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The Road More Traveled

In the Tian Shan Mountains – the Mountains of Heaven, to the Chinese – my guide and I came upon an old man on a white horse. He wore tall leather boots and a splendid white felt hat like an upturned jelly mold. With a jerk of his head, he invited us to come and eat. Beyond San Tash, where Tamerlane left a chilling monument to his slaughtered dead, we found his yurt perched on a bluff above a dark river. Full of the aromas of cooking and wood smoke, it was as snug as a womb. We took our place sprawled on rugs on a raised platform at the rear. Bowls of milky tea laced with butter were handed round and a great plate of petrified cheese was set before us.

 

The old man’s flat Kyrgyz face was the color of walnuts. He gazed at me for a moment without speaking, as if assessing my fate. Then he set about eating, chomping his way through the bread and cheese with a series of deep, throaty growls, before throwing himself back onto the pillows with a grunt and looking at me. “ENGLISH!” he bellowed at me. (I’m not English, but this didn’t seem the moment to quibble about passport details.) “ENGLISH, WHERE IS YOUR WIFE?”

 

I thought for a dreadful moment he knew something about my wife that I didn’t, that he had heard she had run away to the South of France with a member of the Chippendales. Then I remembered I didn’t have a wife.

 

“No wife,” I said, relieved.

 

He made a pantomime expression of surprise. His eyes, the color of tea, widened to the size of saucers.

 

“NO WIFE?” he bawled. Then his voice dropped to pianissimo. “Listen carefully, English. Let me tell you how to get a wife.” And leaning back, he embarked upon an explanation of the intricacies of Kyrgyz romance.

 

I was on the Silk Road, that great trans-Asian route that the English traveler Freya Stark described as “the oldest, the longest, the most romantic, the most persistent of all the checkered streams of trade”. For more than 4,000 miles, it follows various routes from the gates of Xi’an in China to the shores of the Mediterranean. But whichever way you pass, Central Asia is its hub, and the people of Central Asia its middlemen. They share nomadic roots, mercantile instincts and a surprising enthusiasm for splendid hats, from the dainty pillbox job of the Uzbek merchant to the tall felt affair of the Kyrgyz horseman.

 

I had come to Central Asia to understand nomads, and to see the remnants of the nomadic culture that still existed in the remoter regions of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. I was following the route of the old Silk Road, from the Crimea across southern Russia, watching the rolling steppes from the windows of the Kazakhstan Express. I left the train in the town of Turkestan, where dust from the Kyzylkum Desert coated the leaves of the shade trees along the main road.

 

Turkestan is home to one of the holiest of Kazakh shrines, the mausoleum of the first great Turkic saint, Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, the founder of a Sufi order in the 12th century. Its blue dome rises on the edge of the desert, the sole survivor of the town’s more glamorous past. It was built by one of the great names of Central Asia: Tamerlane, the 14th-century conqueror who traced his ancestry back to Genghis Khan.

 

The mosque encapsulates the true essence of the Silk Road. Ideas were packed among the goods in the baggage trains on this legendary route. Culture, art and religion passed from one region to another with breathtaking fluidity. Islam spread here from the Middle East – and the ribbed dome of this shrine is part of the great canon of Iranian architecture, an influence that had traveled eastward along the Silk Road for well over 600 miles. The dome hovers above walls of turquoise and azure tiles and delicate traceries of arabesque. I followed passageways from the central chamber into a labyrinth of tall white rooms, the grilled windows of which filtered the outside world to a pale wash of light and a filigree of muted sound. No other religion has captured the longing for a tranquil soul in the form of architecture as exquisitely as Islam.

 

To the south of Turkestan lie the ruins of Otrar, another ghost on the Silk Road, and the place where Genghis Khan, the great nomadic conqueror, got his start in the business of empire-building. Just beyond a museum cataloging the life of this once-great city, a long featureless mound topped by waves of corn, littered with pot shards and bleached bones. In an excavation pit, where swallows rose in a fluttering cloud, I found the floor of Otrar’s great mosque. All that remained were the shattered bases of brick columns. The layers of sediment exposed in the pit walls showed the strata of the city’s different eras of settlement. Among them, a thick line of ash marked the Mongol era, when Genghis Khan had sent armies to burn this city to the ground, at the very beginning of the Mongol Empire.

 

This conflict between the settled people of cities and the nomadic horsemen of the steppes is one of the central issues of the Silk Road. Time and again, nomads would sweep east and west along the road to conquer settled populations – in China, in Persia, in northern India. Here, in this archaeological pit, in this layer of burnt material, was a moment in history that you could touch. I raked my fingers over it, and the old ash, the ancient antipathies, crumbled onto my boots.

 

 

 Above: Registan Square, Samarkand

(©Ian Berry/Magnum)

 

In the congested avenues of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s former capital, I found myself sympathizing with the nomads. The city was full of city hassles – queues, crowds, traffic. In the midday heat, people seemed to move in sluggish slow motion. But when I lifted my eyes beyond the buildings and the rooftops, I could see the mighty Mountains of Heaven, the mighty Tian Shan. They promised escape.

 

So I set off with a guide, the bumbling Marat, to Kyrgyzstan, and that section of the old road that ran along the northern shores of Issyk-kul lake towards the mountain passes to China. In Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, the main avenue was still called Silk Road Street. Eastwards, the road ran through velvet foothills. Gangs of hay-makers were out in the fields with pitchforks and scythes. On the far side of a pass of poplars and rose-colored rocks, huge flocks of sheep appeared, with young shepherds on horses cracking long whips in the rolling clouds of dust.

 

We passed the 11th-century Burana Tower, like a lighthouse of the Silk Road, marooned in fields of edelweiss. It marked the ruins of Balasagun, a millennium ago a great Silk Road city. In the small museum were the remnants of the ancient trade: Chinese coins, bracelets of Indian cowrie shells, iron swords, bronze lamps, amulets. In the late afternoon, we came down to Issyk-kul. Its glassy surface held the reflections of snow peaks and high wind-torn clouds. A family went by in a wagon, the patriarch in a tall felt hat, reclining on bolsters of new hay among a tribe of daughters. At the end of the lake we drove through apple orchards to Karakol. Tucked away in one of the remotest corners of Central Asia, the town of Karakol still had the cosmopolitan air of a Silk Road town, a place where disparate peoples met and mingled. Blond Russian schoolchildren were trailing home past cottages with blue shutters and white picket fences. Uighurs in their pretty embroidered caps had laid out cheap Chinese imports at makeshift stalls in the main square. In the market, Uzbek butchers were dismembering cows with huge axes. Kazakh men went by on tall horses while old Kyrgyz men with wispy beards gossiped on shady street corners.

 

The next morning, Marat and I took up the trail of Tamerlane, heading east into the Tian Shan mountains. Born in Central Asia, Tamerlane, or Timur, was the last of the great nomadic conquerors, forging an empire in the 14th century that stretched westward along the Silk Road into Iran and much of the Middle East as well as southward into northern India and north into much of Russia. In Samarkand, his capital, he left one of the world’s most beautiful ensembles of Islamic buildings – a model of architectural delicacy and sophistication. Everywhere else, from Baghdad to Delhi, he left vast piles of bones.

 

We rose into high valleys of grass and pine trees, of horsemen and nomads. On the far side of a narrow pass, we came to the valley of Karkara. It was empty and pristine and full of birdsong. A herd of untended horses were galloping through blue twilight. China lay just beyond the passes.

 

Halfway along the valley floor, we came to the great mound of San Tash, a pile of boulders the height of a house. It was made when Tamerlane embarked on an ill-fated invasion of China. He ordered each soldier to place a stone on the pile as they passed. On their way back from the wars, each took one away again. In this way, Tamerlane could calculate his losses. They numbered in the thousands, a tall cenotaph of stones raised by the fallen to their own memory. I climbed to the top, and the rocks slipped and rumbled beneath my feet like skulls.

 

It was here that we met our Kyrgyz nomad, on his white horse. After supper, he embarked on his matrimonial advice. He was a traditionalist in matters of the heart. In his day, Kyrgyz chaps would cut to the chase when it came to courtship. A young man in possession of a Kyrgyz fortune – numerous sheep – and in need of a wife simply kidnapped the woman of his dreams, and then, through intermediaries, made her family an offer they couldn’t refuse. As soon as the bargaining was completed – quantities of sheep generally needed to change hands – they set a date and the young man and his fiancée emerged from hiding to a welcome from both families. The old man sat back, spreading his hands wide. “That’s the way to get a decent wife,” he said, slapping my thigh. His own wife, and former hostage, beamed her approval.

 

His was the voice of the old Silk Road, of the nomadic cultures that had been central to these regions. But a new Silk Road is emerging in Central Asia. After decades of Soviet hegemony, trade is again becoming the life blood of these regions. A sense of optimism among the new republics of Central Asia, coupled with China’s expansive trade policies, is transforming the region. Rail lines now carry freight from the heart of China across its mountainous western borders to the Central Asian republics and beyond to Iran, to Turkey and to Europe. A new Silk Road is being forged in Central Asia – part of a modern, globalized world.

 

The great trading caravans of the past nurtured the cities of Central Asia: Merv, Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand. With the new trading realities, the old cities are prospering again, and new cities are emerging. Among them is Astana, Kazakhstan’s burgeoning capital – a city that now stands at the center of the modern Silk Road. Its gleaming skyscrapers rise confidently from the Kazakh steppe, while luxury hotels like the new St. Regis Astana stand as heirs to the old Silk Road caravanserais.

 

Your address: The St. Regis Astana

Above: simple lakeside huts in the Tien Shan Mountain range, which straddles the border between China and Kyrgyzstan, present an idyll of peace
(©Getty Images)

 

Below: trade is booming once again on the Silk Road, where an ancient culture is being connected with the modern world for the benefit of both
(©Getty Images)

 

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The toy car

You could probably buy a brand new car for the price of a replica classic these days. But that’s not the point. The beauty we have photographed here, from Bentleys London, is a model of a 1950s Ferrari F500 F2: a vehicle that took nine Grand Prix victories and became one of the best-loved cars of all time. The popularity of model cars at collectors’ emporiums and auction houses partially explains the growth in the market for motoring memorabilia in general, from model cars and helmets to driving gloves and watches. When Christie’s Geneva auctioned a collection of Rolex Daytona Cosmograph wristwatches, designed specifically for racing drivers, all 50 watches were sold for a combined total of more than $13 million. The star of the show – a unique model known as the Paul Newman, because the racing-fanatic actor always wore one – fetched over a million dollars, more than four times the expected price. According to Bonhams, the trend extends to old car-sale and promotional books from the Golden Age of motoring, which are achieving impressive prices. Even some rare Scalextric slot cars can reach well over $1,000 apiece. Why? It’s a great way for a car enthusiast to collect, without having to garage a big vehicle. Although, as motoring author Giles Chapman says, what real collectors want to amass is memorabilia from luxury marques such as Aston Martin, Rolls-Royce, Bugatti and Bentley. “It really has to be something connected with a good marque,” he says, explaining that a Spirit of Ecstasy from the hood of a Rolls-Royce will always find a buyer. “No one,” he adds, “is interested in a model Hyundai or Seat.” bentleyslondon.com

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The artist’s print

In the past, the art print was considered a lesser commodity to the original artwork, often secreted in a portfolio, or hung en masse on a passageway wall. But recently the print has returned to favor. Why? Not simply because prints are less expensive and more accessible than an original (who can find an original Matisse painting these days to buy, even if one had the tens of millions to acquire it?) Or because, with the rise of online galleries which have grown web-based art trade to around $2 billion a year, it’s now much simpler to find an original work of art and get it delivered to your home as quickly as your groceries. It’s also because prints, like this one from Hang-Up Gallery, have lost their lesser status. Indeed, since the contemporary art market began to soar in the 1980s, a slew of galleries have started up to offer prints from household-name artists at relatively low prices. “It’s a comfortable entry point for people who haven’t necessarily bought art before,” says James Booth-Clibborn, whose company, Manifold Editions, specializes in contemporary artists. He explains that prints are offered in limited edition, averaging fewer than 70, each signed and numbered by the artist. “Prints are an affordable way to collect works by leading contemporary artists. You won’t need a fortune to start your collection.” There may be another factor contributing to the upward trajectory of these once-derided artifacts. As contemporary art moves into the large-scale installation, video and floor-based sculpture, the small scale of the old medium brings art back to that most popular of all spaces: the domestic wall. manifoldeditions.com, hanguppictures.com

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The violet

Until now, the scent of a violet has been thought of as, well, a little old-fashioned and prim. But, like many perfumes beloved by Victorian ladies, the fragrance of this most velvet of flowers is muscling its way back into fashion and scenting the smartest spaces once again. Violets are part of the scent of the St. Regis “Caroline’s Four Hundred Candle”, made by Carlos Huber of the perfumer Arquiste, in homage to the glory days of Caroline Astor, the matriarch of the original St. Regis hotel’s founding family, who hosted some of the most glorious parties New York has ever seen. “The violets in this scent formula would have been the same as the ones Mrs Astor would use as centerpieces in the St. Regis ballroom in the Gilded Age,” says Huber. Why is the flower such an olfactory hit? “The scent is intriguing,” says Huber. “It comes and goes. One minute you smell it, and the next it’s gone. This chemical characteristic makes them attractive and ever-new.” Oils extracted for perfume come from the Viola Odorata, also called the Sweet Violet, which grows in the Mediterranean region and Asia Minor and produces delicate purple, white or variegated flowers that appear in early spring. The scent itself comes from ionones in the plant, which create its trademark sweetness and powdery, woody-floral characteristics that have been popular for centuries. The French Emperor Napoleon was a lover of violets (they are thought to have therapeutic properties, and help to ward off colds, asthma, rheumatic pains and infections) as was his Empress, Josephine, who wore them on her wedding day. And it’s safe to say there was nothing prim about them.

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Treasures of India

“I started with watches. Then it was cars. Now it’s art,” says Nirav Modi. He’s describing his progression as a collector, which has resulted in the superb array of artworks that adorn the Mumbai headquarters of his eponymous jewelry brand. Having recently opened stores in London and Manhattan, Modi has turned the jewelry house he launched in 2010 into a globally recognized contemporary Indian luxury brand. Like his jewelry, which is produced entirely in Mumbai, his art was created almost entirely in India, spanning the century between India’s struggle for independence and its current status as an economic powerhouse.

 

Today, the jeweler owns about 500 pieces of art – some of which are hung in the oceanfront duplex he shares with his wife and three children, and others at their beach house in Alibag, where fashionable Bombayites head for the weekend. Most of the collection, though, is kept at the company’s offices (designed by his mother, an interior designer) and displayed in rotation. Apart, that is, from a few works that never leave his own office: a sculpture of brass cowpats by the contemporary artist Subodh Gupta; Boy With Lemons, a painting by Amrita Sher-Gil, the bold female artist of the Twenties and Thirties sometimes described as India’s Frida Kahlo; and a haunting photographic portrait of Sher-Gil taken by her nephew, Vivan Sundaram.

 

Having grown up in Antwerp, where his family were diamond dealers, and visited the museums of Rome, Paris and Brussels with his mother, Modi says he was attracted to art from a young age. Although at home, “dinner table conversation was all about diamonds: diamonds bought, diamonds sold, diamonds cut”, as a young man he became obsessed with other objects of beauty. His first passion was watches – beginning with one he just had to have. “I spent my first six months’ wages on an IWC perpetual calendar watch,” he recalls, followed by a series of extraordinarily complicated models, from fine watchmakers such as Philippe Dufour. After that, he discovered cars – “mostly British” – although living in Mumbai, he points out with a wry smile, you don’t really get the chance to make the most of a high-performance automobile.

 

It was only in the Nineties that he started to collect art. “As I was living in India,” he says, “I was most influenced by the Indian modern art I was seeing around me.” Today, Indian art from 1850 until 1970 makes up the core of his collection, which now encompasses something close to a complete canon of artists of that period, and some of its greatest masters. Like most serious collectors, though, for Modi there’s always something missing, something more to add – including, he says, “a masterpiece by Tyeb Mehta” (one of the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group who gained international recognition in the Sixties and Seventies).

 

According to Mallika Advani, the former head of Christie’s in India who has been Modi’s art adviser for many years, the jeweler is “the dream collector. He knows what he wants and how to work the primary market, but he’s also very good at auction.” He also has, she explains, a passionate desire to acquire key pieces that he believes will enhance his collection, enough knowledge to know when to buy a piece and when to wait, and what he’s missed out on, so he can try and buy it later.

 

The choice to display the collection – and rotate the display – at the semi-public space of his offices rather than at home is a deliberate one, Modi explains. “Art inspires me. There are pieces I’ve had on walls for years and suddenly I notice a nuance, despite having seen the works day in, day out. This quality of art is fascinating. I wanted to create an environment where more people would have the opportunity to be immersed in it.”
niravmodi.com

 

Your address: The St. Regis Mumbai

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The Great Escape

In his day, in the late 1800s, no other man possessed riches to match those of William Waldorf Astor. Having inherited his family’s estate at the age of 42 – encompassing businesses ranging from fur-trapping companies and a Pacific shipping empire to vast tracts of Manhattan real estate – he had access to almost anything he could possibly wish for. The sort of life he led was reflected in the style of the hotels that he built up, including the Waldorf-Astoria: a joint venture with his cousin, John Jacob Astor IV, the founder of St. Regis. Building great hotels was something of an Astor family tradition. In 1836, the very first John Jacob, founder of the dynasty and the family fortune – and the cousins’ great-grandfather – had opened the Astor House hotel in New York, the city’s first luxury hotel and the last word in American hospitality for several decades. The hotel that the cousins established together was equally groundbreaking, while John Jacob Astor IV’s St. Regis hotel raised the bar still further when it opened in 1904 – setting the style and standard for St. Regis hotels across the world today.

 

Although William Waldorf Astor was at the heart of New York society, the city wasn’t a place in which he found happiness. As he wrote in his memoirs, published in 1917: “We were too prosperous; we were exclusive, not hail fellows
well met; we liked the amenities of foreign travel; we had been known to employ alien servants, French chefs and English butlers; we were un-American. To the press, we were a shining target. On the 20th of September, 1880, when I was 32, the thought occurred to me that we should fare better in another land.”

 

As a young man, like his grandfather and father before him, Astor had been educated in Europe, and had traveled there widely with his parents. Of all of the countries on the continent, the place he loved more than any other was Italy: its culture, its arts, its food, and its countryside. As a new book about his great homes, Villa Astor: Paradise Restored on the Amalfi Coast, explains: “He was enraptured… Italy intrigued his mind and invaded his soul. All at once, this sensitive, cultivated, and intellectually curious young man was exposed to a new land; a rich history he had only ever read about in books; dazzling art ranging from Roman, through Medieval, to Renaissance and Baroque; and a vibrant political and cultural climate.”


 

Although after a period studying in Rome, Astor returned to America, where he studied law at Columbia University, learned his family business and entered into the world of politics, he still hankered for Italy. In 1882, at the age of 34, he was given the perfect excuse to return: the offer by the American Republican President, Chester A. Arthur, of a posting to Rome as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary: the equivalent now of an ambassador. It was a posting that would change his life forever.

 

Having arrived in Rome, and set up home in the 17th-century Palazzo Pallavicini-Rospigliosi in the heart of the city, he and his wife Mary lived like royalty, and were frequent guests of the Italian King Umberto and Queen Margherita. When he wasn’t mixing with Italian society, the young diplomat found time to indulge his loves of sculpture, of art, of classical architecture and of literature. The part of the world he particularly loved, though, was Sorrento. This seaside town, in the country’s south, was not only close to the classical ruins of Pompeii and Paestum, which he enjoyed visiting, but had a beautiful coastline, along which friends had villas in which he could stay. It was in the spring of 1905, visiting a friend, that he spotted a villa perched high on a promontory with stunning views across the Gulf of Naples to Vesuvius – and decided to buy it. Although the house was originally known as Aux Roches Grises, because of the volcanic rocks on which it was built, Astor renamed it Villa Sirena, after the mythological creatures that lured sailors onto rocks. 


 

The property had everything he loved: history (the site had been the home of Postumus Agrippa around the time of Christ, and a haunt of Ovid); views of Vesuvius and the coast; seven acres of land with orange and olive groves; monastic ruins and a church; and a grand villa which the art lover could fill with paintings, fine furniture and sculpture. Best of all, it was peaceful, writes his great-grandson, Lord Astor of Hever, in the introduction to Villa Astor.“The light lifted his spirits and he would potter in his orange grove or go for long walks in the hills. He loved the easy tempo of the place, as gentle as a Neapolitan folksong; simple peasant dishes of risotto (which he spelled with a “z”), spaghetti, fried fish or fritto misto, cheese, and rustic wines. And the dry climate improved his gout, which had almost crippled him.”


 

Although Astor owned magnificent homes in America and in England, “the Villa,” his great-grandson explains, “holds the key to my great-grandfather’s happiness. It was the place to which he could escape, be free to lead a simple life, and revel in peace. It allowed him to turn the clock back, reminisce, and dream of what might have been.”
Not that creating his dream villa was a simple job; the restoration took almost a decade. Wainscoting, parquet floors and hand-painted ceilings were added to every room, and a glassed-in dining room added so guests had an unimpeded view of Naples and Ischia. The old church cloister was turned into a gallery, which Astor and the famous Roman antiquarian Attilio Simonetti adorned with some of the world’s most beautiful pieces of classical statuary, columns, mosaics, bronzes, ironwork, stoneware, and sarcophagi. The exquisite garden was planted with exotic flowers and plants from all over Europe and orchards of lemon, orange and olive trees, and a magnificent swimming pool was added. In the grounds where the cloister once stood, Astor constructed a replica of a Pompeian villa, called Villa Florus, with such authentic-looking floor mosaics, ionic columns and wall paintings that for many years visitors thought they were originals, transferred from Pompeii or Herculaneum.

 

 Above: a great admirer of ancient Rome, William Waldorf Astor adorned his home with classical statuary

 

One of the villa’s greatest pleasures for Astor, though, was its location. Situated on a rocky outcrop, far from prying eyes, the house was, as the Villa Astor book explains: “A sanctuary from the day-to-day cares of business and family. It was a place to revere nature, thanks to the spectacular panorama of the sea and mountains surrounding the property: a series of thoughtfully placed windows embellished with fragments of antique columns and sculptures romantically framed the view beyond, leading the eye to the horizon.”


 

Between 1905 and 1914, before the outbreak of war, Astor visited the house every year between November and March. Although much of this time was spent alone (his wife had died in 1894), he had eight staff to attend to his needs, including a prized French chef, who was responsible for ordering what he considered “indispensible” items: foie gras terrines, potted French green peas in butter sauce, Brie and Camembert cheeses, truffles – all furnished through his agent in Paris, Fernand Robert. 


 

When he did socialize, he did so in considerable style. As one account, taken from the new book, recalls: “Astor’s house parties are organized exactly on the same order as royalty, only a trifle more so… For example, each morning every lady of the house is sent a superb bouquet of flowers to her room. With them is a huge box of chocolates… Not infrequently, within the inner recesses of the flowers or of the box of sweets is some exquisite trifle in the way of a charm or trinket. In order not to show favor to any one guest, flowers, sweets and jewels are the same for all. Astor has the finest private collection of automobiles in Europe, and each guest reads over the mantelpiece that by telephoning to a garage, a ‘car’ is always at his or her disposal.”


 

But mainly, though, Astor spent his time there alone: walking, exploring, eating at local restaurants. As he wrote to his American-born daughter-in-law, Nancy, who became the first female Member of Parliament in Britain: “We have had such exquisite weather that I took advantage of it recently to visit Pompeii and Paestum. I have also amused myself by lunching at odd places within driving distance to feast upon the spaghetti and risotto, which the plainest Italian cook prepares in such perfection... I take good walks and can easily do six miles – to Massa [Lubrense] without over-fatigue. On stormy days I seek my gymnasium or trudge up and down my garden walks for an hour.” 


 

When World War I made traveling to Italy impossible, he took refuge in his homes in England and to his dismay he never made it back to the Sorrento bolt-hole that he’d spent decades creating. The day before he was finally due to return to it – in October 1919 – he died, and his family subsequently sold the property.

 

Today, more than a century later, the house is owned by another family who still clearly take delight in Astor’s style and historical artifacts. Not only have they employed the leading French architect Jacques Garcia to renovate what is now called “Villa Astor”, keeping its classical elegance and 19th century interiors while updating its amenities, they also rent it out to modern-day travelers who dream of living as Astor might have. Walking into the home, it’s as if the man still lived there, surrounded by his precious antiquities and furnishings, in the land he called his spiritual home.

 

Your address: The St. Regis Rome, The St. Regis New York

 

All images © Eric Sander, from Villa Astor: Paradise Restored on the Amalfi Coast, by Curt DiCamillo, published by Flammarion

Above: the villa has been restored to its full glory by leading French architect Jacques Garcia

 

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The charm

No one can dislike a charm. Based on a simple talisman hung on a piece of string, it’s one of world’s oldest jewelry styles. While originally charms were carved out of a gem, rock, horn or wood, and worn to ward off evil spirits, in Victorian times, they became more decorative: fashioned from silver or gold and chosen to signify important things in the wearer’s life, from christenings to engagements. When Queen Victoria herself took to wearing clusters of them – some with lockets of hair, others with miniature portraits – the fashion world was quick to embrace them. Soon Chanel and Tiffany (with its iconic Tiffany heart) became renowned for stylish versions, followed subsequently by designers and brands around the globe, from Vivienne Westwood to Chloé, Alison Lou, Jennifer Meyer and Harry Winston (pictured). This time, though, as well as the traditional Cinderella coaches, dogs and ponies clinking on wrists, there are 21st-century motifs, from lightning bolts and skulls to smiling emojis and arrows, worn in clusters on necklaces by fashionable young women. Why the sudden resurgence in popularity? Not only because this boho prop has “passage of life”significance – equally appreciated by both a child and a fashionable woman for a special occasion – but because it’s versatile. Single charms can be worn with a pretty dress or you can bring out your inner Esmeralda with a clinking bunch of them. This season, a bit of wizardry has also been added to the mix: Harry Potter charms that bring not just literary characters to the frame, but a little bit of 21st-century magic too. harrywinston.com

HookedOnFishing

Hooked on Fishing

Have you ever seen a leopard? A giant sloth? A tiger? How about a manta ray or a great white shark? Ever experienced a humpback whale breaching so close that it rocked the boat? Or had your toothpaste stolen by monkeys? I’m not talking about watching those sad-eyed animals that pad endlessly around their cages in zoos, or joining dozens of others on a whale-watching boat. I’ve been lucky enough to see all these creatures up close and personal (in certain cases, a little too close). But I’ve seen them because I go fishing.

 

Why go fishing anyway? Research suggests that more than two-thirds do so to get away from it all. In our increasingly stressful lives, it becomes harder and harder to seek escape. Fishing doesn’t take place in cities, with honking cars and constantly ringing cellphones. It’s best enjoyed in the world’s wilder and less exploited places. Peace within peace.

 

Fishing, you see, is about much more than outwitting a creature with the brain power of a sliced loaf (although you’ll notice that anglers like to attribute superhuman intelligence to their quarry). Angling can be solitary and contemplative; it can break your heart or make it soar like an eagle. It can be restful or exhausting, aesthetic, poetic or scientific. Best of all, you can choose. And as I get older (if none the wiser), I’m not even sure that catching fish is actually the point of it all.

 

I was fishing on a nearby lake when a kingfisher chose the end of my rod as a convenient resting place to gulp down the minnow it had just caught. There it sat, this glorious iridescent-blue bird, just feet from me. I can’t remember what I caught that day, but I’ll always recall that kingfisher, ignoring me and concentrating on lunch. Because I sat there quietly, it took me as part of its world. I’d become part of nature rather than an intrusion.

 

Would I ever have seen that leopard, gliding ghost-like across a ridge at dusk, if I hadn’t been in the Indian jungle fishing for mahseer? Would I have seen that sloth moving in slow motion through treetops in Guyana unless I had traveled to South America hoping to catch an arapaima, the fish I had read about in David Attenborough’s 1956 Zoo Quest to Guiana, and dreamed for 40 years of seeing?

 

Earlier this year, I was fishing in Norway’s Lofoten Islands (a great place to watch the Northern Lights). A group of us were after halibut and giant cod, but we stopped fishing when a pod of killer whales with young came within feet of our little boat. We followed them for miles, marveling at their grace. And what about that time in Belize, when our family spent a couple of hours spotting manatee, then saw a whale shark swim ponderously past the hotel jetty as a bonus? Or that holiday to Puerto Rico, where a pelican came into the pool at 5pm every day, and the staff fed it with fish? That was the trip where, on Christmas Day, I dangled a line off a jetty, attracting children of several nationalities, who took it in turns to catch the dazzling multi-colored, Rothko-esque fish that swarmed at our feet. Surrounded by these excited youngsters, some no older than three or four years old, I felt like the Pied Piper of Hamelin. That they didn’t speak English didn’t matter – we found a universal language of joy.

 

For me, a fishing trip anywhere in the world – whether it’s Langkawi, Vancouver or the Maldives – is my way of experiencing things that most people see only in nature films. The American author John Gierach put it far better than I can. He was once asked, “How was the fishing?” and replied, “The fishing was wonderful. The catching wasn’t up to much, though.”

 

You may be reading this in one of St. Regis’s elegant resorts, perhaps in Shenzhen, Bora Bora or Puerto Rico. You’re probably gazing out to sea, wondering what to do besides sipping mojitos and putting on more sunscreen. Why not go fishing, and see at first-hand the wonders of nature? We’ve just returned from Costa Rica where, on a half-day fishing trip off the Pacific coast, we were entertained by dolphins, saw shoals of migrating stingrays jumping from the water, manta rays sunning themselves and a huge leatherback turtle drifting on the current. As my wife poetically put it, “And most people think the sea is just a big, empty mass of water.”

 

This makes it sound as if I spend all my time fishing, to the exclusion of everything else. Wishful thinking, but sadly untrue. Family holidays need to be just that – although, if there’s water nearby, I’m always peering into it, wondering what lurks beneath the surface. There’s usually a local boat you can hire for a day, and in more sophisticated resorts you’ll find sleek vessels that will transport you to areas where the fish are big and hungry.

 

If you happen to be staying at one of the St. Regis resorts in southern China, your hotel can set up a trip through Simpson Marine, which runs two boats year-round.
The Thai Lady is ideal for a group of four friends, while Fortuna can accommodate up to 30. The crews are vastly experienced and in these waters you’re likely to catch anything from yellowfin tuna and snapper to sailfish and black marlin.

 

It doesn’t matter if you don’t know which end to hold a rod. Fishing really isn’t difficult – it’s only fishermen that try to make it so. You can go out to sea with a $1,000 space-age reel and a box full of colorful lures in all shapes and sizes (fishing, after all, has more accessories than the others sports put together), but the person next to you – who could be your 10-year-old grandson or a 75-year-old novice – may still catch the big fish, using tackle supplied by the boat.

 

Worried about seasickness? Buy a Relief Band, a watch-like device that truly works. It generates electric signals (actually, small shocks) that, once transmitted to the body, convince your brain that all is steady. Strap it on to your wrist, set the dial and, suddenly, a rocking boat holds no fears. Mal de mer used to wreck my Hemingway dreams – there’s nothing worse when you’re eager to tangle with ocean giants like marlin, shark and tuna. The moment the horizon started to move, so did my stomach. Not any more.

 

When people ask my greatest memory, I recall a day in Outer Mongolia, hundreds of miles from anywhere. I was relaxing on the riverbank, feeling content after catching two taimen, the very rare salmon that were the primary focus of our trip. A bright yellow sun rested in a flawless blue sky, as if the whole scene had been painted by a child using a palette of primary colors. In the distance, snow covered the hills. Then a group of herders, who had lived the same way for hundreds of years, crossed the river. It was an achingly beautiful scene and I thought: “It doesn't get more wonderful that this. OK, God, take me now.” Thank goodness He wasn’t listening.

 

simpsonmarine.com

 

Your address: The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, Puerto Rico; The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort; The St. Regis Macao, Cotai Central; The St. Regis Sanya Yalong Bay Resort; The St. Regis Shenzhen; The St. Regis Langkawi; The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort

 

Fishing doesn’t take place in cities with honking cars; it’s peace within peace
(photo: Getty Images)

 

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Rooms with a View

At first glance, an interior painting by Los Angeles-based artist Jonas Wood (right) feels as fresh as a midsummer garden after a rain shower. Look again, however, and the effect is more disorienting: the flattened perspective and distortions of space are more the stuff of dreams than reality. Other contrasts in Wood’s work are similarly compelling: the playful references to pop art, cubism and artists like Hockney and Matisse in works that are immediately, distinctively Wood’s own; the landscapes contained within the parameters of domestic vessels created by Wood’s wife, the ceramicist Shio Kusaka – the whole world in a pot.

 

Born in 1977 in Boston, Wood grew up surrounded by art – his grandfather collected works by Bacon, Calder and Frankenthaler – yet it was only after studying psychology at liberal arts college Hobart and William Smith Colleges that he began painting. He met his wife while completing a Fine Arts MA at the University of Washington, after which the couple moved to LA, where they now work side by side in a shared studio.

 

Wood’s work is autobiographical, refracting childhood memories and everyday life through his own particular sensibility. He uses collage as well as paint, starting with photographs he has taken or appropriated – of his family and from old magazines – and rearranging them. His still lifes, portraits, interiors and landscapes also often include pots, which he views as recurring characters. He cites Picasso, Braque, Mondrian, Bonnard and Vuillard as influences, both for their work itself and the way it is interpreted by other contemporary artists. “I love David Hockney and Alex Katz,” he says, “who are looking at modern painting and riffing on it. I’m looking at what they’re looking at, but I also get to look at them.”

 

Artworks by Wood, which now sell for six figures at auction, are held in the permanent collections of the major contemporary art museums of New York, Chicago and LA, and last December he covered the 5,400 square foot facade of LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) with a vinyl version of his Still Life with Two Owls (2014). The image was “sourced in part from a photograph of a shelf with plants and pottery from a 1970s House & Garden-type magazine”, he says. “I use those and then replace about 70 per cent of the plants and objects with things I’m interested in.” It’s life – but not quite as we know it.

 

Jonas is the honoree of this year’s TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art auction held in Dallas on 28 October, 2017. twoxtwo.org/about

 

Portrait of Jonas Wood by Manfredi Gioacchini

 

Two Tables with Floral Pattern, 2013.
Oil and acrylic on canvas, 100 x 93 inches
Wood shares a studio with his wife, the ceramic artist Shio Kusaka, and her pots are “recurring characters” in his work. “Repeating elements appear in different paintings, and change shape,” he says. (Photo: Brian Forrest; Courtesy of the artist and Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago, IL)

 

 

Kitchen with Jade and Aloe Plants, 2013
Oil and acrylic on linen, 88 x 76 inches
Cluttered domestic interiors are a favorite subject of Wood’s, refracted through the artist’s emotions: they look familiar and cheery enough, but sudden disconnections have a slightly disconcerting effect. (Photo: Brian Forrest; Courtesy of the artist and Anton Kern Gallery, New York, NY)