Category Archives: Travel & Leisure

Bond Vivant: Pan Am Worldport

007 is no stranger to New York City. He was here for Live and Let Die, both the film and the novel, and returned for the (really) short story “007 in New York,” which Ian Fleming was compelled to write by way of a “make peace” after his travel book, Thrilling Cities, peppered readers with an unending barrage of insults directed toward the city. In fact, he visits several more times, in Diamonds Are Forever and Goldfinger, both by Fleming, in For Special Services and Brokenclaw by John Gardner, and in the short story “Blast From the Past” by Raymond Benson. But it is Live and Let Die that gives us the most involved look at James Bond’s New York. He arrives in New York via John F. Kennedy International Airport. Only in 007’s case, he gets to emerge from a terminal we denizens of the 21st century cannot: the Pan-Am Worldport.

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History of Diving Museum

On the narrow sliver of land that is Islamorada in the Florida Keys, south of Key Largo proper and a little ways down the road from the giant lobster known as Big Betsy, one finds the History of Diving Museum. Beckoned into the parking lot by a deep sea diver surrounded by cannons and the loot of unknown wrecks salvaged from the briny deep, one then gets to take a stroll through the incredible history of humanity’s desire to conquer — or at least poke around in a spell — the vast oceans and seas that comprise the majority of our planet’s surface and yet remain as out of reach to most as the far reaches of space.

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Inside the Explorers Club

As a kid (and teen…and adult…), I dreamed of one day being a member of the Explorers Club. I mean, it only seemed natural they would want me. I’d done a pretty good job of exploring the hundred acres of undeveloped woods and caves comprising my grandfather’s property back in the day. Even still, with knowledge of the internal strife and mismanagement that has caused the glory to fade a bit, I still harbor images of reading accounts of the expedition of the Beagle whilst seated in an overstuffed leather chair surrounded by the artifacts of past adventures, occasionally interrupted by a mustachioed, pipe-smoking blowhard known only as “The Colonel” who will not shut up about the Yanomami. This summer, I got about as close as I’ll probably ever get to membership in the storied Club when I got to take a tour of their headquarters at 46 E 70th St. And while there was no The Colonel, and while crested blazers have given way to polo shirts, there was still a wonderfully cluttered array of random artifacts from past expeditions, many of them just sitting there — some of them still in common use — despite their historical provenance.

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Aboard the African Queen

One of my early film memories, and still one of my favorite films, is The African Queen starring Bogart and Kate Hepburn. It was an early model for what I assumed my life would be, fueled as I was at the time by golden age adventure films and Illustrated Classics versions of Robinson Crusoe and Treasure Island. Naturally, I would become a grizzled adventurer and lead the kind of life where I spent a lot of time drinking whiskey at the end of a jungle bar in a joint of French Colonial design and where I was known simply as “The American.” While my life hasn’t been without its adventures, both grizzled and clean-shaven, they’ve rarely attained quite the rarefied airs of dragging a boat through a leech-infested swamp, though I did once find myself caught in the middle of a massive frog migration in Paynes Prairie, Florida. In the summer of 2015, however, I came a little bit closer to my childhood (and later) dreams of living an African Queen adventure, thanks to the fact that the actual African Queen ended up, through a circuitous series of events, docked in Key Largo (a fittingly Bogart location) where it is available for tours of the canals and coastline.

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Bond Vivant: Meet Me at the Savoy

The famous Savoy Hotel is first mentioned in the James Bond canon in Fleming’s 1956 novel Diamonds are Forever, when M reveals to 007 that one of his targets, a diamond importer by the name of Rufus B. Saye, lives at the Savoy. Bond himself, of course, never needs to stay at the Savoy; he lives in London, after all, and no hotel maid service, no matter how distinguished could compete with the services of Bond’s own attendant, May, his “Scottish treasure.” For Ian Fleming himself, however, and for many of Great Britain’s intelligence workers, The Savoy was one of the most important spots in all of London during World War II. Not just because of it’s historic and highly regarded bar; but also because it had its own power supply, which meant that even during power outages caused by German bombing, the Savoy could continue to operate.

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Alcohol Professor: The Chairman, The Poet, and The Dancer

2015 marks Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday. Over on Alcohol Professor, I’ve chosen to commemorate The Chairman of the Board’s centennial with The Chairman, The Poet, and The Dancer, looking at the history of Jilly’s Saloon, the joint Sinatra used as his home base whenever he was in New York City and owned by Jilly Rizzo, Sinatra’s right hand man. When he retired and sold the restaurant, it passed into the hands of a trio of Russians — including a Nobel Prize winning poet and the most famous ballet dancer in the world — who turned it into a hotspot for Russian ex-pats, intellectuals, and artists. Oh, and Johnny Carson was almost assassinated there by an angry Mob boss. Because of its length, it’s being posted in two parts. Part two is available here.

Alcohol Professor: The Bar that Birthed America

Over on The Alcohol Professor, I’m writing about that time George Washington bro-hugged his generals and bid them farewell with tankards of ale and bowls of turtle soup. The Bar that Birthed America celebrates the storied history of New York City’s Fraunces Tavern. From the Sons of Liberty to George Washington’s party, from nearly becoming a parking lot to getting blown up by terrorists, it’s a stunning slice of American history and a lovely place to have a drink.

Prague’s Vyšehrad Cemetery

There is a whimsical character in so much of what constitutes Prague, a tendency to find the creative, the artistic, and sometimes the absurd in even the darkest of places. That indomitable creative spirit is most evident in the place where many of the Czech Republic’s creative spirits have come for their final rest. Historic Vyšehrad Cemetery, located on a hill high above Prague and on the grounds of old Vyšehrad Castle, was established in 1849 as a cemetery dedicated almost entirely to the dizzying number of musicians, painters, sculptors, writers, dancers, actors, and other artists who made Prague in particular and the Czech Republic in general one of Europe’s most interesting nations.

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Ghosts of Monte Vista

Author’s note: I wrote this piece for the Winter 2001-2002 issue of Route 66 magazine. It was my first professionally published magazine piece. I was a different writer then, though not perhaps quite that different than I am now. In the spirit of a happily haunted Halloween, I reprint it here, literary warts and all, unaltered even though some of the details are no doubt out of date. Photos by Ellie Tam.

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Eastern State Penitentiary

On October 25, 1829, the gates of Eastern State Penitentiary — ESP — creaked open to admit the first of many criminals who would be confined behind its walls and within its solemn cells. Designed by John Haviland, one of the most storied architects of 19th century Philadelphia, it was the first true penitentiary in the young United States of America, embracing the “Pennsylvania System” conceived of by Benjamin Franklin. The primary principle behind the system was that imprisonment should be a time of reflection and penitence, with prisoners confined to solitary cells with very little to do beyond stare at the blank white walls and think about their sins.

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