Bati Bleki, May 19th, 2014

CHARACTER ASSASINATION ATTEMP, FAILED. Our enterprising airport CEO is retiring, after 10 glorious years at AAA, the Aruba Airport Authority N.V. Peter Steinmetz took over the company on behalf of the Schiphol Group, when it had just lost six or seven million in 2004, and spun it into the one-million dollar profit zone within a year. Then he orchestrated AAA’s growth to the tune of twenty-five million in dividends, this year alone. Not bad for a man opposed to shaving, an aviation executive with a five o’clock shadow, from as early as 8am — I know it’s supposed to make women swoon! Anyway, some syndicate member tried to assassinate his character this week, as a form of gratitude for his years of service, and failed. All mice longing to play while the cat is sent away, please be informed the cat ain’t going nowhere. It’s staying on board as an advisor to the Schiphol Group, which is a multi-national involved with airports in Paris, New York, Australia, Hong Kong, and Sweden in addition to Aruba.
MAKING ARUBA FAMOUS. For the 13th addition of the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival, Ivan Jansen Aruba Jazz Project is listed on the official line-up, side by side with Earth Wind & Fire and Fourplay, June 20 to 28. How cool is that?? The group is set to dazzle audiences at four performances, with Oscar Stagnaro, bass, Alex Brown, piano, Pernell Saturnino, percussion, Alex Han, alto saxophone, Michael Bremo, drums, Leah Gough-Cooper, alto saxophone, Serghio Jansen, electric guitar and Ivan Jansen, acoustic and electric guitars.
COMING & GOING. Roberto Grisi, General Manager of The Ritz Carlton, will be leaving the island. Grisi oversaw the pre-opening efforts for The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company’s seventh property in the Caribbean & Mexico, which opened November 2013. The native of Bolivia did not have it easy here. No one said it would be easy to open the island’s first five-star hotel, in the high season, with the help of extraordinary yet inexperienced ladies and gentlemen from the island! Alluring discerning travelers from around the globe is a monumental undertaking, so thank you Roberto for your contributions, and good luck wherever you go.
LOOKING FOR THE FANCY MINGO. Because we saw an ad in the Diario newspaper advertising happy-hour at the Fancy Mingo, we showed up at Wilhelminastraat 27, on Friday at 6pm for live band and beer, as promised by the ad. The place was closed. So we opted for Café Chaos for a perfect pairing of beer, wine and Dutch snacks. The place was hopping with party-goers spilling into the street. Full, but not too full. What PR diva Karin Swiers calls Gezellig — a quaint Dutch word for cozy. Thank you Rene v/d Spaan for the generous round of cocktails, we loved them. Light dinner at Que Pasa included their yummy Escargots and Mushrooms under a blanket of melted cheese, and the stellar lightly seared and peppered Wahoo and Salmon Tataki, chased by a divine chocolate Ganache cake with walnut ice-cream! Then after dinner I landed at Fancy Mingo and found Raymond the friendly bartender and Harvey the stylish host at the bar, keeping each other company. The place was empty. Apparently, I arrived too early. Mingo? I asked. It’s short for Flamingo, they explained! Owner Vinda de Sousa, an attorney by profession, reports the night-owls saunter in when they do!
ARUBA, FAMOUS IN THE NETHERLANDS. I watched two episodes of Mooiste Meisje Van De Klas, a Dutch reality TV series tracking the whereabouts of the Class’ Prettiest Girl, under the premise that we are all curious about what happened to that perfect cutie who made us feel so clumsy, dull and plain at high-school, in comparison. The episode starring Brigitte Wauben told the story of a gorgeous young woman who opted for unstoppable love in Aruba. The episode is warm and moving, as it packs some real emotion, in the spirit of Utrecht, the city where she is from, also showcasing Aruba with a realistic touch. The episode starring Deborah Timmer, and her twin sister Daphne, two former glamorous Dutch showgirls, is stylish and staged, in the spirit of Maastricht, the city where they are from. Aruba looks tres chic, tres classy here: the pristine beaches, the magnificent homes, the elegant stores, and that’s what counts, since the program I understand is very popular in the Netherlands.
CARTAGENA IS FOR EVERYONE, FIRST SEGMENT. I took the Avianca flight at the end of the work day on Friday to Bogota with a connection to Cartagena, and arrived at my destination at 2am. The airport is open-air and friendly, 90 degrees balmy, versus 60 degrees chilly in Bogota! The ride to my hotel was a short one, just ten-fifteen minutes, to the San Diego neighborhood in the Historic Center. Cartagena has the tiniest taxi cabs with just room enough for two people, sharing one suitcase. Strange but true. The Spanish conquistadores did a good job on the construction of this major port city, replicating their European environment halfway across the globe, in the tropics. They built impressive cathedrals, churches, theaters and plazas, as well as huge government buildings. The well-preserved Historic District of Cartagena de Indias looks just like its cousins in Barcelona or Madrid, and its sisters in Puerto Rico and Panama, beautifully laid-out and expertly built. One small, nasty detail. It took almost half a million slaves brought over on ships from the African continent to build the Customs House, the Convents, the impenetrable walls surrounding the city, and the majestic fortress entrusted with its defense, Castillo san Felipe. We decided to stay in the historic center and not in the modern, Miami-Beach type area, which was a smart decision! We booked the Bantu Boutique Hotel, a charming property within walking distance to shopping, dining and touring. If you go, stay in the walled city. Aruba has much better beaches, so no need to experience Bocagrande and the high-rises. We also refused to take a horse-drawn carriage ride, no thanks, we can walk, though the horses looked cared for and just mildly miserable. So what did we do? We woke up early to the chatter of toucans in the 400 year old mango tree in the inner courtyard of our charming colonial hotel. Then we went for complimentary breakfast, beautifully served in the small dining room. Service in Cartagena retained that somewhat formal Spanish/Colombian flair and guests are treated with utmost respect everywhere. We walked around town a lot. My favorite bar Donde Fidel between the Clock Tower and Plaza de la Aduana, played loud salsa, and served cold beer. Sitting around the plaza and watching the world go by is very entertaining. We took one million pictures of Spanish wooden doors, and intricate door knobs, besides Arepa-making street vendors. We had delicious Peruvian food at Brujas de Cartagena, located next to Playa de Artilleria, where the cannons used to protect the city from marauders still stand to this day. The live band at Brujas de Cartagena played contemporary Latin music and on breaks provided us with genuine American elevator-music which was odd, but memorable. A visit to a small pizza place in the neighborhood of Getsemani, marked our first adventure outside the walled city. Hailed as the best pizza in Cartagena we had a good time at I Balconi, where the Italian owner reportedly makes his own Mozzarella. More about the Cartagena experience, next week.