The first issue of every new magazine falls all over itself trying to make an impression. Conde' Nast's Traveler this month shoulders its way into the crowd of travel magazines vying for the finite attention of its worldly constituency. It is a brainy, jazzy, mischievous, extravagant piece of work -- and, at least potentially, a useful one.
When corporate Conde' Nast gets behind something, as it did with Vanity Fair four years ago, it has been known to sustain serious injury from overpromising the product. Traveler, created by the editorial dervish Harold Evans, has appeared rather quietly by comparison (except for its fisticuffs with National Geographic, which has its own new middlebrow magazine named Traveler).
This is neither a quiet magazine nor one for beginners. The table of contents (cutely called an "itinerary" -- really, now) fairly shouts its genesis in a brainstorming session, hands slapped on conference tables for emphasis: "Here's an idea! Let's find someone funny and sophisticated who's never been to Paris, and send him over to do a piece. How about Nicholas von Hoffman?" Or: "Do you think we could get Mimi Sheraton to rate airline food for us?"
Yes on both counts. And those are fairly successful marriages of the kind of concept and execution the Evans Traveler wants to be known for. Robert Hughes, the art critic and raffish historian, examines Barcelona on the cusp of its second cultural and social renaissance: This is an inspired match of place and visitor, handled with easy aplomb. Christopher Buckley grappling with his participant/observer problem aboard the Malcolm Forbes power yacht as it penetrates the Amazon basin and its economic heart of darkness -- well, that's a more ambitious undertaking, and its success depends heavily on the reader's tolerance for Forbes and his coterie of tycoons, royals and faithful retainers.
You will find here more approachable stuff as well. Two excursions worth noting involve ordinary domestic motoring: Michele Slung making the off-Interstate D.C.-to-N.Y. run and Stephan Wilkinson at the wheel of his Porsche, driving northward from Mendocino, Calif., into coastal Oregon. In the hurry-before-it's-too-late department, Michael Schnayerson tells you something new about the Old West as it survives in southern Arizona, and Martha Rose Shulman discloses the last unspoiled place on the Co~te d'Azur.
In the rear of this and every issue is something called a "backpack" (Cute Alert!) full of useful touring information about particular places -- this time Barcelona, to accompany the Hughes disquisition. These smaller nuggets fall in the shade of the magazine's brilliant strokes, but they make readers out of mere leafers-through, and in this first issue, they're good. Twelve issues: $15 -- write Traveler, P.O. Box 57004, Boulder, Colo. 80321-7004.
Beyond Big Shoulders First-issue-itis is a rite of passage. Every new magazine has to go through it. An especially noble debut this month is that of Chicago Times. In its relationship to the established order, it is a kind of Regardie's to Chicago magazine's Washingtonian -- only it's wet behind the ears. The feel of the magazine is understated, droll, elegant -- "All Things Considered" for the eyes. The question is whether this is exactly the soul of Chicago.
Bob Greene and Studs Terkel, two of Chicago's most ubiquitous sages, are not represented in this issue, an omission for which the editors are to be congratulated. On the other hand, not every byline is exactly a surprise. The editors have staked out their broad demographic ambitions by calling for opening performances by Joseph Epstein and Mike Royko.
Epstein, the urbane essayist from Evanston, runs through all the most prominently uttered cliche's about Chicago (City of Big Shoulders, the Second City, and so forth), wittily declares them outmoded or imprecise, then struggles in manly fashion to distill his own mot for Chicago: "... inexhaustible in its variety, its ability to reveal a new aspect of itself, its capacity to bring off small but striking surprises." Catchy, huh?
At less length, Royko explains why he can't go home again to the neighborhood he once called his own -- it isn't there anymore, as he probably tried to tell the editors -- and Eugene Kennedy explains why Harold Washington has triumphed as crown prince of Chicagoland by ignoring the health and welfare of his domain.
The magazine, a handsomely organized and designed affair, is now done with the important stuff, and should get down to the fun and games and dirt. One year of Chicago Times: $19.95. Write to 180 North Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60601
Table of Contents The singular artistic eye of the painter Georgia O'Keeffe belonged to a singular woman. Judging from the sketch of her life and work by Edward Abrahams in the September/October American Heritage, her inner life had precious little room for anything but her esthetic preoccupations. This is good background for the O'Keeffe show due here in November at the National Gallery of Art. The latest investigative journalism on the O'Keeffe legacy is conducted in the September Art & Antiques.
If you pictured cool glass columns when you tasted spearmint, or an archway when you tasted roast beef, the most charitable explanation might be that you were a synesthete. That's the word for people whose senses get mixed up, people who see sounds as colors, or imagine the texture of tastes. Jake Page explores this delightfully arcane affliction in the September/October Hippocrates.