THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2022 --
Martin Deutsch passed peacefully at 91 yesterday and I have an idea about what was on his mind.
he might well have been thinking, I really wanted to finish that column
about Bel Canto
A novel by Ann Patchett, a writer whose work Martin much admired
, Bel Canto
became a running joke between us. Every few months, he would insist he wrote a column reviewing the book and I would do an archive search and assure him that he had not. Okay,
he would inevitably say, I'll get to it next. But I really want to finish this column about [fill in the blank] first.
That's the thing about people like Martin and just about anyone else who pushes a noun against a verb for a living. This isn't just our work. It's who we are. We sweat the small details and push back against the jerks who'd use the written word to lie to you. We agonize over every mistake we make and every nuance we miss. And every time we cobble something together, usually against a nasty deadline, we are convinced it's never good enough.
Martin, who'd written about travel since 1955, never thought his work was good enough. I know because I once asked him about columns he thought best represented him.
"I don't have any favorites. They are all mediocre," was his succinct reply. "None of them were as good as I wanted them to be."
Martin was wrong, of course. If you look over his work--there are hundreds of his columns dating to 1962
in the archives--you can see that all of them are good. Many are great.
By acclamation, a column called Whatta Guy!
that he originally wrote in 1989 for Frequent Flyer
and revisited in 2002
is one of the greats. Even Martin grudgingly admitted that. I remember laughing out loud at "the reveal" when I first read the column. It's still hilarious more than three decades later.
A few years earlier, in 1987, Martin wrote a Frequent Flyer
column called A Weekend at the Opera
. Thirty-five years later, I still
want to be so sophisticated that I jet off to Milan just to catch an opera.
One thing I learned from Martin over the decades is that fares trump everything. Martin knew that well, as you can tell from his 2008 column, Rome, 1966: A Fare War to Remember
. As he noted, fare wars were different 56 years ago. But the concern of flyers is always about what it costs--and why it costs what it costs.
As you can learn by reading his columns, Martin loved a good meal, a good opera, a good Mets team and a good book. He enjoyed recounting his tales of visiting Soviet-era Moscow in a 2007 column called Good Company for Life on the Road
. It was a spy novel that reminded him of his own real-life experiences so many years ago.
When he wasn't flitting around the world on business, Martin enjoyed cruising and writing about cruising. Consider a 2002 column called The Deutsch Cure for Stress
. He was also big on the safari thing.
I never had any trouble seeing Martin on a cruise. Besides, when I was running Frequent Flyer
for him in the early 1990s, I used to get calls from a cruise ship somewhere in the world and he'd always start by saying: I'm paying 17 bucks a minute for this effing call, so what do I need to know?"
Safari? Not so much. Still, he loved them, as you can see by this 1966 column
magazine. He also wrote about East Africa in back-to-back columns in 1968. (Read those columns here
.) He constantly cited those trips as his favorites of all time. He revisited the region in 1999, when he was columnizing for Travel Agent
magazine. (You can read those columns here
But as Martin wrote in his 1980 editorial
in the inaugural issue of Frequent Flyer
, business travel isn't about "entertainment or escapism or sophistication." He understood that as far back as 1967, when he found himself in Israel immediately after the Six-Day War. (He covered this trip in his Argosy column
.) He was also one of the few contemporary observers who understood that airline deregulation was risky for business travelers. (Here is his 1981 column
talking deregulation and John Kenneth Galbraith.)
I could offer flowery and wondrous details of Martin's long life--and even recount the rocky relationship he had with some of his editors of the many magazines he founded in his 67-year career. But Martin's own words really do speak best for him, especially on the topic of business travel. I highly recommend that you visit his two-part mini-memoir of a life on the road. Part One
talks about BOAC Comets and interviews with Batista before he was driven out of Cuba. Part Two
talks about the Concorde, airline deregulation and more. Then there's this from 2002, a column simply called I Still Like Being on the Road
In the end, though, I strongly advise you to consider what may be Martin's magnum opus: 2017's I Am An Immigrant
. In the 34 years I'd known Martin to that point, he'd never discussed his childhood as a Jew in Nazi Germany. But when Donald Trump "banned Muslims" with a slapdash executive order just days into his presidency, Martin was appalled. And he feared for his own children: an American-born Jew and a Chinese-born adoptee. If it could happen to Jews in Germany, he worried it could happen to them--or anyone--in America. That he would not accept about the adopted nation he loved so deeply.
That is the Martin Deutsch I remember today. His was a life well-traveled and a life well-written.
I fervently hope that his final journey--the inevitable trip none of us can avoid or reschedule for our own convenience--was as felicitous as the candlelit dinners on Pan Am
he wrote about so fondly.