Weekend what we’re reading: Santa Claus in Jerusalem, sardines on planes, women-only hotel floors

Photo: Beit Jala, St. Nicholas Center
Photo: Beit Jala, St. Nicholas Center


This weekend we find out one of the places that Santa Claus lived before he took up residence in the North Pole. We examine the interaction of people in planes based on space between seats and we hear about women-only floors in hotels.

When Santa lived next door in Jerusalem

Many are surprised to learn that St. Nicholas, the inspiration for Santa Claus, visited Jerusalem. An American family happened to rent a house next to the place where St. Nicholas stayed. It led to more knowledge about the miracles of gifts associated with this now worldwide-know saint.

We don’t live in the North Pole, but in the Old City of Jerusalem, where last spring my husband discovered a small stone house for rent in the Christian Quarter. When we first moved in, I was surprised to see Christian pilgrims climbing the stairs in the courtyard in front of our house and disappearing above us. Soon, I discovered that hidden among the other houses was the ancient Greek Orthodox monastery of St. Nicholas.

Today, a beautiful stone church marks the place where tradition says he remained for a year, staying with a local family. A second church in the nearby village of Beit Jala commemorates that he slept there. The Jerusalem church is decorated with icons of St. Nicholas, easily recognizable with his white hair and long beard. And on his feast day in December, the church fills with Russian, Greek and Palestinian Christians, lighting candles and paying homage to the saint famous for giving gifts.

On jammed jets, sardines turn on one another

As airlines try to maximize profits, they are squeezing more and more passengers into planes. Air rage is increasing as the space between seats decreases, with seat recline one of the main problems. Now, one airline, Spirit, is dropping pitch (space between seats) to an industry low of 28 inches. Others are following, but not cutting pitch so drastically.

Rory Rowland said he was rudely rebuffed after he asked the person in front of him not to recline his seat on a red-eye flight. When he later got up to use the bathroom, and the other passenger had fallen asleep, “I hip-checked his seat like you wouldn’t believe,” Mr. Rowland, a speaker and consultant, said, then feigned innocence when the enraged passenger complained to a flight attendant.

With air travelers increasingly feeling like packed sardines, flying has become a contact sport, nowhere more than over the reclined seat.

Now, it is only getting worse, as airlines re-examine every millimeter of the cabin.

Hotels set aside floors for women

While howls about discrimination based on sexual orientation and race are getting many fired and punished, discrimination between sexes is now accepted. Though men-only clubs are not acceptable, it turns out that women-only hotel floors are OK. Go figure.

The Hamilton Crowne Plaza is one of a small but growing number of hotels offering floors dedicated to female travelers. These hotels are particularly trying to appeal to female business travelers who are moving up the career ladder and hitting the road more often.

“Women are more influenced by their surroundings, and therefore, the ways in which hotels can accommodate them become important,” says Judi Brownell, professor of organizational communication at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. “My research identified three things that are important to women business travelers and that influence their decision regarding where to stay: safety; empowerment; and pampering.”

Hotels are responding by setting aside floors with special key access and amenities that women typically prefer.