecoming hasn’t dimmed for Theroux; if anything it has brightened. “Anyone who grows tired of Cape Cod needs his head examined,” he writes, “because for purely homely summer fun there is nowhere in the world that I know that can touch it.”

Theroux enjoys simple pleasures: picking wild blueberries, taking a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard (“full of interest and beauty spots”), or walking along the shoreline and gazing out at the ever-changing sea. He’s spoken over the years of his concern that the Cape would suffer from overdevelopment, but is pleased to see that much of the Cape has retained its essence. The National Seashore has preserved the eastern Cape and zoning restrictions have limited growth elsewhere.

“The National Seashore is a great thing, but what really does the trick is severe zoning restrictions,” Theroux tells me. “Look at Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket and you will not see a McDonald’s, Taco Bell, KFC or any other fast-food chain, but you will see many mom-and-pop burger places, run by locals. This is also true of Route 6A (on Cape Cod), the Cranberry Highway that runs from Sagamore Bridge along the North Side of the Cape: no honky-tonk. On the other side of the Cape, Route 28, there is unchecked development and fast food. There are salutary lessons all over the Cape.”

Even after decades of summers on the cape, Theroux keeps making new discoveries. Delbanco, the novelist, recalls that a couple of years ago he took Theroux to a house where Henry David Thoreau, best known for the 19th-century classic Walden Pond, stayed during a visit to the Cape in the 1850s. Theroux wrote the introduction to the 1987 edition of Thoreau’s book Cape Cod, but he’d never been to this privately owned home in the Wellfleet woods. “It was wonderful to watch him sniff his way around that particular structure,” Delbanco says. “He responded as might a pointer with a bird in the bush. You could see him take in everything about the house.” Delbanco adds that “witnessing Theroux’s attentiveness enhanced my appreciation of the writer’s noticing eye.”

When Henry David Thoreau wrote about Cape Cod in the 1850s, he said he came to the Cape to get a better view of the ocean. In his introduction to Cape Cod, Theroux says that the 19th-century writer’s “modest wish” gives the book its power. “Thoreau discovered that the only way to know the sea was to study it from the shore. He seems to raise beachcombing to a priesthood,” Theroux writes about this spit of land, the eastern- most place in the United States, excluding Maine.

“When at the end Thoreau says of the Cape, ‘A man may stand there and put all America behind him,’ he is expressing the yearning of Ishmael. In this trip more than any other, Thoreau discovered a sense of freedom. To him, Cape Cod was not a territory to be explored; it was a vantage point.”

More than 150 years later, Cape Cod remains a vantage point for one of the most accomplished travel writers of our time. It’s not just a place for Theroux to relax, recover and reconnect with his family. It’s a place of perspective for him, a safe harbor where he can gaze upon tempestuous seas, reflect upon his life and plot the journey ahead.

Life, Love and Travel Tips from Athletes Mia Hamm and Nomar Garciaparra

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Life, Love and Travel Tips from Athletes Mia Hamm and Nomar Garciaparra

May 8, 2019

“Good hair.” That was what initially attracted Mia Hamm to her husband Nomar Garciaparra. Garciaparra responds with a laugh, “It was her great looks and hair that got me.”

It’s hard to square this level of levity and transparency from a couple that embodies the tenacious ambition and competitive drive that took them to the top of their respective sports. They each spent more than a decade electrifying millions of fans around the world, and in many ways, they still do.

Hamm, 43, played for the U.S. women’s national soccer team in four World Cups and three Olympic Games, winning the World Cup three times and the gold medal at the Olympics twice, first at the Atlanta Games in 1996 and then again at the Athens Games in 2004.

Garciaparra’s Major League career started during the 1996 season with the Boston Red Sox. The next year he was voted the American League’s Rookie of the Year and anchored the infield for the Sox until 2004, picking up the American League batting title in 1999 and 2000. He wrapped up his career in 2006 after stints with the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland Athletics.

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Today Hamm is still one of the most recognizable faces in women’s sports and maintains her connection to soccer through her groundbreaking seat on the board of the men’s A.S. Roma club in Italy and with Team First, the girl’s soccer camps she runs with her former teammates Kristine Lilly and Tisha Venturini Hoch. Garciaparra, 41, has parlayed his love of baseball into a successful television career as a baseball analyst and host with ESPN and now for the Los Angeles Dodgers’ local broadcasts. Both are putting their money and experience behind a new Major League Soccer team in Los Angeles that’s scheduled to start play in 2017.

Despite their separate drives to succeed, get Hamm and Garciaparra together and they quickly reveal that what makes them tick is their commitment to each other and their children, 8-year- old twin daughters and a 3-year-old son. “Our biggest smiles come from our kids’ smiles,” says Garciaparra, who adds that his favorite part of the day is walking his daughters to school.

How did two driven people like you fall in love and create such a strong marriage?

Hamm: Beyond his great hair? I fell for his values. He’s an extremely family-oriented person. His family has rooted and grounded him, though I had to learn that family to him extends to close friends as well as blood relatives. It’s a big group of people.

Garciaparra: It was easy with her, you know? I could be myself. From the first moment I met her I realized that I didn’t need to impress her. She is so easy to be around. Our relationship grew from a friendship and that made it easy to ask her to marry me. I also knew I wanted a family and that was at the top of her list as well.

Most marriages seem to involve sacrifices by one spouse, but not yours. How do you make this dynamic work?

Hamm: We’re lucky. His family lives nearby (Garciaparra grew up in the Los Angeles area) and my brother lives out here. There’s always someone from the family around to help, but we try really hard not to lean on them. Yes, we both travel a lot, but we want to make sure at least one of us is with the kids. So we sit down and map out our schedules months in advance. Fortunately, Nomar’s schedule is easier to work around as the season begins in April and ends by October and when he’s home, he’s usually working afternoons and nights. With me, I’ll sometimes get a speaking opportunity with three weeks’ notice and have to decide whether it’s worth it. Between my camps and role with A.S. Roma, I travel plenty already, and even though we get invited to fun events or places all the time, we say no a lot more than we say yes. If the Dodgers are at home, Nomar works out of the TV studio, which is 10 minutes away. Some nights, he’ll do the pre-game show in the afternoon, come home for dinner and put the kids to bed before heading back to the studio to do the post-game show.

Garciaparra: I keep one eye on the TV and the game the whole time I’m home. So far the kids don’t mind. We’ll see how long that lasts. When I’m on the road with the team, I pack a bunch of their books and then I’ll read bedtime stories to them in bed with FaceTime. We do a lot of FaceTime in our family.

As world-class athletes, how do you approach sports with your kids? Do you feel any pressure to push them toward soccer or softball or baseball?

Hamm: The only thing we want them to do is be active for the health and wellness aspect that sports provides. How they do that is up to them. Right now our daughters are into whatever they’re playing because their friends are doing it. If they find out a friend is signed up for soccer or softball or something, they want to do it. That makes it easy. All we ask is that if they do join a team they complete the season, show their coach and teammates respect, and try their best. Sports were a passion for Nomar and me. We know what that passion looks and feels like and if we see it in our children, great. If not, we’re sure they’ll find something else that they’re passionate about. We have one daughter who’s very artistic, and I worry about how I’m going to help her nurture that. Art isn’t in my background.

Garciaparra: I love that our kids play everything right now. Whatever season they’re in is their favorite. Last fall it was soccer. Now it’s softball. It’s perfect. The kids are at that age where they should be trying new things all the time. The one thing I won’t do is ask them to play with me. Whether it’s catch with a softball or kicking a soccer ball around, I wait for them to ask me. I want them to want to do it, not feel like they have to play sports with daddy because he asked. But man, when they do, we have the greatest time.

From all those years on the road with your teams, do you have any tips that translate to family travel?

Hamm: Our daughters are old enough to be in charge of their own carry-ons so we have one rule, “You pack it. You carry it.” I tell them they might want to leave the 64-pack of crayons at home and take the 8-pack instead.

Garciaparra: Or keep their pet rocks and four favorite stuffed animals at home. Each of us has a travel backpack, and the girls each have a written list of what to pack in their backpacks for each trip. We give it to the girls and they follow it. It’s pretty basic stuff, like a change of clothes, books, iPad, the charger for the iPad— we’re at the point now where the girls just take care of it themselves. We’ve trained them well.

How has your approach to travel changed now that you’re a family?

Hamm: At first we thought a one-bedroom suite at a nice hotel was all we needed. Then we took one trip after we had our son and realized that there wasn’t enough room for us. OK, so now we need two rooms, but if the parents come along, that’s another room. After a couple of trips like that, it was getting up there in costs. That’s where Inspirato comes in. It gives us the flexibility to bring our family and friends along to share a house and have a stress-free vacation while keeping costs reasonable compared to a hotel.

Garciaparra: The biggest change for me is staying in a house and having a kitchen as opposed to always eating at the hotel restaurant. Before, everyone had to get dressed for breakfast and lunch and dinner. Eating in a restaurant with young kids is stressful, right? I was constantly telling them to be quiet and behave and worrying about whether there’s anything on the menu the kids will eat. I’m getting stressed out. The kids are getting stressed out. And we’re supposed to be on vacation! When we have a house to stay in, if we want to have break- fast in our pajamas at 11 in the morning, we can. Everyone gets to eat what they want, and we can be as funny or loud as we want to be. Well, maybe not too loud.

Hamm: Nomar and I travel for work more than we’d like, but we’ve traveled enough to know the value of checking out different places and experiences. We want to give our kids that exposure. But we also cherish the time we spend together. Even when we’re at home, we’re not always together. There’s always work, soccer practice and laundry or house projects to distract us. When we travel, there are no distractions, and we’ll happily spend an afternoon playing games at the kitchen table. We recently spent a weekend at Terranea, which is only 20 miles from our house. And even though it’s so close, it felt like a real vacation. It got us out of our routine and focused on each other. That’s what it’s all about, right?

How Country Music Star Brett Young Likes to Vacation

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How Country Music Star Brett Young Likes to Vacation

February 27, 2019

Three years ago, Brett Young was just another anonymous singer/songwriter hoping to make it in the country music business in Nashville. Today he’s the owner of a platinum album, Brett Young, and the recently released Ticket to L.A. He’s also newly married to his long-time girlfriend, Taylor Mills. Days after returning from his honeymoon and before he kicked off his winter tour across the United States, Young took some time to share how his overnight success, 10 years in the making, was due to hard work and the generosity and resolute support of Inspirato members Rutherford and Rhonda Polhill.

You were born and raised in Huntington Beach, California, aka Surf City, U.S.A. How did you ever become a fan of country music?

It was because of my older sister. We’d battle for shotgun in the car, and when I’d win she’d kick the back of my seat to annoy me. To get her back, I’d turn on the country-music station in the car. She hated country back then. (Now, she loves it.)

Then I heard Tim McGraw’s “Don’t Take the Girl,” and I was like “Whoa, what’s going on here?” And I started listening to the storytelling in the songs and soon enough I was getting into artists like BlackHawk and Shenandoah. Country music just made sense to me.

It went from there. I was a bit of an outlier among my friends who were all into Southern California punk.

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Where and how did you develop your love of writing and performing music?

My dad is a pastor, so I grew up going to church and playing guitar at church services, learning to play worship songs. When I got to high school, which was a church school, I was performing in front of the whole student body on Friday mornings, playing worship songs, so that’s how I grew into a performer.

But music wasn’t my thing. I was on track to play pro baseball.

I was a pitcher for Fresno State University in California, but an elbow surgery put an end to that. About that time, I heard Gavin DeGraw’s Chariot, and he doesn’t do country, but I still fell in love with the songwriting—to be honest and vulnerable like he was.

It showed me that there was a path out there to write the songs I wanted to write. So, I set out to do it.

How did that go?

I was making a living as a bartender and resident musician in restaurants and bars around Los Angeles, mostly playing covers. One of the gigs was in the lobby bar of the Montage Beverly Hills, playing every Wednesday night from 8 to midnight. After paying my backup band and buying dinner, I nearly always lost money playing there, but I kept at it because everyone who was anyone would come through that lobby eventually.

One night, Rutherford “Ruddy” Polhill, a guy from Atlanta who was in town for an eye-surgery consultation, sat down to listen and told me he believed I could make it in the music business. Then a month later, he brought out his wife and daughters to hear me play, and soon after that, they flew me to Atlanta to perform at their birthday party. That’s how much the whole family believed in me.

We worked out an arrangement where they staked me, and we were going to figure out how to hack the Nashville music scene and get a recording contract for me.

What’s the first step to hacking Nashville?

Well, we eventually figured out you really can’t hack the system. It works like it does for a reason. What we did figure out, though, was that success starts with songwriting. In June 2015, we set up a weeklong songwriting retreat at a huge beachfront Inspirato house, Casa de Colores, outside Puerto Vallarta, figuring it’d be easy to get great songwriters to come down to Mexico for a free beach vacation and to collaborate with me on new material. And being an Inspirato set-up, we didn’t have to worry about anything except getting to know each other and writing music.

We had two songwriting teams come down for three days each, and we had a production engineer recording every session. First was Trent Tomlinson and Tyler Reeve. That first day, we wrote “In Case You Didn’t Know.” That song was released as a single about a year later and went to No. 1 on the charts and became a multi-platinum-selling single. [To date, the song’s YouTube video has been viewed more than 210 million times.]

The next songwriting duo to come in was the husband-and-wife team of Ben Caver and Sara Haze. We didn’t get too far, though, as I got my first and only case of sun poisoning in my life on the second day with them. But they’ve stayed close—they even recorded a cover of “Forever Young” for my wedding. Two months after that trip, I signed a record contract.

My career’s been going nonstop in the years since that week in Mexico. Except for a weeklong Inspirato vacation to Cabo last year with the Polhills, my then-fiancée Taylor, and two other couples who are special to us, my wedding and honeymoon this past November was the first time I’ve taken an extended break from music.

Speaking of your honeymoon, how did you and Taylor pick St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands as the destination?

Taylor and I love being warm and near the ocean, and she’d been to the British Virgin Islands before and wanted to show me the Caribbean. We saw the house that Inspirato had available on St. Croix and said, “That’s it!” We arrived in St. Croix and it was just perfect. Warm and sunny, and then we’re driving out to the house, and it’s at the end of this long drive, situated on a cliff with the waves crashing below. It’s just an insane property. The photos of it are incredible, but they don’t do the setting justice.

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And then it started raining—and it never really stopped. But whenever there was sun, we’d dash out to the beach for the hour or two it was out. We did have one perfect beach day at Judith’s Fancy, lounging on the beach with drinks in our hand. That was pretty special.

But as I said before, Inspirato thinks of everything. To distract us from the rain, Sarah, our Destination Concierge, set us up with massages right before dinner on the first night. The second night, we had a chef come to make us anything we wanted. I know it sounds corny, but I wanted chicken parmesan. That paired with a special bottle of wine I’d brought made it a special meal.

The weather wasn’t ideal, but it was still pretty dramatic, and when it’s your honeymoon, it was super romantic, as well. It’s not the worst thing to be stuck inside a gorgeous house over the ocean for a week, knowing that every last detail is, and will be, taken care of.

Can we expect a song to come out of the adventure?

You never know!

Experience Florida Through the Eyes of Novelist Carl Hiaasen

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Experience Florida Through the Eyes of Novelist Carl Hiaasen

February 8, 2019

The real Carl Hiaasen doesn’t seem like he could be the novelist Carl Hiaasen. He has bleach-white teeth and Gulf of Mexico-blue eyes. His cheeks are dimpled, and his voice is soft, measured. He wears polos and button-downs, almost always in neutral tones. His silver hair, parted to the side, could exist on the head of a banker. Friends, who sometimes compare his look to that of a choir boy, say he is polite, seldom swears and drinks like a Baptist—so, almost never.

He is known to never be more thrilled than on the bow of a boat, with a fly rod in his hand, overlooking the still, emerald waters off the islands of Islamorada in the Florida Keys—possibly his favorite place on earth. The sight of a tarpon’s shadow makes him happy. The squeal of a reel’s drag makes him blissful. Hiaasen knows those waters so well that, if he wanted to, he could make a living quietly guiding other fishermen through them.

This is not the image of a hardened newspaper columnist who has described politicians in the following ways: “bum,” “cockroach,” “head clown,” “worthless blowhard,” “pernicious little ferret” and “affable, back-slapping, ribbon-snipping blob.” Nor is it the image of a fiction writer who, in his latest work, begins chapter one with a severed arm on the end of a fishhook, later highlights a spell-casting voodoo witch named the “Dragon Queen” and eventually introduces a bad monkey (for which the best-seller is named) that bites a man, well, in a bad place.

Take a moment to cringe, then consider that the innocuous image of Carl Hiaasen described above might also not seem fitting for one of Florida’s—real Florida’s—greatest crusaders…but it is.

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Though Hiaasen, 61, has been a journalist at the Miami Herald since the mid-1970s, he is best known for his zany, swift-moving novels, packed with sex and laugh-out-loud one-liners and detestable characters getting their comeuppance in all sorts of cruel, entertaining ways. Despite selling close to 14 million books in North America alone, he has never won a National Book Award, and he doesn’t seem to be trying. “His books are built of [flimsy] balsa wood, but they are beautifully constructed all the same,” said New York Times literary critic Janet Maslin. “And if they call for more comic distraction than honest emotion? Forget it, Jake; it’s South Florida. The truth is always stranger than fiction.”

But don’t be fooled by the parade of strange. The themes of his work, nonfiction or fiction, are profoundly serious. He is and has always been on a mission for which he cares deeply. Hiaasen wants to protect Florida—its Everglades, its beaches, its mangroves, its wildlife, its natural beauty—and for decades he has employed a sardonic wit to relentlessly fight on the state’s behalf.

“When you don’t speak up and when you don’t fight back and when you don’t raise hell, that’s the ultimate act of cynicism, and it’s effectively surrender,” he said in the introduction to Kick Ass: Selected Columns of Carl Hiaasen. “It’s saying, ‘Things are so bad that it’s now acceptable.’ It’s not acceptable, it can’t be acceptable.”

In 1953, Hiaasen was born in a place that, in many ways, no longer exists. Plantation, Florida, is 30 miles north of Miami, sandwiched between the Atlantic coast and the Everglades. The city was incorporated the year of Hiaasen’s birth with a population of less than 500. Now, it’s home to almost 90,000.

Back then, that area of the state was a wild, swampy place; ideal for a child with an affinity for things that creep and crawl. “He represents a dying breed of the people who were born and raised there,” said William McKeen, a historian of literary journalism and chairman of the Department of Journalism at Boston University. McKeen, who also spent time growing up in Florida, described Hiaasen’s youth as a “Huck Finn” childhood.

But much of that wild didn’t last. Hiaasen watched as the dirt-bike path that once led him into the swamp where he and his friends caught water moccasins was turned into a road lined with shopping malls. He watched the Everglades shrink as development boomed. He watched animal species go extinct as their habitats were paved over. “It was just rampant destruction,” said Tim Chapman, a photographer whom Hiaasen met years later at the Herald.

Hiaasen, however, couldn’t just watch. In perhaps a first effort to protect his beloved home, he and friends would pull surveyor’s stakes out of the ground. “We were kids,” he said in Kick Ass. “We didn’t know what else to do. We were little and the bulldozers were big.”

He compared their rumble to the sound of greed, “the engine that has run Florida ever since there was a Florida.” Chapman shared in his youthful frustration. He used to cut down billboards with a chain saw and, once, even filled a developer’s storm drain with a cement plug to prevent pollutants from seeping into Biscayne Bay. “I realized I was going to be arrested and go to jail, so I picked up a camera,” Chapman said. “Carl, of course, wielded the sword of the pen.”

Hiaasen had been sharpening that blade almost since birth. The Herald’s sports pages taught him to read. At age 6, his father bought him a typewriter, and he used it to punch out stories about neighborhood kickball games. In high school, he produced a newsletter, More Trash, that, among other things, satirized his teachers and administrators. All the while, Hiaasen was developing his now-distinct world view, and it didn’t just result from the demise of Florida’s innocence, but also from the nation’s.

He grew up in the 1960s and bore witness to John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the Vietnam War, and Watergate. “It was a poisonous time to be coming of age,” he said in Kick Ass. “It seemed to me there was so much wrong in the world. I felt such outrage for so many years over those things happening that it wasn’t a hard thing to carry into journalism.”

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Hiaasen arrived at the University of Florida after transferring from Emory University in Atlanta. He had intended to work in broadcasting, but a news reporting class taught by legendary journalism professor Jean Chance helped alter the course of his future. “He was a very special student, no question about that,” said Chance, now retired.

She immediately recognized the gracefulness of his writing and the ease with which he completed assignments. “I would have to stretch to find some nitpicky thing to give him a hard time about,” she said. Chance told Hiaasen that TV journalists tend to focus less on writing and more on presentation. A career in front of a camera, she thought, would be a waste. She pushed him to work at the student newspaper, the Independent Florida Alligator, where he began to write a column. “That,” she said, “was when he saw the light.”

He began his professional career at Cocoa Today, a small paper in Brevard County now known as Florida Today. Every few Saturday nights, Chance said, he would call her to complain about the owner’s rule that any time his wife’s name appeared in the paper—she was a state senator—he be told, so he could change or kill the article on her behalf. He wanted to do something bigger, more meaningful. She told him to be patient. He listened. After two years, in 1976, he got a job at the Herald.

In the late 1970s, Chapman recalled, Hiaasen got a tip that someone was illegally digging out mangroves near Key Largo. The two men hired a fishing guide with a boat to take them down to see for themselves. “They were literally selling properties and digging a huge marina, and conveniently no one who had the power acted against it,” Chapman said. “No permit, no nothing.” Hiaasen wrote a story that forced state officials to kill the development. Such scoops became a staple of his early career.

Years later, Chapman said, Hiaasen learned that a wealthy man in the Keys had hired someone to chop down the mangroves around his house so he could better see the water. “The owner of the house blamed it on some wayward surfers,” Chapman said. Hiaasen didn’t buy it. He wrote the story.

“Various counties in South Florida have always been subject to corruption,” Chapman said, “and it takes people like Carl to stand up to them.”

In 1985, Hiaasen started writing his column for the Herald. It began a nearly 30-year (and ongoing) career of keenly pointing out wrongdoing, those who were responsible and, most memorably, the weird and wacky and plain wrong ideas that make Florida so entertaining. In a March 1988 column, for instance, Hiaasen skewered the city of Miami Beach for its ridiculous plan to host horse races on its beaches.

On the topic of what the animals might leave behind, his biting sense of sarcasm was in top form: “It’s not so big a crisis, really. Tourists on South Florida beaches are used to quick-stepping around all kinds of daunting obstacles, from poisonous jellyfish to gobs of tar, to the occasional human torso. A horse dropping would hardly make them dash for the hotel checkout. Before allowing such a minor drawback to squelch an otherwise brilliant idea, why not try to turn it around and make something positive? One obvious solution is to ask the city commissioners themselves to clean up after the horses. They are, after all, vastly experienced in this area.” The horse races never came.

“I think Carl was probably the most hated man by the chamber of commerce in Miami history,” Chapman said. “They just hated the fact that Carl told the truth.”

Certainly, Hiaasen’s columns had a substantial impact on South Florida, but it was the novels that spread his message to the world.

So, how well does Carl Hiaasen really get South Florida? Consider the evidence in just the first four chapters of his latest sprawling crime novel, Bad Monkey, some of which might seem cliché, but only because the details are so consistently indicative of life in the Sunshine State.

On page 5, Hiaasen’s main character, Andrew Yancy, sits in a plastic lawn chair and drinks rum as he experiences one of the most repeated gripes of long-time residents: “the offensive buzz of wood saws and the metallic pops of a nail gun” on the obnoxious, view-disrupting house being erected next to his own.

On page 7, it’s explained that the local sheriff won election only because his two opponents were in jail on racketeering charges.

On page 8, the aforementioned sheriff orders Yancy to dispose of a severed arm caught by a fisherman for fear of the negative publicity that might befall his community, though Hiaasen quickly notes the greater truth: “Nothing short of a natural disaster discouraged people from going out on (or into) the water.”

On page 18, readers are introduced to a doctor who made his fortune by investing in a series of pain management clinics “that dispensed Percocets and Vicodins by the bucket to a new wave of American redneck junkies.”

On page 23, traffic is jammed on Florida State Road A1A because a gravel truck crashed head-on into a southbound rental car. Typical.

On page 34, Yancy, now a health inspector, gets served a plate of fries and a coffee by the manager of a restaurant: “By Keys standards it could hardly be considered a payoff.”

No doubt, Hiaasen understands that he has tapped into and perhaps even helped create the national perception that his home is an odd place. Type “why is Florida” into Google, and the first completed response ends in “so humid”—the second is “so weird.” That search returns 29.9 million hits. But it could be argued that all the allusions to Florida wackiness (and his novels’ wackiness in general) are merely a means to an end.

Millions of people devour Hiaasen’s novels because they’re fun and entertaining, but buried not so deep within his prose are the ideas he really wants readers to remember. “[St. Petersburg Times columnist] Jeff Klinkenberg once said of Carl’s writing that ‘People respond better to ice cream than to broccoli,” Keen said. “Hiaasen has mastered preachy-less preaching.”

“These are fanciful characters, but there’s an underying truth to what he’s talking about … these are morality plays in many ways,” said Thomas Fiedler, former Herald executive editor and now dean of Boston University’s College of Communication. “They are really rooted in the issues that he believes are important for Floridians to understand.”

Take page 35 in Bad Monkey, for example. Before the wealthy newcomer razed the lot next door, Hiaasen writes, Yancy spent almost every evening watching the white-tailed Key deer pick at hammock scrub and red mangroves. He explains that just a few hundred of the deer remain on the islands, but that motorists, ignoring warning signs, often run them over. He talks of the refuge created for the surviving animals and that Yancy, knowing what’s in their best interest, had left them alone. “He didn’t snap pictures, or whistle, or make up cute names for the fawns. He just sat there sipping rum and watching the deer do their thing.”

Hiaasen spends two-thirds of a page on the plight of white-tailed Key deer, which have exactly nothing to do with the story’s plot, but he still makes certain readers know they matter. “I think,” Fiedler said, “Carl is the voice for what is right in Florida, and he’s particularly the defender of Florida, not just as it used to be, but Florida as it should be.”

In this modern era of storytelling in which anti-heroes are so often celebrated (see: TV’s Breaking Bad or The Sopranos), Hiaasen’s novels offer little room for gray. Characters are either good or evil. They’re either destined to triumph, or they’re destined to die in heinous, hilarious fashion. Those clear outcomes may again well be rooted in the alternate reality of Hiaasen’s own world.

South Florida’s crusader has won his share of the battles, to be sure, but it’s hard to argue that he is winning the war. The state has continued to develop, and swampland has continued to disappear. Corruption still thrives. Many animal species and natural resources remain threatened. Recently, Hiaasen argued in his column that state politicians have allowed billions of gallons of toxic water to be dumped into Florida’s rivers because of the money their campaigns are getting from big business.

“Those people are always going to win in real life,” McKeen said. “I think he writes the books as therapy, and I think he wants the good guys to win somewhere.” And perhaps the idea is that, like Hiaasen, his legion of readers will someday want as badly as he does for the good guys—for real Florida—to win. And maybe, just maybe, one day it’ll actually happen and the state’s crusader can put down his sword.