State of the Art
Doha vs Abu Dhabi
Doha has been transformed into a key arts hub with film festivals, innovative architecture and a thriving art market. The I. M. Pei-designed Museum of Islamic Art, above, has become a feature of the skyline, with numerous other museums being built, including Jean Nouvel’s National Museum of Qatar.
Although it’s some way from completion you can still visit the Saadiyat Cultural District, an astonishingly ambitious zone where you’ll find the future home of the Louvre Abu Dhabi (Jean Nouvel, 2015, above) and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi (Frank Gehry, 2017).
Doha vs Abu Dhabi
Just outside the city is Doha’s camel-racing track, which makes for an entertaining morning’s tour. Even with no racing on, it’s great fun to see the camels taking their exercise, wobbling along the track. Curiously, this ancient sport has embraced the latest in technology, with robot jockeys now sitting in the saddles.
Yas Links, on man-made Yas Island, also home to the Yas Marina Formula 1 circuit, is the Middle East’s only true links golf course. Set among rolling hills and mangrove plantations, it was devised by Kyle Phillips, and has been hailed by Golf Digest as the best golf course in the Middle East.
Doha vs Abu Dhabi
If there’s one place that delivers the perfect lunch, it’s Opal by Gordon Ramsay at The St. Regis Doha. It has perfectly-judged informality, great views of the lagoon, and street-food-inspired dishes such as tamarind chicken wings and short-rib burgers. The perfect start to an afternoon’s sightseeing – or siesta.
Sontaya, the Southeast Asian restaurant at The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Abu Dhabi has a serene ambiance and offers classic dishes from Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. The outdoor terrace is the ideal place to linger a while and savor the views of the shimmering Persian Gulf.
The Cool Quarter
Doha vs Abu Dhabi
Katara cultural village is home to attractions such as the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra, the Qatar Photographic Society and events such as the Doha Tribeca Film Festival – a mix leavened by the beach, the glittering Corniche and several restaurants serving the cuisines of the world.
When in Abu Dhabi you’ll inevitably head to the island of Saadiyat, 500 yards away from the coast. There’s so much going on in its seven distinct districts: art galleries, business hubs, sports and of course, a proper, five-mile-long beach. Try the Monte-Carlo Beach Club for wellbeing and dining options.
Doha vs Abu Dhabi
Souq Waqif is Doha’s spiritual heart and an old trading zone. It’s now one of the few traditional locations in Doha: a cluster of shady lanes that host hundreds of stores selling spices and handicrafts. Try Al Adhamiyah for lunch, which serves tasty Iraqi food.
Abu Dhabi’s best mall is generally considered to be the Galleria on Al Marayah Island, a luxury destination housing all the world’s top brands, from Gucci to Cartier to Louis Vuitton. Shopped out? Then head to Almaz by Momo for Moroccan food on the waterfront terrace.
Doha vs Abu Dhabi
Doha’s most glittering walk is along the Corniche, the sea-hugging promenade. It’s perfect for an evening’s constitutional when the heat of the day has ebbed. Old fishing dhows cruise against a backdrop of spectacular skyscrapers, all the more striking for the fact that this city barely existed 50 years ago.
Abu Dhabi’s five-mile-long Corniche is a riposte to Doha’s, with a frieze of skyscrapers and waterfront fringed by a Blue Flag beach. Shade yourself with a rented umbrella, and take odd forays into the water, which is usually so
warm that it’s like jumping into a bath.
Fun with Kids
Doha vs Abu Dhabi
The Sheikh Faisal Museum is one of those great random museums, housing cars, furniture, weaponry, furniture and fossils – anything that the Sheikh likes, really. Adding value is the Al-Samariyah Equestrian Academy next door, with riding lessons for children as young as four.
Ferrari World Abu Dhabi has more than 20 Ferrari-inspired attractions, including Formula Rossa, the world’s fastest roller coaster, which reaches 150 mph. You’ll find it on Yas Island, and while you’re there, check out Yas Waterworld,
Abu Dhabi’s top water park.
Now 83, Jasper Johns has long been ranked among the major, ground-breaking figures in American art. He was only 25 when his images of the Stars and Stripes broke free from the prevailing supremacy of Jackson Pollock and the Abstract Expressionists. In the mid-1950s Johns was hailed as a controversial young rebel, following the example of Duchamp rather than the American titans, Pollock and Rothko. After moving to New York from South Carolina in 1949, Johns felt ready to subvert the Abstract Expressionist approach. He anticipated the emergence of Pop Art in the 1960s, and his inventive outlook opened up all kinds of possibilities for art in the second half of the 20th century.
Johns thrived on collaboration. Far from isolating himself as the lone genius in his studio, he worked with fellow artist Robert Rauschenberg, the experimental choreographer Merce Cunningham and the avant-garde composer John Cage. They became his friends, and Johns extended his creativity with these adventurous projects in dance and performance. Johns began making prints in 1960 after accepting an invitation from Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE) to make radical works on paper. This innovative print studio, based in a cottage on Long Island, was founded by Russian émigré Tatyana Grosman and her husband Maurice. Johns relished working with them, and continues to experiment with ULAE. Its current leader, Bill Goldston, says, “Jasper is still very involved in doing prints. He loves the activity. A lot of people in art today don’t know how to make things. But prints offer Jasper the chance to become process-involved, and to develop a language from exploring his working method. He’s always experimenting, like a scientist in the lab. Printmaking is tailor-made for Jasper.”
Now a special exhibition, at the Whitechapel Gallery in Windsor, Florida, explores the presence of the body in Johns’ prints. Whether ghostly or silhouetted, these ever-changing faces and figures play a fascinating variety of roles in his images. Johns is an artist perpetually committed to renewal. When I interviewed him some years ago, he told me that success had made him “more willing to take chances, to question the possibilities of my thought and what might or might not be considered interesting”. Looking back on his career, he said, “throws finished work into the past tense more quickly, and provides me with a trigger for the new”. That is why Johns’ overall achievement has been so remarkable, filled with surprises and perceptive delight.
Your address: The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort
Shrinky Dink 3, 2011
In this print the dark vessel occupying the center of the space seems to dominate everything around it. But then we begin to notice the other elements that Johns has introduced. On the left, a pale head in profile stares across at the other side of the image, and stars from the American flag dance over the face as if in jubilation. On the right, however, geometric forms float in space: a square, a circle and a triangle. The face seems to be contemplating these shapes, and Goldston remarks that its features “look like Jasper himself in profile”. But taken as a whole, this print is far more than a self-portrait. Across the top, a row of small figures introduces the suggestion of a crowd. Maybe they are an audience gazing, like us, at the tantalizing, dream-like strangeness of the world that Johns has conjured up.
A red face appears in profile on the right of this seductive design, and its contour also defines the side of a pale vase. Johns allows yellow to sing out from the rectangle in the middle, and the entire image is among his most beguiling achievements as a printmaker. “This piece was done for the Museum of Modern Art, as a donation,” says Goldston. “They were able to sell the entire edition of 50 as a fundraiser.” Johns has benefited from the exceptionally rich collection at MoMA since he settled in New York aged 19. Now, in his late period as an artist, he still enjoys visiting and measuring himself against some of the finest masterpieces of modern art. But this print suggests that earlier civilizations also fire his imagination. The dark figure silhouetted on the left has the quality of an ancient statue.
The title of this etching seems straightforward enough, and shows how fascinated Johns became with the elemental theme of the four seasons. But the images in Winter emerge with slow, quiet subtlety from the prevailing darkness. On the right, we notice a ghostly snowman figure that appears to be spattered by snowflakes. “It looks a bit strange, and the snowman reminds me of Jasper himself,” says Goldston, who points out that the shadowy pots are by the early American potter, George E. Ohr, “and Jasper has a collection of Ohr’s work”. But there are also references to the suffering figures in the Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald (c.1470-1528), whom Johns admires. This work, now in a museum in Alsace, has been an immense source of inspiration for Johns.
Although this print was made 30 years after Johns first became obsessed by the American flag, the Stars and Stripes assert themselves in the middle of a wall. Goldston explains that “the room could be based on Jasper’s bathroom. He used to live in a rustic farmhouse in Stony Point, New York, and you can see his water-closet on the right.” Marcel Duchamp, one of Johns’ artist heroes, created a notorious masterpiece in 1917 by purchasing a ready-made urinal and turning it into an artwork called Fountain. But Goldston thinks Ventriloquist was also inspired by the view from Johns’ own bath. It is easy to imagine moisture from the hot water streaming down the wall and making the glass fuzzy. This atmosphere is vividly conveyed and adds to the aura of mystery.
The recurring motif of the vase is prominent in this tall, richly colored print, in which Johns rejoices in the sensuous orchestration of red, yellow and blue. “There are two figures,” says Bill Goldston of Universal Limited Art Editions, “one young and one old.” The latter is half-hidden in shadows on the left. Johns is at his most elusive and dream-like here, inviting us to puzzle over the identity of the blue circular forms on the right. Mortality seems present, and we may wonder if the vase contains the ashes of someone recently deceased. Johns leaves everything open to interpretation – even the print’s title offers no clues. Along the base, he leaves a row of colored spots. “He did all the etching himself,” says Goldston. “A man who can do this kind of technical work is in a class by himself.”
The cavernous TriBeCa headquarters of the online fashion retailer Moda Operandi has all the urgency and buzz of an old-fashioned newsroom. Except that most newsrooms (or internet fashion companies for that matter) are not decorated by the society interior designer Daniel Romualdez, complete with a vintage bronze coffee table, floral upholstered Louis XVI-style chairs, and oversized custom linen lampshades hanging throughout the industrial space, which is painted in its very own hue, Moda Pink. Its founder, Lauren Santo Domingo, has the unruffled presence and gait of a swan. The blonde, lissom Santo Domingo, one of Vogue’s most photographed belles, is dressed in a Stella Jean printed cotton party dress, with fitted bodice and a full skirt, topped by an ecru Carven cropped sweater (worn backwards to perfect effect) and Lucite heels by Nicholas Kirkwood. This effortless mix personifies Moda Operandi’s savvy intent: to service its fashion-obsessed global clientele with outfits and combinations that they can’t find elsewhere and allow them to purchase them with a click.
The site itself is based on the idea of the traditional trunk show in which designers, such as James Galanos, Bill Blass and Carolina Herrera, would make personal appearances and cater to special clients, but in a modern high-tech way. “I once thought the trunk show was about to go the way of the fax machine,” says Santo Domingo. “But based on the success of our business, I’d say it’s back. In a big way.” Fashion designers, such as Bibhu Mohapatra (who has dressed Michelle Obama) and Barbara Tfank (Diablo Cody and Rita Ora are fans), and noted jewelers including Jade Jagger and Kara Ross, have all expanded the old-fashioned trunk show to cater to clients who want not just a more personal approach with the clothes, but with the designer. And the designers are not complaining. “It’s the backbone of my business,” says Cornelia Guest, whose cruelty-free line of handbags has found a thriving niche, thanks to private lunches in such cities as Houston and San Francisco hosted by the international society doyennes Lynn Wyatt and Denise Hale (friends of Cornelia’s late mother, the incomparable C. Z. Guest). “There’s no better entrée,” she says. “And, trust me: these women love to shop.” In the 1980s, women would flock to catch a glimpse of an Oscar de la Renta or Geoffrey Beene. Robert Burke, former senior vice-president of fashion at Bergdorf Goodman and now CEO of the consulting firm Robert Burke Associates, recalls how VIP clients would plunk down en masse an easy million dollars at a Chanel trunk show. “They were a serious part of the business,” he notes. This isn’t just about sales, though. Designers really enjoy this kind of interaction with their customers and getting personal feedback.
Michael Kors can’t resist working three or four dressing rooms at once; Donna Karan, who built her business on intimately knowing her clients and their body shapes, famously loved to jump inside and undress herself alongside the customer; and Dennis Basso took the term “trunk show” back to its roots, stocking the trunk of his car with his priceless furs and going from door-to-door in the New York suburbs. Both Zac Posen and Jason Wang credit more than a modicum of their success to knowing the needs of the women themselves. “It’s important,” says Wang. “I need to know what my clients are like; it puts my work into perspective. It’s really thrilling… The clients are really into the clothes. Last time I went to Nordstrom to do a trunk show, one woman bought 41 pieces.” Nor have designers lost sight of the importance of wooing deep-pocketed customers in the sky-rocketing markets of Asia and the Middle East with private events and behind-the-scenes tours that offer a more personal service than stores normally offer, including meeting designers themselves. Naeem Khan, Reem Acra, and Monique Lhuillier all court the Middle-Eastern customer. “They all want to get customer loyalty, especially in places like Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Russia,” says Burke. Matches, the London-based string of upscale boutiques, frequently hosts trunk shows and parties in an elegant townhouse set aside for entertaining and private shopping and also takes young British designers on road shows to the Middle East.
“The trunk show or personal appearance has evolved since it began,” adds Roopal Patel, a former fashion director of Neiman Marcus who now heads her own consulting firm. Why do they want them? “Customers are looking for special, exclusive products that they can’t find anywhere else and designs they can’t find just anywhere.” And no designer is taking them for granted. Take Mary Katrantzou, arguably one of today’s hottest designers, who has been out to Brazil and the US and is headed to Dubai and Singapore this autumn. “We didn’t really understand the power of the trunk show at first,” she says. “It is really important to build these relations with loyal customers and court them. And we were amazed at how much you can sell.” After Karolina Kurkova had dropped into a trunk show at the East Village jewelry showroom, Bijules, she knew where to go for something edgy for this year’s annual Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Ball, which had a punk theme. She left with the perfect cocktail ring, a 14ct gold handlet and a two-piece knuckle-ring set. “No saleswoman can sell a piece of my jewelry like I can,” says the boutique’s owner Jules, whose clients include Rihanna, Beyoncé and Alicia Keys, and who recently traveled to Dallas for a personal trunk show. “These women don’t want to go into stores and be treated anonymously. They came in and dropped a ton of money.”
When Anne Hearst recently hosted a gathering for Jade Jagger in her Manhattan penthouse for girlfriends including Laurie Durning, the wife of Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters and her niece Gillian Hearst, the famed interior designer Milly de Cabrol recalls: “I only went because it was by invitation only, given by my friend and with Jade Jagger. That was what made it special.” After casually glancing at Jagger’s jewelry spread out on a coffee table, de Cabrol found herself departing with a ruby-heart gold ring. “Jade was absolutely charming and very down-to-earth. It does make you want to buy.” Jagger, who’s held trunk shows in Hong Kong, Bombay and New York, says: “The ladies tend to get more excited. They tend to go for the higher-end pieces, and it’s good to cut out the middle man. It just creates a great buzz.” After jeweler Lynn Ban’s friend, the Singapore fashionista Cindy Chua-Tay, tossed a trunk show there on her behalf, Ban, who’s already appeared at Lane Crawford in Hong Kong, says: “Now I’m in [the chic Singapore boutique] Club 21”, where she recently sold a $20,000 black diamond gash cuff. “Word of mouth is very effective,” says Jane Pendry of Dovima Paris (“the Tory Burch of Europe”) whose trunk shows in Paris and around the US are by appointment, and where she personally tailors individual ensembles. “You get influencers in fashion from all over the world,” says the New York-based Jennifer Creel, whose eco-friendly sunglasses have been relished at homey trunk shows in London, and who now finds her across-the-pond girlfriends Pia Getty and Marie-Chantal of Greece, among others, spreading the gospel from St. Barths to the Cote d’Azur. The New York jeweler and handbag designer Kara Ross has found herself hosting trunk shows in Jeddah and Al Khabar in Saudi Arabia for a bevy of princesses who might be swathed in an abaya, but nevertheless cherish her diamond ostrich Electra bag. While Sally Perrin of Perrin Paris 1893 hosts Qataris and Saudis who pass through Paris in her Left Bank apartment. “Have trunk show, will travel, is our motto,” she says triumphantly.
According to the Vanity Fair fashion expert and special correspondent Amy Fine Collins, the trunk show of today is “a sensory, migratory experience”. Moda Operandi’s VIP clients are now traveling to TriBeCa to its Salon Moda, with its fabric-painted trompe l’oeil, striped silk drapes, and divine clothing, including a Wes Gordon ink petit swan print sable and lace inset dress and a Nina Ricci long fringe and lace dress in rose crystal. All at the ready for the client who, as Santo Domingo points out, “can have anything in the world her heart desires, but, ironically, could never get her hands on the dresses and looks she wanted”. Stylists who’ve traveled to Abu Dhabi and Bahrain to deliver Marquesa and Giles gowns for a fashion emergency, are at the ready. “You feel like you’re getting something nobody else is,” says Brittany Weeden, who ended up spending $8,000 on her most recent visit. “It’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to have that.’ And once I found out that the salon is a replica of Lauren Santo Domingo’s closet, well, I felt very special.”
Images by Maciek Kobielski/Art Partner, Xavi Menos, Getty
The first Indian chef ever to receive a Michelin star, in 2001, Atul Kochhar is famed for bringing his country’s cuisine to the forefront of fine dining. His simple, elegant take on traditional dishes has made Benares, his original restaurant in London’s Mayfair, known across the world, and he’s had a series of equally successful ventures since. Growing up in Jamshedpur in East India, all of Kochhar’s menus focus on fresh, local ingredients, of the kind that his father used to take him to source when he was younger. His new restaurant, Simply India, at The St. Regis Mauritius Resort, serves tandoori specialities and Goan delicacies in a colonial-inspired setting.
What’s your earliest food memory?
Going to the local market with my father in India. He was a caterer, and sourcing fresh local produce was important to him. The colors and smells were so vibrant and exciting. I would always look forward to our trips together.
What is the dish your mother used to make that you still love?
Rogan josh. It’s a dish I’ve had on my menus many times, although my mother makes it best. It’s a classic Indian dish with lamb and lots of spices, such as cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, plus ginger, tomato paste, crushed almonds and yoghurt. It’s something my whole family used to enjoy together around the dinner table, so it has a sense of nostalgia for me as well.
Do you have a trademark dish?
I have a couple. But one of my favorites is my chicken tikka pie with wild berry chutney. It’s made with a great light pastry shell and filled with chicken tikka. We then use seasonal wild berries to make a sweet and savory compôte.
How would you describe your cooking?
Modern Indian. It’s a combination of the recipes and cooking techniques from my upbringing, with twists I’ve picked up along the way. I also adapt traditional Indian recipes to incorporate seasonal ingredients of other countries.
Who taught you to cook?
Both my parents. I have so many memories of my mother in the kitchen, cooking and showing me how to prepare dishes. However, my father taught me everything I know about the quality of fresh local ingredients.
Which chef has had the most influence on you?
Albert Roux [the French-born co-founder of London restaurant Le Gavroche, whose first job was as cook for Nancy Astor]. His passion and skill is so admirable, and he has been a mentor to me over the years.
What are the most important three ingredients to have in your store cupboard?
Spices! My favourites are coriander, cinnamon and cloves.
What’s your favourite late-night snack?
I hate to say it, but just simple cheese on toast. After a full day of tasting, I like to give my palate a break.
Why do you think Indian food is so popular worldwide?
It’s a very diverse cuisine, and I think the complexity of the ingredients and the fresh spices make it really well liked. Indian food has gained an incredible amount of popularity in the past ten years. When I first arrived in London in 1994, things were very different.
What do you think are the global trends in restaurant cuisine?
I believe Korean food will become very popular this year because it is bursting with bold flavors, and is pretty nutritious to boot. As always though, locality and seasonality needs to remain constant over trends, which change so quickly.
How does the food at your new Simply India restaurant at The St. Regis Mauritius Resort differ from what you serve at Benares in London?
There’s more seafood on the menu because I try to source everything locally. We do a delicious starter of lasooni scallops, with garlic, cauliflower purée and piccalilli. And there’s a wonderful main course of samundri do pyaaza – squid, scallops, prawns and fish, all cooked with tangy onions.
What’s your signature dish at Simply India?
Konju moille. It’s a beautiful dish made with Madagascan lobster, cooked with coconut and curry leaf. It’s very succulent.
What local ingredients do you use at Simply India?
The Madagascan lobster is great, and we use a lot of local coconut oil and coconut milk. The variety of seafood on offer in Mauritius is incredible.
Where is your favourite restaurant in the world?
D.O.M. in São Paolo, Brazil. It serves up all manner of exciting ingredients from the Amazon rainforest, such as cambuca fruit, manioc root and tucupi juice, which are so exotic. But I love the markets in Jamshedpur in India where I grew up, because that’s where my culinary journey first started.
Do you ever dream about cooking?
Yes, I think it would be hard not to when it’s on your mind all the time.
What would you have for your last supper?
A simple vegetarian curry with fresh naan, eaten with all of my family.
Which person, living or dead, would you love to cook for?
Your address: The St. Regis Mauritius Resort
Tell me a bit about your English childhood.
I was brought up in Richmond, just outside London, and went to boarding school in Wiltshire. We had a country house we went to at weekends. I used to ride ponies and go to gymkhanas, though I was never very successful. Then I studied at the Wimbledon School of Art and we [she and co-designer Keren Craig] launched Marchesa there. I never imagined I’d end up in America.
So how did it happen?
It was a gradual move. Nieman Marcus became our biggest client, and we were selling really well to Americans so we decided to set up an office in New York. When we first arrived, we were lent some studio space in the garment district in Midtown, but we couldn’t start working until 7pm when everyone else had left, and we had to do all our dyeing in the men’s bathroom. It wasn’t the most glamorous start for an eveningwear company. Eventually we got our own offices in the Meatpacking District, but we didn’t go out much because we were working so hard. Meeting my husband [the film producer Harvey Weinstein] sealed the deal, of course. Now my family is here, and my daughter India is about to start school.
Where are your favourite New York hangouts?
I’ve always lived in the West Village, which reminds me a bit of London.
Having children has given me a new perspective on the city: we’ve got a playground right on our street, which is very lucky. I like to walk to my offices in Chelsea along the High Line, a former elevated railway that’s been turned into a park. It has amazing views of the city and is beautifully planted, with cafés all along it. Both India and Dash [her second child with Weinstein, Dashiell] come into work with me a lot. My favourite shop in New York is Bergdorf’s; it’s beautiful, and I love the layout. And I love Showplace Antique + Design Center (nyshowplace.com), which is an indoor antiques emporium of old Louis Vuitton luggage and vintage clothing. I often go there and sift through everything for little treasures, looking for inspiration.
What are the hotels you love in New York?
I go to The St. Regis quite often for tea, and for fittings with very glamorous people who are staying there. The atmosphere is lovely because the service is fantastic yet it’s relaxed, which is a rare combination. I also love eating at the Waverly Inn, and if Harvey and I are going out, we like Per Se in the Time Warner building and the Monkey Bar uptown. But Harvey works so hard that if we do spend time together, it’s usually in Connecticut.
So how do you spend your weekends?
Our home in Westport is where I can really relax. When I was looking for somewhere for us to get married, I looked everywhere and eventually I said, “Why don’t we just do it here?” That’s not to say it all went smoothly. I made my own dress and the embroidered panels I’d ordered from India arrived stained brown, which was a bit of a heart-attack moment. And then I got the flu, so I was lying in bed pinning the dress together. But it all got done in the end. On a normal weekend, because we’re both so busy, we like to eat in and watch movies in our screening room. There is a restaurant in Westport that we love, the Dressing Room. It was started by Paul Newman, and it serves home-grown, organic food. Everything there is so fresh and delicious.
What other parts of the States are special to you?
I had my bachelorette party at Price Canyon Ranch, a really small place in Tucson, Arizona. I took my girlfriends, and we all shared rooms and went out day and night on horseback wearing pink cowboy hats and, I seem to remember, pink leotards. It was really fun and definitely anti-style. And I sometimes go with Harvey to Sundance. It’s a serious film festival, but because it’s in a ski resort lots of people bring their kids, and there’s a lovely relaxed atmosphere. So I go skiing during the day while Harvey works, and in the evening we all meet up.
What do you love about LA?
My favourite thing is the change of climate when you arrive. I’m always so happy to escape from New York in the winter. I head for The Way We Wore, which sells beautiful vintage clothes. I found a pair of matador trousers in there which inspired my last collection. I like to eat out at Cecconi’s and Soho House, which has fabulous views, but my favourite restaurant of all is Giorgio Baldi in Santa Monica. I always have the sweetcorn ravioli with truffles. It’s making me feel hungry just talking about it.
What’s it like dressing people for the red carpet?
Really nerve-racking. You feel an incredible responsibility. They’re walking out in front of the cameras and about to be critiqued by the world, so you want them to feel their best. Your heart’s in your mouth, thinking – don’t let anything happen to the dress! Harvey and I are often at the same event, both feeling nervous. Still, we’re very lucky that our industries overlap so much that we need to be in the same place.
How do your worlds converge professionally in other ways?
Harvey is incredibly supportive of what I do, and I love what he does. In fact, I’ve just directed a short film for Canon’s Project Imaginat10n film festival, and I’ve been using every bit of help from him that I can get. I’ve told him if he ever feels like designing a dress, I’ll be there for him.
Has the rise of red-carpet dressing influenced the way ordinary women dress?
I think so. When we first started Marchesa, people told us nobody did evening dress any more. These days, people don’t reject it as old-fashioned. It would be very boring if there wasn’t a spectrum of things to wear, and we only had cocktail dresses. Wearing an evening dress is fun; you feel gorgeous, and it’s romantic. There’s nothing more magical than walking into a room where everyone looks incredible.
Where do you get your inspiration for Marchesa?
From movies, from museums, at night on the internet looking at artists…sometimes I’m zoning out on the treadmill when I have an idea. Our new contemporary line, Marchesa Voyage, came about when Keren and I were on vacation, and we realised it would be great to design some clothes we could take with us that had the Marchesa attitude and the prints, but not the corsets and heavy beading. I’m really excited by it.
Do you design differently for American and British women?
I don’t like to generalize. I’m not designing for a particular British or American woman. You might find you have more success with hotter colour palettes in warmer parts of the world, but the same would apply in the States. My own look hasn’t really changed since moving here. It’s hard to be groomed if you’re working with your hands, and I’ve never been a weekly mani/pedi girl at all. I just can’t sit still for an hour. That’s why I love the new stick-on nail art we’ve brought out with Revlon. The nails are designed to match our embroidery, and they take about two seconds to put on.
What would you miss if you had to leave the States?
The service and the can-do attitude. New York is a 24-hour city, and I do find it frustrating when I leave it. What do you mean I can’t get what I want at 2am?
What advice would you have for visitors to America?
Explore as much of it as possible, because it’s such a diverse place. Beaches, skiing, beautiful landscapes and city life. It’s all here.
Images by M.Sharkey/Contour by Getty Images, Camera Press
I tell you what I like about polo: it attracts an interesting bunch of people, and few more so than Porfirio Rubirosa. Rubi was the playboy’s playboy. With his magnificent physique, the five-times-married Rubi pulled off the unusual double of counting among his spouses two of the richest women in the world: Barbara Hutton and Doris Duke. But, as well as being a ladies’ man, Rubi was a man’s man, too. It is rather fitting that he died at the wheel of a Ferrari after a long night celebrating the victory of his Cibao La Rampa polo team over Baron Elie de Rothschild’s team at the Bagatelle polo club in Paris. It may sound rather ghoulish, but it is my favourite polo story because it sums up what the sport is about (or at least what I think it should be about): dashing Latin-American lotharios careering around on horses, partying until dawn, seducing women and driving sports cars.
Polo just can’t help itself. Whether as racy fiction, as in Polo, by the British author Jilly Cooper (a classic, even among those who have not read it), or with the backing of a global apparel brand such as Ralph Lauren, a distinctive jeweler such as Cartier, or an elegant hotel group such as St. Regis, polo sells. Or rather, the idea of polo sells: the quivering, sweat-flecked, athletic bodies; the thunderous drumming of the hooves; the crisp crack as the head of a stick connects with the ball. All are as irresistible today as they were in Rubi’s day. Or even before that, in the latter half of the 19th century, when the game made the seismic cultural shift from being the rough-and-tumble pastime of military and nobility from Persia to China since the 5th century BC to the preferred sport of the British Army in India.
The game had made its way to England by the 1870s, where within a very few years it had caught on as another of the attainments upon which the Corinthian gentleman prided himself, combining courage, quick thinking, exigent hand-eye coordination, horsemanship and finances. By the early years of the 20th century, almost as a metaphor for the transfer of power from Old World to New, American society, and Harry Payne Whitney in particular, had taken command of the sport by developing a fast game of long shots played using a specially bred type of pony. Today, it’s played at more than 250 American clubs, from International Polo Club Palm Beach, where the US Open is held, to Santa Barbara Polo Club, host of the Pacific Coast Open. Although the game’s origins are in the northern hemisphere, today its center of gravity has shifted to the southern, its calendar following the sun. Having opened the season in England in April, the players travel through Europe and America, arriving in Argentina in November for its Open Championship, before dispersing around the world to Florida or Australia or South Africa. The game also has a way of following the money. Just as it moved from England to America in the past century, so the game has shifted to a host of new destinations in the past couple of decades.
Today, it is played in more than 77 countries (although professionally in only 16), including those in the Middle East, such as the U.A.E., Bahrain and Jordan, as well as East Asia, where there are clubs in countries ranging from Singapore and Thailand to China. The latter now has two clubs, founded in the past decade. These days, of course, it is all a rather more serious affair than it was in Rubi’s day – and slightly more expensive. Rubi was lucky; his wives kept showering him with presents, including strings of polo ponies. But today if you want to play polo and you aren’t Argentine and weren’t born in the saddle, forget it. That is, unless you happen to have a few million burning a hole in the back pocket of your riding breeches, in which case you can become a patron and surround yourself with people who really know what they are doing (professional players, who are ranked according to handicap, with ten-goal players being the best).
There is a third way you can get involved with the sport: as a business. The demographic and the glamor of polo slots in perfectly to the marketing strategy of most of the companies offering the better things in life, and increasingly, top polo players are attracting sponsorship from luxury brands, particularly watch companies. For instance the ten-goal player and respected breeder Pablo Mac Donough, who was part of the Cartier Queen’s Cup winning side in Windsor, England, last year, is linked to the avant-garde watchmaker Richard Mille. Cartier is the king of polo sponsorship, linking the world of luxury goods with the sport of kings. And much of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s success has been built on the reputation of the Reverso: a watch that was developed during the Art Deco period to be flipped over on the wrist so as to protect the face from stray balls, hooves and sticks. Over the years, the latter watchmaker has become increasingly involved in the sport, sponsoring polo fans such as Clare Milford Haven, who has worked closely with St. Regis in the past. Her Great Trippetts Farm polo yard near Cowdray Park in West Sussex has become a home away from home for players and their ponies in England in the summer. Trippetts is an impressive operation. Such is the condition of the horses’ coats that they look as though they have been to the hairdressers. And Milford Haven’s candlelit suppers in the middle of the stable yard, the soft light reflected in silver trophies the length of the table, are enough to convert even the most equine-phobic guests into polo addicts. Lady Milford Haven, the former social editor of Tatler, exemplifies how completely polo can take over your life. “I never actually thought I could play polo,” she confides over dinner. “I thought it was very much a man’s sport, and that it was going to be way beyond my capabilities. But I just fell in love with it and the challenge of it. I love the people involved. I thought they were going to be very superficial, but in fact they’re very down-to-earth, fun, like-minded people.”
Having talked to other polo-playing friends and their spouses (including Clare’s husband, the Marquess of Milford Haven, who was once a two-goal player), I have come to the conclusion that there are two separate games of polo that exist in parallel. On one side there is the athletic, demanding, engrossing business of playing the game. And then there is the glamorous side that you see when you go to a big game at Greenwich Polo Club, Connecticut, where last summer some of the greatest players in the world, such as Nacho Figueras (see our interview overleaf), played against British royalty in the name of Prince Harry’s charity, Sentebale. Games such as this, says Milford Haven, are “the culmination of weeks of playing very hard, competitive games. But in the end, the match is all about people dressing up and having a day out. It is all just about having fun, which is great.” For my part I am all for the hard work, training, practice matches and injuries, just as long as someone else is doing it. I really don’t need to know one end of the horse from another. It is more than enough for me to know that both ends are dangerous. And, what’s more, I have it on good authority that the middle is far from comfortable.
Nacho Figueras – A Life in the Saddle
The Argentinian star and St. Regis Connoisseur on polo, ponies and playing chukkas with Prince Harry of Wales. Interview by Charlotte Hogarth-Jones.
Ignacio “Nacho” Figueras, 36, is widely recognized as the international face of polo. Currently captain of the Black Watch team, he started playing at the age of 9 on his family’s farm in Argentina, and now plays all over the world.
What do you love most about polo?
The horses. I’ve always loved the sport, but as the years go by it is the horses that I’m getting more passionate about. Nine years ago I started learning about bloodlines, nutrition and training. I’ve found that it makes the relationship you have with a horse much more rewarding. When I was 14, I’d just pick a horse and say, “Let’s go.” Now when I get on a chestnut mare I know her mother, her father; I saw her being trained, and I saw her being broken. It makes a big difference.
How often do you train?
Knowing exactly how a horse is going to feel gives you a real advantage, so I try to ride as much as I can. In between practice I’ll take a couple of horses out for two or three hours, and if I’m not on a horse then I’m still in the stables or I’m thinking about them.
What do you think about when you are on the field?
When you first go out to play you don’t think much about the horse, you feel so in sync with them that horse and player are one. Team-wise, too, you will have discussed with your team-mates how you’re going to play, and you know them well enough that you don’t worry about that. When there’s chemistry within a team it’s really great, and it shows. The main thing is keeping concentration. It is easy to lose focus and start looking at the ball, the crowd and other things that you’re not supposed to be looking at. I’ve even seen people score in the wrong goal. Hopefully you know enough about the team that you’re playing, and you have a strategy so it’s just about staying focused and remembering what the plan was. It should be working and, if it’s not, it is time to go back to the tent and change tactics.
How do you feel about the social side to polo?
You do socialise a lot at the polo, as you do at every other sport. In the States, I have been to many of those VIP boxes where people are talking all the time, working and making contacts, and that is fine. At the end of the day, there will always be some games that keep you on the edge of your seat and some that don’t.
This summer you played with Prince Harry of Wales for his charity, Sentebale. Is he a good player?
Yes, he’s very competitive and he’s been riding all his life, his grandfather played, his father played… Polo isn’t what he does for a living, but he’s a great rider, he’s fun to play with and he uses the game as a platform for charity, which I think is great. It’s a real honor for me to be by his side.
How did your relationship with St. Regis come about?
The original founders of the first St. Regis hotel in New York, Mr. and Mrs. Astor, were very into their polo. They would go to matches and host polo players at their hotel. Since then the brand has continued to support polo around the world, which I’m very passionate about. For me it’s been a very organic relationship. I don’t feel as though they’re pushing me to support something that I’m not associated with, and of course, it’s good to have so many places to stay in around the world.
How do you see polo expanding globally?
There’s a lot of development of the sport in China, and there’s a big polo explosion in the UAE. I think it’s really picking up in many other places around the world, too. It’s getting more attention and more spectators, and it’s going back to the way it was in its heyday. Now is such an exciting time for polo.
In his role as St. Regis Connoisseur of Speed and Sport Nacho Figueras has worked with the brand to develop an exclusive polo website, featuring a global calendar of polo events, closely linked to the St. Regis Aficionado program designed to provide once-in-a-lifetime experiences around the world.
Around Aspen, the term “heavy metal” is not bandied about lightly. Here, it does not mean that Judas Priest is in town for a set, although of course this little town in the Rockies attracts more than its fair share of big music acts, both to perform and to enjoy some downtime. Nor is it a reference to high-carat bling at the Golden Bough jewelry store, though Aspen is one of the wealthiest spots on the planet. Or to the 2,350lb silver nugget pulled from the Smuggler Mine in 1894, during the town’s early prospecting days, when Aspen was a place where people came to find their fortune in the newly-discovered silver lodes, rather than to enjoy it. No, around Aspen, “heavy metal” chatter means that the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport is gearing up for a steady stream of A-listers jetting into town. Known locally as Sardy Field, the airport is one of the busiest small airports in the country. Fleets of GulfStreams, Challengers and Citations can fly in on any given day, especially for the Fourth of July or New Year’s Day. At the same time $20 million trophy homes in the elite Red Mountain neighborhood are being primped and polished, likewise those lovingly restored “painted lady” Victorians in the historic West End. And across town, chefs, personal assistants and private shoppers are put on high alert. Invitations go out from Aspen’s high-society hostesses (Ivanka Trump, Glenda Greenwald, Soledad Hurst, Paula Crown) for everything from big charity bashes to “cosy” suppers feting a visiting artist or media mogul.
What is it about this luxe little town in the Colorado Rockies that inspires such an influx? “Aspen is like no other place,” says local real estate broker Joshua Saslove of Joshua & Co., part of Christie’s Great Estates international network, who has been accommodating the whims of a moneyed and powerful clientele for more than 20 years. “The wealth of the world is drawn here not only for its natural resources, but for the character of the town, its passion for intellectual activity and its cultural amenities.” Proximity to all of the above doesn’t come cheap. Indeed Aspen is one of the most expensive real-estate markets in the USA, with people paying “a lot of money for city penthouses with views. Up here at this altitude, we have a 7,000ft advantage.” A veritable who’s who of famous faces (Kevin Costner, Goldie Hawn), tech wizards (Amazon’s Jeff Bezos), media moguls (Michael Eisner) and corporate billionaires (Charles Koch, Roman Abramovich, Stewart and Lynda Resnick, Sam Wyly) have added big-ticket properties to their portfolio of homes.
Aspen got its first real taste of wealth in 1879, when silver prospectors flocked here to the summer hunting grounds of the local Ute Indians to mine the recently discovered silver lodes. During this boom time, the area’s mines produced nearly $100 million worth of silver ore. Aspen’s next boom was the result of another valuable product of Mother Nature: snow. In 1947, the Aspen Skiing Corporation cranked up the mountain’s first chair lifts and, three years later, the FIS World Skiing Championships packed the town with celebrities and Olympic skiers. Aspenites and visitors alike rejoiced by riding horses into bars and Aspen Crud (a milkshake laced with bourbon) flowed like water. The town’s reputation as a world-class ski – and party – town was set.
Right from those early days however, intellectual ambition was a key part of the Aspen mix. In 1945, the Chicago businessman Walter Paepcke visited the Bauhaus architect Herbert Bayer in his minimalist home outside town. Together they discussed how to make the resort somewhere artists and thinkers could gather to exchange ideas. Paepcke proved adept at attracting both generous sponsors and cultural heavyweights to his endeavors, and he quickly launched the Aspen Institute, the Aspen Center for Physics and the Aspen Music Festival. The Festival continues to attract major performers and music fans every summer, and while the Institute’s HQ is now in Washington DC, in 2005 it spawned the Aspen Ideas Festival, helmed by Walter Isaacson, which aims to stimulate debate with a series of talks and forums attracting global opinion formers such as the Clintons, media entrepreneur Arianna Huffington and author Thomas L. Friedman. All of which means that, like Davos in Switzerland, today Aspen can claim to be as much about cultural or “thought leadership” as it is about great runs. What’s more, given all of that cultural ambition, the wealth, and the fact that some of the world’s leading collectors have homes in Aspen, it should come as no surprise to hear that there is also a concentration of high-end galleries here.If Calders and Lichtensteins are to your taste, they can easily be found at Casterline Goodman Gallery.
If you’re after a Ross Bleckner painting or a Bruce Weber limited-edition print, then perhaps you should head over to the Baldwin Gallery. Or for the kind of fine art collectible that can be shipped home effortlessly, Pismo Fine Art Glass will have a Chihuly or two. Meanwhile, the ultra-contemporary, 30,000 sq ft Aspen Art Museum, designed by Shigeru Ban and under construction in the heart of downtown, has benefitted from some starry fundraising events (most of its $65 million cost has been privately funded). Culture aside, the extraordinary setting of Aspen remains core to its appeal. In summer, a seemingly endless chain of back-country trails beckon for hiking, mountain biking and horse riding, and there are trout-filled waters, where rafters and kayakers can also get their kicks. In winter, naturally, you can enjoy some of the best skiing in the world – on four distinct mountains – plus of course that après ski: the private mountaintop parties up at the cosy Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro on Aspen Highlands or the champagne bar of the private Caribou Club. Less exclusive, but sometimes even more fun, there is a buzzing live music scene at venues like the famous Belly Up, or Music on the Mountain concerts on Aspen mountain. Then there’s the food.
If Cloud Nine’s appeal is homey Alpine cooking, elsewhere, Aspen also has one of the most competitive restaurant scenes in the United States – from the freshly sourced sushi Robert De Niro enjoys at Matsushisa to the ever-changing menu of the Chefs Club at The St. Regis Aspen Resort. There, innovative dishes by up-and-comers from Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs program are whipped up by executive chef Didier Elena, who has spent the past 20 years working alongside the world-renowned Alain Ducasse. For Didier, the opportunity to come to Aspen was too much to pass up. “Aspen is unique,” he says. “People from all over the world come here to live, to enjoy this place – and to eat.” Naturally Aspen’s year-round enthusiasm for all things foodie is reflected in yet another major festival, the popular Food & Wine Aspen Classic every June. It is worth noting, though, that despite its fancy restaurants and lively social scene, Aspen isn’t a town for Manolos. Heels do not mix well with cobblestones, and though furs are worn year-round, the billionaires who own those modernist penthouses and exquisite 19th-century houses are often to be seen wearing cowboy boots.
Curiously, one man who spotted Aspen’s potential early on also played a major role in the making of Utah’s Deer Valley Resort, another globally-recognized ski destination. The New Orleans real-estate entrepreneur Edgar Stern developed Aspen’s first gated enclave, the 1,000-acre Starwood. Over the years, Starwood has been home to many famous residents, perhaps the most celebrated of all being Country music legend John Denver, who referenced his idyllic 7-acre property in many of his songs. Stern then followed his instincts to Utah’s Wasatch Mountains. After scouting around the rough-and-tumble Park City Ski Resort, and eventually purchasing it and the acreage around it, he initiated the concept of a top-notch ski resort operated like a 5-star hotel. Deer Valley Resort is all that and more. Like Aspen, it’s on the radar of the country’s upper crust, who fly in to rub shoulders with an international collection of likeminded revelers in luxe hillside homes. Also like Aspen, it’s a delightful summer destination, especially for those with a proclivity for outdoor adventure, gallery-hopping, or performances at an outdoor amphitheater during the Deer Valley Music Festival, which is the summer home of the Utah Symphony and Utah Opera.
For, just as in Aspen, high culture is also a key component of Deer Valley’s appeal – for many visitors, as important as the mountains. Each January, the streets are studded with Hollywood’s finest, up for the annual Sundance Film Festival, a launching pad for independent films. Between screenings, stars gather at Robert Redford’s Zoom for chef Ernesto Rocha’s wood-fired artichokes and steak frîtes, or at Bill White’s Grappa for lobster ravioli and osso bucco. March brings a week-long fête called Red, White & Snow, with ski-in wine-tasting events on the slopeside Astor Terrace at The St. Regis Deer Valley. Of course Aspen and Deer Valley have their partisans. But as tempting as it may be to join in the bacchanalia of high season in the high country, local knowledge in both destinations has it that it is the days after the lifts close, or when the golden aspen leaves have fallen, that can be the most rewarding. Perhaps the most special time to capture the essence of America’s mountain playgrounds, then, is when you can have it all to yourself.
Images by Denver Post via Getty Images, 4 Corners, Rex Features
The Late-Late Gap Years
Early sixtysomethings Cathy and Larry can tell you the names of almost any capital city airport in the world (“Yangon – that’s Mingaladon – right?”). If they haven’t landed there, they plan to, and if they don’t then it’s not worth seeing. Larry’s business IPO’d two years ago and they’ve been “on the road” ever since. But theirs is a travel schedule with a mission. Amid the five-star “breaks” in places as varied as Lhasa and Aspen, this couple want to “make a difference”. Their Mandarina Duck carryons (no luggage-checking ever) have seen the inside of start-ups in Armenia, orphanages in Haiti and temporary schools in Kenya. Every so often they’ll dive into something more indulgent, but not without “an experience” attached. They have hiked to Taktsang Monastery in Bhutan, taken the Trans-Siberian railway and journeyed on an icebreaker to the North Pole. Not that their expeditions are all geographic.
In Pondicherry they spent two months visiting the Sri Aurobindo ashram. A silent retreat run by monks in Wales was a truly “spiritual awakening” for a couple with more air miles than Hillary Clinton. But do they miss anything on their lengthy trips overseas? “Not really,” says Cathy. “We have each other, Skype the children when we can, and take our own stash of Green & Black’s, graham crackers and Yogi Positive Energy tea wherever we go.”
Your address: The St. Regis Lhasa Resort
The Luxe Family Travellers
Jacqui and Tod have a taste for the exotic. “We were born this way,” they shrug, remembering their own childhood vacations, student adventures and early married meanderings. Now the kids are that bit bigger and business is going well, they’re keen to indulge their wanderlust, little darlings in tow. It’s quality family time, after all.
Their first trip is to the Galapagos Islands. So educational! Into the luggage goes the J. Crew khakis for Tod along with plenty of reading material for the children, although given the number of activities they have arranged for the juniors, time will have to be strictly scheduled. Jacqui and Tod are insistent on the children journaling every day and plan to self-publish the results on their return. They are already wondering if any of their bookish offspring has “Darwinish” potential. If they are brutally honest, Jacqui and Tod are rather looking forward to the beach break in Puerto Rico that they have organized on the way back. The kids will learn to surf and go zip lining through the rainforest, and the adults will sip cocktails, content to have found the perfect formula for parenting in style. Over dinner they’ll start planning the next of many “family trips of a lifetime”.
Your address: The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, Puerto Rico
With Family Traditions at St. Regis, each hotel and resort has hand-selected experiences that are custom-tailored to please each member of your family.
George and Bitsy (real name Elizabeth Victoria) are about to have their first child, Robert William James Arturo (aka Bobsy) in a few months. They need the break before the little one arrives – when Josh’s business will also be merging with that California tech company and Bitsy will be getting back into shape, while squeezing in a bit of interior design. They are going all-out: Bora Bora, no expense spared. The last time they did this was three months ago, on their “we’re pregnant” celebration in Mauritius. Bitsy packs her Melissa Odabash kaftan; George packs his tropical Vilebrequins because Bitsy thinks his bottom looks cute in those.
They of course pack yoga kit for their private prenatal session, and lots of tropical evening wear. They don’t plan to leave the hotel, but love to change for dinner every night, because other than their regular Friday-night table at the Bedford Post Inn, they’ve hardly been out since Bitsy started her pregnancy diet. Bitsy has bought lots of “darling floaty things” from Net-A-Porter and George is relying on his “trop trousers” – linen cargo pants which he had made in every available shade of putty, last time he was in Bangalore. Of course they’ll miss putting the final touches to the nursery. But then again, catamaran sailing, diving, and salt scrub massages might just take their minds off those little details for a moment or two.
Your address: The St. Regis Mauritius Resort; The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort
The New Grand Tourists
You see the black Tumi luggage of the New Grand Tourist before you see them. Mostly it’s loaded on to a baggage cart or stacked in a chic, discreet pile in a hotel lobby. Somewhere in the vicinity lurk Mark and Melanie, speaking quietly into their iPhones, sporting watches by Patek Phillipe and an impeccable selection of clothing by Martin Margiela, Commes des Garçons and Tom Ford. M&M go wherever the art is. Miami-Basel-Venice-PAD-Masterpiece-The Armory and Frieze – their lives are a breathless loop of openings, auctions and gallery visits. They will slavishly trek to the East End of London, the nether lands of North Dakota or the sleaziest back street in Beijing in search of new “talent”.
They spend prodigiously but judiciously, but are, nonetheless, on Christie’s and Sotheby’s pre-auction dinner lists, whereby potential buyers are treated to teensy culinary delights as they view the art and sip champagne. They are consumed by their creative mission, but it doesn’t stop them from expecting the very best in luxury accommodation. That said, an art collection in a hotel, as at The St. Regis Singapore, is a mixed blessing. M&M like it, but then again it’s not theirs... Still, as they sweep out towards their waiting car and driver, their thoughts are already focused on whether this studio visit will yield the next Damien Hirst, Sophie Calle or Jeff Koons.
Your address: The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort; The St. Regis Beijing
1. Camping in the woods, 1952
My very first adventure was as a Boy Scout, when I was about 11. You had to be able to cook on a fire, shoot a gun and camp. I grew up in a suburb just outside Boston, so my father drove us to the woods and dropped us off at the campsite, where we set up our three little one-man tents and spent a couple of days. This was the first time I’d been away without an adult. With my own tent. My own sleeping bag. Cooking my own food. It was fun, but the best thing was being self-sufficient.
2. Skiing in New Hampshire, 1957
I grew up in New England, where winters were very snowy, but it was only when I was about 16 or 17 that I learnt to ski. This school trip made a profound impression because it was the first time I’d ever needed specific equipment – jacket, gloves, boots – and I learnt a new skill away from home. It informed the way I travel.
3. Discovering Italy, 1963
Straight after university, a friend and I hitchhiked from Rome across Italy, living like vagabonds. It was my first experience of life outside America, and it smelt different and it looked different. Italy then was very sober – the men wore brown suits and hats, and the women black dresses. I didn’t know what I was looking for; I was open. I thought, “Maybe I’ll fall in love.” I didn’t, but I did find a vocation: to teach.
4. The Peace Corps, 1963
This trip, to Nyasaland, which became Malawi, was the one that changed my life. I taught there for two years and then four in Uganda, and I was very happy. I lived in huts, among African people, in the way they lived. I had a connection and made real friends. Because it was a great time of social change, I learnt a lot about Africa, which is what keeps me going back.
5. Exploring the East, 1968
This wasn’t a trip in the ordinary sense; it wasn’t a journey there and back. I got a job for three years as a lecturer in Singapore. Because it was hot, stifling and noisy, I wanted to leave. So I did – a lot. I would take a train to Bangkok. A ship to Borneo. I went to Burma, to Thailand, to Indonesia and walked the old streets, and ate at the old markets that Joseph Conrad wrote about. By then I had written novels, but never a travel book. Once I’d traveled, though, I had material. I had stories to tell. So Singapore, in a sense, prepared me for a life as a travel writer.
6. Taking the train from London to Tokyo, 1973
I knew I wanted to write a travel book. I realized I could go from London to Paris, then Istanbul, and then through Turkey overland to Afghanistan and hook up with trains to India and the East. In parts it was dangerous. In Vietnam there was still fighting, and trains were being blown up. But I felt that if I was going to be a travel writer, it was these sorts of experiences I should be writing about. I was young – 31 or 32. I probably wouldn’t do that now.
7. From Cairo to the Cape, 2001
This was the longest overland trip I have ever undertaken. It was testing and very dangerous, but I produced one of my favorite books. I went to places I had never been – the pyramids in Sudan and the wild lands between Ethiopia and Nairobi. We camped when we got stuck and had to sleep under a lorry. Actually, I haven’t rough-camped much since my first trip as a child.
Paul Theroux’s book, The Last Train to Zona Verde, is published by Hamish