Studio Daniel Libeskind

"When the Wife Is a Lucky Charm, Don’t Leave Home Without Her" By Daniel Libeskind

08 Aug 2011

I HAVE to say that I love flying. There’s something very intimate about being on a plane. You never know who you’ll be seated next to and what their stories may be.

But I can be a somewhat timid flier. I remember being on a very turbulent flight years ago. I was scared out of my mind. The oxygen masks dropped down and I was pretty sure we were all going to die. I looked over at my wife, Nina, who is also my business partner. She was completely unfazed. She said that the electricity was still on and that we were going to land just fine. Well, we did.

I remember thinking, “Mrs. Libeskind, I’m never going any place without you.” And since then, I haven’t traveled without my wife.

Or, my cowboy boots, which I find so very comfortable. Security people always say something like, “nice boots,” when they see them on the belt, and it’s a nice way to start a trip. And I have to say that sometimes I think those cowboy boots help me get through security.

Flight really is all about making connections. Beyond the rules of flight are people, and I do believe that people want to be kind. One of my worst trips, and there are few, taught me just how important a kindness can be. Back in 2008, I was flying to Brazil and I had no reason to think that anything would go wrong. But when my wife and I arrived in São Paulo we were told we couldn’t come into the country.

We were taken to this little room, which was filled with stale smoke and uncomfortable leather chairs. I thought we were going to be deported. It was like something out of a movie. All I wanted was someone to save us.

It turned out the reason we couldn’t enter Brazil was that our visas had expired one day before our arrival. Our trip was planned three months earlier, and our visas were good only for 90 days. We arrived on Day 91.

Fortunately, I could contact my assistant and he contacted our Brazilian client. There were phone calls going to everyone, including the United States Embassy and the Ministry of Justice in Brazil. Everyone wanted to help us. But since we arrived on a weekend, it was hard to get hold of anyone who could actually get us out of the mess.

Finally, our Brazilian client did reach a Justice Ministry official. I thought it was amazing since I was told the official was at the beach. But the official saved the day and our business trip by arranging for us to get something called a “conditional landing,” or temporary visa. We got out of the airport after about four hours and were very relieved.

What’s so funny is that later I found out that I could have used my Israeli passport, which I always carry, along with my American passport. Since Brazil doesn’t require Israeli citizens to have visas, I could have zipped right through. But even if I had known, I would never have left Nina. We are a team.

I also get ideas while on planes and will use napkins or even boarding passes to sketch. When I was flying over the Rockies, I was in awe. It was the most beautiful sight, and I thought that what I was feeling right then should be incorporated somehow into my work at the Denver Art Museum. I remember smiling as I was drawing, and thinking about the wonder of flight.

Even if it is just another business trip, remember that inspiration and joy can come to you when you open your heart.

By Daniel Libeskind, as told to Joan Raymond. E-mail:

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: August 10, 2011

A picture caption on Tuesday with the Frequent Flier column, about the architect Daniel Libeskind, described incorrectly the 2003 World Trade Center design competition that he won. The competition was for master planner, not master architect.

New York Times