The last time I was on a plane was in late February, returning home from Belgium. Now that I’m homebound, my wanderlust has curdled into an almost pathological hunger to get back in the sky. I dream about airports at least a few times a month. I open Google Flights out of habit, close the tab, open it again, check prices to Jakarta.
On Instagram, at least, I have the delusion of a life still in motion. The social network, if you use it right, can make a Portuguese palace or a Nigerian nightclub feel as proximate as the guy in the pharmacy who won’t stay six feet apart. And as someone habitually stunned that the infinitude of the Web has resulted in ever more homogeneous feeds, I follow people and institutions from other lands and languages as much of a duty as a joy. Here are five far-flung accounts I recommend; my colleagues will have more in weeks to come.
Scientists at the University of Hawaii manage this verdurous showcase of botanical illustrations of our 50th state’s species — all captioned with both their Latin and Hawaiian names. But this is much more than your average plant-geek account. As diverse as the flora are the images representing them: an exacting 19th-century watercolor of the Indigenous kaʻapeʻape fern, each vein of its kelly-green leaves scored carefully with black; a 1919 black-and-white document of a farmer standing beside a haha lua, which looks like a stunted palm tree; or early, dye-shifted color photographs of a yellow hibiscus or a purple bellflower. My favorite is the carnivorous mikinalo, a plant native to Kauai, with stalks oozing bug-trapping mucilage. The plant’s name, in Hawaiian, means “to suck flies.”
Helvetica fans, you are not alone. This compendium of historical publications highlights the clean, grid-loving graphic layouts of Swiss designers, whose magazines, museum posters, airline promos and furniture ads made type setting into an art form of its own. Even the government publications, like a 1971 annual report for the Swiss railway system, are impossibly stylish. (And no cheating with PDFs! Each post shows new photographs of the real, frayed publication, paged through against a black backdrop.) It’s not all sans-serif precision, though. Mixed in with train timetables and theater playbills are kitschier finds like a 1934-35 Davos travel brochure, featuring a wild photomontage of a disembodied woman’s head on the ski slopes.
I don’t need that much space if we get locked down again; just give me a one-bedroom Prouvé house. This account dedicated to the French pioneer of modular construction, managed by Galerie Patrick Seguin in Paris, offers a cornucopia of Jean Prouvé’s single-story, industrially manufactured “demountable houses,” whose metal parts he designed during World War II for ease of construction and transport.
Whether for residential or military use, assembled in France or in Congo, these houses made a virtue of their standardized, repeating aluminum and wood parts, which now appear not just minimally chic but ecologically prudent. Mixed in with new photography of the Prouvé houses are impossibly swank archival images, like a 1954 view of Prouvé’s own house in Nancy, France, with enviable wicker furniture under an open-air pergola. Take me there.
In mid-January, back when air travel seemed like it could go on forever, I made my first visit to this fascinating museum of fine and decorative arts in Singapore, whose collection maps the ways trade missions, military maneuvers, colonial incursions and religious pilgrimages have brought peoples into contact. The objects posted on the museum’s very active Instagram account highlight these back-and-forth influences, like a Javanese skirt cloth decorated with images of Dutch steamships, or an exquisite Thai mother-of-pearl box inlaid with scenes of foreign traders and fishermen in the port of Bangkok. A brass betelnut cutter, forged in 19th-century southern India, is almost too racy for social media: Two lovers sit on either of the two handles, and when you pull to crack the nut, one fondles the other’s breast.
The southeastern German state now manages 45 palaces, including the wedding-cake piles of King Ludwig II, who essentially abandoned his royal duties to build some of Europe’s most ornate castles. (Most of them have reopened after Covid-19 closures this spring and summer.) The Bavarian glamour photographed here include the gold-drenched Herrenchiemsee New Palace, an imitation of Versailles built on an island; the fairy-tale Neuschwanstein Castle, teetering on a mountaintop, its walls festooned with murals depicting Wagnerian heroes; and the pink-steeped, flower-festooned Amalienburg pavilion, a hunting lodge that’s one of the most sublime works of the late Baroque. Amalienburg is just about an hour from Munich airport; a Rococo-loving boy can dream.