in praise of bond

I love the James Bond films  – even the lame ones - for so many reasons: the geeky gadgets and kooky villains for a start. Then there’s the crazy chases and death-defying stunts and, of course, Bond’s bevy of double entendre-toting beauties. Plus, there’s all the exotic locales. In film after film, few heroes have given us wider license to travel the far corners of the world than Agent 007. Here are just a few memorable highlights.

SCHILTHORN, SWITZERLAND: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) took us to the mountaintop, literally: the 2,970-meter-high Schilthorn, which George Lazenby skied down at breathtaking speed with Telly Savalas as Blofeld in hot pursuit. It’s one of the great movie ski chase scenes, now documented in an exhibit at Piz Gloria, which doubled as the Bleuchamp Institute for Allergy Research in the film. Organized Bond-themed excursions start from the car-free town of Mürren, or you can glide up the mountain yourself on a 32-minute aerial cable car trip that originates in Stechelberg. For more Bond-style adventure, ski the mountain’s 15.8 km mixed-terrain Inferno course. Experienced skiers usually cover it in about 45 minutes; competitors in the annual Inferno Race – the largest amateur ski race in the world – can do it in 15.

ISTANBUL, TURKEY: Several locations in Turkey – where East meets West on the banks of the mighty Bosphorus – are featured in Skyfall, the newest adventures of James Bond. Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar has been a must-see since 1461. More than 550 years later, it attracts nearly a half-million visitors daily. Presumably few of them other than Skyfall director Sam Mendes envision its narrow, crowded aisles as a location for a high-speed chase. It is, however, an excellent place to buy local handicrafts and to engage all your senses as you immerse yourself in the city.

KEY WEST, FLORIDA: Licence to Kill (1989) kicks off with Timothy Dalton parachuting in with CIA pal Felix Leiter to Felix’s wedding at St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Church in Key West after some insane aerial maneuvers. Other scenes shot in the area include a car chase on Seven Mile Bridge, the segmented concrete (to make it hurricane-resistant) span you’ll cross if you’re driving to Key West, and a scene at the Ernest Hemingway Home in which M demands that Bond relinquish his “license to kill.” Hemingway, no slouch in the adventure department himself, moved to the house at 907 Whitehead Street in 1931. A guided tour shows off his writing studio as well as the descendants of Hemingway’s famous six-toed cats, who have unlimited license to roam the house and grounds.

THE BAHAMAS: Of Bond’s many visits to the Bahamas, the most memorable is Sean Connery’s 1965 Thunderball battle in the underwater caves of the Exuma Cays. They’ve been known ever since as the Thunderball Grotto. (Connery returned there in 1983 for Never Say Never Again.) Several charter companies, including Four C’s Adventures and the Island Routes 007 Thunderball Luxury Tour, will take you out to the grotto by boat and guide you on a snorkeling route to the inside of the caves, where the light streams in and colorful fish dart about below the water’s surface.

PARIS: With an “I’m too old for this stuff” look on his face, Roger Moore chased Grace Jones to the top of the Eiffel Tower in A View to a Kill (1985), only to watch her parachute off, land on a boat conveniently waiting along the Seine, and make a spectacular getaway in one of the film’s more memorable scenes. (It was almost as good as Duran Duran’s video for the movie’s theme song.) On a tour of the tower, you’ll learn about Franz Reichfelt’s tragic demonstration of his “parachute suit” in 1912, which should convince you that parachuting off the observation deck is not the thing to do here. However, if you’re feeling fit, climb the 704 steps from the ground to the second floor. From there, you can catch the lift to the top, where you’ll find a champagne bar with killer views of its own.

AUYUITTUQ NATIONAL PARK, CANADA: Nobody does it better, ahem, than the opening sequence of The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), in which Roger Moore BASE jumps off the edge of a mountain and – whoosh – a Union Jack parachute opens and glides him to safety. The mountain, with its distinctive twin flat-topped peaks at 6,598 feet, is Mount Asgard in Auyuittuq National Park on Baffin Island, Canada. Serious outdoors people find the 7,370-square-mile arctic park a haven of pristine beauty offering 24-hour daylight in summer. Accessible via the Inuit hamlets of Pangnirtung and Qikiqtarjuaq, which can be reached only by small plane, the park requires that all visitors attend a safety orientation before they embark on their travels. For this level of adventure, only experienced wilderness travelers — and MI-6 agents — need apply.


blame canada

Well, not quite. But you can’t expect a trip up here to not reference all their hockey hullabaloo (and that bitch Anne Murray, too) - one of the great movie songs of all time.  We must blame them and cause a fuss – before somebody thinks of blaming us!


these colors don’t run

They explode. Click the image for greater detail and you’ll understand why the Cabot Trail is considered one of North America’s great scenic road trips.


a highland fling

The headlands and cliffs of Cape Breton Highlands National Park are a sight to be seen. Home to the famous Cabot Trail – Canada’s answer to Monterey’s 17-mile drive – the park on the northern tip of the island is blessed with a dramatically deciduous landscape. Completed in 1932, it joins a handful of previously isolated fishing villages along an approximate 300 km loop. Today the Trail connects eight major communities with intriguing histories, ranging from the Acadian Region, to Irish and Scottish settlements. At the tail end of the foliage season it’s almost deserted, too, which turns out to be a bonus for anyone seeking little more than silence and sweeping views.


closer clouds


cabot links

I must take a minute to mention where it is I’ve been staying on Cape Breton Island: Cabot Links, Canada’s only authentic links course. And while regular readers of this site might be aware that my knowledge of and interest in golf ranks right up there with hockey, clad in cedar shingles the Lodge at Cabot Links is a beautifully modern riff on the maritime traditions of the area, with spectacular views of the beach, dunes and Gulf of St. Lawrence. It’s luxurious in a low-key way; sensible - Canadian, you might say – with an attention to detail that doesn’t feel compelled to call attention to itself. The fantastic food I’ve been featuring over the last few posts has come from the in-house restaurant, Panorama, which manages to maintain a level of fine dining without feeling pretentious – an impressive achievement in a town with less than a thousand full-time residents. Were I a golfer I’d think I died and gone to heaven. It says something that even a philistine like myself can appreciate how the course – which only opened in June – looks not so much impressed upon the landscape but coaxed out of it, as though the terrain had been merely lying in wait for the right person to come along and scatter a few pins. When a planned second links course opens in 2014 you’ll be hearing a lot more about Cabot Links. And when the bunker spa opens I, too, will be back.


half the fun of lobster is in the tools


there’s a reason they named it new scotland

I mean, duh; just look at this beautifully wild and windswept landscape in a little spit of a town called Inverness, halfway up the Northern coast of Cape Breton Island. The region’s Gaelic roots are made obvious in towns throughout the province: Antigonish, Argyle, Truro, Oxford, New Glasgow, Berwick, Colchester. Nearby Prince Edward Island might be known for its mussels but this coastline has me thinking about the prospects for a different kind of mollusk: oysters.


i’m going on a moose hunt

Not that I’m – as the song goes – out for a kill, but I’ve escaped to our neighbors up north in Nova Scotia where I hear the moose are now in rut. So in addition to enjoying some prime leaf peeping around Cape Breton Island, I will also be keeping my eyes peeled in the hopes of witnessing a bit of locked horns. Go ahead and call me a Peeping Tom – it’s not every day you get to see live moose porn.



the nature of art

Little did I know until today that the Canadian city of Calgary is actually named for a small village on the western coast of Mull. Originally called Fort Brisebois, the future home of the famous Stampede was later christened Fort Calgary in 1876 by Colonel James MacCleod, a local boy from nearby Dornoch who later emigrated and made good, rising to become Commissioner of the Royal Mounted Police. Aided by a transcontinental railroad and the discovery of oil, the Canadian city quickly grew beyond its namesake in terms of global importance, yet the little Scottish town nevertheless kept a few charms in store that continue to remain real gems. One of those is Calgary Art in Nature, a by-donation sculpture park within a coastal woodland. Set up to provoke an awareness of art in nature, the park has evolved into a product of both nature and man’s efforts, a working environment, a cultural landscape chockablock with site specific stimulation. And it makes for a really pleasant stroll, too – especially if you continue walking onwards to the pristine white sand beach of Calgary’s sheltered bay.


to the lighthouse

A pleasant half hour hike out of the port side of Tobermory harbor led me through woods worthy of the Cottingley fairies before emerging onto the headland and a lighthouse built by the grandfather of Robert Louis Stevenson who, apparently, built a lot of the lighthouses still operating across the Scottish highlands. I feel like I need to make a point of saying that these photos are unadulterated. At 10 o’clock in the evening the sky still glowed with a diffuse, rosy light. I’d always supposed the UK as being on a parallel plane with New York, yet once I’d traced the lines of longitude I discovered that, in fact, I am currently in line with exact center of Canada’s Hudson Bay. That would explain why it has yet to get truly dark here: by the time the backlight dissolves over one horizon, the sun is rising on the opposite one. That’s going to make for some wonderful post-prandial strolls.


the year in numbers

Statistics just in via my hosting service:  this little ol’ blog you’re currently reading was viewed on average 52,000 times a week across 2011. If it was a concert at the 2,700-seat Sydney Opera House, it would take a week crammed with 19 sold-out performances for that many people to see it – which sounds like a really good week at the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular, to put a local spin on the numbers.

In 2011, there were 398 new posts, growing the total archive to 820 posts. The busiest day of the year was October 26th with – get ready - 34,500 views! The most popular post that day was History Meets Mystery in Moscow.

While most visitors came from the United States, the UK and Canada were not too far behind.  Plus, now I’ve got the stats to back up what I’ve known for so long:  I’m huge in Asia.

So that’s the year in blogging.  Many thanks to you, faithful readers, for coming back again and again and continuing to share my curiosity. Stay tuned for a few tweaks and treats to come in 2012.


at the theater: follies & private lives

Broadway’s got me feeling awfully nostalgic this week. Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman Follies arrived at the Marquis Theatre in a production that originated at Washington DC’s more-miss-than-hit Kennedy Center. Having sat through my share of half-baked Follies follies I’ll admit to being less than enthused at the prospect of yet another aborted summit attempt. Yet the lure of Bernadette Peters and Jan Maxwell as a pair of chorines whose lives diverged in the snowy woods of showbiz proved too alluring.  Plus, how ironic that the musical set in a theater soon to be demolished for the sake of another parking lot would take up in a hotel built atop the early graves of two of the Rialto’s most elegant theaters, the Helen Hayes and Morosco. Limited expectations turn out to be a boon to this production, only intermittently directed by Eric Schaeffer. Still, I wish the director had a point of view – or at least a sure hand. Too often he lets his company do their own thing to deleterious effect. Case in point, the wonderfully miscast Elaine Paige, who delivers an oddly vigorous – and strangely accented – rendition of what is perhaps one of the most famous 11 o’clock numbers in musical theater history, I’m Still Here. Teri White and Jane Houdyshell fare much better with the mirror number, Who’s That Woman, and Broadway Baby, respectively, but fun as they are, this isn’t a show about the pastiche of secondary roles; it’s about a mismatched quartet of chorus girls and stage door johnnies and the roads they failed to take. “Never look back” may be the fatal watch cry spun into gossamer strands of wistful regret by Rosalind Elias as the ghost of her younger self joins the elderly diva in the evening’s most affecting and poignant duet but Ben and Phyllis and Buddy and Sally can’t seem to help themselves – they think they’re still young and they want a second act, Fitzgerald be damned.  Boy, oh boy do they get it. In what can only be described as a musical exploration of the human psyche, each of the quartet performs a follies number straight out of Freudian analysis.  Follies is the first – and last – musical I know of to end with a nervous breakdown and yet, somehow it works. On some subatomic level it is deeply affecting to see these desperately unhappy people come apart at the seams. What ultimately redeems them is the Beckettian impulse to pick themselves up and keep going forward: the past is past and they’re not looking back anymore. Down the block Noel Coward is taking quite the different tack. Go back, go back, go back he seems to say; you got it right the first time. (At least as far as marriage is concerned.) Unfortunately the champagne fizz of Elyot and Amanda’s badinage comes over as flat as day-old ginger ale in Richard Eyre’s cheap as chips production imported from London via Toronto. Ostensibly the main attraction is Samantha, I mean, Kim Cattrall – but the lady has all the period style of a fruit crate fallen off an errant truck. She’s not terrible, but she’s by no means good either, doing little service to what is already a tenuously written reality overly dependent on style over substance. Paul Gross’ Elyot has style to spare – and substance, too, come to think of it.  If only some of it rubbed off on the rest of the (mis) cast I might believe the folly of Coward’s happily unhappy ending.


shining a light

Let’s face it: despite its warm and oh, so forgiving embrace, the soft light of an incandescent bulb will soon be something of a fond and distant memory. Compact fluorescent bulbs – also called CFLs – not only last up to ten times longer than your standard Edison invention, they also use 75% less energy. To put that in perspective, if every American home replaced just one incandescent light with a CFL, we would collectively save enough energy to light 3 million homes for a year, pocket an additional $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent 9 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per year – that’s the equivalent of about 800,000 cars. With those statistics in mind it’s no wonder the EU, Russia, and Canada have begun a formal once-and-for-all phase-out of the humble bulb. Unfortunately, the problem people have with most CFLs are not environmental but aesthetic: the tight coil of a standard CFL bulb produces a cold, full spectrum light that’s flat and dull at best – and highly unflattering, too. With the clock ticking down to the bulb’s outright ban in the EU, a group of designers at Hulger in London set about trying to bridge the gap between what will soon become a standardized design with the daily needs of humankind – while keeping aesthetics in mind, too, of course. A Herculean task – just think about what it might take to reinvent any item whose success we take for granted on a daily basis: a screw, the key and lock combo, credit cards – they somehow alighted on the Plumen, at once a low-wattage homage to its immediate predecessors and a boldly futuristic and practical design choice. Lowering the wattage to an unheard of 11, the CFL nevertheless emits a power of 630 lumen – the equivalent of a 55 watt bulb.  Unspooling the tight coil of a regulation fluorescent into a shape reminiscent of a standard issue incandescent allows the light to breathe, if that makes any sense. Rather than lighting out, like the rays of a two-dimensional sun, the Plumen light radiates both in and out, bouncing off an interior faux filament that makes all the difference – and a lampshade altogether unnecessary. It’s the light of the future. Even better, it’s by design.


cool as a crystal

It’s no secret how beneficial a session in a hot sauna can be for relaxation and rejuvenation, but a cold one can be just as good – at least according to British Columbia’s new KurSpa, located in the recently opened $122-million Sparkling Hill Resort.

The first of its kind in North America, the cryotherapy – or “cold” – sauna dips to temperatures of -166°F and is reputed to aid in the relief of arthritic pain as well as kick-start the circulatory and nervous systems. Three minutes in the dry cold are apparently followed by hours of feeling warm and well. (please don’t call it chillaxin.) Focusing on whole-body awareness, KurSpa offers a variety of other treatments including facials, massages and reflexology, in addition to a almost a dozen different saunas and steam rooms. Or you can simply float in the outdoor infinity pool surrounded by Douglas fir trees.

Carved into a granite hillside overlooking Okanagan Lake, the resort was funded by Gernot Langes-Swarovski, patriarch of the Austrian crystal family. A funky piece of design, the 152-room hotel draws on European influences, featuring cool colors, natural woods and as you’d expect, 3.5 million Swarovski crystals deployed throughout the resort.


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