What We Forget About The Era Of Glamorous Air Travel

Pan Am breakfast in bedThis photo appeared in Sunday's NYT business section, as part of a photo feature on the lost glamour of air travel. (The feature also appears as an online slide show.) The feature makes the important point that air travel is both more common and much more affordable than it used to be: "In 1940, passenger planes in the United states carried only 3 million people, compared with 17 million in 1950 and about 650 million in 2008."

Like many of the images that create our idea of glamorous air travel, this photo is staged. It's a marketing image created by Pan Am, which probably featured a mother and children to emphasize the safety of flying to a public that still thought of aviation as dangerous. But even a staged photo can reveal an unacknowledged flaw concealed in our glamorous image of that lost era.

Why do they need beds?

For the same reason that international airlines compete to offer more and more luxurious beds to their premium-class passengers: Because the flight takes a long time. Only in the case of the Pan Am photo, the flight is a domestic one. And bumpy.

I wrote about the lost glamour of air travel (and tested one of Virgin Atlantic's Upper Class beds) in a 2007 Atlantic column.

Photographer Needed: Kidney Prom Sunday In Sherman Oaks

Karol Franks DG friend Karol Franks, who took the candid photos at our famous hat party, is looking for help at another glamorous event: a special prom for teenagers with kidney disease, who often have to miss their schools' proms for dialysis treatments. The prom is free, including dinner, transportation, gowns for the girls and ties for the guys. It only provides a fun evening but also gives teens with kidney disease a way to meet other young people facing similar challenges.

Here's Karol's notice:

I need help shooting candid photos of an event I have volunteered at the last 4 years. Sorry for the late notice but our photog had a family crisis and will not return in time. If you're available please message me. We will feed you! Event Info: RSN 11th Annual Renal Teen Prom - Theme: Masquerade! Sun. Jan 17 6 PM - 11 PM - Sherman Oaks, CA

For more information, or to volunteer, contact Karol at okarol-at-yahoo.com. This is a great cause. If you can't volunteer, consider making a financial contribution: Thanks to in-kind donations, just $25 will cover one teen's evening.

DG Contest: Orient Japan Automatic Watch

BEM5L003WOur previous giveaway of an Orient Japan automatic watch was so popular that the company has offered us another one. This model, pictured here (though ours will have a black, rather than a red, arrow), has the following features:
Day-Date Functions
Stainless Steel Case
Screw Caseback
Water Resistant 50m
Fully Automatic
Band is adjustable with a fold-over buckle

In addition, the company is having an online sale, with watches like the Orient cfa05001b discounted 30 percent.

To register for the giveaway, enter a comment below, making sure to include your email address (not for publication). We will choose a winner on January 28, using Random.org.

Open to U.S. residents only. Watch will be shipped directly from Orient Japan.

Bare-foot Fantasy?

TravelerI drove a friend to a podiatrist appointment, and one of the magazines in the waiting room was this December 2006 issue of Traveler. I was struck by the strange photograph on the cover. Though it is daylight, the model is wearing a brightly colored evening gown, and is posing on the steps of the grounds of this estate in bare feet.

 Though an image showing a bare foot seemed fitting for the office of a foot doctor, I felt that there must be a more romantic advertising purpose involved.

Traveler-foot The cover mentions fairy-tale Europe, so perhaps the image is supposed to make the viewer think of Cinderella. If so, the story has been distorted because the model’s foot looks fairly large. Feeling that the model’s proportions seemed slightly odd, I cut the page apart to see if the image had been split apart just slightly to make more room for the banner. To my eye, the lines of the skirt and her bodily proportions looked more natural when I moved the bottom portion up about the height of a step, so I suspect the cover image was manipulated a little in Photoshop. (Check out Lady Gaga’s shoulder on this cover photo to see an obvious and bizarre Photoshop manipulation.)

Whether the image was manipulated or not, I don’t get it. If women find this image appealing, I can’t quite understand why. As a man I can’t image going around in a tuxedo in bare feet, not even as a fantasy. Ladies, is there something about this image that appeals to some deep inner sense of princess? I’m both baffled and curious.

Abundance Or Simplicity: What Does A Glamorous Bed Look Like?

Glamorous beds
 If you search Google Images for “glamorous bed,” you find the photo on the left, from a Style-Files post that declares, “An ornate French style bed ...makes the bedroom glamorous.”

My first response is yuck. Only the generous use of white saves the bed from looking tacky. It reminds me of the beds 19th-century French concubines used to impress their clients.

 I far prefer the Zen-modern aesthetic of the bed on the right, which Grace Peng calls “the most beautiful bed in the world.” Like ads for organized closets, she notes, its allure lies not just in its clean lines but in “the fetish of empty space in a land where so few possess it.” (Grace commented on the Container Store post below.)

In fact, both beds are glamorous, but to different audiences. Carefully styled for the camera, they stoke different desires. The French-style version, like the concubines’ beds it alludes to, offers the promise of abundance and indulgence—luxury in a world of scarcity. The Zen-modern bed, by contrast, is all about escape from stimulation and stuff—luxury in a world of plenty.

Which do you prefer? Or is your idea of a “glamorous bed” something different altogether?

A Better Version Of The Amelia Earhart Story

Amelia krak 1 As readers who read my DoubleX piece on Amelia (and Amelia) know, I think the movie deservedly bombed, largely because Amelia Earhart is an intrinsically difficult subject for a biopic. As a glamorous icon, she is not a person but a persona, someone we “know” from the outside, for what she represents rather than who she actually is. Her distance and mystery are a big part of her allure. A movie preserves that appeal inevitably tends to be boring, while a movie that portrayed her as flawed (perhaps not such a great pilot) would lose its audience.

While I was writing that piece, I thought whether you could write a script about Earhart that preserved her glamour but wasn't emotionally flat. One idea would be to tell a story not about her but about someone who observes and is inspired by her. Another would be to emphasize the challenges and hazards of early aviation, something that Amelia did in its best moments but downplayed in favor of a flattened soap opera.

Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean, a graphic novel aimed at tweens, does both. And while the book, written by Sarah Stewart Taylor and drawn by Ben Towle, doesn't have enough plot to make a movie, it demonstrates that the way to portray Earhart is, in fact, to use a sympathetic protagonist who admires her. The graphic novel makes the wise choice to show us Earhart through the eyes of an admirer, a girl who lives in the seafaring community of Trepassy, Newfoundland, and aspires to be a newspaper reporter. Located on the far eastern edge of North America, Trepassy is the point from which Earhart and other aviation pioneers took off for Europe. It's also a shipwreck-strewn place whose name essentially means "the dead."

From the Publisher's Weekly review:

In June of 1928, tweener Grace, the dubious townspeople and a mob of impatient newsmen wait for Earhart to finally get her plane in the air for a transatlantic flight. Grace yearns to leave the little village and to become a newspaper woman, so she observes the commotion and manages to get the aviator's personal encouragement in an interview before her successful departure. Taylor's lean script leaves much of Grace's feelings understated but easy to imagine. Towle's art is also emotionally restrained, but panels showing the bleak landscape—especially double-page spreads of what Earhart called “this broad ocean”—emphasize the courage of people willing to take ultimate risks. Astronaut Eileen Collins's introduction, which describes the inspiration she drew from Earhart's example, carries the theme to the present.
Grace's point of view preserves Amelia as a glamorous, somewhat mysterious figure who represents a different life. You can get a sense from this spread. (As always, click the images to see a larger version.) Amelia2Amelia

[Images reproduced with permission of Ben Towle.]

The Container Store's Surprising, Yet Palpable, Glamour

Container Store Elfa home officeTo kick off the New Year—and because the shelves lining the walls are completely full and the floor has become an obstacle course of piled-up books and magazines—I am reorganizing my home office and adding more bookshelves in the closet. So I've been spending a lot of time exposed to the surprising but palpable glamour of The Container Store.

For those unfortunates who haven't experienced it, The Container Store is, in the words of Bernard-Henri Levi on his Tocquevillian visit to Dallas, un magasin des boîtes: a big store devoted entirely to boxes (and folders, hangers, shelves, and other tools for wrangling your stuff). 

With its open shelves, aproned staff, and fluorescent lights, the Container Store will never be mistaken for a luxury boutique. It features no movie stars, no sunny beaches, no sparkles or perfumed air. Although aesthetically appealing, it is not what people think of when they hear the word glamour.

ElfaBillPayCenter  But it creates a similar seductive effect. Like a glamorous travel ad, it heightens customers' longing for escape and transformation—in this case, to a more orderly home and, with it, a more peaceful life—while suggesting that this ideal can, in fact, be achieved. The “inspirational spaces” on its website do more than demonstrate how you might apply its tools. They encourage you to project yourself into a new, more graceful and desirable life.

The Container Store’s glamour is particularly paradoxical, because, by deliberate strategy, the store lacks mystery, distance, and exclusivity. It is friendly and accessible and down-to-earth. Even its carefully styled photo vignettes tend toward the overt. (If I were advising the company, I’d suggest adding more dimension—doorways, windows, and other suggestions of a life outside the frame—while playing up the use of translucent materials.) How can it create the same feeling as more recognizably glamorous icons or environments?

There are two reasons, I think. The first is that the promise it offers is of something that always remains slightly out of reach: an escape from entropy. And the second, as we know from Monty Hall, is that you never can be sure what's in the box.

Quotable: Elizabeth Gilbert On Wedding Day Glamour

Bride groom wedding kiss Loelle flickr  “The fantasy of the wedding day is that it represents undeniable public and private truth that you have been chosen. For that one day, you are the most valuable creature in the world—a treasure, a princess, a prize. For many women, who have never felt chosen or desirable or precious, this is an unshakable yearning. And I'm afraid many women do choose the wedding over the marriage. It seems a steep price to pay, but it comes from a place of deep, sad longing to be loved and to have it proven that you are of value.”

—Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, in a Wall Street Journal interview about her new book, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage
[Photo by Flickr user Loelle under Creative Commons license.]

The Glamour Of The Nutcracker

Clara-gift New year, new decade. Reflecting back on the holiday season I realized that The Nutcracker had come up several times in conversation. One family had taken their children, another person’s best friend had been once been cast as Clara, and so on.

The Nutcracker is glamorous on many levels. Ballet itself is one of the most glamorous forms of dance, as has been discussed here before. The orchestra, especially as used by a composer like Tchaikovsky, can be a glamorous sound machine (more on that in a moment). And the costumes and stagings of this ballet are often captivating.

The Nutcracker plot joyously celebrates aspects of the winter season that are often denigrated because they seem more pagan than religious. Some historians argue that Christmas is celebrated on December 25 because that was the Roman date for the winter solstice, a tradition time for celebrating the return of the sun and longer days. The Nutcracker acknowledges that festive parties, colorful decorations, and receiving gifts are memorable and exciting, especially to a child, whatever the reason for celebrating.

The ballet’s central character Clara is an adolescent poised between childhood and young adulthood, and she has desires and longings in both domains. Boys remain mischievous and clueless about her dreams of the future. But in this ballet’s dream a prince arrives and transports her into a magical world. No wonder that countless young ballet students dream of being cast as Clara, and that mothers take their daughters to see this timeless fantasy.

I do not mean to slight men here. The ballet was created by men. The ballet is based on a story by E.T.A. Hoffman, and the story adaptation, original choreography, and music were all done by men. In Hoffman’s original story the heroine is named Marie and the nutcracker is Drosselmeyer’s nephew. How he came to be a nutcracker is a complex story involving magic spells, and Marie’s love for him eventually lifts the curse and he becomes himself again.

In the ballet Drosselmeyer’s ability to create life-size mechanical dolls makes him seem a kind of magician, and sets the stage for dreams of giant mice and toys that come alive to battle them. Scenes like this are bound to delight children.

Pas-de-deux Yet Clara’s trip to the land of the Sugar Plum Fairy is a dream of transformation into adulthood, and in that land Clara becomes a woman and a prince becomes her escort. In her dream Clara becomes a princess-to-be whose life is filled with fancy costumes, elaborate entertainments, and dances that show her perfect poise as a adult.

Tchaikovsky’s music plays a major role in the success of the ballet. Tchaikovsky had a keen ability to create musical textures that can stimulate a listener’s imagination. At the same time his ballet music is easy enough to follow that we have mental room left to take in the dancing. This same openness also leaves room for his ballet music to interact with our imagination, allowing us to project auras such as “mystery” and “longing” onto what we are hearing. (Densely intellectual musical textures such as fugues seldom allow this.) 

In creating ballet music that seems glamorous, Tchaikovsky became a kind of conjurer. By developing an awareness of how particulars sounds and musical textures could stimulate a listener's imagination, he used that awareness to create music that encourages listeners to generate imaginative illusions.

In the following Pas de Deux between Clara and her prince (Bolshoi Ballet production), no words need be spoken. Clara’s prince becomes her ideal consort. He is there for her whenever she needs support to display her poise. Tchaikovsky’s music supports them both. One of his friends bet Tchaikovsky that he couldn’t compose the theme for a pas de deux with a scale. Tchaikovsky asked if the scale could go downward. When that was allowed, Tchaikovsky took the bet, and won with the main theme of this music. Tchaikovsky’s ability to create something extraordinarily evocative out of simple material demonstrates his deep understanding of what works as ballet music. His music captivates our hearing, but leaves enough room in our minds to appreciate the staging and dancing, and even to imagine that we are feeling something similar to what these dancers are feeling. And that is a beautiful illusion to experience.

[Clara’s Gift photo by adjustafresh. Pas de Deux photo by violscraper. Both used under the Flickr Creative Commons license.]