Terence Davies’s Poetic Melancholy

Terence Davies’s Poetic Melancholy

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Lately, the dining room at the Morgan Library & Museum has been offering a lunch menu inspired by one of its exhibits, of treasures from the National Museum of Sweden: cucumber-elderflower aquavit sparkler, brown-butter cod cake, lingonberry cobbler. The restaurant has not been offering a menu inspired by another of its exhibits, “I’m Nobody! Who Are You?,” about the life and work of Emily Dickinson. Visiting the other day, Terence Davies, the British filmmaker, agreed that this was just as well. “It would be very sparse,” he said. “None of this ‘knitted by nuns in Nepal’ business.”

Davies directed “A Quiet Passion,” the new film about Dickinson, for which he also wrote the screenplay. Starring Cynthia Nixon, the movie starts out looking like a conventional bio-pic before turning into a devastating depiction of crushing social mores, and of the anguish of constrained creativity. Davies was turned on to Dickinson’s poetry a dozen years ago. In an introduction to an anthology, he read that she “withdrew from life” beginning in her twenties. “I thought, There must be more to it than that,” he said. “She loved to go out, she loved to bake, she improvised on the piano, she loved the commencement balls, she liked to dance.”

Davies, who is seventy-one, has suffered his own creative constraints: it took six years to raise the money to make “A Quiet Passion,” and other projects have been similarly hard to get off the ground. He recognized in Dickinson a kindred spirit. “She was a watcher, and I am not a participant,” he said, over a bowl of black-bean soup. “I am an observer. You can see things sometimes with greater clarity than people who are not, but it can be lonely.” Davies grew up in a working-class family, in Liverpool, the youngest of ten, and was brought up as a devout Catholic. “Then I realized it’s a lie—men in frocks, nothing else,” he said. He left school at sixteen, to become a clerk in an accountant’s office, before escaping to drama school in his twenties. He might have made a good actor—his voice is particularly low and sonorous. “From a very early age, I sounded like the Queen Mother, after she died,” he said.

Cartoon
“When will someone teach us how to share?”

A few years ago, Davies took to writing poetry himself, though he has never published any of it. “I don’t know if they are any good, but it gives me a great deal of pleasure,” he said. “Sometimes when you are feeling low, and rather lonely, it does give some solace.” He wrote one poem after being stranded in New York by Hurricane Sandy. “We were doing a casting, sitting in this very grand hotel, with an interior courtyard, and suddenly it started to snow,” he said. “I just kept looking at the snow, and a poem did come out of it: Why can’t I stay in the moment? Why am I outside, looking at the snow? And why should snow fall? It seems so sad. And there was a young lad sitting at a computer, and he looked like August Strindberg, and I thought, Why does he look like August Strindberg? And how can anyone be that young? And snow falling all over the Eastern Seaboard.” Davies looked melancholy. “I’m very good at misery and death,” he said. “A bit short on the old joie de vivre, but I’m working on it.”

After lunch: a tour of the exhibit, with Carolyn Vega, one of the curators. Davies studied a map of Dickinson’s Amherst, which he visited for research, though the movie was shot mostly in Belgium, for economy’s sake. “For the exterior scenes, basically we built the portico of her house, then put the rest in digitally,” he explained. He lingered over Dickinson’s schoolbooks, and the register of students from Mount Holyoke, where she studied for a year. “Is this Miss Lyon?” he asked, pointing to a portrait of the school’s founder. “I’m afraid I made her rather severe.” (In the movie, Dickinson defies the principal on religious grounds, and flees home.) There were pages of Dickinson’s manuscript poems, written in pencil—“How have they survived? How have they survived?” Davies asked—and even a lock of her vivid auburn hair. “Oh, I do hope she knows we’re still interested,” he said.

As Davies left the exhibit, he was still mulling Dickinson’s lack of recognition in her lifetime. “I just think, Oh, why couldn’t she have got one success?” he said. “Or, at least, won first prize for her bread! Why couldn’t she have been at the head of the class, for once?” The Morgan’s interior courtyard was bathed in sunlight: no snow now, only the uncertain promise of spring. 

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May 1, 2017 at 03:28AM

Singapore from Across the Pond

Singapore from Across the Pond

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Singapore Tip

If you connect in Singapore and you have more than 5 hours, be sure to leave the airport and explore the city! You don’t need a Visa from most countries and it’s really easy to jump into a taxi and head down into this area to check things out! I highly, highly recommend it!

Daily Photo – Singapore from Across the Pond

I took this photo up in the club lounge area of the Ritz-Carlton, where I stayed just for one night on my way to the USA. What a pretty view, eh? I’ve gotta get back here with more time soon. After I took this, I went down and had a fabulous dinner before heading out into the night to take even more photos!

Singapore from Across the Pond

Photo Information


  • Date Taken2017-03-05 19:34:09
  • CameraILCE-7RM2
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time5
  • Aperture6.3
  • ISO100
  • Focal Length15.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramAperture-priority AE
  • Exposure Bias

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May 1, 2017 at 02:27AM

Florida Tourism Officials Are Fighting for Funding as Cuts Loom

Florida Tourism Officials Are Fighting for Funding as Cuts Loom

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Visit Florida Facebook

Visit Florida faces a big funding cut this year. Shown in this promotional photo from the organization’s Facebook page is Bikini Beach Resort in Panama City Beach. Visit Florida Facebook

Skift Take: If legislators ultimately slash funding for Visit Florida — and the state’s governor signs off on the budget — will the private sector step in with more cash? Or will the organization be forced cut its marketing efforts as competition heats up for international tourists?

— Hannah Sampson

Visit Florida’s new CEO made a desperate plea to lawmakers Friday morning as they prepare to pass a budget that would slash the marketing organization’s funding by 67 percent.

The request from Ken Lawson, who was named to the job in January, was backed by statements from Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association.

“We need you to fund Visit Florida, not just because it’s an organization,” Lawson said. “Because we’re a state and we’re a brand and we’ve got to fight the competition that’s coming after us.”

Leaders from the Florida House and Senate this week agreed to a budget deal that would allocate $25 million to the tourism marketing corporation for 2017-18, down from $76 million this fiscal year. Earlier this month, Scott asked legislators to set aside $100 million for Visit Florida in a surprise increase from his earlier request.

The political wrangling follows a tumultuous stretch for the organization, which came under fire for a lack of transparency over a $1 million contract with the Miami rapper Pitbull. Three top executives, including former CEO Will Seccombe, were forced out, and the Florida House of Representatives threatened to pull funding altogether.

“A number of states have made ill-advised cuts to their tourism offices,” Dow said in his statement. “The economic consequences of this risky, discredited experiment are swift, severe and can take decades to recover from.”

Before the budget deal was reached, a dozen representatives from destinations throughout the state gathered at a Visit Florida-organized media luncheon in New York City early this week to pitch the beaches, theme parks, rocket launches, and other attractions in their various locales.

It was a routine get-together in what has been a not-so-routine year.

“We never thought that [funding] was going to completely go away,” said Nicole Stacey, director of marketing and communications for Visit Pensacola. “This is the worst it’s ever been, the fear.”

At this week’s event in New York City, representatives for the destinations said the organization helps them expand their reach — “for instance, this event,” one pointed out — but also gives a crucial boost to international efforts.

Visit Florida helps overseas journalists travel to the state, joins forces with local groups on advertising campaigns, and creates incentives for airlines to fly to local airports, among other initiatives.

“We would not be able to pay the airfare for all the journalists that Visit Florida brings in,” said JoNell Modys, public relations and communications manager for the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It’s a phenomenal opportunity that would just disappear if Visit Florida’s budget were cut.”

Modys said her bureau is facing the prospect of reduced funding for marketing dollars at the county level as well.

“There are people who just do not understand the power of destination marketing,” she said. “If you don’t have a message in the marketplace directed at today’s travelers, you’re nowhere. They’re going to react to someone else’s message and go there.”

Canada, the UK, Germany, and Latin American countries including Brazil are all important sources of foreign visitors for Florida, and that international market is increasingly fragile as the strong dollar makes visits more expensive. Still unknown is how much the Trump administration’s rhetoric and policies might discourage visitors. Emirates, for example, has already announced it is scaling back the number of flights to Fort Lauderdale and other U.S. cities due to actions taken by the administration.

On Friday in Florida’s capital, Lawson warned legislators that other states including California, Georgia, and Texas were already trying to capture the state’s tourists. And he said thousands of jobs could be lost if funding is cut to $25 million.

“If we fail to properly fund Visit Florida and be an arm to market these small, medium, and large comunities across the country and world, we’re going to see it in our revenues,” Lawson said. “We’re going to see people unemployed, we’re going to see business not growing and we’re going to feel the pain of a philosophical discussion that could have gone another way.”

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May 1, 2017 at 12:17AM

Cartoons from the May 8, 2017, Issue

Cartoons from the May 8, 2017, Issue

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May 1, 2017 at 12:02AM

How Women in the Travel Industry Are Tackling Gender Discrimination

How Women in the Travel Industry Are Tackling Gender Discrimination

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Women in Travel Summit

A Women in Travel Summit panel discussion on April 23, 2017 in Milwaukee, WI about getting more women into leadership roles resulted in much storytelling from female professionals in the audience. Pictured is moderator Laura Mandala, founder of Women in Travel & Tourism International. Women in Travel Summit

Skift Take: Grassroots activism is now the go-to tactic for achieving gender equality in the travel industry. Lobbying male executives one-on-one isn’t working, so women are employing their collective influence, reminiscent of recent movements like the Women’s March in Washington, D.C.

— Sarah Enelow

Travel industry executives are overwhelmingly male, and these days, women aren’t just discussing the topic openly, some are mobilizing for change.

Not unlike participants in the Women’s March, which took place in January in Washington, D.C., as well as cities around the world, many women in the travel industry seem ready to actively take on gender discrimination.

Laura Mandala, founder of Women in Travel & Tourism International and managing director of Mandala Research, spoke on a panel at the Women in Travel Summit (WITS) in Milwaukee on April 23, and suggested that women take collective action, in part by using rallying cries like #grabyourpurse, which is associated with boycotting Trump-owned businesses.

“Every time we see an organization or an entity where women are not being treated equitably, we can point it out, we can send [the hashtag] out… We’re encouraging women: Grab your bag, work somewhere else, grab your bag, go travel somewhere else.”

Mandala said that at the Priceline Group, 27 percent of the senior management team is women; at Amadeus 20 percent; at Disney 14 percent; at Delta 11 percent; and at Hilton eight percent.

It should be noted that at the Priceline Group, the CEO of its most important brand, Booking.com, is a woman as is the CEO of its OpenTable unit, while the Group president is male.

“We did an analysis and found that there were a dearth of women in most senior leadership roles in this industry,” Mandala said. “Women are making 70 percent of all travel decisions, 72 percent of all travel agents are women, and yet only 33 percent are leading a travel organization like the American Society of Travel Agents.”

Mandala mentioned North Carolina’s controversial “bathroom bill,” which resulted in a significant loss of tourism revenue for the state. Out-of-state organizations “are boycotting North Carolina, it’s kind of grab your bag, grab your wallets… we’re taking our dollars elsewhere… that’s one way that we can work together and be really powerful,” she said.

One of the attendees was Katie Henly, founder of Yes Way! The company highlights women-owned businesses in various travel destinations, and furthers the idea that women can and should vote with their actions and dollars.

“What was pivotal in my career was getting engaged in a completely male-oriented association,” said Holly Agra, panel speaker and president of Chicago’s First Lady Cruises.

She recounted attending an industry association meeting earlier in her career. “They had the chairs in the front and then a rope, and they said all the women will sit on the other side of the rope because they won’t be voting members. Well my husband didn’t attend the meeting so I sat in the front with all the men, and that was really the beginning for me.”

“We have nurtured and promoted several women to be [tour boat] captains, which is a very male-oriented business,” said Agra.

In an interview with Skift, Marissa Sutera, executive chair of WITS, noted the importance of social media and digital community when it comes to “uncovering the companies that are not doing it so well.”

The panel speakers identified themselves as older than many of the women in the audience, with social influence being a major differentiator as well as a crucial tool in the 21st century.

“Our idea of success was always measured by a title, profits, volume, etc.,” said Cathleen Johnson, principal of Cathleen Johnson Tourism Consultants, formerly having created the travel and hospitality practice at Edelman. “The definition of success is very different these days, and the biggest measure I think is influence. That’s where you all have such an advantage because you are already in the business of influence.”

Sutera said much of the WITS audience is comprised of influencers.

One audience member recounted a venture capital pitch competition in which she momentarily froze in front of an all-male panel and was told by a panelist that he expected her to run out of the room crying. Another described attending an industry event and being asked whether she was hired as a model for the event rather than being an entrepreneur.

Another was told by coworkers that she had a cute voice and needed to put lipstick on to meet with a journalist.

“Maybe Bill O’Reilly will teach some people a lesson,” said Johnson of the Fox News host who was ousted in April amid sexual harassment allegations. Along those lines, in the travel sphere, a former Uber employee recently brought much attention to sexual harassment allegations at the ride-hailing company. Uber president Jeff Jones resigned in March.

Getting down to the basics — dealing with everyday discrimination as opposed to propelling a broader women’s movement — Johnson asked, “How do you reach salary parity in a better way? …When men get a raise their response is, ‘Is that it?’ When women get a raise they say ‘Oh thank you!’ I think we have to learn to be more bold. I would say being bold, to me, has really gotten me where I’m going.”

Sutera took up the theme. “There could always be more of stepping outside your comfort zone… taking action and working on building up, building out,” said Sutera, who also mentioned that WITS would like to continue this conversation at future events.

“Challenging men who say things like wear lipstick or say things like you’re so cute. Challenge them. Don’t let anything go by the board because every time you swallow it, you’re allowing that to be considered as good behavior,” said Johnson.

Disclosure: Cathleen Johnson is the managing director of public relations firm Percepture Travel, which counts Skift as a client.

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April 30, 2017 at 11:06PM

Travel Industry Leaders Say Overtourism Caused by Lack of Planning

Travel Industry Leaders Say Overtourism Caused by Lack of Planning

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World Travel & Tourism Council  / Flickr

Travel industry leaders feel sustainable sustainable practices still have a long way to go at their companies. Pictured is Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line, speaking about the topic at the World Travel & Tourism Council Global Summit in Bangkok on April 27, 2017. World Travel & Tourism Council / Flickr

Skift Take: In many destinations, tourism profits are "found" money with no strings attached. That’s great for short-term gains, and so very terrible for long-term thinking.

— Dan Peltier

With hype for the United Nation’s international year of sustainable tourism for development in 2017 encouraging conversations with major travel brands, many leaders within the travel industry feel they’re still not doing enough to address issues of overtourism and unsustainable impacts of travel around the world.

Attendees of the World Travel & Tourism Council Global Summit in Bangkok this week were asked, “How well does the travel and tourism sector actively tackle the issues of mass tourism and its impact?”

The result: more than 50 percent of respondents polled during a Summit session indicated that the industry “isn’t doing very well” in addressing this issue. “Badly” garnered the second highest percentage of votes with many respondents C-suite executives and key decision makers of some of the world’s largest and most influential travel companies.

“Badly” garnered the second highest percentage of votes as many respondents were C-suite executives and key decision makers of some of the world’s largest and most influential travel companies.

Lack of planning by travel brands and government officials has been the biggest misstep in why sustainability and overtourism are increasingly dire concerns of the industry, said Alex Dichter, a senior partner at McKinsey & Company who is currently conducting research on tourism’s impact on destinations.

Some 1.8 billion people crossing international borders each year within the next decades won’t be an issue, said Dichter. “The issue is that while tourists come from everywhere they don’t go to everywhere,” he said, speaking during the Summit on April 27.

Cities such as Venice, for example, have front row seats to the problem. “In Venice, some days there are nearly twice as many tourists as residents,” said Dichter. “Clearly in some places where there isn’t an actual problem, there’s a perceived problem. In Barcelona and Venice, locals are reacting quite aggressively to the influx of tourists. It puts strains on public transport and infrastructure.”

Places like Machu Pichu, said Dichter, are both historical assets and economic assets. “Having a plan is a good start yet 96 of 229 natural UNESCO sites don’t have a tourism management plan in place. “The sense that we’re getting from interviews we’re doing with industry leaders is that there are a wealth of ideas here,” he said. “We just need some structure around these ideas and I do see the beginning of a path forward.”

Not Having a Tourism Plan

Greediness and ignorance are to blame for some destinations and governments without any tourism management plans in place, said Edmund Bartlett, the minister of tourism for Jamaica. “Unfortunately, tourism that has done so much for the economies of so many countries over the last 50 years has had the least attention paid in terms of policy formation, strategy, planning and allocative arrangements,” he said while speaking at the Summit.

Many countries have only recently begun to structure tourism as its own ministry within the government. The U.S., for example, still lacks an official secretary of tourism. ” In many countries, tourism is connected to the ministries of economic affairs, culture, science, commerce and so on,” said Bartlett. “Very few countries have stand-alone cabinet ministers for tourism. That’s part of why things are just happening now.”

But while travel brands are — in theory — meant to work with government officials to implement sustainable practices, their hands are tied in some cases.

“We’re still waiting for Venice to decide what they want to do with large cruise ships and cruise ship visitors,” said Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line, at the Summit while addressing concerns that cruise lines are some of the biggest culprits for tourism problems. “We voluntarily no longer bring ships into Venice that are more than 96,000 tons. And in Barcelona, for example, most of the visitors to the city aren’t cruise visitors.”

Duffy said Carnival’s work with destinations is a partnership and that the cruise line considers whether a port has a tourism management plan in place before it decides to sail there. “I think frankly as we’ve grown rapidly during the past 10 years, we do need to take a level of accountability and responsibility to make sure that when destinations or governments don’t have a plan, we need to understand what their plan is before we jump in,” she said.

“I think frankly as we’ve grown rapidly during the past 10 years, we do need to take a level of accountability and responsibility to make sure that when destinations or governments don’t have a plan, we need to understand what their plan is before we jump in,” said Duffy.

Duffy’s claim that accountability is important is particularly relevant in China and why the cruise line continues to expect strong results for Asian sailings. China is one of the fastest-growing cruise markets as “130 million Chinese outbound travelers are a new phenomenon,” she said.

With Jamaica, however, there was little accountability in the past. “We just wanted the cruise ships to come in, the planes to arrive and hotels to be built,” said Bartlett. “And so we didn’t pay enough attention to carrier capacities and key sustainability issues. You don’t realize that you also need to build the infrastructure to support tourism.”

“Tourism happened, it wasn’t planned,” he said, especially at some of the island’s top beach resorts. “Now we’re trying to recover ground and reorganize ourselves.”

Humans, of course, aren’t the only ones impacted too many tourists. Biodiversity and how wildlife and plant life, in some instances, are suffering from tourism is often left out of tourism discussions, said T.P. Singh, deputy regional director of Asia for the International Union for Conservation of Nature, while speaking at the Summit.

Carnival’s Attempt to Curb Overtourism in Some Destinations

With many Venice and Barcelona residents are furious about the crush of tourism, Carnival has already taken steps to bring ships to other ports traditionally underserved by tourism.

The cruise line still sales to Venice but also sales to smaller ports such as Bari in Southern Italy, for example, said Duffy. “But people don’t necessarily want to go to Bari,” she said. “For many people, Venice is the place to go and the place that’s been marketed.”

It’s always been about having a marquis destination on cruise itineraries, said Duffy. “The draw is if I’ve not been to Europe or Italy, I want to see Venice,” she said. “But I’m happy to see all of these other places. How do we find the right balance?”

Duffy said 25 million people will take cruises this year and that even in Barcelona, Carnival is still encouraged to bring in ships. “We’re opening a new cruise terminal in Barcelona and while the people of Barcelona may be up in arms, we’ve been working with the port authority and government officials in Barcelona for some time to build this new terminal,” she said.

There is a Silver Lining to Overtourism Discussions

Duffy said she’s optimistic about combatting overtourism but Carnival and other cruise lines and travel brands had many challenges in the last couple of years and shifting ports and itineraries are often more connected to crises and disease outbreaks, for example, than the need to spread tourism to new areas.

“If we don’t consider the impact that we have, then what do we have to offer as a company that provides the experience of seeing the world?” said Duffy.

The fact that sustainability is being discussed at all is a positive sign that the industry is moving forward on the issue, said Maria Damanaki, global managing director of oceans for The Nature Conservancy and former European Union Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.

“Ten years ago for the tourism industry, sustainability was not talked about as a real challenge,” Damanaki said while speaking at the Summit. “It’s also easy to put the blame on governments but the private sector has to do its own part. The biggest challenge for Venice in the next decade won’t be tourism, it’ll be climate change.”

And Carnival and some other travel brands already fly, sail or have opened properties in tertiary destinations generally off the beaten path that could positively benefit from increased tourism. “The first step is you have to have a view on capacity,” said Dichter. “Certainly in tourists sites that are wonders of geography such as the Galapagos, capacity controls are really the only answer. But if we look at cities, part of the answer has to do with spreading the wealth.”

Southern Italy’s economy could use more tourists, for example, as cities in the region aren’t typically on most travelers’ bucket lists, Dichter said. “The spreading the wealth notion is not just about taking the pressure off overtouristed destinations but also giving a benefit to undertouristed destinations.”

Travel brands, however, can’t force travelers to go where they have no desire to go and the decision makers in distributing tourism to new areas will ultimately be travelers — not brands desperate to tell a new story.

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April 30, 2017 at 10:30PM

Where I Live: My Beijing: The Sacred City

Where I Live: My Beijing: The Sacred City

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By the time I returned to China in 2009 to work as a writer and teacher, all of this had changed. China had enjoyed three decades of fast economic growth and government coffers were overflowing. Besides aircraft carriers, the Olympics and high-speed rail, it spent its money on parks and greenery.

The Temple of the Sun gained grass, new trees, flower beds of tulips in the spring and geraniums in the summer and stands of bamboo that are so foreign to this colder part of China that they have to be laboriously bundled up against the cold each autumn.

Best of all — or worst, depending on your selfishness — the authorities also got rid of the entrance fees. Suddenly the park was part of the city, embraced by residents eager for activity. Unlike years ago, many Chinese want to exercise, and so the park is now filled with joggers in black spandex sprinting past restaurant workers in greasy smocks.

But this need for green space clashes with another trend in China: the surrender of public areas to the rich. Just as Beijing’s bike lanes have become turning lanes for cars and its sidewalks overrun with motorbikes delivering hot meals to the upper-middle class, huge swaths of the Temple of the Sun have been sacrificed to benefit a wealthy minority.

Since about 2000, I estimate that about 15 percent to 20 percent of the park’s area has been rented out to relatively high-end restaurants, an exclusive social club, a German beer garden, a yoga yard, a strange antique furniture store that is always empty (and smells of some sort of dodgy corruption scheme), a Russian restaurant and stores exhibiting wholesale wares for Russian traders — all commercial activities that don’t belong in this great old park.

Photo


Credit
Adam Dean for The New York Times

With so much of the park’s area lost to these money-spinning activities, the Temple of the Sun has been reduced to the rebuilt altar in the center, a small hill, a tiny lake and one main path. With no entrance fees and no space, the path is so crowded that it sometimes feels like a fast-spinning hamster wheel that one enters and exits at one’s peril.

And yet I still love the park. When I follow the counterclockwise flow, I keep an eye out for the skyscrapers peeking through the weeping willows, the Tai Chi master by the lake and the old pines that somehow have survived the tumult. I even listen for the screech of the tacky children’s amusement park with its half-broken choo-choo trains.

But the park is more than a window into people’s daily lives; for the government, it is once again a way to increase its legitimacy. The authorities run a tiny museum that exhibits, as if real, recreations of the smashed altar pieces. It has also put a big steel fence around the altar to show its earnestness in protecting cultural heritage. And it has erected an information board explaining the temple’s history while excising all mention of the Mao-era losses. The goal: assuring Chinese that the Communist Party, which once attacked tradition, is now its guardian.

Over the past few months, this message has been reinforced by colorful propaganda posters lauding traditional ways to run a family. Famous theorists from past millenniums are introduced and their works given a quick explanation. We learn the virtues of obedience and of listening to one’s parents, and of course taking care of them, all preoccupations of a government whose decades of draconian family planning policies have left it with a rapidly aging population and a rebellious youth that ignores its parents.

Once in a while, somewhat awkwardly, the Communist state even recreates the old rituals. In March, some friends of mine, retirees who are amateur singers and musicians, were hired as extras for a ceremony on the spring equinox. About 30 of them dressed up in gowns and Qing dynasty-era hats and marched solemnly to the altar. Accompanied by a small orchestra of musicians playing gongs, cymbals and kettle drums, they strode up to a table filled with imitation dead animals laid out for sacrifice. A young man dressed as the emperor then kowtowed and made the ritual offerings, all under the strict guidance of experts from the local cultural affairs bureau who had read accounts of the ancient practices. Later, videos streamed around social media platforms like WeChat, reinforcing the popular idea that the past is returning.

Photo

Visitors lining up to pray at the White Cloud Temple.

Credit
Adam Dean for The New York Times

Recreating traditional values is one of the Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s key domestic policies, but anything like a return to the past seemed impossible in the 1980s. Being raised in a fairly religious household, I had been curious what Chinese believed. I didn’t expect or want Chinese people to share my beliefs, but I figured they must believe in something.

That had seemed like a mistaken assumption. Looking for Chinese religion on autumn afternoon, I rode my bike for an hour down to the White Cloud Temple, the national center of China’s indigenous religion, Taoism. This religion coalesced in the second century out of folk religious beliefs and the teachings of philosophers like Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu. The White Cloud Temple dates from the 13th century and is the headquarters of the national Taoist association.

The temple was beautiful but seemed inconsequential. Its main axis of five halls to various deities had been mostly untouched by the Cultural Revolution, and the incense and the old trees gave it a timeless feel. But it was empty of worshipers. The halls and courtyards felt like those token places of worship in Communist countries that were more like museums than functioning centers of a living religion. Surrounded by Communist-era housing and a belching power plant, the temple was much like the Temple of the Sun, a relic of a bygone era.

But over the past decade or so, Chinese have been searching for meaning in their lives. After decades of adopting foreign ideologies like fascism, communism and neo-liberalism, they wonder what remains of their culture. Temples like White Cloud and belief systems like Taoism are part of this search for answers.

And so, cleverly, the government has invested heavily in religions like Taoism (as well as Buddhism and folk religion, but less so in Christianity or Islam). The White Cloud Temple is trying to reclaim some of China’s traditional medical heritage by opening a clinic in a newly refurbished wing of the temple. The state also built a new Taoist academy to train priests. Slowly, a Taoist revival has spread across China.

Photo

An enticing number of dishes on offer at Kaorouwan restaurant.

Credit
Adam Dean for The New York Times

You can sense this by walking through the temple. The admission fee of $6.50 does keep out many people, but the temple is still filled with priests heading off to classes or preparing for ceremonies. And on either side of the main axis are two new strings of courtyards with temples to various gods.

For fun, but also to see the sorts of Taoist-related products that people buy for their homes nowadays, it’s well worth visiting the temple’s main gift shop. Inside the main gate is one filled with unusual products like wall clocks decorated with the eight trigrams and the swirling Tai-chi symbol, as well as scepters, swords and even Taoist robes if you want to go back home dressed like an immortal. It also sells stone rubbings of some of the temple’s steles, including strange representations of the human bodies showing the energy channels, or meridians, of Chinese medicine.

Compared with the sacred city of the past, today’s Beijing is a slightly out-of-control urban area of highways and high-rises, subway and suburbs. The old cosmological tapestry is in shreds.

But it is a place where places have meaning. The urban historian Jeffrey F. Meyer, who wrote “The Dragons of Tiananmen: Beijing as a Sacred City,” points out that Chinese capitals always reflect the governing ideology. This is true of all capitals, of course, and Mr. Meyer also wrote a book on Washington about the ideas behind its monuments.

But unlike open societies, which are messier and where the official message is often lost or at least softened by competing voices, Beijing is still the capital of an authoritarian state. Beijing’s message is still the state’s message, perhaps not perfectly but still audibly. This state once despised tradition but now supports it. And so the city changes — not back to the past but into something made up of ideas from the past — of filial piety, respect for authority, traditional religions, but also privilege for the rich. As Mr. Meyer put it, then as now, “Beijing was an idea before it was a city.”

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April 30, 2017 at 10:09PM

A Few Reservations About Daily Getaways Week Four

A Few Reservations About Daily Getaways Week Four

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Week 4 of this years’ Daily Getaways is coming right up! Here’s what you need to know about Week 4 deals.

May 1 – Universal Orlando Deals

If you are already planning a trip to Universal Orlando in the upcoming year, and are planing to go for at least 3-days, the 3-day 3-park ticket package for two is definitely worth considering for $535.

Both vacation packages could make sense, but if you have a stock-pile of hotel points or prefer Airbnbs, there’s a good chance that you won’t really save a ton of money with these packages.

May 2 – Hilton Deals

I’m personally not a huge fan of Hilton points. Hilton hotels always seem to cost wayyyyyy more points than comparable hotels from other brands, so I just couldn’t justify dropping any amount of cash on Hilton points. If you have a redemption in mind and are short on points, it might be worth considering but otherwise I would say this deal is a no-go.

May 3 – Caesars Entertainment Deals

I’m going to start off by saying: More Vegas. Every week of Daily Getaways has featured a number of Vegas deals. If you haven’t jumped on one yet and still want to, now is your chance. I won’t be.

May 4 – Marriott Deals

I much prefer these Marriott deals to the Hilton deals, but still probably won’t participate. All of the deals on May 4 are for discounted Marriott gift cards. If you have a stay coming up at a Marriott property this is a great way to save a little bit! I wouldn’t buy speculatively, however.

May 5 – Orbitz Deal

This Orbitz deal seems amazing, but it isn’t quite as amazing as it first appears. In short, there are a lot of restrictions you need to watch out for when using these travel credits. It only works for hotels, and it is a bit unclear whether or not the entire value needs to be used during one stay. Proceed with caution.

Final Thoughts

My thoughts are this is a pretty meh week of Daily Getaways. I won’t be going in on any of these deals.

 

Will you purchase any deals during Week 4 of Daily Getaways?

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April 30, 2017 at 07:48PM

The Key to Productivity Isn’t More Rest, It’s Intentionality

The Key to Productivity Isn’t More Rest, It’s Intentionality

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The Key to Productivity Isn’t More Rest, It’s Intentionality

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Link: “Darwin Was a Slacker”

For some of us, the notion that working only part-time on a legacy project is the best approach is tempting. Is it possible to do such a thing? Sure, of course. Free time and the ability to choose how you spend your time in the first place is a privilege.

But is it ideal to follow that approach? I don’t think so.

I stumbled upon this article and simultaneously liked and disliked it. Read the whole thing—you might relate to it more than me.

“Figures as different as Charles Dickens, Henri Poincaré, and Ingmar Bergman, working in disparate fields in different times, all shared a passion for their work, a terrific ambition to succeed, and an almost superhuman capacity to focus. Yet when you look closely at their daily lives, they only spent a few hours a day doing what we would recognize as their most important work.

The rest of the time, they were hiking mountains, taking naps, going on walks with friends, or just sitting and thinking. Their creativity and productivity, in other words, were not the result of endless hours of toil. Their towering creative achievements result from modest ‘working’ hours.”

I enjoyed the examples, and as I said—it’s tempting to think this is the answer. Just take it easy. It will come to you.

And sure, maybe it will.

I just know that for me, there’s more to it than “work in the morning, sit around and think in the afternoon.” That’s how it’s always, always been.

The answer isn’t only “work hard all the time,” because of course you can work hard all the time on the wrong things. But I don’t think the answer is to coast either.

It’s more like: find the right thing, then give it all you’ve got. A two-step plan, essentially:

1. Do whatever it takes to find this thing

2. Do whatever it takes to keep it

These days I’m basically working all the time, from before dawn till way past sunset. I’ve always worked hard, but the non-stop pace of a daily podcast added to everything else has increased the (self-applied) pressure.

Yet I honestly haven’t felt more productive in a long time. I feel good! I’m shipping work out and connecting with people.

It’s great that an audience has responded to well to the show (it’s currently receiving over 1.5 million downloads a month), but I can honestly say that I love the work for its own sake. I’m planning a book launch for the fall, a major tour, and several other projects that I’ll keep close to my chest until they’re ready.

I have zero desire to pull back on any of this. If I could make any impossible change to the order and structure of my day, I’d have two hours added to it.

It’s fine if you disagree with this pace or routine, by the way. But before you decide that you do, ask yourself: have I found my mission? Do I truly know what I hope to accomplish in my life, or who I wish to become?

Because Darwin certainly had a mission. So did Rodin and Thomas Mann, two other people mentioned in that article. If you have a mission, why would you slow down? If the goalpost is in front of you, it’s time to sprint, not stall.

The other thing is that we’re all going to die, something I try to remind myself of every day. I think I’ll make another cup of coffee… and keep working away.

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Image: Tim

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April 30, 2017 at 05:51PM

Scientists Explain Why You Have So Much Trouble Sleeping in a Hotel Room

Scientists Explain Why You Have So Much Trouble Sleeping in a Hotel Room

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We’ve all been there: you sink into the sumptuous hotel bed that looked so tempting after hours of tiring travel, only to find that you just can’t fall asleep, no matter how many sheep you count.

“Sleep researchers and clinicians have long known about the ‘first night effect,’” Dr. Melisa Moore, a sleep expert from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia told Condé Nast Traveler. “The study suggests that one of our brain hemispheres sleeps less deeply the first night in a new environment. This hemispheric difference might cause us to have difficulty falling asleep.”

Of course, the phenomenon isn’t just specific to hotel rooms; it can happen when you spend the night at a friend’s house, in a new home of your own or in any environment that’s different than “normal.” Even if you do fall asleep with relative ease, you likely won’t sleep soundly. According to Moore, the average person wakes up between four and six times per night even while at home, but because those surroundings are familiar to us, we’re usually able to fall back to sleep fairly quickly. When we’re out of our element, that’s not so easy.

The “first night effect” isn’t a new discovery either; according to The Atlantic, scientists have known about it for more than 50 years. And it affects most people, Yuka Sasaki, an associate professor at Brown University whose studies focus on sleep, said in the article. One way she tries to curb the first night effect while traveling? Find a favorite hotel and become a regular guest. “I’m flying to England tomorrow and staying at a Marriott,” she told The Atlantic. “It’s not a completely novel environment, so maybe my brain will be a little more at ease.”

H/T: Condé Nast Traveler

Featured image courtesy of Media for Medical/UIG via Getty Images.

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April 30, 2017 at 05:13PM

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