Bati Bleki Buzz Weekly Recap 2017

Elton Lioe-a-Tjam, educated, talented and “inactive”

A few weeks ago I was guest on a radio talk show hosted by Mirto Lacle and Elton Lioe-a-Tjam. It was an interested experience to be interviewed, the shoe on the other foot so to speak; usually I do the questioning.

Their program on Saturdays on HIT 94FM Kubuli Humming, covers a multitude of issues, culture, environment, health, education, you name it, both hosts are educated and engaged, and the conversation can go anywhere, in my case, Elton invited me to talk about my book, Mirto also pitched in, he has a strong literary interest as a linguist and a cultural promoter.

I knew about Elton, he is part of a famous statistic that says that GOA sent a great number of MEP-appointed employees home; they are still ‘working’ for the country, receiving salaries and benefits, but they are ‘inactive.’ Their jobs handed as political favors to others, often less qualified people.

Elton was fast to correct me, telling me that during the historic government transition from AVP to MEP, in 2005, 28 out of 50 AVP-appointed government department heads were also given leaves of absence. That practice of sending people home, because of their rumored political color or affiliation, afflicts both ends of the spectrum.

If I got it correctly, pre 2005, Elton was the VROM department head, in charge of housing, zoning, public works and land – yes, it was a king-size department. Then he was neutralized, when his organization was picked apart.

One of the MEP ministers wanted Infrastructure and Planning under her wing, another minister coveted the refinery, and its financial resources, because he had a baseball club to support. The new brooms cannibalized the old system and reinvented new departments. It’s the natural consequence of a landslide election.

The new employers did not care much about the old employees and thus Elton was never assigned a new position. Four court cases into the saga, his reassignment is still pending, also under the AVP government.

He calls it political persecution. All judges ruled in his favor, but nothing can force GOA to execute. So now it’s the famous water under the bridge.

What do you do then, I asked.

Elton is busy. He certainly cannot work as an environmental engineer, or an energy analyst or an alternative energy guru, which he is by training, because he is still a civil servant, inactive, but officially employed.

He is now at the helm of a political party focusing on the island’s well-being, ABOARUBA, he write articles, he campaigns, he records interesting podcasts, has been hosting a radio show for the past 4 years, he nurtures a modest local and international following.

Before parting ways he shares that the Vader Piet windmill park has been making money for the equipment manufacturer; apparently the windmills were leased to purchase from a German manufacturer, and the island has been paying for the power generated. We could have secured a loan on the international market and acquired the equipment ourselves instead of leasing it, he says. The upcoming Urirama project is also based on the same business model, the company will be making the money and the island will get stuck with old equipment when amortized, he adds.

My girlfriend Daphne Agius Cesareo went into politics

We were not totally surprised by Daphne’s decision to join politics. She has been a board member and the president of Aruba’s Chamber of Commerce for a number of years and voiced her frustration with the hardship that must be endured when doing business on the island.

Open a bank account? Get a director’s permit? Get a credit line? It’s all buckets of paperwork and tons of bureaucracy, and as the President of the local Chamber of Commerce she saw no improvement over the years; on the contrary regulations got more layered and confusing, and the enterprising soul of the everyday dreamer got squashed in the process, his resolve and enthusiasm ground to dust.

We had a number of great ideas introduced at the chamber over the last years, she says, Aruba as a business hub; East Meets West in Aruba; Europe Meets Latin America in Aruba, and while these ideas are solid gold, I was always of the opinion that the legal framework must be laid first.

Simply put, there was never any “political will” to change things, cut the ball and chain off, free the human spirit!

As she couldn’t rely on political allies for help, she decided to join, and try to make a difference herself, from the inside.

Daphne reports she looked around for a viable, promising alternative, and found the largest opposition party. Before making a final decision she talked to all parties big and small, and after careful consideration decided to join MEP because it is fresh; most candidates on the MEP list have never been in government before, they have NO political job experience, which means a new leaf, a new beginning.

She also made it very clear that regarding the issue of the local refinery her vote will always be against! The MEP leadership said they could live with that, it’s OK to disagree within party lines.

So stay tuned, Daphne’s ideological platform will be launched shortly, no stickers, no flags, perhaps a small sign at the head of her street; she will run a social media savvy campaign because she is a social media specialist by profession, but otherwise, she will keep it focused and frugal!

My kind of girl!

Three Little Pieces

Better lucky than smart

Every once in a while I test if the universe still loves me and the answer to that question is YES. I had coffee at Starbucks Paseo Herencia, around 6pm, yesterday, and when I left I abandoned my HANDBAG, resting on a neighboring chair. I do that every once in a while, leave my keys at the Hilton Aruba Caribbean, my credit card at Amore Mio; but the whole kit and caboodle, I usually remember last minute to take it along. Upon arrival at my house, I discovered the loss. I turned around, drove like a bat out of hell back to Palm Beach. My handbag was waiting for me where I left it, on the terrace, in open air, wallet and makeup bag intact! Wow, we live in la-la-land, I love it, everyone goes about their business without noticing anything. This could never happen anywhere else in the world.

Ooh La La

Maggy’s hosted a press conference yesterday afternoon on the main street to announce the 13th annual make up festival with a full schedule of activities for our favorite fragrance and cosmetic brands: Dior, Guerlain, Shisedo, Lancôme, YSL and Clarins. The activities spread over three locations Paseo Herencia, Main Street and San Nicholas. This business works, because they work it. They launch fragrances; they plan a calendar of events, special promotions and mainly give clients value for money with their loyalty program, besides maintaining an excellent relationship with the press.

So now you know the secret to their business success. It looks easy, but it’s hard work.

Managing Director Shiela v d Pol in a cute French red beret reported on the upcoming Paris-themed Beauty Festival June 26th to July 1st and announced the return of some amazing fragrances from the 80s, the overstated Poison, by Dior, and Rive Gauche, the empowering fragrance of the 70s.

Must Visit Koffiehuis Flor De Oriente

Flor de Oriente, the historic Madiki rumshop from the 30s, got an incredible new lease on life. Gone is the Heineken-green jacket, replaced by a more retro look, with three distinctly different environments, a rustic sidewalk garden café, an antique-filled pub with quaint furniture, and an inner patio with flower pots for Nip Club special events. Of course Heineken is still served deliciously cold, but the building changed hands. The de Freitas sold the property to a Dutch-born bar operator – he has/had a famous bar in the Netherlands – and he opted for the retro vibe, adding a stage upfront on Plaza Juan Poturgués, offering guests much more than just a rumshop counter. We used to go to Flor De Oriente occasionally in the old days, practically drinking our beer in the street. It is a lovely Koffiehuis today, and the homemade burgers are awesome; the snack menu worth trying, especially the tower, with a bit of everything. Blue-eyed Maaike runs the show, she is an experienced F&B girl, she operated similar bars in Curacao and she is currently quite content in Aruba. Happy hour is hopping every Friday, with criollo music and hip people, Sunday too. FDO opens every day at 4pm. In case you did not go, you missed a Sunset Vinyl Session by Caleto, yesterday.

The Sunset Grille: Spectacular Views, Spectacular Food

We went for dinner at the Sunset Grille the night before last. Compliments to Chef Lij, and his dining room crew for a flawless experience.

Food and wine, a great combo, guaranteed to keep me in bed past 8am, hence no column yesterday. Who wants to get up at 5:45am to knock out a BBB after a sinful dinner and late night TV?

As you know the Sunset Grille, Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort & Casino, enjoyed a contemporary makeover in late 2016, which coincided with the arrival of Chef Lij Heron.

The restaurant renovations expanded the Sunset Grille deck, hanging over the waterfall, overlooking the tree tops surrounding the resort’s pools below.

That deck really sets the Sunset Grille apart from its competitors, because excellent steaks are served in a number of Aruba’s premier dining establishments, but the totally spectacular view at sunset, and as night falls, the moon hanging over rustling coconut trees, that’s a truly unique and enchanting feature, exclusive to the Sunset Grille.

Did I mention the feathery caress of the night breeze?

So we dined al fresco, live music wafting in from Mira Solo, where some diva entertained, singing light and jazzy ear-pleasing melodies, while the restaurant’s super friendly team delivered a nicely paced dining experience, not too fast, not too slow, just the way we like it.

Small things make the difference, right? The bread basket offered just-baked bread that was soft with a crunchy crust, worth dipping in the olive oil, spotted with balsamic vinegar. We shared the Steakhouse Wedge, with incredible apple wood smoked bacon, that will shed some new delicious light on bacon. The wedge was generously coated with a blue cheese dressing, dotted with chunks of blue-green veined Gorgonzola.

A Prime Flank Steak came next, lean and flavorful – the perfect steak for lazy diners, cooked to medium rare and already sliced against the grain, ready to be popped into a hungry mouth.

We also went all out for a Bone In Rib Eye, 22oz Black Angus steak, Pittsburgh-style, which means charred on the outside but still quite rare on the inside. Making the black & blue steak is not as easy as it seems. They say the style developed in the town famous for its steel mills and the high temperature furnaces. Workers would throw a steak on the side of the blast-furnace for a short time, and tada lunch was done. In a modern kitchen Pittsburgh-grilling takes precision, some knowledge in meat physics and chemistry and the right equipment. The resulting smoky taste is spectacular, and I had half of that humongous steak for lunch yesterday, still very tasty!

Mushrooms: Chef Lij reported that the secret to perfect mushrooms in last minute lemon-zest that brings out the earthiness of the vegetable. Asparagus: Just lightly grilled, olive oil, salt and pepper, wow.

Aruba’s community of foodies should be happy to revisit the Sunset Grille; it’s all great from the food you’re served, to the presentation, the service and the décor, that is themed around fine wine on the inside, and showcasing Aruba’s nature at its best, on the outside.

Dinner on the deck, with the tree top view of Palm Beach, above the resort’s waterfalls, in a theater of perfect sunsets? Go for it, you only live once!

Other recommended menu items: The amazing Lobster Bisque, served under a golden pastry crust, classic steakhouse Shrimp Cocktail, Cured Ahi Tuna paired with Fennel and Citrus salad, the Sunset Seafood Salad, loaded with Jumbo Lump Crab, Shrimp, Avocado, Egg and Bacon; 100% Certified Angus Beef, Filet Mignon, New York Strip, Double Cut Lamb Chops and the legendary 32oz Porterhouse for two.  You may mix and match crusts and sauces, and create your own Surf and Turf with any meat or seafood on the menu.

Dessert? There was no room. Next time.

Romancing the trees at the Boardwalk Small Hotel

Scaling things down to small, makes them irresistibly cute. I recently spent 24 hours of happiness at the Boardwalk small hotel and would like to tell you that romance is well and alive and living at the Boardwalk.

I was sitting on a wooden bench mid colorful throw-pillows, at the entrance to my casita, facing the tall palm trees, listening to them while they talked.  They rustled their fronds, vibrating their canopies, catching the breeze as it raced through their leaflets. I was sipping my morning coffee. For lack of other words, I have to call it a magical moment, when the garden and its residents tune intently into each other.

Some of those tall palms having been on guard since the Tromp Plantation days, when the area was an oasis of coco trees, in the middle of nowhere, no roads, no houses, no hotels. Kids came to the Tromp Plantation to play scavenger hunt at the end of a beach day; it was the heart of the wilderness.

I have fond memories from going to Geert v/d Berg’s board building workshop at the back of the property to order a customized GvdB windsurfing board for my champion windsurfing kid, David. This must have been around 1987, Geert was a legendary windsurfing board builder, and daredevils from around the world flocked to Aruba for a taste of the untamed wind at Fisherman’s huts. They had nowhere to stay with their sandy feet and drippy harnesses, so Geert and his wife at the time Julia, started building casitas to accommodate the demand, two at first, then another and another, sinking every dime they made into the project, first renting the land, then buying the lot outright; first one then another, nurturing the garden, making it bloom.

Then Aruba-born, Belgium-raised twin sisters Kimberly and Stephanie, discovered the magical spot in 2008 while here on a kite boarding vacation. The fell in love with the place and eventually took the property over in 2011. Following a major US$1.3 M overhaul including the total renovation of 14 casitas, I ended up recently spending 24 hours of happiness in this chic, brightly colored Caribbean retreat, talking to trees over coffee on a Sunday morning.

Kimberly and Stephanie took the original barefoot, no frill concept much-much further, creating a lovely boutique hotel with many unique personal touches. My fridge was stocked with sparkling wine, ice tea, and water, there was a small handwritten Father’s Day card and gift left behind, the stylish bathroom featured Aruba Aloe products, my hammock, BBQ grill and cooler, were at my door, waiting for their marching orders, best of all a treasure box filled with great suggestions, where to go, what to do.

The highlight of my morning was the beach. Yes, the Boardwalk Small Hotel was granted its own private beach in December 2016. It is gorgeous, graced by two large grape trees and the VELA windsurf center as a neighbor. You will find it sandwiched between the Ritz Carlton and the Marriott Aruba Resort & Stellaris Casino featuring comfortable lounge chairs with plump cushions, shady palapas, beach towel, folded beach chairs, and beach toys, as well as snorkel gear, available from 9am to 5pm. The most spectacular feature? The F&B beach servers of The Ritz-Carlton Aruba, will deliver lunch to your palapa or beach chair, and you can charge it to your room at the Boardwalk!