On Travel, Mindfulness and Understanding

Skiing at Hardangervidda (near Vegglifjell, Norway, c. 2014, public domain).

Skiing at Hardangervidda (near Vegglifjell, Norway, c. 2014, public domain).

 

 

“There is one way to understand another culture. Living it.

Move into it, ask to be tolerated as a guest, learn the language. At some point understanding may come. It will always be wordless.

The moment you grasp what is foreign, you will lose the urge to explain it. To explain a phenomenon is to distance yourself from it.”

– Peter Høeg, Smilla’s Sense of Snow*

 

* From Smilla’s Sense of Snow, Farrar, Straus and Giroux’s 1993 translation of Danish writer Peter Høeg’s novel, Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow.

 

 

Ten Fireplace Book Curl-ups for Your Wintry Staycation

Fire in Fireplace (2006, public domain).

Fire in Fireplace (2006, public domain).

 

My regular self-care behavior also includes mindfulness meditation … yoga at least twice a week … going on retreats/holidays … going for walks around the block, looking for beauty to connect with, and breathing deeply. Oh, and eating dark chocolate with a cup of hot tea and only doing that. No multitasking, just enjoying that. – Kim Boivin, registered clinical counselor, Vancouver

 

Whether you’re re-reading one of the world’s great classics or cracking open the season’s newest releases, winter staycations are the perfect time to practice self-care while also catching up on your reading. Research has shown that not only can reading increase a person’s empathy, but it has the power to keep brains healthy. Time spent with a good book is so beneficial, in fact, that it is a stress buster that may also help you ward off Alzheimer’s Disease.

In 2009, researchers from Sussex University and Mindlab International demonstrated that reading “works better and faster than other methods to calm frazzled nerves such as listening to music, going for a walk or settling down with a cup of tea,” according to an article in The Telegraph. “Psychologists believe this is because the human mind has to concentrate on reading and the distraction of being taken into a literary world eases the tensions in muscles and the heart.”

Study participants who read for just six minutes or listened to music were able to reduce muscle tension and heart rates by a whopping 68 and 61 percent, respectively, while those lingering over a cup of tea saw improvements of up to 54 percent. Surprisingly, walkers were only able to achieve a reduction of 42 percent.

And video gamers? Well, let’s just say, “Step away from the console. Your hearts will thank you.”

So stop feeling guilty for taking time out of your busy life to enjoy your favorite pastime. Throw a log on the fire, uncork that bottle of wine, and grab your warm, soft blankie and a plateful of chocolate truffles, because it’s time for a bit of self-care.

Pick the Opening Lines Which Most Intrigue You, Then Grab the Book

  • “Call me Ishmael.”: Herman Melville’s 1851 classic, Moby Dick, is the perfect vessel for contemplating the consequences of anger and revenge.
  • “Days before our field trip to the science center, Mrs. Bermudez tells our class the sun is actually hundreds of times larger than the earth. We move around it. We’re nothing zooming through dark space, she says, matter-of-factly, as if it didn’t matter that we were no longer the center of our own little worlds.”: Richard Blanco’s 2013 memoir, For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey, reminds readers the world over of the common ground they share.
  • “It’s freezing – an extraordinary 0° Fahrenheit – and it’s snowing, and in the language that is no longer mine, the snow is qanik – big, almost weightless crystals falling in clumps and covering the ground with a layer of pulverized white frost.”: Smilla’s Sense of Snow, Farrar, Straus and Giroux’s 1993 translation of Danish writer Peter Høeg’s novel, Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, guides readers into dark subject matter, accompanied by the lamp of exquisite prose.
  • “It was a bright and cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”: George Orwell’s 1949 prescient classic, 1984, remains fresh and relevant for today’s troubled world.
  • “Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ’Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.”: Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, has been a guide for readers of all ages to what really matters most in life since its release in 1843.
  • “On the ferry from Hyannis to Alice Island, Amelia Loman paints her nails yellow and, while waiting for them to dry, skims her predecessor’s notes. ‘Island Books, approximately $350,000.00 per annum in sales, the better portion of that in the summer months to folks on holiday…. Six hundred square feet of selling space. No full-time employees other than the owner. Very small children’s section. Fledgling online presence. Poor community outreach. Inventory emphasizes the literary…. Luckily for him, Island’s the only game in town.’ Amelia yawns – she’s nursing a slight hangover – and wonders if one persnickety little bookstore will be worth such a long trip.”: Gabrielle Zevin’s 2014 The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry has been described as a tale of redemption and a love letter to bibliophiles and bookstore owners everywhere.
  • “The first thing everyone notices is the dog.”: Luis Carlos Montalvan’s 2011 bestseller, Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him, is an inspiring, true story of love, devotion and hope, and is a must read for anyone needing a morale boost and everyone who love animals.
  • “The great gray beast February had eaten Harvey Swick alive.”: Clive Barker’s 1992 The Thief of Always needs to be at the top of the reading list for anyone who has ever bemoaned boredom.
  • “Until I began to build and launch rockets, I didn’t know my hometown was at war with itself over its children and that my parents were locked in a kind of bloodless combat over how my brother and I would live our lives.”: Homer Hickam’s 1998 coming of age bestseller, Rocket Boys, captures life in America’s declining coal mining communities of the 1950s, and sets those joys and hardships against the backdrop of the globe’s greatest space race, creating one of those rare books worth sharing with friends and family.
  • “You better not never tell nobody but God.”: Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning, The Color Purple, shines a powerful light on the best and worst of human behaviors, delivering a timeless meditation on hope and the capacity of women to triumph over adversity.

 

* Excerpt from How Clinicians Practice Self-Care & 9 Tips for Readers.

 

 

Cities of the Dead: Metairie Cemetery (New Orleans, Louisiana)

Moorish Details, Tomb of Laure Beauregard Larendon, Metairie Cemetery, New Orleans, Louisiana (Laurie Snyder, © 1997).

Moorish Details, Tomb of Laure Beauregard Larendon, Metairie Cemetery, New Orleans (Laurie Snyder, © 1997).

 

 

Twenty thousand roads I went down, down, down
And all led me straight back home to you.

– Thomas Brown and Gram Parsons, Return Of The Grievous Angel (1973)

 

There are burial places, and then there are burial destinations – cities of the dead so well-conceived and constructed that they have become meccas not just for the world’s movers and shakers, but for mindful travelers because they inspire intense contemplation of life’s greatest mysteries – life and death, the inevitability of change, hope.

Among the greatest of the world’s great cities of the dead is Louisiana’s Metairie Cemetery. Although less well known than Père Lachaise in Paris or New Orleans’ Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 (the reputed final resting place of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau), Metairie should be on the bucket list of travelers with an interest in the arts or contemplative travel.

The place to see and be seen in the afterlife since the property’s post-Civil War transformation from a horseracing track to a city of the dead, Metairie’s sprawling grounds are actually located within the boundaries of “The Big Easy” even though this necropolis bears the name of the community next door.

Navigation Canal, Metairie Cemetery, New Orleans (c. 1900-1910, Detroit Publishing, Library of Congress, public domain).

Navigation Canal, Metairie Cemetery, New Orleans (c. 1900-1910, Detroit Publishing, Library of Congress, public domain).

Officially chartered in 1872, the buildings and grounds are awe-inspiring. With mausoleums adorned with spectacular stained glass and sculptures as finely wrought as any found in the world’s most revered art museums and cathedrals, this cemetery seamlessly blends Louisiana’s native natural beauty with American history.

Among those interred here are men and women who played prominent roles during the Civil War, luminaries of America’s stage and screen, several U.S. Congressmen, nine Louisiana governors, jazz trumpeter Al Hirt (1922-1999), Big Band Leader and “King of Swing” Louis Prima (1910-1978), Baseball Hall of Famer Mel Ott (1909-1958), ‘60s rocker Gram Parsons (1946-1973), and business tycoons, including Popeye’s Chicken founder Al Copeland (1944-2008) and Ruth Fertel (1927-2002).

Fertel, a pioneering restaurateur who also happened to be the first woman licensed in Louisiana as a thoroughbred horse trainer, knew a good thing when she saw it. After purchasing a money-losing New Orleans steak house in the 1960s, she taught herself to butcher meat and then learned everything else she needed to know to make her business blossom – including the most effective ways to attract celebrity customers. Edwin Edwards was regular while still a sitting governor of Louisiana, as was ’50s music great Fats Domino.

A generous and personable woman, Fertel made  lifelong friends as she blazed her unique trail by funding numerous charitable causes and building a workforce of single mothers to staff her increasingly popular chain of fine-dining restaurants – Ruth’s Chris Steak House. (The business name may have been clunky throughout the chain’s history, but the food and customer service have consistently been divine with restaurants across the nation regularly receiving ratings of four stars and above.)

Determined to maintain her alliance with longtime business partner Lana Duke well into the afterlife, Fertel persuaded Duke to plan, build and jointly maintain a mausoleum for their respective families. Their commissioned artisans labored from 1995 to 1999 to create a truly memorable work of art.

Dubbed the “ultimate retirement spot” in a July 2000 Associated Press story, the granite Fertel-Duke structure was erected “on a square 27-foot plot under moss-draped trees on the edge of a bayou.” Incorporating stunning “black columns and stained glass windows,” it cost an estimated $125,000 to $500,000. After the final touches were put in place, Fertel and Duke then:

invited 150 friends and family to a party … with tables of food, a band and guided tours of the sunset-beige tomb – as a celebration of life’s last stage. ‘We call it our last double,’ Fertel said, referring to a traditional style of housing in New Orleans with two separate living areas contained in a house. ‘We each have a side and plenty of room for our families.’

Why Build “Homes” and “Cities” for the Dead?

Metairie Cemetery, New Orleans (street view, c. 1900, Detroit Publishing, Library of Congress, public domain).

Metairie Cemetery, New Orleans (street view, c. 1900, Detroit Publishing, Library of Congress, public domain).

Although the price for residency in the Metairie Cemetery and other “afterlife retirement villages” may seem jaw dropping, other notables who have built similarly stunning tombs have made every penny count by employing a surprisingly modern and green strategy – recycling. At the dawn of the 21st century, according to the AP, Louisiana law permitted human “remains to be removed from the casket a year and a day after the death,” and then “deposited in a special cache in the tomb, the old coffin discarded and the space reused.”

But the biggest motivation of all for building grand mausoleums still seems to be the old adage that funerals and burials are never about the individuals who have passed on, but are undertaken for the living – a philosophy which Fertel clearly embraced when she expressed her hope that the “ambience” of her final resting place would “encourage visitors to linger.”

Mindful travelers understand that such encouragement to linger and reflect is meant not just for the families and friends of those interred at the world’s great cities of the dead, but for anyone wishing to contemplate the nature of change and impermanence of life – or simply to be comforted by the knowledge that loved ones are never really gone as long as the sounds of their laughter and their smiles are remembered.

 

If You Go:

Life Goes On (Metairie Cemetery, New Orleans, Laurie Snyder, © 1997).

Life Goes On (Metairie Cemetery, New Orleans, Laurie Snyder, © 1997).

 

Metairie Cemetery: 5100 Pontchartrain Boulevard, New Orleans, Louisiana

Selections for Meditation and Mindfulness Practice:

 

 

 

Thursday Temple Tour: Orgyen Dorje Den (Alameda, California)

Orgyen Dorje Den, Alameda, California (left shrine detail, public domain).

Orgyen Dorje Den, Alameda, California (left shrine detail, public domain).

“Eventually you will find yourself in a state where your mind is clear and open all the time. It is just like when the clouds are removed from the sky and the sun can clearly be seen, shining all the time. This is coming close to the state of liberation, liberation from all traces of suffering.”

– The Venerable Gyatrul Rinpoche, founder of Orgyen Dorje Den

Standing proudly on Santa Clara Avenue, one of the busiest thoroughfares in the San Francisco Bay Area’s East Bay city of Alameda, is an oasis of serenity – Orgyen Dorje Den, a Northern California Yeshe Nyingpo Center for the Study of Tibetan Buddhism in the Nyingma Tradition. Reflections in the center’s windows of the American flag which flies above Alameda’s City Hall across the street are often captured in photographs of the building.

Orgyen Dorje Den,Alameda, California (entrance, Laurie Snyder, © 2011).

Orgyen Dorje Den, Alameda, California (entrance, Laurie Snyder, © 2011).

Established in 1978 by The Venerable Gyatrul Rinpoche for the study and practice of Tibetan Buddhism, members of this Buddhist organization initially rented meeting rooms for gatherings in the Chinatown neighborhoods of San Francisco and Oakland until finding their permanent home in 2001. Thanks to the generosity of an early sponsor, members of the center were able to purchase a building which had served previously Bay Area residents of all faith traditions as the Fowler-Anderson funeral chapel. Located directly across from the Alameda City Hall, this center has been described by many who have meditated here as “a place of refuge.”

Ven. Gyatrul Rinpoche made his way to America in 1972, at the request of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, to teach others the principles and practices of Vajrayana Buddhism. Identified by Jamyang Khyentse in 1932 as a tulku (a consciously reincarnated spiritual being), Ven. Gyatrul Rinpoche had been born just seven years earlier near the Tibetan border in China’s Sichuan Province.

As the reincarnation of a Payul lineage contemplative who had lived much of his previous life in retreat, he was reinstated as Tulku of Dhomang Monastery in eastern Tibet during a storied time in Tibetan Buddhism’s history. After studying for more than two decades with Tibet’s most revered Lamas, he was forced to flee to India in 1959 when the Chinese government invaded his homeland. (A brief overview of the joys and tribulations of this period in Tibet’s history is presented on the Dalai Lama’s website.)

In 1976, Ven. Gyatrul Rinpoche was appointed by His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche (1904-1987) to be his spiritual representative and director of the Pacific Region Yeshe Nyingpo. As director, he became a beloved teacher of many, and went on to establish a number of Buddhist centers throughout the United States, including Oregon’s Tashi Choling, Montana’s Namdroling, and Norbu Ling in Austin, Texas.

* Note: The Pacific Region directorship was another position of great honor for Ven. Gyatrul Rinpoche. The superior who appointed him to this role, His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche, was one of the greatest Buddhist scholars, poets, and masters of meditation of the 20th century, and was the much revered former Supreme Head of the Nyingma Tradition of Tibet Buddhism.

Orgyen Dorje Den, Alameda, California (exterior details, Laurie Snyder, Orgyen Dorje Den, Alameda, California (exterior detail, Laurie Snyder, Orgyen Dorje Den,Alameda, California (entrance, Laurie Snyder, © 2011).

Orgyen Dorje Den, Alameda, California (exterior details, Laurie Snyder, © 2011).

Today, Orgyen Dorje Den continues to offer an active schedule of meditation and mindfulness training, including sessions which are open to all, regardless of practice experience level:

  • Om Mani Padme Hung Recitation and Compassion Meditation (teachings with guided meditations by Lama Drimed on the 1st, 2nd and 4th Mondays of each month);
  • Evening Sitting Meditation (Natural Liberation instruction every other Wednesday from 7 to 9 p.m. by Les Collins, a longtime student of Ven. Gyatrul Rinpoche);
  • Evening Vajrasattva Practice (Pujas led by one of the center’s Lamas every other Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m., and alternating between the Vajrasattva sadhanas, Dorsem Lama Chodpa and Ka-Ter Dorsem; open to all); and
  • Guru Rinpoche Days and Dakini Days (sangha gatherings on the 10th and 25th days of the Lunar calendar to renew samaya commitments through meditations from the Dudjom Tersar tradition on Guru Rinpoche and the Dakini Yeshe Tsogyal).

Each of these programs is designed to enable those who participate to help make our world a kinder and more compassionate one. To learn more about these and other events, visit the center’s website.

 

 

 

Wednesday Wisdom: On Coexistence and Transcendence

Coexist (public domain image)

Coexist Interfaith Image (public domain). 

I Have Learned So Much*

I
Have
Learned
So much from God
That I can no longer
Call
Myself

A Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim,
A Buddhist, a Jew.
The Truth has shared so much of Itself
With me

That I can no longer call myself
A man, a woman, an angel,
Or even pure
Soul.

Love has
Befriended Hafiz so completely
It has turned to ash
And freed
Me

Of every concept and image
My mind has ever known.

– Hafiz

 

 

* Reprinted with permission from The Gift by Daniel Ladinsky, © 1999.

 

 

Meditation Mondays: Life, Death and the Kindness in Between

 

Fish on Fridays (Laurie Snyder, © 1997).

Fish on Fridays (Laurie Snyder, © 1997).

 

 

Life is short. How will you spend it? Perhaps these words penned by Victorian author George Eliot (1819-1880) will give you food for thought:

 

When death, the great Reconciler, has come, it is never our tenderness that we repent of, but our severity.

 

 

Sunday Steeplechase: St. Leo the Great Church and School (Oakland, California)

St. Leo the Great Church, Oakland, California (Laurie Snyder, copyright 2011-present).

St. Leo the Great Church, Oakland, California (Laurie Snyder, © 2011).

 

Founded in 1911 by Archbishop Patrick William Riordan (1841-1914), California’s Church of St. Leo the Great* initially ministered to the Italian, Irish, and German Catholics who had made the Piedmont district of north Oakland their home due to their neighborhood’s convenient location to the trolleys, trains and ferryboats which transported them to their jobs in and around San Francisco.

Often kneeling in prayer on the sidewalk outside of the Standard Grocery Store on Piedmont Avenue because the parish was so new that it did not yet have even the land on which a church could be built, these first of the faithful were pastored by Father Owen Lacey, a native of County Galway, Ireland who had previously helmed St. Anne’s Church in Lodi, California.

Soon after his arrival in Oakland, Father Lacey arranged for his fledgling flock to celebrate Mass at Piedmont’s Mowbray Hall until he could find property where his church could begin its work in earnest. With the help of his superiors and parishioners, he was able to purchase the home of the Hill family for $16,000 – a substantial sum of money at that time.

As a result, both he and his ministry had a new home. His congregants, grateful that they were able to kneel on the front porch of his home at the corner of Piedmont and Ridgeway rather than on a grocery store sidewalk, subsequently raised the funds necessary ($15,500) to build and furnish a formal church. The new wood structure was designed in the California mission style by architects Shea and Loftquist, and was dedicated by Archbishop Riordan before 500 worshippers in a ceremony on January 29, 1912 in which he also delivered the Sacrament of Confirmation to fifty boys and girls.

The Church of St. Leo the Great quickly became not just a space for worship, but a true place of community fellowship, hosting dances and other popular events. According to church historian Ted Wurm, “One of the early outside activities that became an annual tradition was the famed St. Leo’s gala whist party and turkey raffle at huge Hotel Oakland,” and there “were the popular ‘St. Patrick’s Day Entertainments’ presented by the parish at various downtown halls.” In 1919, newspapers reported than “an evening of Irish music and song” was held at Ebell Hall on Harrison Street.

As his parish grew, Father Lacey also became increasingly beloved – not just to the majority of his parishioners, but with many non-parishioners as well. A generous man, he was nicknamed the “Good Spirit of Piedmont Avenue.”

A rectory built for parish priests – still used by church leaders today – opened in 1920.

St. Leo the Great Church, Oakland, California (main church building, Laurie Snyder, copyright 2011-present).

St. Leo the Great Church, Oakland, California (side detail, main building; Laurie Snyder, © 2011).

The main building of today’s parish complex – a marvelous example of Italian Romanesque architecture which incorporates the “feel” of California’s most historic mission structures – has dominated the street corner where parishioners have worshipped since its dedication in 1926.

Designed in a cruciform configuration, built from reinforced concrete with a seating capacity of 700 and rooved with burnt clay tile, the massive bell tower of this historic church soars from its base at the juncture of the building’s transepts and nave.

It is, quite simply, one of those buildings that inspires visitors to look upward. The effect is further amplified on a clear spring day when the California sky is clear blue and flawless.

St. Leo the Great Church, Oakland, California (entrance detail; Laurie Snyder, copyright 2011-present).

St. Leo the Great Church, Oakland, California (entrance detail; Laurie Snyder, © 2011).

“The church was designed to be the dominating feature in a proposed parish group of buildings,” according to Wurm, with its stations of the cross and three altars featured as “an integral part of the interior design.”

Dedicated by Archbishop Edward Joseph Hanna (1915-1935) in September 1926, its final construction cost was reportedly $125,000.

Unfortunately the timing for incurring construction debt could not have been worse for church members. Subject to the deprivations wrought by America’s Great Depression and World War II, church leaders and their flock suffered greatly, as did many of the Catholic faithful across America. But they persevered and endured, regaining a stable enough footing financially to eradicate the parish’s construction debt. By 1946, they had also raised an additional $200,000 to establish a new church school.

This school, which bears the same name of the parish, was staffed by Dominican Sisters when it opened its doors in the fall of 1948. Today, its pre-kindergarten to eighth grade student body is no longer made up of parish members (nor are students primarily Catholic), but its teachers still do instill the values of hard work and service to the community.

As a result, Bay Area residents continue to benefit from the presence of the historic complex as students and church members engage in an array of community service projects, including supporting the St. Vincent de Paul Society in its efforts to improve the quality of life for needy San Francisco Bay Area residents. The church also continues to be a hub of social activity for its members and neighbors.

St. Leo the Great Church, Oakland, California (bell tower as seen from the meditation garden; Laurie Snyder, 2011-present).

St. Leo the Great Church, Oakland, California (bell tower as seen from the meditation garden; Laurie Snyder, © 2011).

But for mindful travelers visiting St. Leo the Great’s neighborhood, it is undoubtedly the church’s natural beauty which leaves the most indelible mark. Whether praying while seated on a bench under the sheltering branches of a massive old growth tree in the church’s meditation garden or simply sitting quietly on the grass nearby, it is easy to be slip into a contemplative state in the serene ambience of the well-tended grounds, roused only by bells bonging gently but resolutely from the tower above as they mark the inevitable march of time.

 

* Note: The Church of St. Leo the Great was dedicated in the name of Pope Saint Leo I, a Tuscan aristocrat who lived roughly from 400 to 461 A.D and became head of the Roman Catholic Church in the year 440. Canonized after his death, he was the first of just two Popes to be named by the Holy See as “Great.” In addition to convincing Attila the Hun not to attack Italy, he is best remembered, according to the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, for his devotion “to safeguarding orthodoxy and to securing the unity of the Western church under papal supremacy.”

 

 

 

 

Steeped in History: San Francisco’s Award-Winning Palace Hotel

Garden Court, Palace Hotel, San Francisco, California (Carol M. Highsmith Archive, circa 2000, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, public domain).

Garden Court, Palace Hotel, San Francisco, California (Carol M. Highsmith Archive, circa 2000, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, public domain).

 

 

Intended by its founders to rival Europe’s grandest of grand getaways, San Francisco’s Palace Hotel quickly became the most expensive lodging establishment on earth after it opened its doors in 1875. Since that time, it has been defined not just by its opulence, but for its technological innovation. (Early visitors were reportedly dazzled by the hotel’s hydraulic elevators and electronic call buttons for guest room service.)

Pres. Woodrow Wilson Hosting Versailles Treaty Luncheon, Palace Hotel San Francisco (1919, public domain).

U.S. President Woodrow Wilson Hosting Treaty of Versailles luncheon, Palace Hotel, San Francisco (1919, public domain).

Over the years, it has also been a go-to site of history makers for key world events. The Palace has welcomed visiting royals, as well as U.S. presidents from Teddy Roosevelt to Bill Clinton and, in 1919, hosted President Woodrow Wilson’s Treaty of Versailles luncheon.

Foodies, however, understand the Palace’s history from an entirely different perspective – the hotel’s place in culinary lore. Not only is the hotel home to one of the most historic gold services worldwide (first set on Palace dinner tables in 1909), but in 1923, its staff gained fame for conjuring The Green Goddess Dressing in celebration of the similarly titled play (The Green Goddess) which thrilled theater goers that same year.

Despite having undergone several transformations in its history, the Palace has never lost its aura of dignified splendor. Totally rebuilt following its destruction during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, the aging establishment underwent a two-year major retrofit following the Bay Area’s second most devastating quake (the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake), and received another facelift in 2015 – this one to the tune of $40 million.

The Pied Piper mural of Maxfield Parish at San Francisco’s famed Palace Hotel (detail, circa 2012, public domain).

The Pied Piper mural of Maxfield Parish at San Francisco’s famed Palace Hotel (detail, circa 2012, public domain).

Another foodie and history buff favorite amenity of the Palace is its cozy, mahogany-paneled Pied Piper Bar and Grill, a popular watering spot for local luminaries since the hotel’s grand re-opening in 1909. Legendary newspaperman Herb Caen was a regular here during his tenure with the San Francisco Chronicle. He ate, drank and was merry with fellow San Franciscans beneath one of the city’s most iconic and beloved works of art – The Pied Piper mural which was initially commissioned by the Palace’s owners for “the men’s bar.” Awarded $6,000 to create the 250-pound mural, Maxfield Parrish reportedly added a special touch; he painted his own image into the work – preserving himself for posterity as the mural’s central figure, the Pied Piper.

Now estimated to be worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 million or more and an equally impressive 16 feet long and six feet high, the mural has been described by San Francisco preservationists as “the essence of San Francisco.”

Even cozier than the bar? The hotel’s well-appointed rooms. Prices typically range from $270 to $7,550 per night, but special offer rates can be booked at less than $200 per night at different times throughout the year, including during the holidays.

In 2015, the Palace became part of the Marriott chain when that system merged with Starwood, and in 2016, it was named the Best Historic Hotel in the over 400 guest room category by Historic Hotels of America®, an initiative of the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation. According to NTHP representatives, in order to be “selected for membership into this prestigious program, a hotel must be at least 50 years old; [have]  been designated by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark or listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places; and recognized as having historic significance.” Winners of the award are typically celebrated for having “faithfully maintained their authenticity, sense of place, and architectural integrity in the United States of America.”

To learn more about the Palace or to book your stay, visit the hotel’s website.

 

 

Air New Zealand Awarded Airline of the Year and Best Premium Economy Honors for 2017

Air New Zealand Boeing 777-200ER, Heathrow Airport, London (2007, public domain).

Air New Zealand Boeing 777-200ER, Heathrow Airport, London (2007, public domain).

 

 

“In our objective analysis Air New Zealand came out number one in virtually all of our audit criteria, which is an exceptional performance.” – Geoffrey Thomas, Editor-in-Chief, AirlineRatings.com

 

Air New Zealand has been named the world’s best airline for 2017 – the fourth consecutive year that the carrier has been given the prestigious high five by AirlineRatings.com. And, for the third straight year, the airline was also recognized as the carrier operating the Best Premium Economy Class worldwide.

According to representatives from AirlineRatings.com, Air New Zealand soared to the top of the Top Ten list once again thanks to “its record-breaking financial performance, award-winning in-flight innovations, operational safety, environmental leadership and motivation of its staff. These factors have stamped the airline as an industry trendsetter.”

Adding that, in order to be honored with a top ten rating by the organization, the airline “must achieve a seven-star safety rating and demonstrate leadership in innovation for passenger comfort,” the AirlineRatings.com spokesperson also explained that the organization’s Airline Excellence Awards review process is a rigorous one, combining “four major international industry and government audits, with another nine key criteria that include: fleet age, passenger review ratings, profitability, investment rating and key product offerings.”

“The past 12 months have been exceptional for Air New Zealand – we’ve continued to invest in a streamlined and refurbished fleet, launched three new international routes and rolled out improvements to the customer experience with enhanced inflight entertainment and a multi-million dollar lounge redevelopment program,” said Air New Zealand Chief Executive Officer Christopher Luxon. “Above all, the award is testament to the talented team of people who make Air New Zealand great by putting customers at the heart of everything we do.”

The other nine carriers receiving recognition in this round of awards were: Qantas Airways, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific Airways, Virgin Australia/Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, Etihad Airways, All Nippon Airways, Eva Air and Lufthansa.

 

 

History Plus Luxury: The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa

Clock Tower, The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa, Riverside, California (Jon B. Lovelace Collection Carol M. Highsmith's America Project, Library of Congress, public domain).

Clock Tower, The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa, Riverside, California (Jon B. Lovelace Collection Carol M. Highsmith’s America Project, Library of Congress, public domain).

 

“It is the most unique hotel in America. It’s a monastery, a museum, a fine hotel, a home, a boardinghouse, a mission, an art gallery and an aviator’s shrine. It combines the best features of all of the above. If you are ever in any part of California, don’t miss the famous Mission Inn of Riverside.”

– Will Rogers (1879-1935)

 

Believed by historians to be the largest Mission Revival building in America, The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa was just a simple, two-story adobe guesthouse when creator Christopher Columbus Miller first opened the doors of his establishment in 1876, calling it the “Glenwood Hotel.” Two decades later, Miller’s son Frank rechristened the family business as “The Mission Inn” (after taking over management from his father), and began a three-decade transformation of the property, adding castle and clock towers, a chapel with original Tiffany mosaics and a Mexican-Baroque altar, a cloister with catacombs, flying buttresses, a Garden of Bells, an exhibit which pays homage to aviators, Mediterranean domes, and minarets.

Although its more labyrinthine areas have been compared to the corridors of San Jose’s historic Winchester Mystery House, the blend of architectural styles – from Spanish Gothic to Moorish and Renaissance Revival – creates an overriding sense of old world charm.

Today, the sprawling establishment takes up a full block of the Inland Southern California community of Riverside, and is home to an art collection reportedly worth at least $5 million and described by respected curators as “museum quality.” Twentieth century humorist Will Rogers called it “the most unique hotel in America.”

The special event choice for many well-known Republican and Democratic Party leaders, it has also historically been one of the best sites for “star gazing.” Richard and Pat Nixon were married at the Inn in 1940, as was film great Bette Davis in 1945; Ronald and Nancy Reagan honeymooned there in 1952. John F. Kennedy was a visitor, as were Susan B. Anthony, members of the Barrymore acting clan, Jack Benny, Sarah Bernhardt, Andrew Carnegie, Albert Einstein, Henry Ford, W. C. Fields, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, William Randolph Hearst, Bob Hope, Harry Houdini, Helen Keller, John Muir, Mary Pickford, Joseph Pulitzer, author Anne Rice, John D. Rockefeller, Barbra Streisand, and Spencer Tracy.

Having gone through a series of ownership changes over the years and a $55 million renovation, The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa reopened in 1992 under the ownership of Riverside businessman Duane R. Roberts, and remains a beloved part of its community with staff playing key roles in the community’s annual Festival of Lights and Ghost Walk.

Room prices typically range from $239 to $1,679 per night, but special offers throughout the year can bring those rates down into the more affordable $155 to $909 range.

In 2016, The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa was named the Best Historic Hotel in the 201-400 guest room category by Historic Hotels of America®, an initiative of the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation. According to NTHP representatives, in order to be “selected for membership into this prestigious program, a hotel must be at least 50 years old; [have] been designated by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark or listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places; and recognized as having historic significance.”

Winners of the award are typically celebrated for having “faithfully maintained their authenticity, sense of place, and architectural integrity in the United States of America.”

For more information or to book a room and make your own Riverside history, visit the Inn’s website.

 

 

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