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The Allure of the Islands in the Penny Press!

By (June 11, 2014) No Comment

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Conde Nast Traveler’s latest issue is their regular celebration of islands, which the magazine’s fantastic new editor-in-chief Pilar Guzman justifies with elegant simplicity:

Everything just tastes, looks, and feels better on an island. (It’s a little like how airplane altitude adds two starts – and many more tears – to every movie experience.) Maybe it’s that the relative difficulty of getting to most islands, combined with the thrill of that first sighting on the horizon, awakens the explorer in all of us.

The four main islands considered in the issue represent an odd assortment – two of them are hopeless causes: Yolanda Edwards does a game job trying accentuate the positives of the island of Antigua, and who knows but that she might fool a few Traveler subscribers into visiting the foul, benighted, steaming-hot thief-infested hell-hole. But even her task pales before the job Patrick Symmes has in trying to put a shine on the godforsaken island of Cuba. He fails as badly as Edwards does, but you’ve got to give them both points for trying.

Far more successful is Maria Shollenbarger’s wonderful piece on the far-distant Indonesian archipelago of Raja Ampat, which she visits on board a fancy, lovely antique-replica ship with an attentive crew. A long, long time ago, I too visited the gorgeous, hot islands of Raja Ampat in a small, scuffed sloop crowded with brave beagles. We had three casks of water and a little barrel of dried food, and I lost count of how many tiny, overgrown islands we investigated, my boys and I, their broiling crowd led by my best friend Aidan and filled out with cautious, worrying Judge, inseparable Nine and Line, sweet-natured Wayel, bell-voiced Nore, and kindly, happy Moro, who was born with no eyes and was watched over by all the rest of conde nast travelerus. To put it mildy, we didn’t have any of luxuries Shollenbarger enjoyed:

We want for little. One evening the chef sends out platters of spring rolls; another, wafer-thin pizzas just when passengers start feeling puckish. Glasses are never allowed to empty, wet towels disappear and warm dry ones are quietly draped over shoulders, and every return from an afternoon at the beach or a snorkeling session is met with jokes and fresh juices or iced tisanes.

But the highlight of the issue for me, of course, was Ondine Cohane’s lively profile of the lesser-visited islands of Venice (including “the bright-green island of Sant’Erasmo”), which she styles as an attractive alternative to the more familiar tourist-crammed haunts of the city proper:

There are more than a hundred islands in Venice’s 212-square-mile ecosystem, but most tourists simply camp out near St. Mark’s Square and rarely venture beyond the clogged arteries that connect the main sights of the Rialto, the Grand Canal, and the Bridge of Sighs. The outer islands, however, are where traditional Venetian culture still runs deep, where layers of history can be peeled back in still-quiet settings, and where chefs, hoteliers, and artisans are innovating in ways that would be impossible on the Grand Canal, where tourists’ expectations of a quintessential Venice experience means there’s little opportunity for experimentation.

I know every footstep of those Venetian islands, every tree and crook, the taste of every lagoon breeze in every season, and the reminder of that time made me realize with a little start that almost all the places on Earth I’ve loved the most have been islands: Venice itself, of course, and Sicily, and Ireland, and Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket (and Cape Cod itself, for that matter)(and, for much sadder reasons, St. Lucia) – no wonder this issue and all the ones like it please me even more than the rest of the Conde Nast Traveler year.