Meet the 52 Places Traveler for 2019

Last year, for the first time, we sent one intrepid traveler, Jada Yuan, to all 52 destinations on our Places to Go list. This year, we decided to do it again. Once again, we got applicants from around the world and from a variety of backgrounds (meet some of them here). After weeks of assessing them, we settled on a handful of finalists. From that group, we chose Sebastian Modak, one of our finalists from last year, and a journalist with an impressive background and résumé. Just weeks before he sets off to his first destination — Puerto Rico, which took the No. 1 spot on the list this year — we asked him some questions about himself and the trip ahead.

So, how does it feel to be the 52 Places Traveler for 2019?
In a word: surreal. It’s a lot of emotions at once — gratitude, excitement, anxiety — but mostly I’m still finding it hard to wrap my head around it concretely. I’m starting to think the sheer scope of what I’m doing won’t hit me until I make landfall in the first destination and start reporting. Luckily, data scientists at the travel aggregator Kayak have helped us sketch out an itinerary for the year in advance — as they did last year for Jada — so I have some sense of what the structure of my year looks like. That said, this trip wouldn’t be nearly as interesting if I knew exactly what to expect, right? I’m ready to embrace all the uncertainty that comes with an opportunity like this and see where it takes me.

Have you been following Jada Yuan, our 2018 Traveler? Anything in particular you’ve picked up from her dispatches?
I’ve read every one. It’s been a real pleasure following along and I know I’ve got some big, well-worn shoes to fill. My favorite moments from Jada’s dispatches were the interactions that, on the surface, may seem everyday, but in actuality tell much bigger stories about a place: a night out in Kigali, a meal in La Paz, a haphazardly assembled trip-planning committee in China built out of nothing but the kindness of strangers. Those stories get at the heart of why we travel. I’m hoping to bring the same openness and down-for-anything attitude that led Jada to those moments.

In a couple of ways, you have a background uniquely suited to this gig.

I do feel like I’ve been working toward doing something like this my whole life. I was born in the United States to a Colombian mother and an Indian father, but we left for Hong Kong when I was 2 years old and continued to move every few years. My brothers and I didn’t really grow up with the concept of “home,” because we understood every place was temporary. It made travel the only real constant in our lives. January marks five years in New York City, though, and that puts it in a joint first-place spot for the longest I’ve stayed anywhere — tied with Indonesia and India.

For me, travel is all about immersing yourself in the unfamiliar, and embracing the feeling of humility that comes with that: There’s always something to learn from someone else, from somewhere else. That’s what made me choose a career in multimedia storytelling. I was a Fulbright-mtvU fellow in Botswana, where I spent a year documenting the local hip-hop scene. I was a producer on an MTV series that looked at the role of the arts in protest movements around the world. Most recently, I was an editor and then a staff writer at Condé Nast Traveler, where I was often sent on assignment to find and report stories that resonate with a global and globally curious audience. I think the thread that connects all of these experiences is an insatiable sense of wonder at the world around me.

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How A Star Is Born’s Music Hit the Sweet Spot

There’s a moment in “Shallow,” the standout single from Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born, where Lady Gaga lets go and just roars. It’s chill-inducing to hear for the first time in the movie, as Gaga’s ingenue Ally takes the stage alongside Cooper’s grizzled rocker Jackson Maine, but it sounds just as good playing on the radio, where it’s been in heavy rotation for the past three months. You could argue that it’s that big, cathartic bellow that’s set Gaga, Cooper and their collaborators on a straight path to world domination. Really good soundtracks don’t come around all that often—but when they do, they mark the fastest way to rule the worlds of both film and music in one fell swoop and earn serious award gold along the way.

Which is exactly what A Star Is Born has done. The film has handily beaten the domestic box-office numbers of live-action musicals like La La Land and Les Miserables, raking in nearly $400 million globally. Meanwhile, the certified-platinum soundtrack topped the Billboard chart when it debuted in October, besting recent soundtrack records, knocking down releases from popular artists like Lil Wayne and even topping Gaga’s own previous chart successes as a solo artist. At the 2019 Golden Globes, Gaga and her co-writers took home the Best Original Song trophy for “Shallow,” teeing her up nicely for an Academy Award nomination.

A murderer’s row of musical talent—from rocker Lukas Nelson to English musician and DJ Mark Ronson to country singer-songwriter Jason Isbell—helped build that soundtrack. After watching Nelson perform onstage with Neil Young, Cooper tapped the artist for assistance; Nelson ended up overseeing the movie’s sound and helping Cooper fine tune his character. His band Promise of the Real even became Cooper’s backing group on screen. “He liked the camaraderie,” Nelson says of Cooper’s preference for a band instead of actors. “It’s real, it’s authentic, and people gravitate towards that in life.” That spills over into the music, which Nelson thinks is resonating because of the “organic” sound—a departure from much of contemporary pop radio.

Grammy-winning artist Isbell, a self-described “hard critic,” was initially wary of working on the movie. But he signed on after reading the script. “There was something honest and human about the story,” he says. “There was nothing that made me cringe.” Plus, he had faith in the other artists involved, from Nelson to Ronson to Lady Gaga herself. “It led me to believe there would be a legitimacy to the music,” he says. Isbell ultimately wrote “Maybe It’s Time” for Cooper, a tender, acoustic lullaby that is, appropriately enough, about grappling with change.

But the soundtrack’s popularity still probably comes down to Gaga, who is one of the decade’s most chameleonic artists. Her big-screen debut guaranteed a passionate built-in audience, and she sounds equally at home on the rootsy rock that Ally sings at the beginning of her career as she does on the sleek synth-pop that she performs as she progresses. Yet Gaga’s last album, the folksy, back-to-basics Joanne, underperformed commercially; for some, that persona proved too much of a departure. A Star Is Born reminded viewers of the powerhouse performer that she’s always been within the context of a new character. Plus, there’s her voice. “To have a voice like that in a song that you write is a dream come true,” says songwriter Natalie Hemby, who contributed to Ally’s two big emotional solos—both being put forward as Oscar contenders alongside “Shallow.”

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Ducks struggle to find answers

As a rollercoaster season continues for the Anaheim Ducks, they head into Wednesday’s action in an uncomfortable position: out of the playoffs.

Can they eventually earn a berth in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs? It’s certainly possible, as they’re not far out. Interestingly, there’s quite a wide variety of odds when you look at prognostications from various sites.

The Ducks are in the thick of wild-card races, even as they take an eight-game losing streak into Wednesday’s contest against the Ottawa Senators. Landing a top-three spot in the Pacific seems extremely unlikely, so these bubble races are what to watch:

Still, if the Ducks grind their way to a spot in the postseason, do they have much of a chance to make a dent?

You’d expect some glum comments for a team struggling to score while mired in an eight-game skid, and that’s exactly what Ryan Getzlaf and others gave to Eric Stephens of The Athletic.

“I don’t know what else we can shake up,” Getzlaf said. “We’ve changed lines. We’ve changed defense. Everything. But we’re in this situation.”

Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle acknowledged that “frustration has been developing,” as it turns out that you can only ask for some much from a goalie in 2018-19, even one as dominant as John Gibson.

If this all sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because PHT’s covered the ups and (far too many) downs of this Ducks season so far.

Back in mid-November, PHT brought up the painful (but necessary) discussion about possibly firing Randy Carlyle, which wouldn’t be a first for Ducks GM Bob Murray. Obviously, Carlyle has persisted … but so have virtually all of the Ducks’ problems.
In early December, it seemed like Murray’s patience might pay off, as Anaheim went on a hot streak. You might be shocked to realize that Gibson had a ton to do with it.
To be fair to Carlyle, injuries have been a real issue for the Ducks over the last two-plus seasons. Some of that boils down to bad luck, yet it’s fair to wonder if Murray’s patience is backfiring there, too. While Anaheim’s done a marvelous job landing quality supporting cast members despite being a contender (and thus lacking many prime draft picks) for quite some time, this is still a team that lives and dies by its big names. Unfortunately, those big-name players are getting on the older side, and many of them play physical styles that age especially poorly in today’s NHL. At least they’re expected to get Rickard Rakell back on Wednesday.
As Adam discussed in the latest edition of PHT’s Power Rankings, reality is really striking the Ducks now.

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