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Namaste, Jaipur!

With over 200,000 people attending this year, India’s Jaipur Literature Festival can claim to be one of the biggest in the world—and certainly the most fun. Vijai Maheshwari reports on the big speakers, controversies, and hits from this year.

Asia’s largest literary festival kicked off in Jaipur, India, last Friday, with over 200,000 people thronging the various stages of the 17th century Rajput-built Diggi Palace in the center of the “pink” city. Free from the controversy that dogged 2012’s festival, when Salman Rushdie canceled his trip because of death threats by Muslim fundamentalists, this year’s festival has a more relaxed, bohemian vibe. Speakers at the prestigious festival include Jonathan Franzen, Gloria Steinem, Novel-prize winner Amartya Sen, Jhumpa Lahiri, Reza Aslan, Jim Crace, and memoirist Ved Mehta.

Looking relaxed in a grey puffer vest, Franzen joked that it was hard writing for an American audience grown used to “sitcoms with laugh tracks.” He admitted that he instead preferred “cold, dark, silent spaces” which helped him focus his mind. Meanwhile, Pulitzer Prize-winning Indian-American writer, Jhumpa Lahiri created a stir when she declared that American literature was “massively overrated” and its reading habits “transformed by the mainstream.” She was in Jaipur to promote her latest novel, The Lowlands, a tale of two brothers set in Calcutta of the 1960s, during the Naxalite uprisings.

American feminist Gloria Steinem was a big draw at the festival, with huge crowds at her talk on the parallels between the American and Indian women’s movements. With India going through a late-birthing feminist movement in the wake of the recent spate of violent rapes, there’s a renewed interest in America’s successful struggle for women’s rights in the 1960s. Steinem praised India’s feminist movement, saying that it “goes back hundreds of years” and had ‘”personally influenced her.” She spoke as part of a new series of talks called Women Uninterrupted, which are an effort by the Jaipur Literature Festival to include more strong female voices in its lineup. Other speakers from the forum included American writer Cheryl Strayed, whose bestselling book about a solitary hike on the 1100 mile long Pacific Crest Trail, is now being made into a film, Wild, with Reese Witherspoon. Audiences also packed a session on Women Writers of the Islamic World, which included Shereen El Feki and Fariba Hachtroudi.

The biggest crowds, however, came for Indian Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen’s speech, in which he made seven wishes for a better India. These included a desire for a strong, secular right-wing party, and a greater role for the arts and humanities in contemporary India. The Iranian-American writer, Reza Aslan, who was demonized by Fox News last year for his recent biography of Jesus Christ spoke to a packed hall. “Americans don’t understand why a Muslim would write about Jesus,” said a Delhi journalist. “But then haven’t many Westerners written about Mohammed in the past?”

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Where to Float in Luxury

Destination Art

Weekend Trips for Art Lovers

You don't have to fly to Paris or London to see fine art—we have plenty right in our own backyard. Here are five U.S. exhibits, installations, and murals that are worth a weekend trip.

The Lightning Field, Walter De Maria

Western New Mexico 

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Creative Commons

THE ART: High on a remote plain in the New Mexico desert, Walter de Maria's seminal land-art installation is difficult to reach (really, we mean it), but worth the effort many times over. Walking through the grid of 400 stainless steel poles as it reflects the light at sunrise or sunset—with 360-degree views of the surrounding landscape—is mind-altering.

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British Cuisine Is Back!

Who's afraid of English food? Not us—not anymore. These days, British chefs are looking to their storied past to create some of Europe's most inventive (and delicious) food.

by Gully Wells

Early last spring, on a slate-gray morning that faithfully delivered rain followed by more rain—just as the BBC had forecast it would—I found myself standing outside the station in Whitstable, a dispiriting seaside town about sixty miles southeast of London, with not a cab in sight.

But a drizzly ten minutes later, an exuberantly overweight man with a bright-red face suddenly roared his taxi around the corner. "Look, I'm warning you right now," he happily informed me when I told him where I was going. "It's complete rubbish from the outside, and on a day like this it's going to look even worse." Oh, how the English love being the bearers of bad news. "And it's not much better inside," he continued. "No tablecloths. No curtains. No menus. But the food is effing amazing, and that's why you go to a restaurant, innit?"

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CNT

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Ace Hotel Arrives in L.A.

The super stylish Ace Hotel has opened its doors in downtown Los Angeles.

Leave it to the Ace Hotel to take over a historic 1920’s building and turn it into the next trendy spot.

The super stylish hotel chain announced two years ago that it had chosen the United Artists theater building in downtown Los Angeles for its next outpost—and travelers have been eagerly anticipating its arrival ever since.

Ace Hotel LA

Spencer Lowell

The hotel chain, which suffered a blow after founder Alex Calderwood was found dead last November, opened its newest addition this week. The LA property features 182 guest rooms, a restaurant and bar, and a gorgeously renovated theater that seats 1,600.

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The Best Hotels of 2014

GREAT VIEW

The Tallest Hotel in North America

Marriott just opened its latest hotel in Manhattan…and broke the height record while they were at it.

The newly opened Marriott in midtown Manhattan recently claimed the title of tallest hotel in North America, clocking in at 68 stories high. The dual-branded hotel will house both a Courtyard and a Residence Inn. The 750-foot building beats out the previous titleholder, the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center, which totaled 727 feet, according to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. Check out this cool time lapse of the hotel's construction.

Birth of ‘Ulysses’

The Darker Side of Joyce’s Trieste

Before Joyce, who died 73 years ago today, found fame and fortune and moved to Paris, he spent over a decade of sin-filled years in Trieste. I explored the town in his footsteps.

It’s the morning after. I’m leaning against the antique pastry showcase in Pasticceria Caffè Pirona. I’m still a little shaky from last night’s drinking. There’s a framed picture of James Joyce on the wall, hung proudly. He was a regular here. In the mornings, on his way to work, he would stop in for a couple glasses of red wine and some presnitz, an eye-wateringly sweet Triestine pastry.

Rumor has it Joyce even wrote some of, or conceived the idea for, or sketched out parts of his masterpiece, Ulysses, in this very cafe. Of course, no one really knows. But like Joyce and many a literary-tourist before me, I am here, eating presnitz and drinking red wine for breakfast.

Over my shoulder there is a bookshelf. I notice a copy of, James Joyce: Triestine Itineraries, a cultural-tourism book written in 1997 by Renzo S. Crivelli. I flip through the pages and read about Joyce’s former flats that are peppered around town, the school where he taught English (now a Zara store), and the churches of varying denominations where he attended mass.

Of course, anything resembling a real Joycean itinerary is long gone. Gone are the working-man dive bars where Joyce would binge drink and ponder his literary hardship. Gone are the pharmacies that would dole out cocaine and heroine like Tylenol. Gone are the dank bordellos and painted whores of the old Jewish ghetto where Joyce would roam. Gone is the ghetto itself. In fact, gone, almost in its entirety, is the tangled, old Città Vecchia where Joyce did some of his best sinning. The trail of the Trieste that Joyce grew to love has gone cold. One could not sniff it out, even if he tried his damnedest.

Ordeal by Water

Polar Explorer vs. Reality TV Crew

In ‘Chasing Shackleton’, Tim Jarvis re-enacts a hundred-year-old Antarctic journey using replica gear and clothing. Despite the raging tempests, subzero temperatures, and treacherous crevasse fields, what really tests him are the intrusions of a reality TV crew. This would seem to be a problem unique to modern explorers. But might Shackleton have sympathized?

The so-called “heroic age” of polar exploration lasted from the tail end of the Victorian era until the outbreak of World War I. When we consider this period’s doughty adventurers, none speaks more directly to our modern souls than Sir Ernest Shackleton. The exhibitions, movies, books, and other paeans to Shackleton in the last decade or so (from the 2002 film starring Kenneth Branagh to the assiduous reverse-engineering, in 2011, of his favored whisky) appear to have perma-frosted him, as it were, atop the pile.

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PBS

A few reasons for this suggest themselves. History has shown Shackleton to be more honest than Peary, who lied about getting to the North Pole, and he seems more relatable than both chilly Amundsen, the first man to reach the South Pole, and Scott, who lost out to Amundsen and died nobly and perhaps (the thinking now goes) a bit stupidly in the process.

Not unknown in his time, Shackleton was nevertheless not as revered then as he is now. His ambitious Imperial Trans-Arctic Expedition didn’t even come close to its goal of crossing Antarctica; moreover, the British public might have questioned why he spent nearly 500 days floundering about in the middle of nowhere while they were suffering for king and country through World War I.

Northern Star

Sjón’s Literary Reykjavik

Welcome to the most literary country in the world: Iceland. Its current international star Sjón shares his favourite haunts, why he doesn’t believe in realism, and getting into politics.

Literarily speaking, Iceland is prolific. According to recent reports, there are more books read per capita in Iceland—a country with a 99% literacy rate—than anywhere else in the world. But perhaps most astonishingly of all, one in every ten of its 300,000 inhabitants will publish a book in their life. There are, however, only a few Icelandic writers that are read beyond their coastline.

Sjón is one of them. The 51-year-old author, whose a pen name means ‘sight’ but is also an abbreviation of the less book-cover friendly, Sigurjón Birgir Sigurðsson, has written seven novels, numerous poetry collections, song lyrics, plays, picture books for children and, in 2011, a libretto. His two most recent books, The Blue Fox and From the Mouth of the Whale, have collectively been translated into 25 languages and a few months ago he was “introduced” to American readers for the first time by his childhood friend and sometimes collaborator, Bjork.

Sjón was born and raised Reykjavikian. His gradual success has led him into politics (on a local level he represents anarcho-surrealist movement, The Best Party, who remain in power in the capital) and he was on the board that saw Reykjavik recognized a UNESCO City of Literature, but he has never moved out of the city.

Here, he talks about the incongruities of a rural-urban life, why it’s important to give back the stories Reykjavik provided him with, and what it’s like to know, in person, every other writer in town.

Antigua has a mild climate, Mayan ruins, volcanic hiking, a gorgeous lake, and shopping galore…and not many tourists know about it. So why are you still going to Cancun?

The bobos in the group could not have looked more vindicated.

We are touring a coffee plantation in Antigua Guatemala, and the tour guide has just revealed that the beans tossed aside due to contamination by driller bugs are then sold to make instant coffee. That’s right, the coffee you make in the machine at work.

Nestled in a valley between volcanoes (some of which are still active) just an hour from Guatemala City, Antigua with all its history, beauty, and temperate climate has been relatively insulated from the tourist boom and should make every vacation shortlist after this painfully cold winter.

Founded as Santiago de los Cabelleros in 1543, Antigua was the capital of the Spanish colony of Guatemala, which covered most of Central America. In 1773, it was abandoned after a series of earthquakes left much of the city in ruins. Its name was changed to Antigua Guatemala (old Guatemala), and while some people remained, residents of the new capital, Guatemala City, often pilfered the ruins of its great buildings. Over the centuries, it has gradually made a comeback, first with coffee in the late 1800’s, and then in the mid-20th century with Spanish language schools.

$ Buys Everything

Malta to Sell EU Passports

Malta to Sell EU Passports Philippe Wojazer/AFP/Getty

Causing concern among member nations.

Want to quickly become a European Union citizen? In a move set to make millions of euros for the small nation, Malta plans to sell 1,800 passports for around $880,000 a pop to prospective citizens. Each applicant can also buy less expensive passports for children up to age 26, a spouse, and the couple's parents and grandparents. The new passport holders will be able to travel and work in all 28 EU states, a point that has caused concern in member countries. The European Union will hold a debate on the plan during the first plenary session this year.


Read it at EU Observer

Hang Ten

Surfers Flock to ‘The Black Swell’

Surfers Flock to ‘The Black Swell’ Gaizka Iroz/AFP/Getty

In England, France, and Portugal.

What’s French for chill? Surfers are headed to the coastlines of Ireland, England, France, and Portugal thanks to a low pressure system that has triggered waves up to 60 feet high. The low-pressure system called “the black swell” has created massive, surfable waves over a section of the Atlantic the size of Spain and Portugal.

Read it at The Guardian

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