A PAID MOMENT WITH EMIRATES
Departures Studio84 created this story in collaboration with Emirates. Departures’ editorial contributors were not involved in its creation.

The Measure of a Mile

Nineteen artists and writers from around the globe explore the metric in all its mutability — from fixed distance to airline currency.

Contemporary neighborhood in Tokyo at sunset
Photography by Alex T. Thomas

IN A DATA-DRIVEN WORLD, a mile measures 5,280 feet. Or is it 3 minutes, 43.13 seconds? The boundary between two nations? As is often the case, there’s more to the metric than just the numbers.

While the word “mile” comes from mille passus — Latin for “a thousand strides” — its original expanse was erratic, dependent upon the height of the strider. What’s more, history documents an Arabian mile, a Chinese mile, a Dutch mile, a Russian mile, a Scandinavian mile, a Portuguese mile, an Ottoman mile, a Bolivian mile ... each providing its own perspective on a fixed distance.

Even after an international agreement established the official stretch of a mile in 1959, ambiguity endured. Because a mile isn’t merely a standardized figure.

It’s also a marker of potential: of the human body’s ability to cover ground at incredible speed or the mind’s capacity to conceptualize machines that reach extreme velocities in faraway galaxies. A mile can pass in the blink of an eye or endure for ages. It is the length of a memory, the prefix of a journey marker, the demarcation of a culture — with Skywards Miles, it’s even an airline loyalty currency that can be redeemed for Emirates flight tickets and upgrades, hotel stays and more.

The below collection of works by artists and writers from around the globe, curated in partnership with Emirates Skywards, explores the measure (and mutability) of a mile. It showcases what each defines as the most profound mile they’ve traveled, whatever that means to them. Some accounts are literal, others abstract. Together, they expose the incredible potential embedded within this seemingly simple entity.


Alice Mann

Mann is a South African artist whose intimate portraiture essays explore notions of picture making as an act of collaboration and empowerment.

Onika Tikipeni and Mbalentle Ncube are two aspiring female violinists from Cape Town, South Africa, who have been playing the violin together since 2015. They are both involved in the Muzukidz music program, an organization in South Africa that enables children from all backgrounds to engage in the violin. Since the initial COVID-19 lockdown in South Africa, they have had extra time to focus on their practice. Over the past year, being a part of the orchestra has provided them with a sense of focus and facilitated a fundamental sense of belonging. Mbalentle is working on composing her own music, and both are consistently working to progress.

Carlo Rovelli

Rovelli is a theoretical physicist and founder of loop quantum gravity theory whose book "Seven Brief Lessons on Physics" has been translated into 41 languages and sold over 1 million copies.

Mile ... the length you cover in a thousand steps. A thousand is a big number. A thousand steps are quite many, if you count them one by one. I work on the minute structure of spacetime, so for me the natural unit is not a human step, but a single quantum of space: the minimal space that can exist. In a mile there are 1 billion of billions of billions of billions of these elementary steps of space. Quite many. So there can be an immense number of things happening within a mile.

A mile is very, very long.

And yet. What is a mile, in a long journey? Just the brief first stretch, just the time to get your breath working correctly for the walk. Between here and the moon there are more than 238,000 miles, and the moon is just next door. We see galaxies that are a thousand billions of billions of miles away. A mile is nothing in the universe. Less than a grain of sand in the desert.

A mile is very, very short …


Juan Brenner

Brenner is a self-taught photographer living and working in Guatemala City whose recent work explores the renaissance of a young, Indigenous generation in the Guatemalan Highlands.

“Mapa en Relieve” (Topographic Map) is an exact replica (on a 1:10,000 scale) of Guatemala’s territory, constructed in 1904 as a tool for engineers and students. This photograph is of the entire area known as the Guatemalan Highlands, covered by the conquistador army during the first and key stage of the conquest of our territory.


Mark Harris

A nuanced collage artist, Harris incorporates historic and pop-culture imagery to illuminate subtle and complex sociopolitical dynamics.

Jerry-Lee Bosmans

Based in the Netherlands, Bosmans specializes in contemporary graphic art, often characterized by vibrant color palettes, playful composition, and mind-bending geometry.

Chiara Barzini

Barzini is an Italian writer working in film, journalism, and fiction, internationally renowned for her semi-autobiographical novel “Things That Happened Before the Earthquake.”

Miracle Mile

A full-scale replica of Myron’s “Discus Thrower” sculpture traveled across Miracle Mile in the back of a pickup truck. Fern had fastened it with heavy-duty straps and bungee cords. To the cars traveling behind him, it looked like the Greek athlete was about to launch his disc across Wilshire. Fern was delivering the piece to the home of a social media influencer who had visited the British Museum in London over the summer and decided statues were amazing because they looked like they were doing whatever it was they were doing, forever and ever, in total eternity. Those had been her exact words and her assistant said the same thing when she called the store to ask for a deal on the garden statue in exchange for a hashtag.

The store was called ANTICO. They were the city’s major source for historical replicas focused on reproduction furniture and outdoor statuary. They covered the whole spectrum: Egyptian, Greek and Roman, but also gothic, Celtic, nautical, steampunk, aliens, mermaids, and Christian spiritual. The owner had never left Los Angeles, he claimed the designers had traveled directly to the source for all of their historical replicas, but it wasn’t true.

It was a way to fold time, to create a chronological curve he had only experienced during his latest experiments with psilocybin.

Miracle Mile. They called the stretch of Wilshire from La Brea Avenue to San Vicente Boulevard that because it granted wishes, and even though Fern was stuck in traffic, he often felt that delivering replicas of ancient sculptures to citizens of the contemporary world, was a wondrous thing. It was a way to fold time, to create a chronological curve he had only experienced during his latest experiments with psilocybin. Less than a century earlier the road he was driving on had been a cow path, flanked by bean fields and oil wells, home to a small airport. A developer had believed in that slot of mud so fiercely that he’d transformed it into a retail heaven in a few decades. He had willed it into existence, like many people before and after him had done in that city. Los Angeles was a collective hallucination. Fern didn’t know anything about the history of Miracle Mile, but he did have a sense of belonging when he drove upon it. He too felt that anything was possible, maybe the influencer might ask him to join her for a drink once she saw him pull up on her driveway with one of the most iconic artworks of classical antiquity. At the intersection with Hauser Boulevard, next to the Ralph’s take-out, a huge Chevrolet Suburban crashed into Fern’s pickup truck.

The Myron replica got unfastened, the athlete was beheaded, and the disc broke off from his firm grasp. Fern pulled over as the statue’s head tumbled towards the supermarket’s parking lot. The hand holding the disc had crumpled completely under the weight of the SUV. The rest of the statue lay on the boulevard in a grotesque posture, a naked man on naked tar. The carved muscles, the taut, muscular arm. What was Fern going to do with him now? The Chevrolet owner got out of his car and gave Fern his insurance information. The statue looked so small and cheap next to the majestic Suburban that had just crashed into it. Fern understood his boss was a liar. Italian marble wasn’t supposed to crumble like that. The statue was probably synthetic, stone powder or quartz sand. His face broke into a smile. He decided he would stop believing any of it. He walked over to the parking lot, picked up the severed head, and placed it in the front seat of his car. It would keep him company. It might be something to laugh about with his friends later in the evening.

The rest of the body stayed behind. The decapitated thrower, poised as if ready to fling his disc from a hand he no longer had, would rest forever and ever, in total eternity, on the side of Miracle Mile.


Tara Deacon

Deacon is a South African artist based in Berlin whose compositions explore the simplicity of everyday observations, a combination of memory and place — both real and imagined.

Nicky Quamina-Woo

Quamina-Woo is a visual storyteller who divides her time between the African continent, Southeast Asia, and New York City — and whose work celebrates and examines the intricacies of the human spirit.

Taken in the northern city of Saint Louis, Senegal, of traditional boats moored with out-of-work fisherman and children sitting on them, this image is indicative of the length of memory, as the times have changed drastically for these men.

Matthew Thompson

Among the world's leading writers working in the gonzo tradition, Thompson is renowned for his intrepid, compelling, and profoundly insightful explorations of highly complex people and circumstances.

“Make it soft,” she says, eyes tracking relentlessly: side to side; side to side. “Make it soft. Make it quiet.”

There’s no sign she feels my hand on hers. No recognition at all that I’m here.

“I don’t want to get hurt,” she says.

“You won’t.”

“Momma,” she says.

“Momma loves you.” I squeeze her rigid hand. “More than anything in the world.”

I’ve never seen any family visit her here on the edge of a town in America’s Pacific Northwest: never seen anyone visit.

If I lean closer will her pupils stop on mine?

No. The hazel of her eyes is a forest in fall — bright with the end. The tiny black points at the centers accelerate in their back and forth runs, their search: panic.

This was the America that grew him, this Northwest, this rugged and misted madness of trees …

“Momma’s dead,” she says. “Everyone’s on the ground.”

My father is in the ground not far from here, not that I felt much solid ground underfoot when I clambered into the wet tumble of coastal forest clutching a package of his burnt remains.

The undergrowth was thigh deep, even chest deep with fallen branches, ferns, trunks, decay, and fungi: seething with a mad everything that has nothing to do with us, so slippery and soft, hard and grabbing, alive and rotting, free and lonely and invincible.

Up a range I went getting my father well clear of the road. Not much traffic in these stretches of the Northwest, but I wanted him deep enough in the embrace of the wild. Deep enough to nearly lose sight of the car in which my daughter sat waiting for a child to dispose of a parent.

Here felt good. This was the America that grew him, this Northwest, this rugged and misted madness of trees, a place in which, when he was grown to manhood, had served his nation, married and done his bit to create me and my brothers, he gathered his brood and flew us more than seven and a half thousand miles to plant us in Australia so that we might develop in the sun and expanse of the great southern land.

That’s where, one spring morning decades later in Sydney, I saw him dead on the ground, flat on his back, a faint smile, eyes slightly opened and so clear and pale with liberation.

Would he have wanted me to fly his ash seven and a half thousand miles back: back here — into the world he left? To shake him loose again?

I watched his ash-cloud settle into whitish powder staining his ripe undergrowth of memory, and laughed, because I don’t know — I don’t know anything.

The ash-drop was on a holiday, but I’ve since reversed his life’s path, our family history, time, moving with my daughter along those thousands of miles to vanish again into the Northwest. I’ve turned tail.

And this evening, I hold the hand of a woman who doesn’t know I’m here, who looks through me with the hazel eyes of a forest in fall, and says, “Momma.”


Bárbara Malagoli

An Brazilian-Italian multidisciplinary artist focused on illustration and visual arts, Malagoli's work juxtaposes compositions, shapes, vibrant textures, and bold colors.

Having recently moved from Brazil to England, distance and travel are part of my life and make me think that while I have come a long way to get where I am, there are still new horizons to be discovered and old places to be revisited.

Liam Hart

An artist based in London, Hart works across documentary and fashion photography to translate feeling and experience into a photograph.

These photographs were made across a series of months on a journey home that I frequently used to make, which was just below a mile in distance. They capture the diversity and beauty in this mile, how this same mile can look so different from one night to the next: nothing stopping or standing still, with the trees transforming alongside me and my life.

Danielle Trussoni

Trussoni is a New York Times bestselling novelist and regular contributor to The New York Times Book Review, where she writes the Dark Matters column.

Calle Aldama

Calle Aldama in San Miguel de Allende is a narrow and uneven street, its stones cobbled together like rocks in a stream. Its surface carries tourists and locals, horses, carriages, donkeys, cars, and trucks. Mopeds. Kids on scooters. Thousands of feet a day. To walk on Aldama is to wobble, to be forced to find your footing. But finding balance was the whole point of why we came to Mexico.

We relocated to San Miguel de Allende from New York in August 2021. After more than a year of the pandemic lockdown, my husband and I wanted to experience a new place, a new culture, and a new way of being in the world. And so, we sold our house in the United States, rented one on Calle Aldama, and made Mexico our new home.

I’ve heard people say that our new street is the most picturesque in Mexico and this is probably true. But Aldama doesn’t feel like it’s been “discovered.” It is a small street, its length not even a full mile. And yet, while it takes less than ten minutes to walk from end to end, it is a world unto itself.

Walking up Aldama, I pass the Parque Juárez, alive with the sound of mariachi bands, basketball games, children’s laughter. I stop at Fantastic Xocolatl, where there is often a line out the door to buy artisanal chocolate.

I walk by San Miguel’s traditional homes, their facades blazing with color: burned sienna, mustard yellow, brown the color of mole, and a certain shade of red-purple that blooms like hibiscus. I pass luxury hotels where travelers sip cocktails on rooftops, and I pass a dusty stoop where an old woman sells herbs from a woven basket. Sometimes, I stop to pet the iconic Aldama donkey, Avocado, festooned with roses, and my daughter will take a ride on his back.

There is a peal of church bells in the distance, announcing mass at La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, and everything stops, hovers, releases. The mixture of old and new, the sound of Spanish and English, the elegant side by side with the baroque gives this small stretch of Mexico a quality of timelessness that feels magical.


Justin Keene

Keene is a documentary photographer based in London whose work explores structures of narrative and representation in South Africa.

Alex T. Thomas

Thomas is a photographer and videographer who captures hidden places lost in time and documents the daily details of magical, mundane Japanese life.

When I first moved to Tokyo on a one-way ticket, with a dream and not much else, I kept my emotions in check with long walks. When I became lost in my mind, I could walk out my door and get lost in Tokyo instead. Around every corner, a magical scene would play out in this coherently compacted and contrasting city. Those walks saved my sanity and literally led me in the right direction. I wouldn’t be surprised if I have walked over 1,000 miles wandering aimlessly around Japan. I would gladly walk 1,000 more … or, uh, 1,609.344 kilometers. One step at a time.

Samantha Casolari

An Italian photographer and video artist based in Brooklyn, Casolari mixes portraiture, landscape, and fashion to reflect a poetic interpretation of the world.

Being a mother to my daughter is by far the biggest, deepest, most profound mile(s) I have ever experienced — even more so now that she is a growing, thinking and talking little person, and I am growing and moving along with her.

Anne Moffat

Moffat is an Australian photographer who draws on familial ties to Malaysia, China, and New Zealand, as well as family migration to Australia, to inform her social documentation and portraiture.

Mónica de la Torre

A Mexico City native who lives and works in New York City, de la Torre is a poet and essayist who has published six books of poetry, most recently “Repetition Nineteen.”

Measuring Distance

a) Gauge the temporal and spatial interval between being
at the right place at the right time
and being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Quantify in units of gratitude or regret
depending on the situation.

b) Eyeball how many clouds there could be in the sky
at any given moment, then count them.
Compare the number of clouds you thought you were seeing
with the number of clouds you were actually able to count.
Multiply the difference by the time you spent looking upward.
The resulting number will equal a unit of distance in clouds
to be used, for instance, for air travel purposes.

c) Take the width of a border between two spaces
and split it by as many places the border divides.
Repeat as many times as necessary to arrive at zero.

d) With a cord six times longer than the possible responses
to a multiple option question
with no adequate choices for you to pick.

e) Before going to bed, close your eyes and try to remember
what you looked like the last time you saw yourself in the mirror.
Go look at yourself in the mirror again
for an indication of how many steps you took that day.

f) For some, identity is the sum of a person’s self-conception
and other people’s perceptions of who the person is.
Others think of this as a practical measure of social distance.
As for her, she keeps changing her mind.

g) With a cord directly proportional to the average
number of words in the stories you or somebody else
tells when trying to change the subject.

h) For a reliable estimate of the distance between a point
within any of the nations on the planet still using the imperial system
and any other point outside these nations,
multiply the numerical difference between in and cms
by that between ft and mts, by that between mi and kms.
Then multiply that figure by the distance
between point A and point B, times two.


Darah Ghanem

Ghanem is a photographer who examines interpersonal relationships, family histories, and gender identity. She also runs the Middle East Archive Project, a digital platform that crowdsources family archives from the MENA (Middle East Northern Africa) region.

For years I have been documenting with sensitivity the life of my youngest sister, Biso, who is transitioning from childhood into womanhood. Taken during lockdown, this set of images intimately follows Biso’s journey as she navigated global and personal challenges brought on by the pandemic. They not only reflect a coming-of-age story in an unprecedented time, but also a personal reckoning with my own undocumented history and vulnerability. “Finding Biso” is a long-term attempt at exploring not only our experiences as young women but also as sisters, closing the gap and measuring the distance between us.

Franziska Barczyk

A German-Hungarian illustrator based in Toronto, Franziska creates figurative collage that incorporates pattern, bold color, line, and geometric shapes to provide social commentary on a broad range of topics.

AT EMIRATES, the measure of a mile is similarly personal and ever-evolving. After all, Emirates Skywards membership benefits and rewards allow you to make the most of every Mile, whatever that means to you. The loyalty program invites you to earn Skywards Miles every time you travel, spend, stay, dine, and enjoy with global partners — and to use your Miles however you choose.

Explore More
Our Contributors

Departures Studio84

Departures Studio84 is the creative, strategy, and media team at Departures dedicated to bringing merchant partnerships to life.

',
Newsletter

Let’s Keep in Touch

Subscribe to our newsletter

Come On In

U.S. issued American Express Platinum Card® and Centurion® Members, enter the first six digits of your card number to access your complimentary subscription.

Learn about membership.