The Most Interesting Museum in Geneva

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The Most Interesting Museum in Geneva

June 20, 2019

Though I’d read the recent headlines that a Patek Philippe pocket watch had sold at auction in Geneva for a record-breaking $24 million, they’d registered with me more as a vertigo-inducing oddity than as something that might stoke my personal curiosity. So in spite of the flawless accuracy of the Swiss-made wristwatch I’ve been wearing for the last 20 years, I almost miss an appointment at what turns out to be one of the most interesting museums I’ve ever visited.

When it is floated over lunch, this outing strikes me as something my friends are dutifully suggesting as a way of keeping me entertained. But I don’t need to be entertained, and I frankly can’t imagine the interest of visiting a watch museum, which I assume will, doubtless, be dull, a lot of watches tucked away in dimly lit glass cases.

To be perfectly honest, it is my fault, too. I only end up visiting the Patek Philippe Museum after I’ve politely done everything I can think of to avoid it. The idea of going to the museum isn’t mine, you see, but comes from friends I am visiting in Geneva, their hometown.

As it turns out, the name of the venerable watch-maker Patek Philippe’s museum tour—“A Legacy of Genius”—is very much an understatement. The history of watchmaking isn’t just a grand-slam testament to human ingenuity, but also offers a suite of fascinating and often magnificent miniature lessons in the broader currents of Western and Eastern art history, sociology and economic history. Who knew? Not me.

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Fortunately, my friends persist, and so on a sunny Saturday afternoon so clear it is thrillingly easy to see the saw-tooth, snow-capped Alps on the horizon, we head to Geneva’s Quartier des Plainpalais, an old, formerly industrial neighborhood where many of the city’s famous watch companies once had their ateliers. Here on a quiet side street, the Patek Philippe Museum, which the watchmaker opened in 2001 in one of its former ateliers—Ateliers Reunis S.A. produced watch cases, bracelets and chains here for Patek Philippe—occupies a handsome limestone-faced art-deco building with very large windows and an elegant vestibule detailed with lots of polished brass. Together, at first glance it all brings to mind the offices of a private bank rather than a museum.

The museum’s interior—warm but decidedly refined—is the result of a collaboration between Gerdi Stern, the wife of Philippe Stern, president of Patek Philippe, and the Groupement d’Architectes SA. After Stern made the decision to put his family’s collection of over 2,000 timepieces and automats on public display, Madame Stern, who had successfully renovated the Chateau Blanc, where the company now has its workshops, in Geneva’s Plan-Les-Ouates district, was invited to oversee the project. The soft lighting, plush carpeting and rich, custom-made wood display cases that she chose for the museum emphasize the beauty of the objects on display in a setting both welcoming and intimate.

My friends arrange for an English-speaking guide, the charming and very knowledgeable Sylvia Graa, and our visit begins on the ground floor where several traditional watchmakers’ work stations are displayed. What is immediately engaging about looking at the watchmakers’ tools is that it is possible, by visually following the way the hand- milled metal gears, wheels and shafts fit together, to guess at how some of the intricate machinery actually works. “The mission of the museum is to tell the story of portable watches from the 16th through the 20th centuries,” Madame Graa explains. “But the real magic of this story is that all of the pieces contained in Patek Philippe watches are made with the latest technology machines and then hand-finished to offer the greatest precision possible, as they did when the company opened in 1839.”

Among the most impressive of the machines on display is an original 18th-century face-lathe, an invention that completely transformed the history of watchmaking by making it possible to produce hollowed-out watch cases. Previously, watch mechanisms had been mounted between two small metal plates, a difficult operation because it was impossible to check the proper functioning of the wheels behind the top plate as it was being matched to the tiny pillars that supported it on the lower one. So the invention of the hollowed-out metal watch case presaged the invention of the wristwatches that have become the standard time- keeping devices of the modern world.

“As the watchmakers will tell you, every machine has its own character,” Mme. Graa says. “Certain machines are better for certain tasks than others. The performance of the machines varies with the weather and changes of temperature, too. With these handmade machines, every part produced is unique. We may not be able to see it with the naked eye, but the watchmakers in the Patek Philippe atelier can tell who made each dial when they look at it under a loupe, for example.”

The third floor of the museum houses the Patek Philippe archives and its library, which constitutes one of the world’s pre-eminent collections of books and manuscripts devoted to timekeeping and watchmaking—including works by Galileo, Sir Isaac Newton and Christiaan Huygens. (The latter invented the hair spring that allowed watches to have second hands.) Our tour begins in earnest on the second floor. When we stop to examine a magnificent gilt and chased German-made drum watch dating to 1530-40, Mme. Graa explains that, since most people at the time lived their daily lives according to the simple rhythms of sunrise and sunset, the earliest portable watches were very rare emblems of prestige and wealth reserved for the nobility and clergy.

London, Paris and several German cities were the centers of the watchmaking trade in the 15th and 16th centuries, and watches were conceived as much as pieces of jewelry as they were timepieces. As conspicuous symbols of affluence, watches were designed to be ostentatious, even provocative, decorative objects. I see watches in the form of the Cross of the Order of the Holy Spirit, a human skull and a dolphin. The creation of watch cases and dials with intricate enamel paintings depicting mythological or religious themes, frequently inspired by the works of the most famous artists of the time, began in the early 17th century, first in France and then elsewhere in Europe. “They were meant to be petits merveilles [little marvels],” Mme. Graa observes as we gaze at a collection of them.

What turned Switzerland into the pre-eminent watchmaking nation it is today was the migration of French Protestant watchmakers to Geneva and the region around Neuchâtel in anticipation of and after the 1685 revocation by French King Louis XIV of the Edict of Nantes, King Henry IV’s 1598 proclamation that guaranteed the rights of French Protestants in Catholic-majority France. Geneva was the somewhat austere bastion of Jean Calvin, the father of Calvinism, who frowned on jewelry and other extravagances, but who made an exception for watches, which were respected for the regularity they could impose upon work hours.

After watchmaker Huygens invented the balance spring in 1675, it was no longer necessary to reset watches several times a day to ensure their accuracy. The balance spring allowed for the addition of second hands to watch faces, and the watch evolved from an object of prestige to an essential tool of daily life for Europe’s rapidly growing bourgeoisie. Simultaneously, the durability of watches allowed them to be incorporated into a variety of other items at the beginning of the 18th century, including a walking stick with a watch in its fob and pendants worn on ladies’ belts and rings.

This trend reached its apogee by the end of the 18th century, and today that period is known as the golden age of fancy timepieces. Watches were fitted into everything from decorative keys, perfume flasks, sewing kits and opera glasses to tobacco jars, candy boxes and knives. As tiny but dazzling expressions of both the metallurgical and horological arts, facetiously droll tromp l’oeil watches were created in the shapes of miniature animals, musical instruments, fruits, flowers, baskets and keys. At this time, too, watches designed as souvenirs of Grand Tour visits to Geneva, Montreux and the Alps made their debut and began to boost Switzerland’s reputation as the world’s nee plus ultra watch producer.

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Deeper into the collections, watches fabricated by Patek Philippe and other producers for specific markets—Turkey and China, for example—reveal 19th-century Western perceptions of those countries. And also that Patek Philippe’s technological acumen has often been matched by the shrewdness of its marketing. It was the 19th century and already the company was designing watches to hit certain cultural aesthetic sweet spots and sell.

Considering the international DNA of the company, which was founded by Polish count Antoine Norbert de Patek in Geneva in 1839 (Frenchman Jean- Adrien Philippe became his business partner after a first meeting in Paris in 1844), this isn’t surprising. But Patek’s true ambitions for the company always spun on an axis of quality and innovation. It was because Philippe had invented the stem-winding system for watches that eliminated the need for a separate key that Patek first became interested in partnering with him.

Dazzled and amused as I am by my time at the Patek Philippe Museum, the main reason I’m so glad of my visit is that, because every one of the watches displayed reflects a different concept of the beauty, utility and urgency of time at a specific moment in history, I am forced to muse on the value I assign to the sweep of a second hand in my own life. And just as I begin contemplating this, a soft-spoken man in a gray flannel suit approaches to say the museum is closing. The one verity about time that transcends the centuries is that you never have enough of it.

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?

Inspiring Stories Of Giving Back That Changed The World​

Inspiring Stories Of Giving Back That Changed The World

May 1, 2019

It’s a mathematical dilemma. Being only one person, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed at the scope and breadth of the world’s needs. Famines, tsunamis, malaria, poverty—there are countless adversities to overcome. It turns out you can’t save the entire planet. But you can follow one good idea—yours or someone else’s— and do something for one person, ten people, perhaps a thousand people. And that’s something to feel good about. Here’s a look at two relatively new charities, a little out of the mainstream, which are committed to helping improve others’ quality of life, both domestically and abroad.

It all began with a pencil. That’s what a small boy, begging on a street in India, told Adam Braun he wanted most in the world. Braun, an American college student on a backpacking trip, gave him a pencil—and got an idea. In October 2008, Braun put $25 into a bank account and created Pencils of Promise. He hoped his new nonprofit could attract enough money to build just one school in Laos, a country he had visited and wanted to help. One year later, he had built that school, and he realized that what he’d started was gaining momentum.

Today, Pencils of Promise has completed 55 schools around the world. By the end of 2012, they hope to have built 100 schools. Their mission is really two-fold, says Wendy Wecksell, director of corporate partnerships for Pencils of Promise: to increase access to education in the developing world and to train young leaders to take action at home and abroad. The first element means not only building schools, but helping communities sustain those schools.

“A big thing for us is ownership. Before we break ground, we work with the community to find out if they value education; we work with the ministers of education in the region,” Wecksell says. “We’re empowering people, not giving handouts.” To that end, each village is asked to contribute 10 to 20 percent of their school’s build budget, which has projected sustaining costs included. That dedication to working closely with communities sets them apart, Wecksell says. They take the time to develop local staff so the organization will be sustainable. At all of their schools, which are now in Laos, Nicaragua and Guatemala, 90 percent of the employees come from the region.

Lanoy Keosuvan, a Laos country coordinator for Pencils of Promise, is one example. Braun met her while staying at a guesthouse there; she was the housekeeper. He saw promise in her and offered her a job. Today she oversees a 40-person staff. “I’m so very happy to work with Pencils of Promise,” she says, “and I will work with Pencils of Promise all my life.” The second part of their mission—training young leaders—includes raising awareness and teaching leadership skills. One way they do this is through an internship program. Suzanne Maietta, a Pencils of Promise community engagement intern at the New York City headquarters, says her job involves visiting schools around the country to spread the word about Pencils of Promise’s high school internship program and the fundraising toolkits available on their website that can help students take action for the cause.

Maietta arrived at Pencils of Promise after graduating from Northwestern University last June. She had read about the organization and appreciated its emphasis on “working with the community, not for the community,” and on education, a subject about which she is passionate. “I’ve had a great education, and I see the value of it,” she says. “Education is the beginning to solving a lot of problems.”

In many parts of the world, shoes are hard to come by—but they can be life-changing. “They provide protection from diseases such as hookworm, which affects cognitive development in children,” says Elizabeth Kirk, director of communications with the nonprofit group Soles4Souls. “And in countries such as Haiti and Tanzania, it’s a requirement to have footwear to attend school, so it goes far beyond health benefits.” Shoes can actually help break the cycle of poverty. That’s where Soles4Souls comes in, with its seemingly simple mission: redistributing shoes to people in need throughout the world.

It started after the 2004 tsunami devastated Southeast Asia. Watching reports on television, Wayne Elsey was struck by an image of a single shoe washed up on a beach. Elsey had worked in the footwear business since he was a teenager, and the image resonated. In it, he found an answer to the question so often asked in the wake of a disaster: What can I do? Elsey started collecting shoes.

He’d gathered 250,000 pairs and distributed them through the affected regions, when Hurricane Katrina arrived on the United States’ shores. Elsey went into action again. He realized he would have to launch a full-time organization to help address this simple, universal human need. 

Today, Soles4Souls sends shoes to 128 countries and across the U.S. “Domestically, the homeless rate in children has risen 33 percent,” Kirk says. “Parents can’t afford shoes for their kids. They don’t have access to footwear that would allow them to go outside and play and be a kid.” The shoes come from manufacturers and from shoe drives run by schools and churches. Individual donations are essential as well. “We want people to feel empowered,” says Keith Woodley, chief development officer with Soles4Souls.

“Everyone has too many shoes, especially in this country. This is something anyone can do.” Even worn out shoes have a purpose: They are recycled through Soles4Souls’ microenterprise program, which provides people in developing countries with the resources to start their own businesses. Someone may transform those old shoes into bracelets or belts or bags to sell. “We’re trying to set them up in a way that allows them to support themselves,” Kirk says. “Shoes can become a business that feeds a family.”

When Soles4Souls hand delivers their shoes around the world, anyone can travel with them to help, which is a great way to break down cultural barriers, says Katie Lentile, Travel4Souls manager. “A child comes in and we clean off their feet and put the shoes on them,” she says. “Shoes are an avenue to get to know the kids and share love and hope. The impact that it has is incredible.” One volunteer was moved to adopt two children she met while distributing shoes in Haiti; another went home and started her own shoe drive, collecting 90,000 pairs. Last year, Soles4Souls hit their goal of 17 million pairs of shoes given away, but the need continues to outpace donations, Woodley says. “There’s always a list.”

The organizations listed above are just a few of the groups working to make the world a better place. If you want to get involved, start by supporting one of the causes in this article and help them change the world for the better.

The Most Beautiful Gardens in Italy

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The Most Beautiful Gardens in Italy

April 8, 2019

The fjord-like beauty of the three great lakes of northern Italy—Lake Como, Lake Maggiore and Lake Garda—have inspired artists, writers and gardeners since they were born from glacial melt hundreds of centuries ago. The ancient Romans built holiday villas with magnificent gardens here, a tradition renewed by the northern Italian aristocracy during the Renaissance.

During the 18th century, the lakes’ renown spread across Victorian Europe. This explains the unique landscape architecture and gardening style here today, a juxtaposition between the Renaissance love of order and symmetry and the Romantic penchant for a carefully crafted “wildness.”

For travelers looking to experience the beauty, there are many luxury homes and resorts to choose from. The sweeping 20 acres of gardens at Villa Carlotta were designed in the Romantic style of the 18th century and are notable for their azaleas, camellias, rhododendrons and citrus treesstunning plants and flowers that come alive with colors and scents that please the senses. Villa Balbienello is lush with wisteria, laurel and rhododendrons, along with centuries old magnolia, cypress and plane trees.

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The most original of the great gardens at the Italian lakes is found on the tiny and aptly named Isola Bella (Beautiful Island) in Lago Maggiore. These gardens were first planted in the 17th century and today include exotic plants and trees as well as resident white peacocks and a Baroque amphitheater topped by a statue of a unicorn. Some might argue that this is the most beautiful gardens in the world, and it would be a hard argument to disagree with. Once you see for yourself, we think you’ll agree.

How Two Men Are Revitalizing a Legendary Fishing Rod Business

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How Two Men Are Revitalizing a Legendary Fishing Rod Business

March 4, 2019

When Joel Doub is fly-fishing one of his favorite rivers near a club property—like the Frying Pan River near Aspen, Colorado, or the Gallatin River near Big Sky, Montana—he enjoys using a fine, handcrafted fly rod. The difference between Doub and other fanatical fly-fishers is that Doub not only owns his fly rod, he also owns the company that built it.  Doub and business partner Matt Barber bought Bozeman, Montana-based Tom Morgan Rodsmiths (TMR) in the summer of 2016, just a year before Morgan, a legendary rod-builder renowned in fly-fishing circles, died of pneumonia. Following the purchase, Barber and Doub both moved their families from Denver to Bozeman, and the two are now taking steps to modernize TMR while still honoring the history of Morgan and his unique rod-building methods.

“We talk a lot about Tom Morgan and his philosophy as a rod designer,” Doub says. “Many rods at other companies have been designed by competition casters, built for distance or for a particular feel. But Tom—because he was a fishing guide first—always designed rods based on watching people fish. And for him that meant fishing on creeks in Montana. So the foundation of our rods is based on small-creek fishing because they are based on accuracy and presentation at shorter distances. They’re not really built with a 70-foot cast in mind.” Barber tells the story of Morgan giving a casting presentation at a fly-fishing show, when the guy standing next to him pulled about 70 feet of line off of his reel before starting to cast. “Well, now we know the reel works,” Morgan said to the man. “Now, why don’t you put half of that line back on the reel. If you’re trying to catch a trout beyond 50 feet, you should get closer.”

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While TMR has been in business for more than two decades, Doub and Barber are keenly aware of momentum in the modern “maker economy”— where the popularity of quality, small-batch products like their fly rods mimics the more general distaste for mass-consumer culture. “Many people are just looking for that throwback craftsmanship as a response to all the fast-paced technology,” Barber says. “It’s the idea of slowing down and getting to know the person who hand-planes bamboo for your rod, or who makes your leather belt. It’s the opposite of walking into a big box store or ordering off Amazon and having it show up on your doorstep.”

Doub feels their fly rods also offer a sense of longevity that’s increasingly rare in our throwaway consumerist culture. “One of our models is essentially the same rod that Tom Morgan designed 22 years ago, and that rod has a permanence to it,” Doub says. “If you buy a fly rod, and you buy it really well, then that should always be your fly rod, and possibly your kid’s fly rod. The idea is that, if you buy from a maker that you know and trust, and they’re making a semi-timeless good, then there’s a connection to history and excellence that maybe you don’t get when you’re buying the cheapest, newest, fastest, lightest thing.”

Practically every fly rod on Earth is built from one of three materials—bamboo, fiberglass, or graphite, with graphite being by far the most common. But Doub and Barber have continued the Tom Morgan tradition of producing rods out of each of the three materials, something rare among even large manufacturers, much less small-batch builders. Roughly 80 to 90 percent of their rods are graphite because it’s the most versatile material. And since it takes about 80 hours to build a bamboo rod, they limit those to just two a month. As for fiberglass? “Fiberglass rods are a niche that’s developed as a response to hyper-stiff rods, and people are nostalgic for the first Fenwick they ever cast,” says Barber. “It’s a fairly small category for us. We sell more fiberglass blanks to at-home builders than we sell assembled fiberglass rods.”

Despite the variety of methods and equipment available to modern anglers, enabling them to chase almost any species of fish, Doub and Barber intend to keep their focus primarily on building the best fly rods for trout. “I grew up on the East Coast and love fishing for albacore and stripers,” Barber says. “And we love going to Mexico and fishing for bonefish and permit. But as a company, we’re not trying to be every rod you own. We both love spey casting and salmon fishing, but we’re trying to do one thing and do it really well: build a single-handed, 2-through-7-weight freshwater rod. We know that the travel market has gotten big, and that saltwater is growing, but for right now, we’d rather not expand into things that may compromise quality because we may have to learn a new skill set.”

There are other reasons for sticking to smaller rods. With much of TMR’s customer base living in cities like New York, Denver, or San Francisco, finding solitude for your fishing is at a premium. And that solitude is most-often found high in river drainages, where longer, heavier rods aren’t practical because the fish are smaller and the space for casting is condensed.

“Being in the Adirondacks as a kid, I fished a lot of creeks,” says Barber. “Then I moved to Colorado, where small water is the key to your sanity. So if you can convince yourself to fish with a 3- or 4-weight rod, and get into small alpine lakes and small spring-creeky areas, you’re better off than trying to battle the masses.”

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This unpleasantness of battling the masses applies not just to fishing but to running a company as well. “As business owners, we talk a lot about waypoints and focus,” Doub says. “When we look around the industry we see companies trying to be everything to everybody, and it can be hard to figure out what they’re about. But for us, we’re still working on building the perfect trout rod. We want to make the best rod in the world for fishing for trout in Montana.”

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!

Vail and Beaver Creek Welcome Ski Racing’s Best

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Vail and Beaver Creek Welcome Ski Racing's Best Athletes

February 11, 2019

Keep an eye out for Bode Miller or Lindsey Vonn today. Or maybe slalom wunderkind Mikaela Shiffrin. And we don’t mean on television. Over the first two weeks of February, these Olympic gold medalists—two of whom, Lindsey and Mikaela, call the Vail Valley home—will be among the 700 athletes from 70 countries racing at Vail/Beaver Creek in the biennial FIS Alpine World Ski Championships. It’s the first time alpine skiing’s biggest race (outside of the Olympics) has been in North America since 1999.

Other U.S. resorts might try to compete with Vail and neighboring Beaver Creek in grooming, views or terrain, but neither Jackson Hole nor Telluride nor Tahoe can claim the only U.S. stop on skiing’s annual World Cup racing circuit—Beaver Creek can.

“At all levels, Vail is in many ways the center of the ski racing universe today,” says Aldo Radamus, a former U.S. Ski Team coach and 1990 USSA Domestic Coach of the Year and, for the last 13 years, the executive director of the Ski & Snowboard Club Vail (SSCV), which counts Shiffrin, Vonn and at least eight other Olympians among its alumni. “Ski racing seems to be ingrained in this community’s DNA, and we’ve got two resorts that have the terrain and willingness to make it happen on the highest level.”

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And that’s why you’re here, to watch the best alpine skiers in the world race on some of the world’s most challenging courses. The only other North American resort to ever host the Alpine World Championships is Aspen. And that was back in 1950. 2015 is Vail and Beaver Creek’s third world championships (they previously hosted in 1989 and 1999).

Why does the international circuit come back? To race among some of the country’s most rabid skiing families, families much like Sounia Chaney’s. “This is the chance of a lifetime,” she says about the upcoming World Championships. Chaney, who, with husband Michael and kids Skylar, 18, Cameron, 15, Roxy, 13, and Dylan, 9, all skiers or snowboarders, moved to Vail in 2010 from Reston, Virginia. Roxy, herself an alpine racer, says, “Here I get to see pros skiing a lot, sometimes next to me, and it always makes me feel inspired that I can achieve my goals. I can’t even imagine how inspiring it will be to have all of the world’s best racers here.”

“When our kids started outgrowing the mountain closest to our home, Vail was a no-brainer,” Chaney says. “We didn’t think twice about selling our house, our ski boat, our RV—everything. Vail offers the best training and the best coaches and challenging academics, and it has 300 days of sunshine. It’s not just our kids who ski. It’s a dream come true for all of us.”

Get back to your own racing dreams on Vonn’s namesake run, Lindsey’s. A groomed ribbon of ice on the front side of Vail Mountain, Vonn has described it as, “definitely the most challenging run on the mountain.” As you look down from the top of the run, its pitch elevating your pulse and slowing your breathing, you won’t be surprised to learn it was the site of the women’s speed events during the 1989 and 1999 World Championships, when it was still named International.

As a teen, Vonn skied the run that would one day bear her name, but, more often, like SSCV racers today do, she did laps on Vail’s Golden Peak. “That’s where we did so much of our training and raced for girls and boys Nor-Am,” says Paula Moltzan, who moved to Vail from Minnesota to train during her junior year of high school and now, at 20, is on the World Cup tech team.

Abby Ghent, an SSCV racer who was 6 the last time the valley hosted the World Championships and this season has a World Cup spot for Super G, suggests you try Centennial at Beaver Creek. “We’d have Nor-Am downhills there. It’s a classic course,” she says.

And then, of course, there’s Beaver Creek’s famed Birds of Prey course and its new women’s course, Raptor. (Before the World Championships, the former hosts its annual World Cup race, The Audi Birds of Prey Men’s World Cup, Dec. 6-8.) The pros own both during the World Championships, but, at other times in the season, the public can ski them. Fair warning, “Birds of Prey is terrifying,” says Moltzan. “I just can’t imagine flying off any of those jumps at the speeds the guys are going. But watching it is something else.”

Skiers to Watch

“The Norwegians have always done well here,” says Radamus, who coached for the U.S. Men’s and Women’s ski teams, and was named USSA Domestic Coach of the Year in 1990, before taking over as executive director at the SSCV. “I’ll be watching for Aksel Svindal, Kjetil Jansrud, and their new young technical threat Henrik Kristoffersen, who exploded onto the scene last year. Past world and Olympic downhill champion Lindsey Vonn, working toward a return to competition following two years of injury, is undoubtedly looking to add to her World Championship medal tally,” Radamus says. At the last FIS Alpine World Ski Championships, at Schladming, Austria, in February 2013, Vonn tore her ACL/MCL and fractured her tibial plateau in a horrific crash. By August, a month and a half ahead of schedule, she was back on the snow. But then in mid-November, she crashed during a downhill training run at Copper Mountain in Colorado and reinjured herself. “Lindsey has something to prove and she’ll be racing at home,” Radamus says.

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“Among the Americans, our six Olympic medalists are medal threats at Worlds. Any one of them could win,” Radamus says. “Julia Mancuso because she always steps up when it counts. Ted Ligety owns this hill (he has won four straight giant slalom events on Birds of Prey) and is working hard to become a threat in [slalom] again; the snow suits him here in Colorado. Bode Miller for his last hurrah. Mikaela Shiffrin to defend her title. Keep an eye on (two-time Olympic Super G medalist) Andrew Weibrecht too. He loves the hill and has done well here.”

Designated Speeding Zones

Unlike pretty much every other resort in North America, Vail and Beaver Creek have runs where going as fast as you dare is the whole point. Vail Resort’s social media/ski tracker app, EpicMix Racing, partnered with Vonn to design a course at Vail and a second at Beaver Creek. Vonn practiced on both until she had them dialed. Then the geeks at EpicMix timed her.

Now anyone with the EpicMix app open can race down either course—the Black Forest Race Area just east of the Avanti Express Lift at Vail or beneath Beaver Creek’s new high-speed combination lift that just opened at the beginning of this season—and measure themselves against Vonn’s time.

Good luck catching her; few skiers on the international stage can come close to her. EpicMix claims that the average racer is about 5-7 seconds slower than Vonn on either course and that it’s a rare skier who comes within three seconds of her.

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.