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The rooms for rent in Galle Fort’s Leynbaan Villa are clean but spartan. A ceiling fan rotates noisily and the air-con unit, yellowed with age, struggles to combat the south Sri Lankan heat. On the dressing table is a white tray, and on the white tray are plastic water bottles and drinking glasses turned on their heads. Two wooden single beds are pushed together, their thin mattresses made one with a double-sized yellow sheet. The bathroom, shared with the other guests, is pink all over. Even the toilet seat is the shade of carnival fairy floss.
In Galle Fort you can buy a bag of popcorn for 30 Sri Lankan rupees. For 100, you can get plastic flowers in a pot, a pair of second-hand shorts or a serving of two-minute noodles dished up from a truck window. You can get apples sliced up in little paper bags, like fries. If you are in the market for polished gems—I am not, but many wealthy tourists lap them up in these parts—you will find no shortage of specialty shops, where well-mannered gentlemen offer you a chair, a tea and a real show. Ice creams are for sale along the fort walls, peddled by wiry old men riding bicycles; often letting off celebratory toots as they peddle past, left foot, right foot. On its side, facing a main street, the local mosque has stained glass windows and in the morning, when no one is around (breakfast is a 10am-or- later deal, and caters mostly to Westerners) they are flooded with the most glorious light.
You can get American coffee with your breakfast. A pot will cost you 300. Alternatively, there’s the Sri Lankan kind, which tastes a little weaker. Galle Fort is an odd place—there are remnants of the 2005 tsunami, and lashings of gentrification, and tuk tuks covered in motivational stickers—but it’s also very picturesque: blue water, yellow sands, charming Dutch architecture. It’s the right place to read a book, among all that sunshine, but even more, it’s the right place to send a torrent of emails to Marc Beaugé, the French journalist and editor at the helm of the relaunched Holiday magazine.
Most people find Holiday much too late in life. By that, I simply mean the American monthly travel title was so good, so astonishing in its calibre of writers and the freedoms they were afforded, in its unapologetically camp cover art, in the fact that it has managed to fly largely under the radar of mainstream appreciation (outside a Vanity Fair feature and some Josh Lieberman musings in The Paris Review’s daily column), that when you first find an old issue, and you devour it cover to cover, you’ll wonder why you hadn’t been collecting the thing for years.
The original Holiday ran from 1946 to 1977. Its offices, refreshingly, weren’t in New York, but Philadelphia, where publisher Curtis Publishing Co. was based. For just over three decades the smart, nonconformist title was everything, until it wasn’t anything at all. At its height, under the editorship of Ted Patrick, circulation sat at just under a million, and it was bringing in revenue of around $10 million a year. The assignments were big, and they had to be, because the vision was too sparkling to be shot at half-heartedly. AB Guthrie wrote on Idaho, Arthur C Clarke on space travel. In the first ever issue, published in March of ‘46, Carl L Biemiller reported from a clam and oyster opening tournament in Atlantic City (“Mr. Israel Weintraub, 300 pounds of jitney driver, leaned back in his contest chair, dabbed at his mouth with something less than Chesterfieldian grace, and explained his success in the clam derby.”) Joan Didion’s Notes From a Native Daughter was first published in Holiday, as was Truman Capote’s autobiographical essay Brooklyn Heights: A Personal Memoir (“I live in Brooklyn. By choice.” it began). Other names commissioned by Holiday: Ernest Hemmingway, Gay Talese, Slim Aarons, Arthur Miller, Frank O’Connor, Ogden Nash, Jack Kerouac, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Lawrence Durrell.
AB Guthrie wrote on Idaho, Arthur C Clarke on space travel.
This was a magazine for post-war America. The America of transcontinental flight and vacation packages, of travel agents and sleeker, more sophisticated hotels, where members of the leisure-set one upped each other with adventure tales from far-flung, glorious locales. Its investigative journalism, travelogues and essays make mockery of today’s travel listicle and hollowed-out hotel advertorial. The editorial staff threw ample budgets at the best minds, sent them to document the world as they saw it and waited for them to return with something meaty. In Michael Callahan’s Vanity Fair ode to Holiday, photographer and former contributor John Lewis sums up their approach: “The concept was basically to get famous authors who had maybe one or two weeks in between their books or projects to go and travel and write glorious pieces … So you’d have James Michener sent off to the South Pacific, for example. It was an intriguing way to put together a magazine. It was an oddball publication that used photographs to tell stories.”
Something odd happened in 2014, when all that remained of Holiday were rare copies sold on eBay or forgotten in library collections, when its former art director—the great Frank Zachary— was almost 100 years old. Another celebrated art director, the Parisian Franck Durand, suddenly announced his relaunching of the title. He had purchased the rights to it three years before and believed the time was right to bring Holiday back. Durand’s Holiday is published in English too, though the articles are written in French and translated, and the staff is based in France, including editor Marc Beaugé. The new Holiday is not an echo of the old: it’s a title in its own right (with a fashion bent) that shares something of the original spirit. Think contributions from prominent voices in contemporary magazines: photographers Karim Sadli, Jamie Hawksworth, Josh Olins and Christian MacDonald, the writer Eric Reinhardt, the model Edie Campbell. The budgets are smaller—they have to be—but the emphasis on beauty and the editorial rigor remain, and each issue is a lavish dispatch by 2016 standards: to Japan, to Scotland, to the world of French aristocrats. Remember, the original title’s all-or-nothing naïve optimism was a product of its time—much of the euphoria of Continental travel has been dulled by customs queues.
When we spoke for this piece, via email, Marc Beaugé and I were both fittingly on holiday: myself, in Galle, Sri Lanka and Beaugé, in northern Spain.
LAURA BANNISTER Can you describe your surroundings to me? I’d like to understand your workplace a little, where you send emails from, where you do your research.
MARC BEAUGÉ Currently, I’m sitting in a hotel bar in San Sebastian, the sea in front of me. All is very quiet, as it’s six in the morning. Around me, loads of wood, leather and heavy carpets. It’s a very traditional hotel, created in 1902. I am always attracted to old, classical, dusty things and places. I do a lot of different things. I have weekly column in Le Monde magazine, one on Canal Plus (the French cable television channel), both on elegance. I am the chief editor for three magazines: Society, Holiday and Doolittle. I also own my brand called Larose Paris. So I work pretty much all time—from home, on the go. The Society offices are where I spend most of my time. Imagine a big open space, very white, very simple, packed with 50 young guys and just a few girls.
BANNISTER Can you take me through your own career as a writer? I want to know where your interest in journalism began, if and where you studied, what your earliest assignments were, the kind of stories you were interested in, in the very beginning, and what kind of stories you are interested in now.
BEAUGÉ I don’t ever remember wanting to do anything else. When a teen, I was big into sports and music. So, I would write fake articles about either at home. My parents were the only ones who would read them. Later, I started writing for fanzines. This is how it began. Then, in 2004, with a few friends, we launched a football magazine, different from all football magazines, called So Foot. I learned everything there. The magazine turned to be a huge success; we won many prizes, and became the biggest sports magazine in France. It’s still doing great nowadays. During the first few years of So Foot, we wouldn’t earn any money, so I found jobs elsewhere to make a living. I worked for sports paper L’Equipe. I wrote about music for a cool local magazine called Technikart. One article I wrote was about the way rock stars had been wearing the tie over the decades. They all have done it, even Kurt Cobain. That article gave birth to my interest in style, clothing, fashion if you prefer. I was soon hired by GQ as their style guy. A few years later, I moved to Les Inrockuptibles, where I would be a traditional reporter, working on the French far right wing: interviewing Raf Simons, investigating on why Johnny Hallyday doesn’t have any money left. I then came back full time at So Foot. In March 2015, we launched Society, a news magazine. It’s doing very well. We have been voted best media of 2015 in France. I am very proud of that magazine. We have a fantastic team.
I’m interested in a wide range of topics. I am curious in general. I have interviewed football players, rockers, politicians, and designers. All of them have something to say if you ask the right questions with the right smile. What links all of my work—from Society to Holiday—is probably the idea that a good article and a good magazine requires a lot of work. You can’t just be inspired. Journalists are not artists. Or writers. Or novelists. They have to work [hard] to locate the facts; they have to search, to investigate, to speak to people. Then the writing phase becomes nothing more than a conclusion. Adding a touch of humour to the finished piece isn’t a bad idea either.
BANNISTER How would you characterise your relationship to the act of writing? Do you find it easy? Are there certain conditions under which you find your ideas and sentences flow best?
BEAUGÉ Writing is a muscle. The more you train it, the easier and quicker it becomes. I am not a very gifted or natural writer, but I have practised a lot. I have reflexes. I think I know how to start a story. How to stop a story and thread analysis through it. How to conclude. As I said, journalists are not artists. We are technicians. There is no blank page, but we can have a slow day, or a bad day. I tend to write very early in the morning, from 5 to 8. No emails, no phone calls, no messages. I can be efficient. It’s more difficult during the day.
BANNISTER Do you re-read your own work?
BEAUGÉ Very rarely. There are so many things to do and not much time to look back. And anyway, the most important article is the next one. The past ones, well, it’s better to forget about them, whether good or bad.
BANNISTER How did your relationship with Atelier Franck Durand— or with the man at the helm of it—begin?
BEAUGÉ Franck Durand and I worked together for the first time when we developed a magazine project for a big fashion house. We had met a few times before, but we had never worked together. The project never took life, but we enjoyed collaborating on it. So Franck asked me to work on Holiday. He had bought the rights of that old magazine a few years before but had never found the right person to work with him. I accepted the offer with pleasure.
BANNISTER What do you think he saw in you?
BEAUGÉ I don’t know. Maybe he saw me as someone who worked hard and was easy to deal with. I don’t do politics. I don’t fight. I don’t suddenly become mad. I try to put all my energy in the magazine alone.
BANNISTER I’m interested in the rationale behind rejuvenating Holiday, as opposed to launching an entirely new publication. What was it that confirmed to Franck and yourself that Holiday—that post-war ode to the American leisure set—needed to exist again?
BEAUGÉ There was no need for a new Holiday. But we had the will to do it. Both Franck and I have an interest in well made, long lasting things. We are more interested in craftsmanship than technology. We don’t reject modernity or consumerism. But time was slower decades ago and things seemed to be more carefully done. Holiday felt like a very a polished object, both beautiful and well written. It was very appealing to us to continue this. It’s not a fast magazine. Not a magazine that people would throw away. We hope people will keep their copy, because the pictures we publish are more like art, and the articles are close to literature. That is the goal anyway. That is why we commission [certain] writers and novelists to write for us.
BANNISTER How familiar were you with the original Holiday?
BEAUGÉ I had never had a copy in my hands, but I knew about it. I had actually read a long feature about the history of the magazine in Vanity Fair.
BANNISTER I know the one. That first Holiday, the one that closed in 1977, has diehard fans and collectors, and an almost unbelievable roster of contributors—EB White, Hemingway, Kerouac, Didion— thanks to handsome, pre-internet budgets. Is this the kind of heritage that makes you nervous as an editor?
BEAUGÉ I am not of a very nervous nature, thankfully. We don’t have the same budgets—that’s for sure. But we have ideas, we try to be clever and hopefully readers don’t feel cheated.
Read the rest of the interview in Museum Issue 4, available for purchase here.